One hundred years ago today, the day after Christmas in 1919, Babe Ruth was infamously sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees for $100,000. Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner at that time, was experiencing an increasing financial struggle that essentially forced him to sell off his best players. In fact, the Ruth sale wasn’t the only one consummated between Boston and New York in during that time period (1918-23) as noted here by SABR. By the way, with inflation considered, the final price for Ruth is roughly $1.5 million in today’s dollar. Bargain of the century, right?
Fast forward to December 26, 2019, and we are still seeing teams operate with the bottom line at the forefront of their respective decisions. Both the Cubs and Red Sox are supposedly exploring avenues of trading their young, star-level players just to rid themselves of a luxury tax payment for 2020. The Astros are also looking to shed salary to avoid exceeding the second tax threshold level of $228 million. While free agency has exhibited more activity this winter, the potential luxury tax penalties has prevented numerous clubs from signing players to improve their respective rosters.
The Astros, for example, are barely active in terms of player acquisitions this winter. While the ongoing sign-stealing investigation is a possible explanation for this rather quiet offseason, it is more believable that the rather tight budget is limiting Jeff Luhnow and his front office. As I noted here in early November, the Astros were already staring down the second tax threshold before free agency and trades took place. In the meantime, we’ve the seen following transactions occur.
- Sign catcher Dustin Garneau; one-year, $650,000
- Non-tender right-hander Aaron Sanchez; $5.6 million projected salary through arbitration
- Trade outfielder Jake Marisnick to the Mets; $3 million projected salary through arbitration
- Re-sign right-hander Joe Smith; two-years, $8 million ($4 million AAV)
- Re-sign catcher Martin Maldonado; two-years, $7 million ($3.5 million AAV)
If you account for the arbitration figures, the Astros have shaved roughly $450,000 off of their projected 2020 player payroll from their offseason moves. Cot’s Baseball Contracts, which I used in my previous research, currently has the club tabbed with a $228,565,477 payroll for next season. That is just slightly over the second-level threshold as highlighted in the current CBA, which is when a surtax of 12 percent of any amount over $228 million is applied in addition to the 20 percent first-time payee rate for anything between $208 to $228 million.
At this juncture, the Astros are most likely not going to splurge on player payroll without trading another notable contract in the process. Josh Reddick and his $13 million contract automatically comes to mind. There were also rumors surrounding Carlos Correa and his projected $7.4 million salary for next season. But I wouldn’t bank on Houston making any moves for the sake of change, especially with this roster’s promise in 2020.