Red Sox

In 2018, Damage Done was to others. This winter, will the Red Sox do it to themselves?

A plan to heavily trim payroll after a roundly disappointing season is a heck of a strategy.

Mookie Betts ended 2019 scoring the winning run against Baltimore. Did he also end his Red Sox tenure in the process?


Quite simply, they do not think you’ll turn away. They think you’re invested enough for the long term, and that they’ve invested enough in the long term, that you will come back to watch next season even if the product is inferior. In fact, you will thank them for only raising ticket prices a couple percent.

They’re probably right, aren’t they?

The Red Sox season that began with Alex Cora telling a rapt crowd of baseball diehards in January that, “If you guys thought last year was special, wait till this year,” ended with the 107-loss Baltimore Orioles nearly sweeping the hosts at Fenway Park. The Red Sox lost more than they won at Fenway for just the seventh time in the last 53 years, and just the second (joining 1980) in a year they were better than .500 overall.


They tried like the dickens to get Eduardo Rodriguez to 20 wins these last few weeks, actually scored him into position following his final inning of 2019 work on Sunday, then Matt Barnes promptly squandered the lead to an offense that had less collective fWAR this season (6.3, ahead of just Miami and Detroit) than 10 individual players, Mookie Betts among them.

It was Betts that got the final word, racing home from first on a two-hopper to second, then promptly declaring the veracity of the celebration was because, “I think everybody was kind of ready to go, so [we’re] just excited to go home.”


“He can dominate a game in every aspect,” Cora told reporters.

“He has a different type of vision, seeing plays, reading stuff, anticipating,” said Xander Bogaerts, who had both the go-ahead RBI single in the seventh and the error that lit Baltimore’s fuse in the eighth.

“It was just kind of instinct for me,” Betts said.

Teams wander for decades trying to find that player, nurture the talent, develop it, and surround it with enough other quality to build a true contender. We’ll spend much of the winter wondering, the Red Sox having done all those things, whether they’ll ship him off for parts out of fear someone will outbid them for him after next season.


Because on Friday, upon being asked why they’d fielded almost no questions about firing their team architect for nearly three weeks, ownership (according to the Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy, reporting on their 25-minute, no-cameras-allowed chat session) laughed, and quipped to a PR person, “Should [we] tell the truth?”

From 108 wins and a world championship to 84 and an early winter. It’s still a little hard to really comprehend, but a team shedding two dozen wins in a year happens probably more than you think. Sixteen times just in the last 22 years, in fact, with a pair of them here.

Bobby Valentine’s 2012 debacle was a 21-win dropoff from 2011. A roster of complimentary parts and city-lifting spirit rebounded 28 victories for a world title in 2013, then receded 26 in 2014 before the four-year climb to Damage Done last fall.


That sort of schizophrenia isn’t unique. Seattle went down 27, up 24, down 24 from 2008-10. Texas dropped 24 wins in 2014, then immediately regained 21. Minnesota went 83 wins, 59, 85 from 2015-17, then leapt to 101 (while cutting payroll) on the way to staring down the Yankees later this week.

There are certainly reasons to think another such flip could happen here, given just how good the offense was — fourth in runs, sixth in fWAR — and the clarity in needing to spend a little on relief this winter. Even if that latter seemed due to a payroll constraint, money’s flown so freely here, be it the $51 million just to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka or the $72.5 million on Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo, that felt like an exception.


Then, Friday.

“This year we need to be under the [competitive balance tax]” of $208 million, Red Sox owner John Henry said. “That’s the goal.”

Perspective is needed, of course. That number would still be the fourth-highest payroll in baseball, and would — as Alex Speier thoroughly lays out — reset the team’s luxury tax rates the same way they were reset in 2017, when Boston dropped to No. 6 in payroll, their lowest rank since 2000.

Prospect stock, however, meant the Sox added Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel while cutting payroll in 2017. Now? Again, from Speier: “Based on the current guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration earnings, and estimates for their players who aren’t yet arbitration-eligible, the team has roughly $220 million in commitments for next year — and that’s without a fifth starter to replace Rick Porcello, without bullpen upgrades, and without a first baseman to pair with Michael Chavis.”


Cut back to Friday’s 5 p.m. quasi-presser news dump, which does seem like nothing compared to firing Dave Dombrowski after midnight following the Patriots opener.

“Right after the World Series, we had preliminary talks about our way forward and it was clear to me we weren’t on the same page at that point,” Henry said of Dombrowski, a longtime associate. “There was a difference, I think, in how we thought we should move forward.”

That difference, of course, did not stop the Steve Pearce signing, the Nathan Eovaldi signing, or the Chris Sale extension — the first two largely tying Dombrowski’s hands at the trade deadline, that brief moment when the 2019 Red Sox were actually in a playoff position, and the last two largely tying the hands of whomever will succeed him as Boston’s teambuilder.


Asked Sunday by the Globe’s Peter Abraham about having any reservations about changing uniforms again, J.D. Martinez didn’t exactly dismiss the idea of exercising his contractual opt-out. Which, it must be noted, would free up $16 million while also gutting a lineup he made better as both teacher and slugger.

Jackie Bradley Jr., according to arbitration calculations, will be due about $10 million next season. Mitch Moreland and Brock Holt combined to make that as free agents. All three of them won’t cover what Betts will make in his final year before free agency, though that’s largely beside the point.

Betts, despite talking about his love for Boston at every turn, wants to experience free agency. And the Red Sox want you to believe they can’t afford to give him that chance.


“Last year, we exceeded our budget,” Henry (Henry owns Boston Globe Media Partners, including said in January, with words he’d repeat to much more fanfare during the two losses to the Yankees in London. “We went into spring training with a $200 [million] budget and we came out with $230 [million]. … You look at what your needs are, but we do have constraints. Every team has constraints. It’s not necessarily the CBT that is your constraint. It’s how much money are you willing to lose?”

The Red Sox, worth $3.2 billion in last year’s Forbes valuations, owned by a man worth $2.7 billion by Forbes’s count, in a sport with revenues at $10.3 billion last season, are asking that question at the same time they’re telling the Globe about “an inflationary type of adjustment” that will likely still need to be made on the second-most expensive tickets in the sport. Asking it of a fanbase that came 16,441 strong for 12 minutes of essentially free baseball on a Thursday afternoon this summer, while asking everything else that’ll come from a 15 percent payroll cut, feels downright cruel.


Hey, I get it. Resetting the tax penalties is smart business. It’s tough to win, period. It can be done cheaper than how the Red Sox have done in recent years, clearly.

I also get this. A few hours after Game No. 162 ended, the Revolution completed an improbable in-season turnaround, clinching their first MLS playoff berth since 2015. Monday is Celtics Media Day. The Bruins open in Dallas on Thursday night. The Patriots visit the Redskins on Sunday.

We aren’t going to mope around if the Red Sox cut to the relative bone, leaving us to watch the best of what Dombrowski didn’t trade away. We’re going to move on.


Because if there’s anything the Red Sox have taught us in recent years, it’s that it’s a “What have you done for me lately” kind of world. And lately gets shorter by the day.