On Monday morning, more than a week before the first games of spring training, the Red Sox beat the Yankees. What's more, they did it with money, signing away Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million, with the Yankees reportedly coming in around $25 million at the highest. Factoring in tax, it's a total of $13 million that stood between the Yankees and a player who would go a long way towards fixing some of the organization's biggest issues.
Traditionally, these months--from the end of October to the beginning of March--have been reserved for New York. Boston's role has so often been to watch as the Yankees took the best-of-the-best off the market, leaving the Red Sox to fight with all the other teams for their leftovers.
It might seem like that's been changing for years now. Certainly Mark Teixeira still stands out as the last time the Yankees so clearly beat out the Red Sox when both sides were going all-out. But even as recently as the 2013-14 offseason the Sox found themselves bullied out of the markets for both Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury. The only difference is that the Sox were under no illusions that they would really come out on top in either of those pursuits.
Instead, it's really just one offseason that stood out before this one: 2010-2011, when the Red Sox dropped huge amounts of money (and minor league talent) to land Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Otherwise, it's been mostly mid-range spending aimed at efficiency and sustainability. We've seen the best of that in the offseason that brought Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and a banner. We've seen the worst when an unfortunate market provided only A.J. Pierzynski and a lost season.
The one year they broke from that pattern nearly destroyed the franchise, or at the very least threatened to cripple it for the better part of a decade. But here the Red Sox are once again. Starting on August 23rd, when the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a $72.5 million contract, the team has committed to well over $300 million in contracts and signing bonuses. The reaction has, understandably, been excitement over so many shiny new players. But shouldn't we also be concerned that the Red Sox are working their way back into disaster territory? Are we ignoring the cautionary tale provided not just by the 2011-2012 Red Sox, but the struggling Yankees themselves?
The short answer: not really, no. Now for the long answer.
First thing's first: there's no real need to worry so long as the Red Sox continue to spend. This is the appeal to "it's not my money" that's so often heard in response to any contract criticisms. Typically this is the mantra of the short-sighted and under-informed, but it gains some legitimacy in the event that the Red Sox are just changing the way they do business. They're one of the most valuable teams in the league, and have been solidly profitable in a league where it's not difficult to find top clubs taking yearly losses. If, indeed, the team is simply willing to spend more of its money year-in and year-out, then as long as they do, the fans will be better off for it.
But there's no indication the Red Sox are willing to play with teams like the Dodgers in the long run, and we're seeing right now with New York exactly what can happen when those pursestrings start to draw a little tighter after years of excess. So what happens in the event that John Henry decides to reign Ben Cherington in as soon as next year?
Well, in the case of Yoan Moncada, the Red Sox thank their lucky stars they have a young, high-quality player set to make the league minimum for at least three years to come. His bonus money will have been spent (not counting against payroll), and the team was already going to miss out on the upcoming IFA market even before signing him, so unless Fenway Sports Group decides to recoup their $63 million by taking it directly out of payroll, Moncada is a major expense that just isn't going to come back to haunt the Red Sox.
Slightly more risky is the Rusney Castillo acquisition, but there we're still talking about $10 million a year. That's not a negligible expense, but it's more or less the price of doing business for league-average players. Unless Castillo is a total bust, he's not really even going to be a significant contributor to any payroll problems the Red Sox run into.
Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara
No, if there are contracts we should be worried about, they're the ones handed out to Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. That's the closest thing we've got to the Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez situations, to say nothing of the Yankees' impressive collection of albatross deals.
Hanley, though? His is actually surprisingly reasonable. At $22 million for four years, Ramirez came in as a downright bargain in a market where every big name rakes in nine figures with ease. The real knock against him and his place in Boston is that he's such a luxury. Without Hanley, it would be Betts, Castillo, and Victorino starting in the outfield with Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. on the bench. That's a pretty strong bunch as is, and if the Red Sox find themselves facing a payroll crunch after 2015, Hanley's $22 million will stand out as a luxury they can't afford.
At which point they can almost certainly trade him. And do so for real value assuming coming off any half-decent season. It would by all accounts be a crappy thing to do when Ramirez seemingly took a below-market deal (in terms of length, if not rate) to play in Boston with David Ortiz. But he's only got no-trade protection to three teams, and there are plenty more who would be willing to pay $65 million over just three years for a bat like his.
That leaves Sandoval, and there we certainly have the biggest risk. His deal isn't unreasonable, but it's also never going to be viewed as a bargain unless he produces like he did at the very beginning of his career. It is to Boston's benefit that, so long as Sandoval is solid on a year-to-year basis, his age shouldn't get in the way of any potential trade. But if you're looking for a contract that's both large and potentially difficult to get rid of, Sandoval's is the one.
One or two risky contracts, though, are hardly worth a second glance, except in that it's a remarkably low total to have for the amount of money the Red Sox have committed to over these past six months. Especially when you consider that even the riskiest of those expenses don't come close to the mammoth deals handed out to top players in recent years.
No team is safe from a complete 180 from ownership. If John Henry decides the Red Sox are going the way of the Marlins, has a fire sale, and then produces a $60 million roster in 2016, it's going to be damn near impossible for that team to be any good even with Boston's impressive crop of young talent. But that's a scenario so unlikely that there's no point in safeguarding against it.
Hell, the Yankees scenario that's so concerning isn't really even the result of the team cutting back (the scenario we've addressed here with the Red Sox). Their 2015 payroll is right in line with their 2012 payroll, and higher than their 2014 figure. They're just less willing to keep payroll growing at the same rate as it did in the decade gone by. If the Red Sox were willing to freeze payroll where it's at now, rather than dropping back below the luxury tax threshold, it would actually be a pleasant surprise.
So yes, the Red Sox have spent a lot of money these past six months. And yes, if Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, and Dustin Pedroia are all disasters for years to come, the Red Sox could be facing some payroll difficulties through 2018. On the whole, though, for a team that just went on such a large spending spree, the Sox have taken on surprisingly little risk. As far as the future is concerned, we're not at all likely to look back at this offseason the way we looked at the year of Crawford and Gonzalez in July of 2012. Even if things don't go according to plan, and the Red Sox don't end up getting their money's worth at the end of the day, there won't be any need for a Dodgers-produced miracle to save the day.