Red Sox president: Keeping Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez 'difficult,' but there is a way

Boston Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said Monday there is a way for the team to keep stars Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and stay below Major League Baseball's competitive balance tax, but it will be tough.

"There is a way, but obviously it will be difficult given the nature of the agreements and the contracts we have in place," Kennedy said Monday at Fenway Park.

"We have a very targeted and strategic plan that we're building now. Some of the dates related to contract decisions come right after the World Series. So we've had some time in September to focus on the offseason given where we were in the standings," he said. "It is going to be a challenging offseason, but we're ready to attack it head-on and do everything we can to put a competitive team out there not just for next year but 2021, 2022."

On Friday, owners John Henry and Tom Werner met with reporters and said they were prepared to cut payroll to get under the luxury-tax threshold next season. Boston has had baseball's highest payroll for two consecutive seasons, exceeding the competitive balance threshold of $208 million in both. If the Red Sox exceed the threshold for a third straight season, their taxes would go up astronomically.

"We need to be under the CBT," said Henry, the team's controlling owner.

Kennedy backed off that some on Monday, saying that is merely a "guidepost."

"We will continue to demonstrate a willingness to go over the CBT,'' Kennedy said. "It is going to be a challenging offseason, but we are going to attack it.''

Betts, a homegrown talent, has one year left on his rookie deal and declined any overtures from the Red Sox to sign an extension before the season. The outfielder is likely headed to arbitration in the offseason. The Red Sox and Betts -- who turns 27 next week -- agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal before this season to avoid arbitration, the largest amount given to a second-time arbitration-eligible player.

"We absolutely love Mookie Betts as a player, as a person," Kennedy said. "We've gotten to know his family. You hope that he's a guy that is here for the long term."

Kennedy said he took no offense at the idea that Betts might like to test the free-agent market.

"I think it speaks to Mookie's confidence and how special of a player he is," Kennedy said. "He really does love it here. He told me he loves it here. ... You can see with the joy and energy and enthusiasm in which he approaches playing baseball at Fenway Park -- the fans love him."

Martinez, a middle-of-the-lineup force for the past two seasons, can opt out of the final three years of his contract this winter. Martinez, 32, needs to make his decision by five days after the World Series. Kennedy said the team is in wait-and-see mode and has not engaged in any specific discussions about his plans.

"You want J.D. Martinez in the middle of your lineup," Kennedy said. "He's a world champion and was a key part of last year's success, so we will see where it goes in the future."

With no playoffs, the Red Sox -- who fired general manager Dave Dombrowski on Sept. 8 -- embark right away on an offseason that will be full of difficult decisions.

In addition to the money it would cost to keep Betts and Martinez, the Red Sox also have $79 million a year tied up in contracts for starting pitchers David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.

Even the players seemed to be resigned to the departure of Betts, the 2018 MVP.

"I think everyone knows we don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie," Martinez told reporters Sunday. "It's one of those things. It's kind of hard to have three guys making $30 million on your team. He deserves it. He's earned it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.