The mandate of Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner? Stay under the luxury tax threshold but win now. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Wanted: head of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox.

Qualifications: Ability to assemble a team that plays better for less money.

Can anyone perform such magic? Owners John Henry and Tom Werner want to reduce the payroll from $243 million to under $208 million, which is the luxury tax threshold.

You might think this could be easy, what with the Oakland A’s ($106 million payroll) and Tampa Bay Rays ($90 million) being this year’s American League wild-card teams. But Misters Henry and Werner will expect more than the examples of the Rays and A’s. This is Tampa Bay’s first postseason berth since 2013. Oakland’s last trip to the ALCS was 2006; its last World Series was 1990.

Win and win now – NO talk of a bridge year – while reducing the payroll.

Any takers for the job? If you’re interested, here are a few pointers:

Red Sox ownership is saying the right things about signing Mookie Betts to a long-term deal. But at what price? Charles Krupa/Associated Press


That seems obvious if you’re cutting the overall salary, but Boston must not only avoid the temptation of high-priced free agents, and it must be prudent with its current players.

Five players who made a total of $56 million come off the 2019 payroll. One is Pablo Sandoval, who was owed $18 million this season by the Red Sox, though he played for the Giants. Another is Rick Porcello ($21 million). Brock Holt ($3.6 million) is a free agent. His experience, leadership and versatility are valuable. A two-year, $10 million deal sounds reasonable. If he demands more, Boston might have to move on.

J.D. Martinez has three years and $62 million left on his contact, but he can opt out after this season. He leads Boston with a .939 OPS and 35 home runs. He is also 32. His power bat is valuable, but if agent Scott Boras wants a megadeal, then it will be with another team.

Mookie Betts has another year of arbitration and will make more than the $20 million he got this year. He is a free agent after 2020 and ownership is saying the right things about wanting Betts in a long-term deal. But at what price? Keep Betts for one more year and see what happens; but stay away from the crazy contracts. If hundreds of millions go to Betts, what will Boston have to lock up Rafael Devers in a few years?

Why be so stingy? Look at the latest big-time contracts: Mike Trout (12 years, $430 million), Bryce Harper (13 years, $330 million), Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million). Where are their teams this year? Same place as Boston – out of the playoffs.

Look at the other highest-paid position players: Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Albert Pujols, Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano and Martinez. Only Stanton’s team (the Yankees) is in the playoffs, and Stanton, injured all season, had nothing to do with it.

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has missed most of the last two seasons because of a knee injury. He is due $25 million in salary over the next two years. Chris O’Meara/Associated Press


Dustin Pedroia is due $25 million over the next two seasons. It is doubtful that his left knee will be able to hold up during a full baseball season. It may be time to negotiate a retirement deal, paying Pedroia – as a “consultant” – but not having his salary count against the luxury tax.


This may be an unpopular opinion, but the bullpen is not a liability. If the starters can go longer than 4-5 innings a game, the bullpen won’t wear down. Think Boston needs a closer? I know a guy whose 1.91 ERA was the second best among American League pitchers with more than 70 innings. His name is Brandon Workman. With Workman as closer, Matt Barnes can be a main set-up arm. The Red Sox also have left-handers Darwinzon Hernandez, who has dominating stuff, and Josh Taylor (2.40 ERA/1.03 WHIP over the second half of the season).

Boston has other arms coming back, including some with minor-league options. By all means, add a few more for depth. But this group should be OK.

Why do the Red Sox need more starting pitchers? Chris Sale’s health may be Exhibit A. Elise Amendola/Associated Press


Eduardo Rodriguez returns to the rotation next year, as do the trio of David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi – three pitchers with well-documented health risks and a combined $79 million in salary for 2020. Depth is needed, not only for the fifth spot, but for the inevitable times when pitchers hit the injured list.

Low-priced free agents are an option. In house, there is some hope that Brian Johnson (6.02 ERA) will have a healthy breakthrough. Tanner Houck, a 2017 first-round draft pick, may be a call-up. Darkhorse pick: Lefty Kyle Hart, who has pitched well in Portland and Pawtucket.


With Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland likely gone, Boston’s go-to first baseman is Michael Chavis. He hit 18 home runs in 95 games this year, but still needs to prove himself – and prove he can stay healthy. Boston needs another option (and not just Holt, who can field the position). In Pawtucket, Josh Ockimey hit 25 home runs, but with a .204 average.

Bryan Mata showed flashes this summer in Portland that he could become a major league starter. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


The Red Sox farm system may be thin, but there are pieces there that could play big roles later. When pitcher Bryan Mata arrived in Portland this summer, he showed inconsistency (as a 20-year-old), but also the stuff of a major league starter.

It is conceivable that Mata helps out Boston at some point in 2020. Corner infielder Bobby Dalbec could get there earlier.

Five other prospects are worth protecting. Outfielder Jarren Duran is a speedster and pure hitter. Shortstop C.J. Chatham has a career .298 average. He’s playing more second base in the Arizona Fall League – a position he might play in Boston sometime next year. First baseman Triston Casas, 19, could be in Portland by midsummer. He hit 20 homers this year. Pitcher Jay Groome (12th overall draft pick in 2016) has yet to have a fully healthy season. Keep an eye on center fielder Gilberto Jimenez (.359 average in Lowell this year).

So, there you have it, future president of baseball operations for the Red Sox. All you have to do is shrink the payroll, play the kids and pray the pitching comes through.

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