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Red Sox agenda to slash payroll? Henry says it’s media-driven noise

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 1/11/2020 Dan Shaughnessy

John W. Henry wearing glasses and looking at the camera: John Henry saw his club finish 19 games behind the Yankees in the AL East standings despite having the highest payroll in the majors.

John Henry saw his club finish 19 games behind the Yankees in the AL East standings despite having the highest payroll in the majors.
© File/Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Red Sox owner John Henry thinks the media is misrepresenting the team’s offseason mission. In a rare e-mail exchange with this correspondent, Henry stated, “We are focused on competitiveness over the next 5 years over and above resetting . . .”

“Resetting” is the notion the Sox this winter are primarily concerned with cutting payroll from $243 million to $208 million in order to avoid competitive penalties imposed if they remain over the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT). In this spirit, the Red Sox theoretically would explore trading stars such as Mookie Betts and David Price in the interest of getting under $208 million.

The prospect of resetting was first introduced by Henry when Red Sox bosses met with the media Sept. 27, almost three weeks after suddenly firing president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on a Sunday night after a nationally televised game against the Yankees.

The Red Sox had the highest payroll in baseball last year, but finished 19 games behind the Yankees and out of the playoffs.

Twelve minutes into the Sox’ late-September press session, I asked Henry (who also owns the Globe), if he planned to reduce payroll in 2020. He answered, “This year we need to be under the CBT. That is something we’ve known for more than a year now.’’

A month later, the Red Sox hired Chaim Bloom from Tampa Bay to fill Dombrowski’s position and the media narrative this offseason has been that Bloom is charged with trying to get the payroll under $208 million. This is why you have been reading so many stories about possible trades for Betts, Price, and Jackie Bradley Jr. This is why former Sox Cy Young winner Rick Porcello left Boston as a free agent and signed a one-year deal with the Mets. This is why Sandy Leon was dumped in favor of the more cost-effective Kevin Plawecki.

(The Sox have reset before. If the team does so in 2020, it’s certainly possible they could spend big again in 2021 and 2022.)

Related: Here’s what the Red Sox would face if they don’t get under the luxury tax threshold this year

The spontaneity of Henry’s September statement led me to believe that it was not planned. Sox chairman Tom Werner and CEO Sam Kennedy, who were also answering questions at the press gathering, did not seem prepared for Henry’s remark that day. Public disclosure of such a policy certainly rarely helps the mission: If teams know you are forced to cut payroll, they are more likely to use the knowledge as leverage.

In this spirit, I e-mailed all parties (Henry, Werner, Kennedy) late Thursday afternoon:

“Guys — I am working on a column in which I will suggest that there was no plan to disclose the mandate to get under the $208 million luxury tax threshold before you went into the September 27 press conference. It felt like John just came out with it spontaneously. And now that is the charge for Chaim Bloom. Is this accurate?’’

About 9 p.m., Werner responded with, “Our plan has been the same since 2002, namely to be competitive year in and year out. That is the charge for Chaim.’’

Just before midnight, Henry wrote, “You might actually be right for once in that I don’t plan what I’m going to say before answering media questions in a live media event. But this focus on CBT resides with the media far more than it does within the Sox. I think every team probably wants to reset at least once every three years — that’s sort of been the history — but just this week . . . I reminded baseball ops that we are focused on competitiveness over the next 5 years over and above resetting to which they said, ‘That’s exactly how we’ve been approaching it.’

“You seem to think Chaim was brought in to reduce payroll. That has simply not been the way FSG operates here or across the pond. We try to act responsibly so as to be consistently competitive. Your main point seems to be that I accidentally disclosed a secret plan but unlike you, I am honest about Sox issues. The question was asked and I answered it.’’

There’s new information here. Henry is assuring fans that competitiveness over the next five years is more important than resetting. Hopefully that means they’re not trading Mookie, and hopefully it’s not a bridge year.

The Sox owner is telling us all the noise about slashing payroll and resetting is media-driven. According to Henry, it is, in fact, not the mission of the Red Sox.

Most of the good players who were here for the 2018 championship season remain, and the Sox can win 95-plus games and compete in 2020. It’s possible to reset the tax and play for a title at the same time.

Phew. For a while there I was worried about a bridge year. About cost-cutting as the mission of Chaim Bloom.

Henry is telling us that is not true.

For fans, this would be a good thing.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.

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