Column: Martinez opt-in sets in motion Red Sox offseason

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The dominoes are starting to fall.

With Red Sox designated hitter/outfielder J.D. Martinez officially opting into his contact for the 2020 season on Monday, Boston can map out how its offseason plan will go.

Martinez is slated to make $23.75 million in 2020, and with it, avoids the $2.5 million buyout he would have owed to the Red Sox had he opted for free agency.

Boston has been a busy franchise since its season wrapped up before the playoffs began. From the firing of Dave Dombrowski to the hiring of Chaim Bloom to the the head of baseball operations, a changing of the guard is certainly in play.

That change could factor in heavily to the Red Sox finances, which have been a spotlight item over the past few seasons.

It's no secret Boston loves to spend. From the enormous amounts of money it has handed out to David Price and Chris Sale, that much is clear.

Their spending habits have also placed them squarely in the luxury tax threshold, a penalty assessed to teams that spend more than a set MLB guideline.

While there is no salary cap, this penalty helps create competitive balance throughout the league.

The Red Sox have bulldozed that tax over the past two seasons. A Sept. 14 USA Today article estimated that Boston would pay a $13 million fee for the 2019 season, a year where the Red Sox finished 84-78, 12 games behind the Rays, who were the second wild card.

Boston's 2019 payroll was more than $249 million, and as of now, its projected 2020 payroll, before any offseason movement, is about $235 million.

The first level of the luxury tax is set around $208 million, a number well south of what the Red Sox are projected to have on their books. And ownership set what they called "a goal" of being under that number.

So what gives?

What it could give is an offseason unfamiliar to Red Sox fans — an offseason focused on payroll-cutting as opposed to big spending.

The hiring of Bloom is a perfect indication of this change in philosophy.

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Bloom comes from a Tampa Bay Rays franchise with one of the smallest budgets in the league. He comes from a franchise where he had to be creative to build a winner and one that he had a lot of success doing so.

Right away, Bloom will have to get creative with how he goes about the offseason.

The lone option left on the Red Sox books is starting pitcher Andrew Cashner. Cashner has a team option for $10 million, and if Boston has any sort of fiscal mind, he's good as gone.

The Red Sox have 11 arbitration-eligible players, and their projected salaries could shift the payroll number, but even with subtracting Cashner's money, Boston is still above $208M.

In order to get under that threshold, the Red Sox will need to look into the trade market to shed salary.

This might be hard to hear for Boston fans, but the biggest, most attractive fish the Red Sox can dangle on the line is star outfielder Mookie Betts.

After arbitration, Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, is projected to make more than $27 million. Even more importantly, he becomes a free agent after next season. With Betts refusing to talk shop on an extension before then, this could be the time where the Red Sox strike when the iron is hot.

Boston could recoup a major haul in return for Betts and start to freshen a farm system that is ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Obviously, it will hurt the product on the field next season for the Red Sox, but Boston is plenty talented to overcome that kind of loss.

Another potential move to cut payroll, while keeping Betts on the roster, could be a trade of Martinez, now that he's opted in, a move that would cut a similar amount of money as trading Betts would.

They could also trade outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who should demand $10 million-plus in arbitration, along with a few others, but that would require multiple subtractions which doesn't seem like the best way to keep the team competitive in the short term.

Cutting out Betts' potential $27 million would give the Red Sox some flexibility to address other needs this winter, most prominently the bullpen. It would also assure Boston gets something for him if he chooses to walk in free agency next year.

With the first domino down, we'll see what falls next.

Adam Aucoin can be reached aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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