As we continue to wait out this offseason and anticipate the beginning of spring training, time can seem to drag sometimes. Of course, there is still work to do before the Red Sox break for camp, and we all expect a big move is coming. They’ve already made their first major-league signing of the winter in bringing back Mitch Moreland, a move that I’m not all that wild about. Still, it’s never been intended to be the move that will fix an offense that struggled mightily for too many stretches in 2017. No, the assumption is that a big bat is going to join Moreland and company, and we are all assuming said big bat is going to belong to J.D. Martinez.
I am definitely in the camp that believes Martinez is the best possible target for the Red Sox. He is the best bat on the market, for one thing, and it’s not particularly close. As the Red Sox look to improve their lineup, it’s not rocket science to say the best way to do so is to acquire the best hitter possible. When you add in the fact that he only costs money and not a draft pick, he’s an ideal target. That’s not to say he should get a blank check, though, and while his market has been quiet on the rumor mill he’s too good to not have multiple teams fighting for his services. All of this is to say that while Martinez makes a ton of sense for the Red Sox, he makes a ton of sense for a lot of teams. It’s not a given that he ends up in Boston, and while I’d bet on it happening it’s worth looking at what the team can do if he ends up signing with another club.
The most logical place to start is on free agency with some other power bats available. There are a bunch of those out there coming off a season with historic home run rates, but not all of them are proven. If the Red Sox are truly looking for someone to put in the middle of their lineup, taking a chance that Logan Morrison or Yonder Alonso’s performance is for real is risky. They’d make more sense as alternatives to Moreland than alternatives to Martinez. The two names that make the most sense to me are Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda. The former would fit the same mold of Martinez in the sense that Bruce is an outfielder who would presumably spend most of his time as a DH. Duda, meanwhile, is a first baseman by trade though he could slide in as a DH. The big issue with both, though, is that they are left-handed bats who would probably need to be platooned. That could work in some situations, but it becomes a lot harder when Moreland is likely to be used in a similar fashion. Perhaps Sam Travis and Hanley Ramirez could both be platoon partners, but that makes things a little more complicated than they would be with Martinez.
There is also the chance of the Red Sox going in another direction in free agency by signing a third baseman and moving Rafael Devers to DH. I’ll say off the bat that I would not be a fan of this as I think Devers is fine at the hot corner and that his development there is important for his future, but it’s at least a remote possibility. If they were to take this road, the two targets would be Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier. Neither of whom are big on-base threats (though Frazier did post a .344 OBP in 2017 with a career-high walk rate) but both are legitimate power threats. There is an idea that Moustakas in particular could decide his market isn’t developing as expected and that he’ll take a one-year deal to rebuild his value for next winter. That sounds great, but then he’ll be on the same market as Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado, among other stars. I can’t see him opting for that. Frazier could be had on a cheaper deal and his power would be nice, but again I’d want no part of moving Devers to DH at this point in his career.
Another option would be to focus more on some depth moves in the infield who could play all over the place in the form of either Eduardo Nuñez or Howie Kendrick. We’ve all spoken at length about both of these players this year, and while neither is a superstar or a major power hitter, they are intriguing offensive options at second base who could join and outfield/DH rotation upon Dustin Pedroia’s return.
Then, there is the possibility of looking at bounce-back candidates towards the end of their career. Specifically, they could look at a salary dump trade for Matt Kemp or a cheap signing of Jose Bautista. Both players have been stars at some point or another in their career and both still have the potential for power. Kemp has still been hitting for solid power in recent years — particularly two years ago when he posted a .231 Isolated Power — but doesn’t do much else. Bautista, meanwhile, is coming off an awful year in which he didn’t do much of anything. It’s easy to say he’s cooked and that’s certainly what it looked like when watching, but perhaps he could be motivated to prove people wrong and a cheap one-year deal would pay dividends.
Moving on, there is what I think Dave Dombrowski would most likely do in the event he missed out on Martinez: Making a big trade. Granted, there don’t seem to be a lot of big bats available on the free agent market, but blockbuster trades are Dombrowski’s sweet spot and he could make it work even with a cheap farm system. Whether it was Manny Machado (extremely unlikely in my eyes), Justin Bour, Jose Abreu (both of whom are much more likely than Machado) or someone else entirely, the best pure hitter other than Martinez is likely available via trade rather than free agency.
Then, there is another option that I haven’t heard many people talk about that they could look at if they miss their big bat. That would be to continue to focus on run prevention and rather than looking for a new bat, they could look to the pitching market. I don’t know that this is particularly likely, but perhaps they think the best way to compete in this new-look American League is to build a dominant pitching staff. Adding someone like Yu Darvish would certainly make their rotation qualify as such. Again, probably not likely, but it’s an interesting strategy to consider.
The final option for the team if they miss out on Martinez would be to simply add nobody else and go into the season as-is. I’d be fairly surprised by this, but not totally shocked. There simply isn’t an option that is close to as valuable for this team as Martinez, and Dombrowski may not want to make a panic move. He could go with Ramirez as his primary DH with others spelling him to avoid that vesting option. Meanwhile, the money that was not used on Martinez could be tabbed for next year’s monster free agent class while also being used for extensions for players like Mookie Betts and Chris Sale. This would be a disappointing outcome, but it could work out in the long-run.
At the end of the day, everyone’s top target is going to be Martinez until he comes off the open market. He’s the best fit for this Red Sox team and is a Dombrowski guy through and through. He’ll cost plenty of money, but the Sox can afford it. Still, there’s always a chance another team swoops in and signs him, and Boston needs to know where they pivot after that. None of the options above really stand out as big winners, but there are some intriguing ones. I could make an argument for (and against, to be fair) any of them, but the one I keep coming back to is the pitching one. The idea of zigging when everyone else is zagging is always fun. All of that being said, the best option is still to sign Martinez. So, go do that Dave.