Things are set up for the Red Sox to make a splash this offseason. They just reset their luxury tax penalties over the last year. They have a clear need in a power bat. They find themselves in a league with some elite teams that don’t seem to be going anywhere, and the last two years have shown that they are a slight step behind. They are at the point of the win curve where every extra win they add could mean the difference of an early exit or a parade. There are also plenty of big bats available, including the two headliners in Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez who represent two of the best power bats in all of baseball. When you combine all of that with the fact that Dave Dombrowski is running the Red Sox, you have the perfect recipe for a wild offseason in Boston.
Except, well, there are signs that this won’t be the case.
The notion that the #RedSox will end up with Hosmer, Martinez or Stanton is starting to appear unfounded. Bigger expenditure could be extending a player or two already on the roster.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) November 14, 2017
I’ll start by saying that I don’t buy this one bit. This is classic Dombrowski, as he always seems to indicate that he’d like to take things easy before making a huge trade or free agent signing. It’s a way to create leverage and make it seem like he thinks they’ll be fine without a major splash. It doesn’t help the team if everyone thinks they are desperate. Still, I will never actually believe that Dombrowski isn’t focused on the big move. That being said, it is a possibility, and it is a strategy that could work. For one thing, extending some of their younger players and/or veterans nearing free agency (*cough* Chris Sale *cough*) would probably be the smartest thing they could do. We’ll touch on exactly what those extensions could look like another day, but I’ll just say for now that it is a good idea in theory. For now, let’s focus on this offseason ahead, and what it could look like without a major splash.
Even if they don’t go out and sign one of the high-end free agents or trade for one of the major pieces on the trade market, there are a few moves that have to be made. For one thing, they need to sign someone to either play first base or be their new designated hitter. Dombrowski has said that Hanley Ramirez could play a lot of the field again this year, but that really felt like someone trying to gain leverage in negotiations. It seems like it would be best for everyone if an everyday first baseman was signed. If they truly want to go the quiet route, Eric Hosmer is eliminated. Carlos Santana could be out too. Though the Indians first baseman is being projected for surprisingly small deals, A) those projections could be off and B) he’ll still cost the team draft picks and international money since he was offered and rejected a qualifying offer.
That leaves the next tier of first basemen up for grabs. Logan Morrison may be the most popular member of that group, as he is coming off a breakout year in the middle of the Rays lineup. He hit .246/.353/.516 with 38 home runs. I would go on the record and say he worries me a bit, as I’m wary of anyone coming off a power breakout since we don’t know if whatever caused the increased homer total around the league (*cough* juiced balls *cough*) will carry into 2018. Plus, I’m not a fan of his personality. Yonder Alonso would be another option, though he’s another guy coming off a huge breakout. The difference here would be that Alonso is a poster child of the flyball revolution, and he also seems like an easier guy to root for than Morrison.
Still, the most ideal candidate from this tier could be Lucas Duda, who is being projected for shockingly small deals. The former Met has always shown that he has power, but has limitations elsewhere. For one thing, he’s had some injury problems, which isn’t ideal for someone entering his age-32 season. Additionally, he’s really limited against left-handed pitching and is best off in a platoon. Fortunately, Boston has Ramirez and Sam Travis as right-handed options to take over at first base in those games. Santana is still, in my opinion, easily the best option in free agency at first base with all things considered, but if they are going to quiet route, Duda would be my choice.
I would also expect them to make an addition to the bullpen, though that wouldn’t be a guarantee. It’s possible that they have faith in Carson Smith coming back strong in his first full season back, and the same could go for Tyler Thornburg. If both pitch up to their full potential, that’s a hell of a pairing to go with Craig Kimbrel in the back of the bullpen. Then, they would have Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Austin Maddox and Heath Hembree in the mix for other right-handed relievers and Robby Scott coming from the left side. Perhaps they’d look for another lefty like Jake McGee, or if they preferred a one-year deal they could look at Boone Logan, Brian Duensing, Tony Watson or Glen Perkins. They could also look at plenty of cheaper options from the right side such as Yusmiero Petit, Bud Norris or David Hernandez. Really, there is no shortage of cheap relief options if that’s what they’re seeking.
If all the Red Sox did this winter was sign a mid-tier first baseman and a mid-to-low tier reliever, people would likely come away disappointed. I get it. The offense looked like it desperately needed a major boost moving forward. However, it could also be just as smart to bet on the returning players being better than they showed in 2017. Mookie Betts should have better luck on batted balls in 2018. Hanley Ramirez should be at least average at the plate, and even that would be disappointing. Xander Bogaerts could thrive under a new coach. Jackie Bradley has potential to be so much more. Andrew Benintendi should take a big step forward. Rafael Devers is going to be around for a full season. Basically every position on the diamond is looking at improvement over last year even with minimal additions.
Like I said, I don’t buy that this is Dombrowski’s idea. He just isn’t the type of guy who can resist making the major splash if it’s there for the taking, and this year it is. However, if he really is considering this, it would make sense, and that’s without even mentioning that they could be saving their money for the loaded free agent class of 2018. More than anything, this strategy would be putting faith in his returning players and how they’ll perform under a new coaching staff. It would certainly be risky, and it would be an easy way to turn fans against the front office, but perhaps not making the bold move could be the boldest thing Dombrowski could do this winter.