For the first time in years, the Red Sox have indicated their willingness to exceed the luxury tax threshold, set at $189 million in 2015. And as Scott Lauber points out, the roster as it stands is set to do just that, nudging past that mark when counting their contribution to player benefits and their continued payments to the Dodgers for the Punto trade.
So what does this mean for Boston? Well, at the moment, nothing at all. The Red Sox are not done, but it's not clear whether that means adding to payroll or subtracting from it. While many would like to see the rotation bolstered with a front-line arm, and maybe some more bullpen help brought in, it's possible that the only thing left for the Red Sox is to find a new home for any player they can't fit on the roster. That likely means either Allen Craig or Daniel Nava, and perhaps one of Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr. if they're not content to stash the latter in the minor leagues.
If either Victorino or Craig leaves, taking their full contracts with hem, the Red Sox would be back under the threshold for the time being. Really, though, the team is in no rush to make that happen. Ownership has suggested that the financial benefits of staying under year-in and year-out are not what terribly significant anymore, and so long as the Red Sox can get back under that mark in 2016, they'll be no worse off for having exceeded the threshold in 2015.
And, as it stands, getting back under should be an easy enough task. The Red Sox' focus on financial flexibility hasn't kept their payrolls low, but it has given them the ability to change where all that money is spent with some regularity. After the end of the 2015 season, the Red Sox will see Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Edward Mujica, and Craig Breslow hit free agency, freeing up something like $55 million. Assuming David Ortiz is still plugging away, the team option the Red Sox have on him comes in $6 million lower than his current luxury tax figure. They could even free up $12 million more by declining Clay Buchholz' option, though given their $9.5 million investment in Justin Masterson this offseason, it seems unlikely they would be unwilling to take that gamble on Buchholz barring a truly disheartening performance.
Of course, when players come off the books, that money does need to go into replacing them. For the Red Sox, though, Shane Victorino has already effectively been replaced, there are a handful of top arms in the minors who could easily prove worthy of one of those starting jobs over the course of the next year (Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brian Johnson stand out as potential candidates), and neither Edward Mujica nor Craig Breslow are key bullpen members, exactly.
If that 2016 payroll only needs to carry a first baseman and an additional starter, that leaves the Red Sox free to invest quite heavily in those positions without exceeding the threshold once more. They may even choose to make that investment in the next few months or at the trade deadline in the form of that frontline starter everyone is clamoring for.
Whether now, in the summer, or in the winter, the Red Sox are going to have to do a fair bit of retooling (or at the very least re-signing) with their team, primarily in the rotation. But even if they've already pushed past the luxury tax threshold for 2015, they're still in fine financial shape going forward, to the point where committing a big contract to 2015 and beyond right now would still leave them with plenty of room to maneuver as needed come the next offseason.