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Red Sox 2010 Payroll: $168 Million Sure Doesn’t Buy What it Used to

Theo Epstein

Talks of a prolonged recession and rampant unemployment have led us all to take money saving strides. We as a nation we’ve begun stretching each and every dollar, car pooling, bargain hunting, skipping concerts, and sporting events we used to go to, to steal a line from John McCain, we’re cutting our pork spending.

In the meantime, Theo Epstein’s having ribs.

The Boston Red Sox entered this season with the second highest payroll in the majors, which should come as no surprise. They’ve hovered within the top five payrolls for the better part of the last decade, and the product has thrived.

A quarter of the 2010 season is now in the books, and the $168 million Boston Red Sox sit at 20-20. That’s good for fourth in the AL East, and just for perspective’s sake, they’re currently dead even with the .500 Washington Nationals and the .500 Oakland Athletics.

Obviously this Red Sox team as currently constituted is better than both of the aforementioned teams, but $168 million? Their payrolls combined can’t hold a candle to the Red Sox.

So what gives?

The Red Sox payroll jumped from a comparatively frugal $121 million last year, to Yankee-like heights of $168 million this season (okay I exaggerated, the Yankees payroll hasn’t been that low since 2003), and we’ve yet to see the fruits of all of Mr. Henry and Mr. Werner’s extra expenses. During the offseason, we heard rumblings that this season could be described as a bridge-year of sorts, and those rumblings have turned into daily groans from Fenway. It’s still early, but this Ferrari is running more like a pickup hauling cinder blocks, or aging/overpaid players, whichever works.

After taking a look at the Red Sox current payroll situation, three categories really pop out to you. There’s a group of guys that jump off the page, and its hard to believe that they’re earning so much. There’s a cluster of players you just can’t believe they’re making so little and out-performing their contracts. And then there’s a group of guys I can see tragically falling into the first category in the coming years.

He Makes How Much?!

David Ortiz: $13 Million

Following three consecutive top five finishes in AL MVP voting, this deal looked like a bargain at the time. Ortiz signed a four-year, $52 million deal in 2007 following his 54 HR, 137 RBI season where he hit .287. Again, this looked like a bargain at the time. Basically the last two plus seasons, Davids been paid for his 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons where he was grossly underpaid.

The days of Big Papi are long gone, and his 2011 club option won’t be picked up at the current asking price. Three years ago it would’ve been hard to imagine this scenario, but it looks more and more like David’s days as a part of the Red Sox are numbered.

John Lackey : $18.7 Million

I know, I know! It’s too soon to be judging this guy, but $18.7 million?! He’s easily the highest paid player on the Red Sox this year, but this what we get for going out and luring a loyal hometown kid away from his roots in Anaheim. Boston had to overpay a bit to get Lackey to switch uniforms, and we had to give him an extra year to finalize the deal.

This number deflates down to $15.95 million per year through 2014, which makes this a little easier to grasp. Also, the Yankees paid AJ Burnett $16 million per year last year in free agency, so we got a better pitcher for basically the same paycheck. My issue with the deal is his initially high salary, along with the fact that we’ll be paying him close to $16 million up through his 36th birthday. I might be a bit premature in this assessment, but his front-loaded deal has a lot to do with the Sox high payroll this season.

Mike Lowell/Adrian Beltre Third Base Logjam: $21.5 Million

When Mike Lowell paraded down the streets of Boston in that duck boat, chants for Red Sox management to re-sign the reigning World Series MVP showered him. The only problem was Theo Epstein was pretty firm with his two-year offer to Mike, and the Phillies were ready to offer him four. With no alternatives, no third basemen of the future, Theo caved and gave Lowell his third year. At the time it was epic: the fans got what they wanted, the Sox were set at third, and the team looked poised to compete in 2008.

Fast forward two-plus years, and Mike Lowell hasn’t played a full season, he limps as he quickly walks the bases, and is a far cry from the player we thought we were getting. On top of all that, the Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre to solidify the left side of the infield’s defense as Lowell withers away on the bench. Lowell’s $12.5 million contract runs up at the end of the season, as well as Beltre’s $9 million. We know this will be the last season of Mike Lowell, but Beltre situation seems to be a bit more up in the air. The Sox can live with spending $9 million at third, but that’s a far cry from $21.5.

The Ghost of Mike Cameron: $7.75 Million

When the Red Sox made the hasty move to sign Mike Cameron this summer, it felt eerily similar to a move made in the past, but I can’t put my finger on it…

Epstein decided to move his up-and-coming, speedy center fielder to left to completely negate his best asset, his speed.  This is all in order to make room for this grizzled veteran with a great zone rating. Since signing with the Red Sox this summer, Mike Cameron went into the witness protection program and hasn’t been seen since, or at least its felt that way. The day they signed this guy to a two-year, $15.5 million deal, it just felt like the wrong guy at the wrong price, just like……

GOT IT!

Julio Lugo: $9.25 Million

You almost forgot about this guy. I did, until unfortunately I found out John Henry’s still signing his paycheck. We did our best to forget about him, hell Nick Green had us saying Julio who?

The harsh reality of it is, the Red Sox are still paying for this guys service even as he sits on the Orioles bench. Between him, Billy Wagner’s $1 million and Alex Gonzalez’s $500k, the Red Sox have $11 million tied up into nothing. Julio Lugo should be the gold standard for this category, but that would be doing a disservice to everyone else in it.

Bargain Bin

These guys are all homegrown players, they’re young, loyal and for all intensive purposes, they like being in Boston. Over the next couple of years they’ll be seeing their tax bracket shift, but with the promise of the future I’m sure the Red Sox will be more than happy to pay them. It’s safe to say the core of the Boston Red Sox is safe in the hands of the following six men.

Jon Lester: $3.75 million

In what I would consider one of the best contracts in all of baseball, Jon Lester is signed through the next three to four years. Next year he’ll earn $5.75 million, then $7.6 million, and then a shade over $11 million in 2013. For a guy who’ll be a Cy Young candidate over the life of that contract, this deal is quite the bargain.

Dustin Pedroia: $3.75 million

Your 2008 American League MVP! I still laugh every time I hear that for some reason. Like Lester, Dustin’s signed on an escalating contract that will top out at $11.6 million in 2013 with the club holding an option for 2014. Laughably cheap when comparing it to the two-year $19 million contract the Yankees gave Robinson Cano.

Kevin Youkilis:$9.375 million

This guy is and has been playing up to and exceeding his pay rate for the last couple of years, and while $9 million doesn’t seem like a bargain, I couldn’t resist. Youkilis will continue to be the heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox, both in the cleanup spot and on defense. I call it a bargain only because he makes less than half of what Mark Teixera and Ryan Howard claim yearly.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard: $400-$500K each:

I fully expect these three guys to continue to grow into playing bigger roles, and in turn receive sizable raises. All will be eligible for arbitration in the coming years, and so far, I like what I’ve seen from all of them. I expect Ellsbury to move back into the leadoff spot when he gets healthy, and eventually take over from Cameron in center later this year. Buchholz may look at his position in the rotation as a hindrance to his financial aspirations, but he should be expecting a Lester-like contract in the near future. Bard is greenest out of this group, but its hard not to fall in love with his stuff. Should the Red Sox flirt with the idea of moving Papelbon, like I think they will, you can expect this guy to step in and take over the ninth inning flawlessly, and at a fraction of the cost.

Problematic Contracts Going Forward?

The following names could come as a surprise (not Daisuke’s) but depending on how the next few years shake out, these guys’ seniority could have them earning way outside of their production level.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: $8.3 Million

After his successful 2008 campaign, Daisuke has come hurdling back to earth. An injury plagued 2009 season and a shaky start to this season, we still really don’t know what we have in this guy. Some nights he looks like a No. 2 or 3 starter, others it looks as though he’s on his way back to Japan. All the Red Sox want to see is a little bit of consistency, and a firm grasp on the fourth spot in the rotation, which at times it looks as though he has no interest in doing.

Daisuke’s still due $20.6 million over the next two seasons not including this one. The problem is, he holds little trade value at this point, and even if he did, management would be hard up to trade him after the enormous posting fee they offered up for him. If he doesn’t pick it up over the next year or so he could be stuck in the fifth spot in the rotation, or worse, depending on the development of Casey Kelly. If that’s the case, Daisuke could be traded for cents on the dollar to a team trying to pick up a foreign market.

Josh Beckett: $12.1 Million

Over the last couple of seasons outside of Daisuke, Josh Beckett has been one of the most irritating pitchers to watch day to day. A lot of the time he’ll give you the starts he’s paid for, but now and then at an increasing rate, the guy just goes out there and throws a stinker.

Beckett’s contract has been a bargain for a while now, coming in second in Cy Young voting in 2007 while anchoring the rotation to a World Series title all while only earning $6 million in the process. I don’t even view his contract this year as being over-the-top, but he has some serious work to do if he’s going to earn his giant extension he just signed this season. Over the next four years, Josh will earn $17 million per, making him the highest paid player on the Red Sox. I’m much more hopeful for him to earn his paycheck than I am with Daisuke, but his recent postseasons do raise a few red flags.

Jonathon Papelbon: $9.35 Million

Like many others, I have slowly begun turning on our beloved closer. Once the dominant anchor to an overpowering bullpen, Paps has looked human over the past two seasons. His fastball doesn’t have the late jump it used to, his split has become as rare a sight as Hailey’s Comet, and his slider is still a work in progress. In no way am I tapping out on Jonathan, but after this season he’ll have his final arbitration hearing where he can expect to earn in the realm of $11-$12.5 million rightfully paying him within the range of elite closers.

Hes done everything right in his time in Boston, but at some point you have to figure Epstein and Terry Francona are going to give Daniel Bard a shot at closing. Bard wont even be earning a tenth of what Papelbon hopes to earn next year, so a move may be imminent. If its not we could be locked into an $11 million closer who doesn’t even have a firm grip on his own position.

2011 and Beyond

As constituted, the Red Sox already have $100 million locked into 2011′s team, a team with more than a couple of glaring holes. At that payroll, the Red Sox have no third basemen, no catcher, no designated hitter, a few empty spots on the bench, and this is all before Papelbon is re-signed. Add in Papelbon’s projected $11 million, and the Red Sox are floating around $111 million. Over the past five seasons the Sox have hovered at a payroll around $140 million, but this season they’ve shown they’re able to go a bit higher. Give them a $150 million payroll and that only leaves $39 million to fill those holes in the lineup, plus a few bench players.

If the past is any sign of the future, $39 million may not reel in the type of fish this lineup so desperately needs.

About Robert McLeod

Robert McLeod Stats: Age: 22 Gender: Male Favorite Sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, Fantasy Sports Favorite Boston Players: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Tuuka Rask, Rajon Rondo Other Hobbies: School, Wiffleball, Snowboarding, Madden, Call of Duty, Movies, Sports Radio Contact: robert at sportsofboston.com Bob Rodgers made me the man I am today. Hopefully I'm the first, and the last to ever utter those words. Before jumping on the bus to school, watching the old SportsDesk hosted by Bob was as necessary as brushing my teeth and eating breakfast. Since those early mornings, I've loved everything about Boston sports. Currently, I'm a senior Journalism major at UMass-Amherst and hope to be graduating this May. I began my college career as a business major at UMass Dartmouth, and realized I hated everything about accounting, debits, credits, my professors bow-tie, and everything inbetween. So I decided to pursue my passion, and write about sports for a living.

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