The Boston Red Sox ownership has used clever word play through the media to make light of their overspending, while pointing out every dollar that the New York Yankees have ever paid for a ballplayer’s service.
The famous 2002 quote from team president Larry Lucchino, “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America,” shows how they turned to name-calling to cover up losing a bidding war to their rival’s for pitcher Jose Contreras. Since then, the Yankees have stuck to their model of bringing in proven talent, albeit some of the players were paid very well even past their prime playing days, while the Red Sox continued to invest in the upside of the younger ball players.
This summer -- the management at Fenway Park was busy, committing to paying almost $300 million in contracts over the past six months. To those keeping track at home, the $214 million spent in this offseason alone, is the second highest in the majors, behind only the Washington Nationals who spent $224 million. The New York Yankees spent $100 million, fifth highest in the league. Have the Boston Red Sox ownership turned into another Evil Empire, spending whatever it takes to bring talent into their lineup?
Still catching up
These new Red Sox contracts are spread over multiple years, which is why they still trail the Yankees in total payroll for this upcoming season; $178,513,093 to $211,747,857 -- a difference of over $33 million. Last season, when the Red Sox finished out of the playoffs and in the dungeon of the AL East, they had a total payroll of just $8 million less than this year. In fact, the Red Sox have stayed consistent since 2011 with their payroll totals landing between $152 and $178 million, while the Yankees have spent anywhere from $208 to $286 million. During this time the Red Sox have won a World Series and missed the playoffs three times while the Yankees have made it to the playoffs twice in four seasons.
How did the Boston Red Sox been land big name Free Agents this off season, staying within their comfortable payroll; while the New York Yankees have been far and away the biggest spending club without a consistent payroll number each year?
The answer isn’t necessarily in the length or the size of the contracts, but rather how the teams have been able to move on before they expired.
Shedding dead weight
In 2012, the Boston Red Sox had an estimated payroll around $170 million, thanks in large part to the monstrous contracts of Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million), Carl Crawford ($21 million) and Josh Beckett ($15 million). While the players were more than capable of producing, for one reason or another they did not in Boston, nor were they happy in the clubhouse, so the front office traded them on August 26, 2012 to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the biggest trades in American sports history. The Red Sox sent over $270 million of contracts and in return got five players with modest salaries, to say the least. It was a complete payroll dump for the Red Sox and it set the team up for future spending.
The Red Sox finished in last place that year, going 9-26 after the trade and ending the campaign 24 games below .500. That winter’s off-season was spent on bringing in veteran players for fair salaries in short-term deals. They signed Shane Victorino, ($13 million per year) Mike Napoli, ($5 million) Johnny Gomes ($5 million) and Koji Uehara ($4.25 million), spending just the right amount of money to balance out that year’s contracts of John Lackey ($16.5 million), David Ortiz ($13 million), Ryan Dempster ($13.25 million) and Jacoby Ellsbury ($9 million). They managed to stay within their payroll comfort and the result was their 2013 World Series Championship.
The following year, they tried the same model but spent even less money. The team wasn’t playing well together, so midseason the Red Sox Front Office shipped out payroll boulders John Lackey, Jake Peavy ($14.5 million) and Jon Lester ($13 million). The team struggled and finished at the bottom of the league. With a fan base that expects the team to go from worst-to-first once again, the front office was forced to spend big in the off-season.
After the midseason trades of 2012 and 2014, compiled with the short term, moderate spending in 2013, the front office had more money to spend than ever this winter. At the end of last season they signed Cuban star ourfielder Rusney Castillo for seven years, $72.5 million. Then as soon as the off-season hit, the Red Sox started writing big checks, signing infield slugger Hanley Ramirez to a 4-year $88 million deal and World Series champion third baseman Pablo Sandoval for 5 years at $100 million. Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa were the only players left from that trade with the Dodgers in 2012, and they were packaged in the off season in exchange for Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who is expected to be their number three starter this season. Rick Porcello, formerly of the Detroit Tigers, was brought in to be the number two starter for $8.5 million. The final boom came just at the beginning of preseason, when the Red Sox announced the signing of 19 year old Cuban sensation Yoan Marcado for a record $30 million bonus. The Red Sox spent heavy this season but yet again, still managed to stay consistent as it relates to the overall payroll.
One of the main reasons why Lucchino and the rest of the Boston Red Sox spenders have been able to recover from big contracts is by trading them away. These players still had talent, and even though they were getting paid high salaries, they were valuable to other teams in a race for the playoffs. General Managers could justify bringing them in if it meant getting to the postseason. Guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Jon Lester were heavy on the checkbook, but delivered on the field in September and October. Throughout these years however, the Yankees didn’t have the same luck unloading their heavy contracts.
On the other hand...
With five players each having a 2015 salary over $20 million (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka), and another five players making over $10 million, the lineup is so bogged down by high priced placers that it’s tough to see where they could free up any of this money through trades. There isn’t a team on this planet that would trade for Rodriguez, and Sabathia and Teixeira would have to find the fountain of youth before anyone would deal for their giant contracts and aging bodies. The Yankees have simply handcuffed themselves with these contracts. I know the management of New York spends big money every year, they already have $211 million plus on the books for 2015, but there is only so many players you can bring in when long term deals lock in so many positions on the diamond.
A-Rod, CC and Teixeira have been the highest paid players on the team for five years in a row. In 2012 the Yankees won the AL East with 95 wins before returning to mediocrity the following two years. Had they been able to move some of their bigger contracts in that time, they might have been able to invest in some younger talent for the years going forward.
In the time that this trio has led the team in pay, they simply have not produced. A-Rod has not hit over .276 in any of these years. He hasn’t even hit 20 homeruns. Teixeira has had a batting average anywhere between .151 and .251 and Sabathia’s ERA has climbed significantly higher each year. Where the Red Sox were able to trade away their assets, these three are not trade-able when they are performing like this. Playoff contenders won’t deal young, inexpensive, talent for one of these Yankees to push their team into October.
Same old song and dance
Perhaps the Red Sox got lucky that the Dodgers wanted to win immediately in 2012. Maybe the trades they made last season or the guys they spent big on this winter won’t pan out and it will be another disappointing season at Fenway Park, but at least the front office is making moves to shake things up. It’s been the same old song and dance at Yankee Stadium for years, except each year it gets older and less productive. It’s only going to get worse in 2016 when those three logjams salaries combine for $67.5 million. In 2017 Sabathia and Teixeira come off the books, leaving just A-Rod in pinstripes to collect. Will that be the time where the team’s brass starts to make smarter long-term deals? It might be too late at that time as they are already committed to over $114 million that season for only seven players, including A-Rod, who will make $20 million at 41 years old.
While comparing the success on the field, the Red Sox have one championship and the Yankees have had two post-season berths. Neither has been consistently at the top of the division, and in a day when results are all that matter, neither team has excelled. Going forward, the Red Sox have used their assets to free up millions and bring in big name free agents. They have signed two Cuban prospects who could become mega stars in this sport. If these moves pan out, they could be one of the more exciting, and successful, teams in baseball. The Yankees are in a holding pattern, waiting for these contracts to expire. Unable to move the aging, unproductive, veterans that have weighed their payroll down for years, have them staring at the calendar waiting until the off season when they can start cleaning out lockers.
The Red Sox might have spent a lot of money this off season, but they still are not an ‘Evil Empire.’ Clever trades and short term contracts have set up this contract spree that General Manager Ben Cherington has gone on. Whether it brings another duck boat parade to the streets of Boston remains to be seen, but they are in a much better position than they were last year. The New York Yankees cannot say the same thing.
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