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No More Complaining About Payrolls for Red Sox Fans

It was always a comfortable, if perhaps not entirely respectable fallback to point at the Yankees' payroll. It was not the most valid of excuses--fans of small market teams would be and were entirely justified at laughing their heads off at the $120 million giant crying about cash. But the Yankees' $200 million was a clear outlier, heads and tails above the #2 team in the league.

Red Sox fans will have to give up that excuse in 2010, though. Sure, barring more signings, the Yankees will still be ahead of the Red Sox by a fair amount. But as it stands now, with the Yankees aiming at a reported $185 million figure and the Red Sox standing around $150 million--give or take a few million based on arbitration guesses--the Yankees are not in a league of their own anymore. While last year only the smallest market teams in the league could claim that the Sox had as much an advantage over them as the Yankees did over the Sox, this year it will likely be well over half the teams in the league.

The $150 million will not all be on the field for the Sox. $9 million comes from Julio Lugo, who was traded to the Cardinals last year on the condition that the Sox pay for him. Mike Lowell, though he's still with the team for now, could also well be in Texas within the week, still costing the Sox $9 million himself. Add in $1.5 million in buyouts, and that's nearly $20 million in bad contract money.

But what impact does this have on the average reader? Well, to start with, it's gonna be tough to expect any more signings this year. Matt Holliday is almost certainly out. Jason Bay will join him. Instead, if the organization is willing to go all out this year, expect at most mid-money, 1-year contracts. Say, Mike Cameron. Given the hole at 3B, and $3 million potentially coming off the books from a Lowell trade, even Adrian Beltre is not impossible. But if anyone was expecting a big push in the outfield department, think again.

Popular thinking has the Red Sox shipping Clay Buchholz and others off to the Padres in a deal for Adrian Gonzalez, and while Adrian Gonzalez has a very team-friendly contract at the moment, that's bound to change within the next few years. I doubt the Sox would be willing to invest not only Clay Buchholz, but also Casey Kelly or Ryan Westmoreland in any deal for Adrian Gonzalez that does not also include an extension. Any extension would cost a great deal of money, even considering discounts given a guaranteed raise over the years remaining on his current contract. Even with a Lowell trade, Gonzalez would likely put the Sox at around $160 million even without a left fielder. The rumor of Mike Cameron would put that number closer to an incredible $170 million.

Also at issue is next year's payroll. Assuming a $170 million dollar payroll this year, the Red Sox will have a number of unpopular contracts coming off their books. But just how much spending money will that result in? First, both "bad contracts" come off the board for $20 million. Then there's David Ortiz' $13 million, Josh Beckett's $12 million, Jason Varitek's $3 million, and Victor Martinez' $7.7 million. After losing all that, the Sox will barely be under the $120 million they spent in 2009. And that's not even factoring in raises! Youkilis gets $3 million more. Daisuke is up $2 million, Lester adds $2 million, and Pedroia $2 million. Let's mercifully assume that the Red Sox' 7 players going to their next year in Arbitration adds only $10-15 million, and we're still left with Ellsbury and Buchholz starting their first arbitration years, and due for probably $8 million between them at least. A conservative estimate puts the Red Sox well over $140 million starting 2010's offseason, and that's without a catcher, DH, and one top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Forget about Joe Mauer, this team might not be willing to sign A.J. Pierzynski.

There are 2 directions the Sox front office could go with. Either this is an all-out gamble for the next few years, with money on the Sox' prospects coming through to fill in holes (Either Exposito, Wagner, or possibly Max Ramirez at catcher, maybe Lars at DH), or the Red Sox' ownership is committing to setting a new bar for payroll. If this isn't just a flash in the pan of spending, then it's official: we're rivaling the Yankees, and it's time to swallow our jeers and, quite frankly, show some shame. I, for one, have been calling for a salary cap and floor for years, and I will not stop doing so now just because we're now spending as much as our greatest enemies. But I will probably talk quieter, and I'll expect even more derision for it.

Either way, though, at least those $5 ticket hikes are going to the right places.


Innumerable thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for so many numbers in this piece. Fantastic site for anything contract related.