When the Yankees won 103 games and the World Series this season, it was easy for every fan in Boston to thumb their noses at the newly crowned champions, writing the Bronx Bombers' title off as bought, not earned. Anyone can win a World Series ring when it costs them a cool $207 million.
Next year, they'll be at it again, with a title to defend and another huge payroll to defend it. But they might not be alone.
Don't look now, but the Red Sox are creeping up the ladder. And while they may miss the underdog mentality, the Sox' fans will get used to it if it means a return to serious World Series contention. Can't put a price on that.
Or can you?
When the Sox last won the Fall Classic in 2007, they set a record for the largest payroll ever for a World Series champion. They spent just over $143 million that year — a far cry from the Yanks' expenditures that season, but still enough to put together a championship-caliber ballclub. In 2010, they might have to revisit their free-spending ways. Perhaps even exceed them.
Let's break it down. By going after John Lackey this offseason, the Sox have quickly put together one of the game's most expensive starting rotations — they're spending $18 million next season on Lackey, $12 million on Josh Beckett and $8 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are bargains at $3.75 million and $420,000 respectively, while Tim Wakefield has returned for a reduced price of $3.5 million plus incentives.
That's about $46 million right there, for six guys. The bullpen is at least another $10 million — Jonathan Papelbon is owed over $6 million, Hideki Okajima is arbitration-eligible and could easily get $3 million, and Ramon Ramirez, Daniel Bard and Manny Delcarmen will all demand sizable raises after an impressive 2009.
They're paying $7 million to Victor Martinez and $3 million to Jason Varitek, his backup. Their infield won't be cheap — they're shelling out over over $9 million for Kevin Youkilis, $3.5 million for Dustin Pedroia and $5 million for Marco Scutaro. Mike Lowell might not stick around town, but even if he's dealt, the Red Sox will end up paying most if not all of his $12 million salary for next season.
We're at about $95 million so far. Then you visit the Red Sox' outfield, where you see a big fat $14 million stink bomb of a contract for J.D. Drew, followed by a newly signed $7.25 million deal for Mike Cameron. Next to those guys, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jeremy Hermida are bargains, with the former making under half a million and the latter getting over $2 million a year.
David Ortiz is getting $12.5 million to DH. Casey Kotchman is warming the bench for $3 million. Junichi Tazawa is making half a million bucks and might not make the majors; Jose Iglesias just signed a four-year, $8.25 million deal and definitely won't.
The front office and the dugout don't fill out cheaply, either; Terry Francona gets $3.75 million, and Theo Epstein doesn't like to talk about his own contract, but it can't be too shabby since he rejected $1.5 million a year when he resigned in 2005.
That's $148 million or so, depending on the exact terms of Theo's deal and the outcome of a few arbitration cases. Then you have $10.5 million in payroll obligations to former players on new teams — most of that goes to St. Louis, where Julio Lugo is reinventing himself as a National League shortstop and the Cardinals aren't paying him a dime. Maybe with the money they're saving, they can make a handsome offer to keep Matt Holliday around.
So the Red Sox are already knocking on the door of $160 million. And they might not be done spending this offseason — they could use a utility infielder, they could add a reliever or two with Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito gone, and you never know, they might add one more starting pitcher, just for depth's sake.
And then there's that small matter of Jason Bay.
Rumors are still floating around about the Red Sox loosening the purse strings to spend big on Bay, outbidding the Mets and anyone else that might make a serious offer to the 31-year-old left fielder. But how much looser can the Red Sox get?
Bay is going to get $15 million a season on the open market. He just has to. And that's a bare minimum — with the bidding war that might ensue between Theo and Omar Minaya, there's no telling how much money it might take for the Red Sox ultimately to pry him away.
There's an outside chance that the Red Sox, always the underdogs in an eternal struggle with the free-spending Bronx Bombers, could have a payroll of $180 million next season. That would not only shatter their franchise record, but it would bring the Sox dangerously close to Yankee territory. And that kind of spending, no matter how much the pundits in the Bronx try to downplay it, matters. It matters a lot.
The Red Sox were underdogs last season because the Yankees spent more. Plain and simple. A few million dollars more, and Mark Teixeira is in Red Sox threads, not pinstripes. A few million less, and CC Sabathia or A.J. Burnett says "thanks, but no thanks," spurning the Yankees for a shot at more respect elsewhere.
A few million dollars can go a long, long way. The Yankees proved that. If they spend $120 million in 2009 like the rest of baseball's mere mortals, they're not winning that World Series — the talent just isn't quite there. But they did spend, and it paid off in a big, big way.
The Red Sox have a chance to enter that realm. They can shatter records and leave the rest of the American League in the dust — and in October, it they'll see where it gets them.
It might cost them their souls. But souls are overrated.
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