They have needs and aims, the Red Sox, and that was the case even before the loathed Yankees broke every existing non-proliferation treaty by trading for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. So in light of recent events, here's a couple of bald realities relative to the present Boston condition:
- In 2017, the Red Sox ranked last in the AL with 168 home runs.
- In 2017, Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius -- members of the 2018 Yankees, all -- combined for 169 home runs.
Those tandem bullet points lead to one conclusion: The Red Sox need power. Speaking of which ...
Red Sox seeking a big hitter. Looking at JD, Hosmer and possible trade candidates (Schwarber, via @ScottLauber)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 10, 2017
That's a nice snapshot of the Sox's most likely options when it comes to adding some badly needed thump to the lineup. To that list, you can add White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, whom Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe names as a possible target.
First, let's dispense with the Kyle Schwarber talk. In the original report by ESPN's Scott Lauber, he notes that it's "doubtful" that the Cubs would part with Schwarber. That's correct. As well, the Sox and Cubs are both contenders, so it's hard to match up in terms of tradable assets. The larger point, though, is that the Cubs very likely aren't ready to part with a 24-year-old organizational favorite with excellent raw power.
Now let's address the others:
Don't trade for Abreu
There's no doubt that Abreu could help Boston. They didn't get strong production from first base in 2017, and Mitch Moreland, who pinned down the spot this past season, is now a free agent. More to the point, though, the Red Sox have traded away so many prospects in recent history -- dating back to the Craig Kimbrel deal in November 2015 -- that the system is badly thinned out. The White Sox aren't going to trade Abreu as any kind of salary dump, so they'll want significant long-term assets in return. The Red Sox right now can't pay that freight.
Don't sign Hosmer
Hosmer is a good player, but he's ripe to be paid like a great one. As well, he's a hitter who mans a "power-first" position but puts the ball on the ground more than half the time. Yes, Hosmer's power is to all fields, which means he should be able to take advantage of the Green Monster to a greater extent than most lefties, but the larger reality is that he's going to have trouble repeating last year's spike performance. The Sox should pass.
Sign J.D. Martinez
Yes, Martinez is the best next step for Dave Dombrowski and Boston. The right-handed slugger is coming off a 2017 season in which he batted .303/.376/.690 (166 OPS+) with 45 home runs in 119 games for the Tigers and Diamondbacks. That absurd .690 slugging percentage, by the way, led the majors by a comfortable margin. That's obviously elite power production, and it's fully in keeping with Martinez's recent history. Since joining the Tigers before the 2014 season and reconstructing his swing, he's put up an OPS+ of 149 and averaged 40 homers and 39 doubles per 162 games played. That makes him one of the top power hitters in all of baseball.
Martinez does carry some risk, in that he's 30 years of age and has a bit of an injury history, but his ability to make a near-term impact when it comes to power outputs -- i.e., what Boston needs -- is unparalleled in this free-agent class. Signing Martinez means the Sox won't be giving up any remaining prospects in a trade, and the fact that Martinez was dealt during the 2017 season means that inking him won't require the loss of any compensatory draft picks. Yes, Martinez's next contract will likely extend beyond the point of his usefulness, but that's part of the deal when you sign a premium free agent. Given how underpaid players are during their years of team control, it's hardly an outrage when free agents get outsized deals. In any event, Boston's coffers are such that they can easily absorb some dead money on the back end.
As for the fit in Boston, the Sox have a number of ways to deploy Martinez. The most obvious is in the outfield, but that's going to require some shuffling, as it's presently full with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley. Dustin Pedroia is likely out until at least May after undergoing knee surgery in late October. If Pedroia doesn't progress as hoped, then moving Betts back to his original position of second base is an option, which would create an opening for Martinez. That, however, seems unlikely. What's more likely is that the Sox shop Bradley in exchange for rotation help, which has been widely rumored this offseason. That in turn would allow the Sox to move Betts or Benintendi to center. Whatever the case, Martinez is best used in the cramped dimensions of left field in Fenway, so that his lack of range gets exposed as little as possible.
Another option is to use Martinez as the designated hitter. Hanley Ramirez is the returning primary DH, but his declining production means that these days he's been used primarily in platoon-advantaged situations and as a pinch-hitter of first resort. Maybe young Sam Travis takes over at first, or maybe the Sox sign a lower-cost free agent like Yonder Alonso or Logan Morrison and pair him with Ramirez. Maybe the Sox see if Martinez is open to adding a first baseman's mitt to his toolkit in spring training. Either way, a non-outfield role for Martinez flows from new manager Alex Cora's willingness to ramp down Ramirez's 2018 role.
Let Martinez play that unbalanced scheduled against the mostly power-friendly ballparks of the AL East, and if healthy he can make a run at 50 or more homers. That's precisely what the two-time defending AL East champs need to keep pace with that hated colossus in the Bronx.