The defending World Series champion, Boston Red Sox, were one of two teams that overshot the competitive balance tax, otherwise called the “luxury tax,” in 2018. President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, as well as everyone else affiliated with Boston is probably okay with that. However, Boston will be beyond the tax threshold once again in 2019 unless something happens to change that. For a team like the Red Sox with an abundance of resources, why would it matter? It matters because the penalties for continuously going over the luxury tax increase the more a team does it. In fact, teams that carry payrolls above that threshold are taxed on each dollar above the threshold, with the tax rate increasing based on the number of consecutive years that threshold is exceeded.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the projected payroll for Boston going into 2019 will approximate $230 million. And this number was calculated prior to the Nathan Eovaldi signing so the actual total is even greater. The word on the street is that Boston is looking to sign high-caliber relief pitchers, which would obviously increase payroll even more. The competitive balance tax line for 2019 will be $206 million, so the Red Sox are very much in danger of going beyond the threshold for a second consecutive year. If they do, they will pay 30% on every dollar above the threshold. If Boston exceeds the threshold by $20-40 million then that percentage goes to a 42% tax on every dollar spent beyond the threshold. And it gets worse from there if they exceed the threshold further or go into a third consecutive year beyond the threshold.
Mookie Betts will be a free agent in 2020. J.D. Martinez will likely opt out of his contract in 2020. Chris Sale will become a free agent in 2020. Unless the Red Sox want to see their long-term hopes of winning be short-lived, it behooves them to think about shedding payroll and resetting the clock on the competitive balance tax in 2019. There is also rumor that the Red Sox are trying to clear payroll for bullpen help. Further rumors indicate that Jackie Bradley Jr., Rick Porcello, and Xander Bogaerts are available. One way to do that would be to trade Xander Bogaerts and his projected $11.9 in salary for next year.
The Boston #Redsox, trying to clear salary space for bullpen help, are openly listening to offers on Rick Porcello, and rivals insist also are willing to talk about Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 11, 2018
Rival exec confirms #RedSox looking to cut payroll so they can make other moves (most likely in bullpen) and remain under luxury-tax threshold. Porcello and Bogaerts eligible for free agency after this season, Bradley after 2020. https://t.co/SbK4CJYvDP
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2018
Recently Zachary Rymer of Bleacher Report proposed that the Red Sox should trade Bogaerts. He listed our beloved Milwaukee Brewers as being the trade partner of choice. As with every article written concerning a hypothetical trade involving the Brewers, the proposed price cited would begin with one of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, or Freddy Peralta plus others. Xander Bogaerts is certainly a very good player, especially offensively. Is he worth such a price? To get a better idea for an answer to that question, let’s examine another trade for a player who is superior to Bogaerts, who has one year to go before free agency, and was recently traded to our nemesis, St. Louis Cardinals: Paul Goldschmidt.
Some have indicated that the package received by Arizona for Goldschmidt was an impressive haul. For Arizona’s all-time leader in OBP, SLG, OPS+, walks, and WAR, St. Louis sent Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Andy Young, and the Cardinals 2019 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. Kelly and Weaver were both top-100 prospects that have major league experience. To this point, Weaver is the only one to have success at the major league level and that came in 2017, though 2018 was not a good year for the young right-hander. He posted a 4.95 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.25 HR/9, and a hard hit rate that spiked by more than 10% from 2017 to 2018.
Carson Kelly was supposed to be the heir apparent to Yadier Molina. He has yet to show the offensive prowess he demonstrated in the minor leagues at the professional level. To this point in his major league career, Kelly has 131 plate appearances with .154 AVG and has shown very little power, although to be fair, he has not had much of an opportunity sitting behind Molina. Andy Young was also part of the package and he has performed well at high A, and double A, but he is not considered a top-notch prospect (#22 in the Diamondbacks system which is improving but still below average). The draft pick is a pretty good one and should be slotted around pick #40.
Welcome to Arizona! The #Dbacks have acquired right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andrew Young and a 2019 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick from the Cardinals in exchange for Paul Goldschmidt. pic.twitter.com/ylANMvt8kU
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) December 5, 2018
To get Paul Goldschmidt, a perennial 5 plus WAR player, 3 time Gold Glove Winner, and 6 time All-Star, the Cardinals gave up two young players that were once top prospects, but have lost value due to poor performance at the major league level, a good performing lower level minor league player that likely projects as a utility player if he gets to the majors, and the 40th pick in the 2019 draft.
Bogaerts is a very good offensive shortstop. In 2018, the Red Sox middle infielder slashed .289/.360/.522 with a DRC+ of 123 and BWARP of 4.5. He is not going to win any gold gloves with a at UZR 1.1 and -19 DRS in 2018, however. At the same time, DRS is a volatile statistic, and Bogaerts at least looks competent in the field, especially with regards to arm strength.
While an upgrade over Orlando Arcia on offense and overall, he would be a downgrade defensively, as Arcia’s range is elite. (Arcia would grade even better defensively if he did not make 15 errors in 2018; hopefully that can be rectified with experience). For a team that relies on exceptional relief pitching and holding opponents’ run scoring to a minimum to win, why would the Brewers eliminate that defensive production from the most important defensive position on the infield?
The obvious discussion point would be, could he be an option at second base and the shortstop option in case Arcia fails to hit again? Maybe! It would be surprising to see David Stearns begin a package for Bogaerts with one of Woodruff, Burnes, or Peralta much less make a run a below average defender at shortstop unless…
A scenario that might make sense for the Brewers trading for Bogaerts rests with the level of confidence the front office has in Orlando Arcia. If Stearns and company have lost confidence in Arcia and feel that Mauricio Dubon is the future shortstop then this type of trade begins to make more sense. The Brewers would get an offensive upgrade at shortstop that could also play all over the infield as the season wore on. Dubon and Keston Hiura could develop a bit more in San Antonio and get major league playing time later in the season. Bogaerts would lengthen the lineup significantly, and with their ability to position effectively on defense, maybe the Brewers’ front office feels that Bogaerts at shortstop would not be that much of a hindrance. It could be argued that the acquisition of Jonathan Schoop was possibly based along that same line of thinking, but Schoop’s offensive and defensive abilities failed to live up to expectations and thus he is now a Twin.
If that is Stearns’ line of thinking, then what kind of package would it take to get Bogaerts? Remember, if the Red Sox are considering moving Bogaerts, then they are doing it to shed payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold and/or to clear space to get a reliever. That means leverage for the Brewers. Also, we know what the package was for a much better player with one year of control. So what would Bogaerts bring back from the Brewers?
It might have to start with Arcia. He would serve as the front end of the package providing upside value with years of control to Boston (sort of like Weaver was in the Goldschmidt trade) and the potential long term replacement for Bogaerts at a significantly reduced cost. Milwaukee would also take the $11.9 million off Boston’s books just like the Cardinals did with the Diamondbacks. That leaves one or two other pieces to get such a trade accomplished. The Brewers should not have to give up a Carson Kelly-caliber player/prospect. But the question is, what would get it done? Would two mid-level minor league players? Maybe one of the players needs to be more significant; a Zack Brown perhaps? Perhaps the Red Sox see Jacob Barnes or Taylor Williams as an upside option in the bullpen?
Are we wasting time speculating about a trade that will probably not happen? Maybe. But it’s still fun, and you never know with the history of David Stearns. What should the Brewers give up for Xander Bogaerts?
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus