BOSTON — Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner intend to slash payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold next season, saying they fired Dave Dombrowski because of differing opinions on how to build for the future.
The pair made their first public comments Friday since parting with Dombrowski, the president of baseball operations, on Sept. 8. They said no matter who replaces Dombrowski, Alex Cora will return for a third season as manager.
Boston has had baseball’s highest payroll for two straight seasons and is on track to pay a $13 million luxury tax this year on a payroll of $243 million for purposes of the competitive balance tax, as it is formally known. That is $37 million over the tax threshold.
Next year’s threshold goes up to $208 million, and the Red Sox will be helped by the departure from the payroll of $56.82 million invested in five players: Rick Porcello ($20,625,000), Pablo Sandoval ($18,445,000), Mitch Moreland ($6.5 million), Steve Pearce ($6,250,000) and Eduardo Nunez ($5 million).
If the Red Sox exceed the threshold for a third straight season in 2020, their base tax rate would rise from 30% to 50% and they would face surcharges that would raise he rate to 62% at $228 million and 95% at $248 million.
"We need to be under the CBT," said Henry, the team’s controlling owner. That was something we’ve known for more than a year now."
Dombrowski was hired in August 2015 as the Red Sox skidded to their second straight last-place finish, and he led the team to three straight AL East titles and the 2018 World Series championship. Boston started this year 2-8 and began the season’s final weekend in third place at 83-76.
Henry said it was clear to him in conversations with Dombrowski in the days after the World Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers that "we weren’t going to be on the same wavelength going forward."
"I was hopeful throughout the year that maybe that perception would change. It didn’t," Henry said.
Henry said Boston plans to look outside its organization for its next baseball operations head, a person with a proven record. The person hired will have to deal with a payroll crunch that includes finding room for raises for Mookie Betts from $20 million and Jackie Bradley Jr. from $8.55 million.
Both are eligible for free agency after the 2020 World Series.
Werner said he and team president Sam Kennedy spoke with Betts’ agents as recently as a few weeks ago and that neither Betts nor his representatives gave any indication he wouldn’t be at least interested in remaining with the club beyond 2020.
"We think he’s one of the great players in baseball," Werner said. "Hopefully there’s a meeting of the minds going forward."
Even with the poor results this year, the Red Sox have won four World Series titles under Werner and Henry, whose group bought the team in 2002.
"Our real intention is to be competitive every year," Werner said. "And we’ll do whatever we have to do to do that. The solution to that isn’t always having the highest payroll in baseball."
Werner said the Red Sox won’t feel rushed to get a successor in place.
"In the end we take full responsibility for the overall direction of the club," Werner said. "But one of the things that we’ve talked about and I think is apparent is that we need to have more depth in our minor league system."