The owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, determined to recapture the glory of 2013 and forget the dismal season of 2014, wants to pay the luxury tax if he has to in order to sign Jon Lester.
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Henry explained: “The way (the luxury tax is) structured we can blow through one year. Again for next year we have tremendous flexibility so we could go could through for one year and not overly effect us.”
The Bosox just made their second major free agent signing, picking up third baseman Pablo Sandoval for $100 million over five years. They had already signed left fielder Hanley Ramirez for $88 million over four years. They offered Lester a six-year, $110-$120 million deal, which was a substantial increase from their prior offer of four years and $70 million made last April.
The last-place Bosox traded Lester, who won two World Series with them, to the first-place A’s just before the August 1 trading deadline. At the time, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said, “My last conversation with him was in the clubhouse. He came in to clear some stuff out so I got a chance to go down and see him in person today. That was a thank you and an appreciation for everything he’s done and a good luck. He’s going to a new place and he’s going to be pitching in big games down the stretch and he’ll have an opportunity to win again. We’ll be rooting for him.”
The CBA reports that the current MLB luxury tax threshold stands at $189 million; the Bosox payroll last year was $156,350,125. According to WEEI.com, now that Sandoval and Ramirez have been added to the roster, the team’s payroll rests at $181 million, which means only $9 million will be available for an average annual pitching salary.
Lester won’t settle for that amount; that $9 million won’t compare to the rumored $25 million per season the Cubs have offered, or a reported offer from the Braves. The Giants are meeting with Lester next week, according to The Sporting News.
Herington said, “As you guys know, we’re interested. We have great respect for him. He’s in free agency. He’s got an opportunity to hear what other teams have to say, too. And he’s going through that process. We’re respectful of that process and hope to continue to be involved in that process. That’s really all I can say.”
Asked if the Bosox pickup of Sandoval and Ramirez had reduced the free agent market so that Lester’s demands would go even higher, Henry stated: “I think that was going to happen whether we were successful or not.” He added, “I think the big risk is avoiding free agency. You can’t win, you can’t put together a winning ballclub just through the minor league system. To me that would be really risky.”
Lester’s agent Seth Levinson, responding to the Red Sox offer, succinctly stated that the Red Sox “extended great respect” to Lester. Levinson’s response heartened Henry, who said:
I don’t know that it sends a signal (of a deal being close to completion). I guess the signal it sends is there’s never been a problem between Jon and the organization either way. He’s been a huge part of what we’ve accomplished here. I think when we went to see him, a large part of our presentation was finishing that legacy. We’re hopeful he can do that.”
Henry concluded, “Obviously we’re doing everything we can to sign a top-tier pitcher, Jon Lester. And hopefully he’ll come back.”
Cot’s Baseball Contracts reports that with the two new signings, the Sox have committed $146.5 million in average annual value (AAV) to 12 players for 2015.
Henry may be willing to absorb a tax payment for 2015 because Mike Napoli ($16 million AAV), Shane Victorino ($13 million), Yoenis Cespedes ($9 million), Edward Mujica ($4.75 million), and Clay Buchholz ($7.49 million) can choose to be free agents after next season. If the Bosox cut players from the roster during the 2015 season, their end-of-season payroll could drop under $189 million. If the Red Sox exceed the limit in 2015 but obey the limit in 2016, they would not have to pay an increased tax for exceeding the limit in consecutive years.