Before the offseason began, the Red Sox’ primary target seemed obvious. They needed a big bat who didn’t have to play the field, and Edwin Encarnacion was a big bat who should probably be kept out of it. David Ortiz even campaigned for it himself. But with a couple weeks of offseason in the books, it seems like the Red Sox are largely disinterested in the high-ticket Encarnacion, with Rob Bradford reporting that they’ve “yet to engage in any serious discussions” with his people.
This is more confirmation of what we all might have expected by this point, as the Red Sox have instead been linked heavily and consistently with Carlos Beltran. While a team’s primary target doesn’t always end up being their final one, the fact that Beltran is so far removed from Encarnacion gave a pretty big hint that the Sox might not line up well with the free agent from Toronto. It’s the difference between seeking a marquee signing and a solid budget addition. You don’t often see shoppers browsing the bargain bin before deciding to go top shelf.
And it does make sense that the Red Sox might shy away from Encarnacion and his large contract. Their payroll is already under some pretty heavy constraints, even without David Ortiz, and there’s not a whole lot of relief on the horizon until perhaps after the 2018 season, should David Price choose to opt out and Hanley Ramriez’ option fail to vest. Craig Kimbrel could come off after 2017 if the Sox decline his option (which would have to be the result of a pretty poor campaign), but other than that next year could be looking remarkably tight if the Sox were to push in on Encarnacion for $20 to $25 million per year.
While David Ortiz might have made the position seem larger-than-life, the reality is that the designated hitter is one of the less important spots on the roster if, indeed, a team even chooses to commit to a player at the position full-time, rather than simply rotating players through it. Right now, with the Sox having relatively few needs, it might seem like they should push all-in on the one position where they’re so clearly in need. And that might give them their best chance to win in 2017. But if they can get halfway there with a Beltran type while still allowing themselves the option to add both in July and next offseason, that might be the wiser, less short-sighted path