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Big decisions await the Red Sox

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There are major decisions to be made in the months ahead, not least of which is who will be running the show.

Dick
Flavin

I suppose that it's too early to speculate on what will happen with the Red Sox once the next baseball season begins, and I know it's too late to do anything about what took place in this baseball season. Why don't we just refer to 2019 as "the recent unpleasantness" and let it go at that? The timing, however, seems right to ruminate about the off-season because it's already upon us and it's here before October, much sooner than we had either hoped or expected.

There are major decisions to be made in the months ahead, not least of which is who will be running the show. Signing a successor to Dave Dombrowski is priority number one for the team because whoever that person turns out to be, he (or she!) will have to have a say in all the other important decisions that have to be made.

If the Red Sox decide to hire that new head person from within the organization, it will be one of the four who have been dubbed interim decision makers while the search for a successor goes on. They are Brian O'Halloran, Eddie Romero, Zack Scott, and Raquel Ferreira. All are well-thought of within the organization, but we have no idea of what the mind-set of either John Henry or Tom Werner is -- and they are the ultimate decision makers. Ferreira is a particularly intriguing candidate since she would become the highest ranking female executive in baseball history. (There have been women owners.) She has been with the organization for 21 years and is currently senior vice president of Major and Minor League Operations, so her credentials are impressive.

Mike Hazen, an alumnus of the Red Sox baseball ops department, currently runs the show for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was quickly signed to a five-year extension by the D'backs once the Boston job opened up, thereby taking him out of consideration. Theo Epstein, the president of the Cubs and former boy wonder of the Red Sox, is under contract (and a big one it is) for two more years, so he doesn't appear to be in the running. Stay tuned; we should get a final decision sooner rather than later because whoever the next head of baseball operations is will have a full plate of work in front of him or her.

First on the agenda will be Mookie Betts. He doesn't become a free agent until next year, but a decision on him has to be made this year. He has made clear his commitment to testing the market in 2020 and has already turned down several attempts the Red Sox have made to sign him for the long term, so the question becomes, do the Sox wait until his free agency and risk losing him for just a draft choice, or do they deal him now in order to get something of real value in return? Whoever Dave Dombrowski's successor is will spend some sleepless nights trying to figure that one out.

Then, there is the matter of J.D. Martinez. He can opt out of his contract this year if he thinks he can do better than the current one he has with the Red Sox, which pays him a total of $109.95 million for five years and has three years to run. What happens with him depends a lot on what happens with Mookie. It gets complicated.

Rick Porcello is a free agent this year. Although tantalizing us with an occasional gem, he had a below average season in 2019, especially since he's been making $20 million a year. The Sox will probably let him go to free agency, but do they make him a qualifying offer first? What if he takes it? It's enough to give you a headache.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be a free agent in 2020. Do the Red Sox sign him to a contract extension this off-season? Do they want to? He is, as everyone knows, an elite center fielder, but he can be maddeningly inconsistent at the plate. The next head of baseball ops will decide on his future sooner rather than later.

Brock Holt is a free agent this year. He is a model citizen on the field, in the clubhouse, and in the community. His current contract pays him $3.5 million, he's 31 years old, and this is his chance to set up his family's future. The Red Sox love him, but how much are they willing to pay? That's an important consideration because the Sox are determined to get their payroll under the tax threshold to avoid paying excessive taxes in 2020, when the threshold figure will be $208 million. That means they have to lop off around $40 million next year. That's a tough row to hoe when you consider the big money contracts that are already in place. David Price and Chris Sale, for example, will make $60 million a year between them for the next three years. They combined for just 13 wins in 2019. Oof.

When you add in the fact that the farm system has been severely depleted in recent years as the team has acquired big name stars, you have a whole a bushel of problems that need solving. And they'll drop right into the lap of the next head of baseball operations on his or her first day on the job.

Oh, and the new person will not have what Dave Dombrowski had, which is complete autonomy. Dombrowski had no one looking over his shoulder as he spent millions to achieve his goal of capturing baseball's holy grail. He did that, but the bill is now coming due. You can bet that Sam Kennedy, the team's CEO and the guy in charge of bringing in all the dough that baseball ops spends will have an input into how that money is put to work.

To be the chief honcho of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox is to have one of the most prestigious jobs in the game -- and one of the toughest.

But look at it this way: at least Pablo Sandoval's $17 million a year is finally coming off the books.

Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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