November 17, 2012

No reason for Red Sox to mortgage their future

Commentary: In the long term, prudent short-term contracts may be the team's best strategy.

By JOHN TOMASE Boston Herald

BOSTON - Here's what we know about the Red Sox' offseason:

A) They don't want to hamper their long-term vision by signing/acquiring bad contracts.

B) They value their top-tier prospects too greatly to trade them, even for proven performers like Jose Reyes or Josh Johnson.

C) Fans fear prudence will breed passivity, with the resulting $90 million payroll effectively waving the white flag on 2013.

But what if the Red Sox could accomplish A without compromising B or proceeding directly to C? What if they could demonstrate their commitment to winning now without harming the future one iota?

There's a way. It's kind of crazy, but there is a way.

Make overwhelming one-year offers in free agency.

Josh Hamilton's multi-year market doesn't materialize? Blow him away. Mike Napoli's multi-year market doesn't materialize? Blow him away. Dan Haren and Hiroki Kuroda might only be looking at one year anyway. Might as well be here.

If there's a team that ever entered an offseason as uniquely positioned as the Red Sox, it's not springing to mind.

Thanks to their megadeal with the Dodgers, the Sox have more to spend than at any point in their history. They began the offseason with not even $40 million committed to 2013. They have since pushed that total to about $55 million, following free agent deals for David Ortiz and David Ross.

That leaves a staggering $123 million (or thereabouts) to spend on 2013 without crossing the $178 million luxury tax threshold. And if the goal is simply to be under the $189 million threshold by 2014 (and thus become eligible for revenue-sharing rebates), then the Red Sox could treat this offseason as one very grand experiment.

Now a chunk of their surplus will be consumed by players under team control (like Jacoby Ellsbury, who could earn $10 million in arbitration), but using the arbitration projections from MLB Trade Rumors, let's say the Sox spend $30 million on their 11 arbitration-eligible players.

That still leaves over $90 million for the rest of the roster, some of which will go to pre-arbitration players like Felix Doubront, Will Middlebrooks and Co., with another $10 million set aside for the ancillary costs (medical benefits, etc.) that apply to the payroll for luxury tax purposes.

Even conservatively, then, the Red Sox could very comfortably spend $70 million this winter. And if the only luxury tax year they're concerned with is 2014 (the boat the Yankees are in), then they could spend even more.

And here's where. If Hamilton's market fails to materialize, would he consider a one-year deal for $30 million? How about $18 million for Kuroda and $16 million apiece for Napoli and Haren? Throw another $5 million at PED question mark Melky Cabrera and suddenly the Red Sox boast a deep lineup and a rotation capable of competing with Tampa Bay, Toronto or anyone else.

Now that's an extreme hypothetical. The odds of the Sox shelling out $85 million on the aforementioned quintet are slim -- the stars would have to align, with none of the above receiving a suitable multi-year offer.

But internally, the team has at least mulled the merits of using larger one-year deals to field a competitive club in 2013 without harming 2014 or beyond.

The beauty of the approach is it gives fans a reason to come to Fenway next season, it protects the team's best prospects (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes), it makes the Red Sox instantly competitive in a deep but relatively even AL East, and it doesn't contradict the mission of maintaining long-term financial flexibility.

Sounds like wins all around, doesn't it? It's so crazy, it just might work.


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