It's just December 11th, but the Red Sox seem to have their roster nearly squared away. A backup in the outfield, a backup in the infield, and perhaps a corresponding move to free up roster space could be all that's left aside from minor league signings and the like.
But that doesn't mean they have no choice in the matter. The Red Sox have, for the last few years, been trying to hold their payroll under the threshold at which they would have to pay a luxury tax. For 2014, that will mean coming in under $189 million. Sort of. The figure used to determine whether or not they're subject to the tax isn't simply the total of the salaries on the 25-man roster. Instead, it takes into account the average annual value of each player (total contract amount divided by number of years), tacks on things like minor-league call-ups, and throws a bunch more in for the team's share of the league's benefits program.
The damage? All told, the Red Sox are currently on the line for about $175 million, meaning they've presumably got $14 million to work with if the team is still not looking to go over the threshold. That doesn't include any estimates on the how many days' salary they'll have to pay out to players filling in on the 25-man roster for injuries, but it's pretty close.
The upshot of this is that Ben Cherington and co. have room to do just about anything they would realistically want to do at this point. No, Shin-Soo Choo is not in the mix. Neither is a full-price Matt Kemp. This we could have guessed pretty much without looking at the payroll at all.
A return for Stephen Drew, though, if his market has really collapsed under the weight of Boston's qualifying offer? Certainly possible. More likely, though, the Red Sox will spread this out to get the decent backups they need, and then--perhaps more importantly--afford to take on any contract needed come the 2014 trade deadline. Even a $20 million contract would count for less than $10 million against the 2014 payroll at that point.
It's a small-scale version of the strategy that the Red Sox have been preaching since the Punto trade: financial flexibility. They don't have to do anything big right now, but when the time comes that they do, the option will be open to them.