With a nine-player trade that sends Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and around $250 million of the $262.5 million still owed them after 2012 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox will have taken steps backward, but the flexibility -- and freedom -- afforded to them by the move will almost certainly mean the club can now take steps forward. The Red Sox didn't just shed a salary to get under the luxury tax threshold to reset their cap: they went huge, and removed the two free-agent-contracts* on the roster that went past 2015, while also shedding Beckett and the extraneous Punto in the process. (Once it's official, anyway.)
*Clay Buchholz is signed through 2015 with an option for 2016, but this deal exists to buy out his arbitration years and some free agency, whereas Crawford and Gonzalez were entirely free agent years.
You've imagined what Boston could do with this kind of financial freedom, the ability to start fresh rather than be saddled by the last, expensive moves of Theo Epstein. And it's not that Adrian Gonzalez needed to go, it's just that, in order to create this situation and shed the rest of the salary package, a price needed to be paid, and his deal and production were said price. After all, the Dodgers are willing to take on huge gobs of money, but they aren't insane. (Okay, maybe they're kind of crazy, but in the "This Hanley Ramirez trade will totally work!" kind of way.)
What will Boston get for sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers? Because, as much as Carl Crawford's future might have been better than his past with the Sox, Gonzalez is the lone price here. The worries about whether Beckett will rebound are no more. The same goes for Crawford, who underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday. Let's take a look at some dollars. (A look at the physical return -- former Dodgers -- will run once the trade is official.)
From a basic numbers perspective, the Red Sox have shed roughly $250 million in future payments. Crawford was owed another $102.5 million over five seasons, Gonzalez $127 million over six, Beckett $31.5 million over two, and Punto a tidy $1.5 million in the last year of his two-year contract. For average annual value purposes -- i.e., what the luxury tax threshold cares about -- this chops nearly $60 million off of the $107 million or so the Red Sox had in guaranteed money for the 2013 season. (Boston is paying the Dodgers about $13 million, but it's not clear just yet how that is spread out, if it's spread at all.)
That puts Boston at roughly $46 million in guaranteed contracts for the 2013 season. John Lackey ($15.95 million), Jon Lester ($11.63M), Dustin Pedroia ($10.25M), Clay Buchholz ($5.75M), and Jose Iglesias ($2.06M) account for all of that. Buchholz is the only played signed through 2015 now, although if the Red Sox invoke Lackey's league-minimum 2015 due to his elbow trouble, that gives them two players. Pedroia has an $11 million club option for 2015, but options, as their name suggests, are not guaranteed.
David Ortiz might re-sign, as might Cody Ross, but for the purposes of guaranteed money, they aren't being counted. Instead, they are tossed in the rest of the contracts that will have been shed: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Kevin Youkilis, and Scott Podsednik.
The team is loaded with pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players as well, bringing the club up to 34 players on the 40-man roster. Assuming Alex Wilson is added, as he needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft by November 20, that puts the Red Sox at 35 on the 40, and a total of roughly $90 million in salary. Before this trade, they had over $106 million committed in just guaranteed contracts -- this $90 million figure represents the entire salary of a nearly completed 40-man roster. Assuming that the Sox don't spend their newfound flexibility all in one place, they should not have any fear of coming up against the luxury tax threshold. This, in turn, will reset the penalties, keeping Boston from having to pay up to 50 percent in taxes on the money spent over that threshold, as multiple offenders like the Sox were in line to do.
Boston isn't bound to these lower payroll levels forever, but, in a way, this gets Boston back to the place they were when they were at their most successful last decade. A combination of financial resources and prospects, coming together to keep the Red Sox competitive in the AL East. Acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and extending him, then signing Carl Crawford, was incredibly exciting, and if not for injuries to Crawford, likely would have resulted in the playoffs in the first year of their deals. But if the Sox were to cut themselves off from these kinds of long-term deals, as they first did under Theo Epstein -- back when five-year contracts for pitchers were a strict no-no, and no Red Sox position player had deals the lengths of either Gonzalez or Crawford -- it wouldn't be such a bad thing.
There's always flexibility to do more in-season when those kinds of contracts aren't around. It's simpler to take a step back, as Boston might very well do in 2013, in order to reset and prepare the club for their next wave of competitiveness, as expectations aren't as ridiculously high to automatically compete because look at the money, the roster, the names! Plus, avoiding the highest end of the free agent market has other merits. Ask the Rays how many gigantic contracts in their recent history they regret -- in many ways, being able to avoid those players is an advantage.
That's not to say Boston shouldn't spend money. But more three-, four-, and five-year deals, deals that don't hit triple-digits in total value, should be the focus, as they used to be. More J.D. Drew, hell, more Edgar Renteria. It's much easier to absorb those contracts when things go awry, and there's far more room to do more and other things when they do.
Is that Boston's plan going forward? That's a question that can't be answered this weekend. The opportunity is there now, though, and that's not something anyone outside of Boston's front office knew was a possibility when they woke up Friday morning.