I’ve been lied to a lot in my life. But what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington pulled off this week may be a set up for one of the bigger lies I’ve ever heard.
At a sports management conference at UMass-Amherst this week, Cherington said that despite the (then) rumored Blue Jays-Marlins trade, he wanted to stick by his plan for the offseason. Now granted, none of us are privy to what Ben’s plan truly is. But one indicator of his plan was last year’s mega-trade. It would be hard to think that the Red Sox would shed a quarter of a billion dollars just to turn around and spend it all on a new set of free agents. That also doesn’t mean that we can expect to see the Red Sox have 25 minimum salaried players as if they were the Indians in Major League. Somewhere in the middle should be where it lands. But what happened later in the week made me question my own sanity, then question Ben’s.
When asked during a WEEI interview how close the Red Sox would get to a $190 million payroll, Cherington said, ” I know that we’ll have a very strong payroll, a large payroll. I know that we’re going to add to it this winter. I’m confident saying that we’ll be amongst the larger payrolls in the game. Exactly where it ends up, exactly where we rank, I just don’t know that. It depends on what we do.”
Either this is a lie, or the post hoc justification against this will be the lie.
Let’s look at the numbers from Cot’s Baseball Contracts. As of November 12, the Red Sox have $60,137,500 in salary committed to six players (John Lackey, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jose Iglesias). Add another $3 million to that for David Ross. The Sox have 11 arbitration eligible players. If, as Ben Nicholson-Smith suggests, the Red Sox non-tender Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Alfredo Aceves and Ryan Sweeney, the Red Sox will spend approximately $22.5 million in arbitration. They’re pretty accurate at MLB Trade Rumors, but let’s round it up to be fair and call it $25 million. That makes $88 million for 14 players.
But Cherington said that the Red Sox will have amongst the highest payrolls in the game. And here’s where he can play with the numbers. What is Ben’s definition of “highest payrolls”? Fans shouldn’t expect the Red Sox to be in second place anymore, as the Dodgers may spend more than the Yankees this year, as they already have over $198 million in salary committed for 2013 and the Yankees have intimated that their 2013 payroll will come down to about $180 million. For argument’s sake, let’s say that 75% of whatever the Dodgers spend could be considered “one of the highest payrolls in the game.” This should be around $150 million, which would represent a $25 million reduction in salary from 2012 for the Red Sox. Still a lot of simoleons.
Either Ben Cherington is going to spend $62 million dollars ($150 million -$88 million) on 14 players for 2013 (many of which will be backups or back-of-the-bullpen types that won’t cost too much) or his statement is a lie. ‘But I didn’t lie,’ he’ll say, and he could be technically correct. But it won’t improve the Red Sox in 2013.
ESPN’s Joe McDonald reported that the Red Sox plan to offer a contract extensions to Pedroia, and could offer extensions to Lester and Will Middlebrooks. Add those raises to the payroll and it will be easier for the Red Sox to fill the 2013 roster without signing top-class free agents and still raise the payroll to $150 million.
Granted, long-term contracts for Pedroia, Lester and Middlebrooks aren’t bad in and of themselves. But unless Ben is worried that Pedroia and Lester would leave in free agency, and is sure that Middlebrooks is the real deal and deserves an Evan Longoria deal, the remainder of that $62 million should be spend on player acquisition, not player retention. Lester’s deal expires in 2013 but the club holds an option for 2014, and Pedroia’s deal expires in 2014 with a club option for 2015. There is time to work out these extensions.
Nobody is asking Cherington to spend money willy-nilly. I want him to find good players for next year and beyond. But what will be a lie is if he hands out extensions to Pedroia, Lester and Middlebrooks, fills the roster with AAAA players and journeymen, and tries to claim that the Red Sox have one of the highest payrolls in the game. It won’t be a lie by the numbers but it will be a lie. A big, fat stinking lie.