MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Read John Henry's lips: no new taxes.
Two offseasons ago, after the Boston Red Sox dropped a total of $183 million on free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, Henry said he was willing to "blow through" the luxury tax threshold for one year. The owner allowed the payroll to exceed the $189 million bar in two straight years and paid the penalty for doing so.
This winter, Henry has done a 180 on the issue, thanks to terms of baseball's new collective bargaining agreement.
After paying the tax collector at a 17.5 percent rate in 2015 and a 30 percent rate last year, the Red Sox can reset their tax rate this year if they stay below the luxury tax threshold, which has been increased to $195 million.
"I think this is a year we'd like to be under [the luxury tax bar]," said Henry, battling a case of laryngitis at the Red Sox's winter weekend Friday night at Foxwoods Resort and Casino.
Given that directive, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski attempted to improve the team not by signing high-priced, free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to replace retired David Ortiz but rather by adding to the pitching staff with a trade for ace lefty Chris Sale, whose team-friendly contract (he will make $12 million this year and has team options for 2018 and 2019 that are worth $12.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively) made him almost as attractive as his talent.
Neither Henry nor Red Sox chairman Tom Werner would rule out going back over the luxury tax threshold next year.
"Three of the last six years we've been over it," Werner said. "We don't have an ironclad rule about it. We're just trying to do what's best for the franchise and what's best for the team."
Henry and Werner said they will meet with Ortiz next week in the Dominican Republic to discuss post-playing opportunities for the iconic slugger.
One thing they aren't counting on: Ortiz changing his mind about retirement.
"I think he's having a good time in his offseason. I think he's learning how to play tennis," Werner said, referring to a commercial Ortiz filmed recently. "He has not indicated that [playing another season] is of interest to him. He knows we'd love to figure out some way for him to be an important part of the organization going forward."