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Red Sox President: It will be ‘difficult’ to keep both Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez

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In case you left the office a tad early on Friday you may have missed the Boston Red Sox’ news dump in which owner John Henry said that the goal for the 2020 Red Sox was to get the payroll below the lowest Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which will be $208 million.

As we wrote on Friday, that’s not going to be impossible given that a lot of money is coming off the ledger as of today (bye-bye Pablo Sandoval‘s contract), but given that the team just finished the 2019 season with a $242 million payroll it’ll certainly be difficult.

There will something else that will be difficult in all of that too: keeping both Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Team president and CEO Sam Kennedy:

Martinez has the ability to opt-out of his current contract. If he does not, he’ll make $23.75 million in 2020. If he does he becomes a free agent and he’d almost certainly cost the Red Sox more than $23.75 million to keep him from signing elsewhere. Betts made $20 million this past season. He’ll either get a raise in his final year of arbitration — likely a hefty one — or he’ll negotiate an extension with Boston that’ll have a higher average annual value than $20 million.

Just doing some back of the envelope figuring, if Martinez declines to opt-out and if Betts makes, say, $29 million in 2020, that’d put the payroll commitments at nearly $190 million. And that’s before finding a starting pitcher to replace the departing Rick Porcello and, of course, filling out the rest of the roster. So, no, not impossible, but yes, difficult. They could also try to get Betts to agree to a long term deal that pays him relatively little in 2020 but then goes up over time as other payroll commitments fall off. As the MLBPA will no doubt frown on Betts actually taking a pay cut for 2020, though, it’s not like there is a MASSIVE amount of money to be gained by such a gambit, assuming that Betts is even amenable.

So, yeah, difficult is right.

If, a year ago, you had told Red Sox fans that upon the conclusion of the 2019 season the team (a) would not be in the postseason; and (b) the biggest topic of conversation was which superstars it could afford to keep and which it had to let go in an effort to slash payroll, I suspect they’d laugh their butts off at you.

Guessing they’re not really laughing today. Especially when they see stuff like this:

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.