Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Connor Wong #74 and Michael Wacha #52 of the Boston Red Sox talk in the dugout in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

  • We’ve been talking about the Red Sox financial approach for months and years now, and we’ve more than said our share. They’re cheap. Or they’re too cautious. Or they have a fear of commitment.

    Over the weekend – and yesterday, in particular – we saw the real cost of their decision-making.

    With a chance to sweep the San Diego Padres, the Sox dropped a 7-0 decision behind right-hander Corey Kluber, behind whom the Sox are now 3-6 this season. Among 104 major league pitchers this season, Kluber now ranks 98th in ERA (6.26), two spots behind teammate Nick Pivetta (6.17, 96th), who was just demoted to the bullpen.

    Pivetta is making $5.35 million this year. Kluber is earning $10 million.

    Which brings us to back Michael Wacha.

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Michael Wacha #52 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox at PETCO Park on May 21, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 21: Michael Wacha #52 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox at PETCO Park on May 21, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    Last season, lest anyone forget, Wacha pitched for the Red Sox, going 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 127.1 innings. The Red Sox went 16-7 in his starts, which is especially notable when you consider that they went 62-77 the rest of the time. Does that make Wacha a great pitcher? No. But it makes him a decent middle-to-end-of the-rotation starter depending on the rest of your pitching staff and, of course, the contract.

    Last year, on a one-year deal with the Red Sox, Wacha made $7 million. This year, he’s earning just $6.5 million. So how can that be? Because the Padres gave the soon-to-be 32-year-old Wacha a four-year, $26 million deal.

    All of that brings us right back to Kluber.

  • SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Corey Kluber #28 of the Boston Red Sox is unable to field a grounder hit by Jake Cronenworth #9 of the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a game at PETCO Park on May 21, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 21: Corey Kluber #28 of the Boston Red Sox is unable to field a grounder hit by Jake Cronenworth #9 of the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a game at PETCO Park on May 21, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    Let’s start with the obvious: Now 37, Kluber has been in decline for the last five years, posting a 19-22 record and 4.61 ERA. He has pitched more than 80 innings just once – that coming last season, when he went 10-13 with a 4.34 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox subsequently signed him to a one-year, $10 million contract, which is $3.5 million more than Wacha is currently counting against the Padres’ luxury-tax total.

    Get the picture? For all of the emphasis the Sox seemingly put on the staying below the luxury tax, they actually increased the number by choosing Kluber. What they did, however, was save up $16 million in the form of a long-term commitment, which sounds like a lot of money until you think about it a little deeper.

  • In the current financial landscape of major league baseball, the best pitchers in the game are now earning between $40-$45 million annually, which is obviously a massive number. The best positional players are now earning somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million a year. The Red Sox have shown an obvious aversion to long-term contracts on these kind of talents – they did sign Rafael Devers after moving on from both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts – and there is certainly the case to be made that long-term contracts for superstars are foolish deals given the history of such deals. (See: “Sale, Chris.”)

    But does that make even the small or moderate multiyear deals foolish?

    In the case of Wacha, $26 million over four years is a bargain. In fact, the Red Sox might have been able to offer Wacha a three-year deal for roughly the same number, tacking on a vesting option for a fourth year, and still kept Wacha’s luxury-tax number under that of the $10 million they are paying Kluber. The Sox would then have a younger, better pitcher – Kluber’s velocity has dropped considerably since his heyday – while using a little of their financial potency without saddling themselves with a potential payroll anchor.

    The bottom line: they chose Kluber for $10 million annually when they could have had Wacha for $6.5 million, and Wacha still would have been only 35 when his contract with the Sox expired. (Again, Kluber is 37 now.)

  • SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 19: James Paxton #65 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on May 19, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

    SAN DIEGO, CA – MAY 19: James Paxton #65 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on May 19, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

    Now, we know what you’re thinking. Ya, Mazz, what about James Paxton? Well, what about him? Two starts into his Red Sox career, the 34-year-old Paxton is now 2-0 with a 2.245 ERA with a luxury-tax number of $4 million. That’s a good deal, right? But to get it, the Sox actually had to give Paxton what amounted to a two-year contract for $14 million, an average of $7 million per. Paxton did throw a pitch for the Sox last season while earning $10 million, but he exercised his option for a second after the Sox invested in his rehabilitation.

    The point?

    Sometimes contracts beyond a year don’t just increase your chances at failure.

    They also increase your chances for at least some success.

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