As we continue to wait for the Red Sox to make a move this winter, we are at least starting to get a little more insight into what the team is planning. Although there continues to be speculation around the idea that the team is looking to add two bats, Dave Dombrowski is insisting that just one bat in particular is the focus. There have been no concrete reports to my knowledge that confirm this, but it seems almost certain that the big bat Boston is focusing on is J.D. Martinez. This has been the speculation for months now, and until he actually makes a decision it just makes too much sense to ignore. With the Red Sox seemingly extremely interested in the slugger, it ostensibly comes down to whether or not Martinez is interested in Boston. And really, it probably comes down to one factor — beyond the money, of course.
For as good a hitter as Martinez is — and he’s clearly the best hitter on the market — the list of suitors for the righty has been oddly undefined. The most common names besides the Red Sox to be connected to the former Tiger are the Diamondbacks and Giants. The obvious difference between them and Boston, of course, is that those two squads play in the National League and would guarantee Martinez a chance to play in the outfield. For what it’s worth, he has indicated that he prefers to play the field but would be okay with DH’ing as long as it came with at least some outfield play. So, that opens up the question for the Red Sox as to how they can find some time in the field for Martinez, and also if it would even be worth it to do so.
Let’s start with the playing time question, which honestly doesn’t seem all that difficult to me. There are two ways the Red Sox could go here, and one is clearly better than the alternative (in this writer’s opinion, at least). The first is that Boston could trade Jackie Bradley Jr., whether it be for pitching help, first base help, prospects or some combination of the three. That would, of course, open up an outfield spot on an everyday basis and Martinez would get his wish. While there are probably scenarios in which I could get behind this strategy, generally speaking it is something the Red Sox should avoid.
Ideally, the Red Sox would find a way to get Martinez a bit of playing time in the outfield without altering their current roster. This way, they can give the slugger enough time in the outfield to keep him happy while also giving them the best roster possible. The easiest way to do this is to use Martinez as a way to keep the three outfielders fresh and putting them in the best chance to succeed. This means taking the opportunity to sit Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley against some tough lefties. Neither should be in a strict platoon — particularly Bradley who has really only shown strict platoon splits one year in his career — but if they are going to sit it should be against lefties. Benintendi in particular would probably benefit from this, though Alex Cora needs to figure out how to strike a nice balance between letting Benintendi develop and giving the team its best chance to win.
In the end, there is probably a way here to give Martinez between 40 and 50 starts in the outfield while not altering the seasons of the three main outfielders by all that much. Benintendi and Bradley could each get about 15-20 games off this year under this strategy, with some of those days not being full days off but rather days in which they can get some rest by sliding into the DH spot. Add in another handful of similar days for Mookie Betts and you’d have a solid amount of outfield work for Martinez without even mentioning the possibility of injury.
Now, there is the matter of whether or not this would even be worth it for the Red Sox. For as great a hitter as Martinez is — and make no mistake, the dude can absolutely mash — his defense leaves something to be desired, to put it lightly. He’s a net negative with the glove even on his best day and that is a big reason there is some hesitance in his market. The Red Sox in particular need to be conscience of this. Last week, I talked about how the team’s rough infield defense wasn’t as big of a concern for them because of how flyball-heavy their pitching staff is. Well, the flip side of that is that outfield defense becomes that much more important.
That being said, the Red Sox also have a bit of an advantage here with Fenway Park. While center field and right field can be daunting for outfielders, left field is a different kind of challenge. The Green Monster can certainly provide issues for players, but otherwise bad defensive players can make it work in that small left field. Manny Ramirez roamed those grounds adequately for the better part of a decade. Daniel Nava looked like a damn Gold Glover when he was at Fenway. If you can learn to play the wall, you can be a fine defensive player. The Red Sox wouldn’t be able to get all of Martinez’ outfield starts at Fenway -- things never work out that neatly — but they’d be smart in this scenario to get as many as possible in that small left field.
Considering all of the different angles of this, I would say that this is easily worth it for the Red Sox. Obviously, I have no contact with Martinez and don’t know how he’d feel about this plan, but it seems as if both sides could be amenable to this strategy. It would give Martinez 120-ish games in the DH spot with the rest being in left field. If managed correctly, his defensive shortcomings could be limited by Fenway’s dimensions and any leftover negative value should be outweighed by how much better he is at the plate than the other options. Furthermore, it would allow players like Benintendi and Bradley to get a little more rest while also being put in a better position to succeed. Although Martinez is not exactly the type of player you hand a blank check, he is as close to a perfect fit for the Red Sox as is available. If playing some outfield is a deal-breaker for him, there are paths to make it possible in Boston.