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Red Sox looking to shed additional payroll?

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The Red Sox made waves on Saturday afternoon, trading seven-time All-Star and 2018 World Series champion Chris Sale to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for young infielder Vaughn Grissom

Boston needed a second baseman, and Grissom can fill that role right away — and potentially for years to come. Still, as talented as Grissom very well may be, it’s hard not to view the trade as something of a salary dump for the Red Sox. 

Although Sale has spent significant time on the injured list over the past several years, he has flashed great stuff when healthy, and the Red Sox need all the upside they can get if they’re going to compete in the fearsome AL East. 

By trading the veteran starter to the Braves, along with $17M in cash, the Red Sox reduced their total payroll commitments by $10.5M and their luxury tax payroll by approximately $7M for 2024 (per Roster Resource).

This is not the only trade chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has made to decrease payroll this winter. He flipped Luis Urías to the Mariners just before the non-tender deadline, sacrificing the infielder’s upside to avoid his estimated $4.7M arbitration salary. He also dealt Alex Verdugo to the Yankees and essentially replaced him with former Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill, saving an estimated $3.7M in the process. 

Those sound like relatively inconsequential numbers for a large-market team like Boston, but for what it’s worth, the money the team saved by trading Urías, Verdugo, and Sale adds up to just under $19M, and newly signed starter Lucas Giolito will earn $18M in 2024.

Indeed, while the Red Sox typically run one of the higher payrolls in the sport, it seems they’ll be operating under a tighter budget this offseason. As reported by Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com, the team has informed at least one free agent that they have to “shed more payroll” before they can pursue him “as aggressively as they want to.”

The Red Sox have shed significantly more payroll than they’ve added this winter. In addition to their various trades, the team let Justin Turner, Corey Kluber, Adam Duvall, James Paxton and Joely Rodríguez reach free agency. Those five accounted for just over $34M in luxury tax payroll last season. 

Boston’s estimated luxury tax payroll now sits below $200M for the first time since 2020. That being the case, it’s rather surprising to hear that ownership is tightening the purse strings. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that chairman Tom Werner claimed the team would be competitive in 2024, vowing to go “full throttle in every possible way,” per Sean McAdam of MassLive.com.

Of course, this rumor may be little more than a negotiation tactic, with the Red Sox playing hard to get to drive down a free-agent target’s price. However, if Breslow is serious about reducing payroll, he might look to deal Kenley Jansen or Chris Martin in the coming weeks. 

The veteran relievers are set to hit free agency following the 2024 season, and they’d surely draw plenty of interest on the trading block. 

Jansen, who is owed $16M next year, made his fourth career All-Star team last season, while Martin, who is set to make $9.5M, led qualified MLB relievers in ERA. Losing Jansen or Martin would be a tough blow for Boston’s bullpen, but one could argue the Red Sox would be selling high on either arm. 

Jansen will be 36 next season, and he’s no longer the dominant closer he once was. Meanwhile, Martin will be 37, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to maintain an ERA below 2.00.

Breslow could also dangle Nick Pivetta, who is set to earn approximately $6.9M in his final year of arbitration eligibility, but then again, the team’s rotation looks thin enough as it is.

 Finally, the chief baseball officer would surely wish to be freed of the $95M remaining on Trevor Story’s contract, but it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox could find a trade partner willing to take on the injury-prone shortstop.

It should also be said that it’s unclear which player Cotillo’s report refers to, as the Red Sox has been connected with no shortage of top free agents. The list includes frontline starting pitchers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, high-end relievers Jordan Hicks and Robert Stephenson and slugging outfielder Teoscar Hernández

All five of those players will be rewarded handsomely this winter. Perhaps the Red Sox would need to shed payroll before signing any of these players, but it’s possible they would only need to cut back to sign Snell or Montgomery to a nine-figure deal.

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