Reworked MLB deal can affect Red Sox in many ways

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Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brandon Workman might have played their final games as members of the Red Sox.

Kevin Pillar might never appear in one.

Resetting the penalties accumulated through the Collective Balance Tax, something Boston prioritized entering the 2020 season, might not happen.

The deal struck by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association on Friday was a complicated one. Owners secured short-term financial security while players protected their long-term interests, and the Red Sox are one of 30 franchises left considering how it will affect them specifically. The coronavirus pandemic has forever altered the nation’s sporting landscape, and baseball is anything but immune.

Players will be paid from a pool of $170 million set aside by the owners — their annual combined salaries approach $4 billion. It’s a significant reduction in terms of what they’ll take home this year. But it also preserves something they value in equal measure to their bank accounts — service time.

All eligible players whose contracts expire will still be granted free agency regardless of how many games are completed this season. Bradley, Workman and Pillar are among the notables in Boston while Mookie Betts, JT Realmuto, George Springer, Trevor Bauer and James Paxton would hit the market elsewhere. The Dodgers face the real possibility of trading Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong to the Red Sox and receiving only two years of work from pitcher David Price.

The service time exception extends to players who are eligible for arbitration, and Boston stands to take a financial hit in a couple areas. Chief among them is Rafael Devers, who will be eligible for the first time after being on the books for a paltry $692,500 in 2020. His salary figures to take a considerable jump thanks to his monster 2019 campaign, and players like Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Barnes will suddenly be entering their final season of team control in 2021.

A shortened MLB Draft would prevent the Red Sox from beefing up a farm system that remains in the sport’s bottom half. Only five rounds have been budgeted for the 2020 and 2021 editions, with undrafted free agents eligible to sign for up to just $20,000. Talented high school players figure to wait as long as possible for the bonus structure to return to normal, and Boston will be stripped of two occasions to add quality depth like Christian Vazquez (ninth round, 2008) and Jarren Duran (seventh round, 2018).

Homegrown talent could be vital to building the Red Sox roster in 2021. Boston’s payroll currently sits at $193.8 million per Cot’s Contracts, and the club stands to shed roughly $19 million through possible departures by Bradley, Workman and Pillar. JD Martinez could opt out of the final two years of his contract and seek a deal with a certain contender – his average annual value of $22 million would also come off the books for 2021 and 2022. Assuming Martinez stays, the Red Sox would have about $34 million available under the first threshold of the CBT – that figures to remain at $208 million. .

A reconfigured schedule featuring fewer days off and doubleheaders will call for an expanded roster of up to 29 players. That allows Boston to more easily retain Rule 5 Draft selection Jonathan Arauz, and the infielder could prove to be a nice long-term addition at relatively no cost. Starting pitching remains thin without Price and the injured Chris Sale, but the extra slots could be used on bullpen pieces who will attempt to cobble together 27 outs each game.

The Red Sox also figure to learn the outcome of the MLB investigation into alleged 2018 electronic sign stealing prior to the resumption of play. That could be at some point early in the summer or entering next spring. Former Boston manager Alex Cora has already departed, and any loss of suddenly limited picks over the next two seasons – similar to the four selections forfeited by the Astros for their own malfeasance – would prove harsh.

Should the Red Sox manage to reach the postseason, their fans might be forced to watch each game on television or through other outlets. Players have agreed to take the field without fans in the stands if necessary, and any extension of the playoffs towards Thanksgiving could see cold-weather cities lose home dates to neutral sites. Boston’s climate typically doesn’t qualify as mild when the calendar approaches December.


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