In my mind, one of the strangest parts of baseball’s compensation structure is the arbitration period most every player goes through. It’s not something that any other sport has to my knowledge, and the methods behind the judgement of players by the arbiters are wildly antiquated. If the Players Union does its job during the next CBA, players at this stage of their career will be better compensated, whether it be through an updated arbitration system or something else entirely.
Anyway, that’s my little tangent on arbitration and how players in the beginning of their primes don’t get paid enough. That’s not what I’m going to focus on today. Instead, let’s look at the current arbitration system and how it relates to the Red Sox. Having graduated so much talent from their farm system over the last handful of years, Boston is now at a point where a significant portion of their roster is in the arbitration portion of their career. Even after releasing both Robbie Ross and Josh Rutledge, the Red Sox still have a whopping 13 players eligible for arbitration this winter. Those players are:
- Mookie Betts
- Xander Bogaerts
- Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Drew Pomeranz
- Eduardo Rodriguez
- Christian Vazquez
- Joe Kelly
- Brandon Workman
- Tyler Thornburg
- Carson Smith
- Steven Wright
- Brock Holt
- Sandy Leon
The final details of these players’ contracts don’t need to be determined anytime soon, but the Red Sox do need to decide which players they want to stick around for next year by Friday. December 1 marks the non-tender deadline, which can be a quietly busy day around the league. There will be a few players here and there who avoid arbitration by this point, but for the most part it’s teams deciding who is and isn’t part of their future. Many times, teams will look to trade players they’d otherwise non-tender if those players could provide more value to other teams. For example, this season we have seen rumors of Atlanta dealing first baseman/outfielder Matt Adams as well as Houston potential trading starting pitcher Mike Fiers.
The Red Sox, however, don’t really have a lot of tough decisions to make at this point in the offseason. There’s a real argument for all 13 of the players listed above to be tendered a contract by the end of this week, and it’s a no-brainer for at least ten of the names above. For whatever it may be worth, Dave Dombrowski has said that he doesn’t expect to non-tender any of the players listed about. Of course, that assertion doesn’t cover the possibility of trading one of the arbitration-eligible players, nor is it something that Dombrowski has to stick to. There are three players about whom Boston probably has some questions about before tendering them a contract.
The first non-tender candidate among this group is Brock Holt, which pains me to say. Holt has been with the Red Sox since the offseason prior to the 2013 season and over that time he has become a legitimate fan favorite. Between his versatility, his hair, his friendship with Andrew Benintendi and his hot streaks at the plate, it would be tough for many fans to see him go. That being said, there’s an argument to be made that the Red Sox could be better without him. Holt is coming off a really bad year, and while much of that can likely be attributed to the head injuries he was dealing with, there’s no guarantee that was the case. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee he’s completely over those issues. Holt is also in a rough spot where the Red Sox have a glut of middle infield types, and while his versatility certainly helps they can teach that to some other options. With Deven Marrero, Tzu-Wei Lin and Marco Hernandez all on the 40-man, they may look to deal Holt even with his value at this low point.
The next potential non-tender candidate with the Red Sox is Sandy Leon, who finds himself in a mini catcher log jam (that is, a mild log jam, not a log jam of miniature catchers) along with Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. I discussed this trio earlier this week, and am still not sure how or if they will try to keep all three around. It’s at least possible that Boston could make all of this much easier by simply non-tendering Leon right now.
Finally, there is Tyler Thornburg, who is a bit of a strange case at the moment. The righty-handed reliever, of course, is coming off a 2017 in which he missed the entire season. Now, he is projected to earn $2.1 million in arbitration, and it’s possible that the Red Sox would like to non-tender him and look to renegotiate a smaller deal.
While those are the only three players I see even a slight change of non-tendering for the Red Sox, I would be surprised if it actually came to fruition with any of them. If Thornburg were more well-established or simply older, and thus due for more money, I could see a non-tender as a possibility. However, Boston gave up too much to acquire him and he has too much upside to justify letting him go for nothing after one missed season, particularly when he’s only due $2 million. Leon is also only projected to make $2.1 million, and he’s too good to be let go for nothing rather than being paid that much money. If they need to, they’ll be able to find a trade partner for him later in the offseason. Holt is the most likely non-tender and/or trade candidate given the other similar options on the roster, but the team has always seemed to like him and I’d be surprised if they gave up after one injury-riddled year.
The Red Sox and the rest of the league have until Friday night at 8 PM ET to make these decisions, though I’d expect it to be a quiet deadline in Boston.