Before the 2017 season, Forbes magazine valued the Boston Red Sox at $2.7 billion, third-highest among major league franchises.

We have not heard the latest estimate, but you can assume it’s even higher.

Yet the Red Sox won’t part with money to land the slugger they need.

As spring training opens this week, the overwhelming talk is of the logjam of free agents still on the market. The poster child of the nearly 100 unsigned players is J.D. Martinez. He hits a lot of home runs (45 last season) and wants a lot of money to do it – too much in the minds of the Red Sox, who won’t cave to his contract demands.

Why not?

Owners can afford to pay, but why should they when the business model of offering high-priced, long-term contracts is flawed?

If they can find cost-effective ways to field a competitive team, they will do it. The trend seems to be relying on younger – and cheaper – talent.

Boston, like many teams, knows the lack of return on long-term contracts gone astray. In 2018 the Red Sox will pay $29 million to two players who are no longer on their 40-man roster – Pablo Sandoval (released) and Rusney Castillo (minors).

PAYING FOR THE PAST

The hesitancy to dole out long-term contracts has agent Scott Boras in a lather, calling out teams for not wanting to win. Boras – whose clients include free agents Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jake Arrieta – is the king of the seven-year deal.

Some of those contracts involved pitcher Barry Zito, first baseman Chris Davis, and outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury. Then there were the other contracts for first basemen Mark Teixeira (eight years) and Prince Fielder (nine), and infielder Alex Rodriguez (10 years, twice).

Some of those contracts featured early returns but most eventually became an albatross. Ellsbury, 34, still has three years and $67 million left on his contract. It appears he’ll be a backup outfielder for the Yankees this year.

Fielder was 28 when then-Tigers president Dave Dombrowski (now in the same role with the Red Sox) signed him for $214 million in 2012. Fielder was productive for two years (.295 average, 55 home runs) before Detroit traded him – along with $30 million to help cover part of his salary – to Texas.

Fielder was hurt for a good deal of his time with the Rangers, retiring in 2016 because of herniated disks in his neck. Since then, and through 2020, he’s making $24 million a year.

A-Rod was released by the Yankees before his contract ended. They paid him $26.6 million to go away in 2016.

SOX HAVE BEEN HURT

Boston gave an outfielder, not represented by Boras, a seven-year contract in 2011. Carl Crawford followed his 2010 season with Tampa Bay (.307/.851 OPS) with a $142 million contract at age 29. He batted .271 and averaged only 80 games a season over the next six years. He was released and sat home in 2017, collecting $22 million.

The Red Sox dumped Crawford in a 2012 trade to the Dodgers.

But Boston could find no takers for Sandoval. The Red Sox signed him to a five-year, $95 million deal in November 2014, even though his numbers were in steady decline. He was 28 at the time.

For its money, Boston got 161 games out of Sandoval over two-plus seasons, with a .237 average and minus-2.1 WAR. He was released last July. The Red Sox will pay him $41 million over the next two years.

And then there’s Castillo, the free agent from Cuba. The Red Sox gave him a seven-year, $72.5 deal in 2014. He played 99 games over the first three years (.262, seven home runs) before being removed from the 40-man roster and sent to the minors. He earned $10.5 million last season, playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. He has three years and $35.5 million left on his contract.

Castillo, 30, still could help Boston (he batted .314 with 15 homers for Pawtucket last year), but if the Red Sox put him back on the 40-man roster, his salary counts toward the luxury tax.

The luxury tax was meant to add parity among the big-market and small-market teams. The tax kicks in when teams pay more than the prescribed threshold ($197 million in 2018). Anything over the threshold is taxed – as high as 50 percent if a team is continually over it.

The Yanks have been taxed for 15 straight years for $341 million. The Dodgers have paid $149 million. The Red Sox, who came under the threshold last year, are the third-highest taxed team at $25 million.

The Yankees vow to get under the threshold, but it’s not like they are scrounging for money. According to Forbes, the franchise is worth $3.4 billion.

The magazine calculates that major league teams had a collective revenue of $9.03 billion in 2016, an increase of 7.5 percent over the year before – while expenses for players was $4.56 billion, an increase of 3.5 percent.

GOOD PRODUCTION, LESSER PRICE

If revenues are outpacing expenses, what are owners doing with the extra money? They aren’t lowering ticket prices (as if …) and aren’t pouring it into salaries, which has agents like Boras upset.

There is no good buy/bad guy here – only a bunch of rich guys (and players) contending for an enormous pile of money.

In the owners’ defense, younger, less-expensive players can be effective. Four of the top six American League players in the MVP voting in 2017 made less than $1 million. Jose Altuve, the MVP, made $4.5 million.

In the National League, Giancarlo Stanton ($14.5 million) and Joey Votto ($22 million) were 1-2 in the MVP voting. Both also are locked into long-term deals, with Stanton owed $295 million over the next 10 years and Votto owed $170 million over six years. The Yankees just traded for Stanton, in case anyone thought they were too thrifty.

Those contracts may look foolish in the future.

The Red Sox could use a power bat that J.D. Martinez will provide. But he’s 30 years old and they don’t want to be burdened with a risky, long-term deal. And no one is outbidding the Red Sox at the moment.

Boston looks smart if it gets Martinez for a five-year deal.

Then again, if Martinez does find another, suitable bidder – and Boston’s run production suffers – the Red Sox have some explaining to do.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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