I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the focus for the Red Sox this winter has seemingly been entirely on improving an offense that struggled mightily in 2017. Of course, the primary target has been J.D. Martinez and it feels as if we’ve been waiting for that shoe to drop for about six months now. At the moment, the two sides are in a standoff. Scott Boras and Martinez are waiting out the market hoping another team is willing to jump into the mix and start a bidding war with Boston, and the Red Sox are willing to call that bluff. It still seems to me that the expectation is for the two sides to eventually come to a deal, though with each passing day it becomes more and more apparent that this is no guarantee. Every indication has been that Martinez is Boston’s whole focus this winter, and essentially the middle of their lineup is JDM or bust, but despite that it seems worthwhile to at least look into other options. A few new options just entered the scene over in Milwaukee.
In case you missed it, the Brewers made a couple of impressive moves and are officially Going For It™ after their surprisingly strong 2017. Towards the end of last week, Milwaukee traded three of their top ten prospects plus another top twenty prospect in exchange for Christian Yelich. Then, no more than a few hours after that was reported, we’d learned that they also went out and signed the best pure outfielder (in other words, not counting Martinez or Shohei Ohtani) on the market this winter in Lorenzo Cain. All of a sudden, the Brewers went from having a solid enough outfield to one of the very best in baseball, and it all happened in the blink of an eye.
One side effect of this deal is that it now appears inevitable that Milwaukee will trade an outfielder as a newfound logjam has been formed. Obviously, Yelich and Cain are going to stay put, but any of their other outfielders seem to be fair game in the right deal. That means the Brewers could ship out any of Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips. Although the latter two are fine enough players and could serve many teams well, Boston isn’t really in need of more young, athletic outfielders. What they need is a big bat, so if they were to initiate talks with the Brewers, it would be for one of the first two names mentioned there. Let’s take a look at each of their merits and flaws.
We’ll start with Braun, who has been the face of the Brewers franchise for years and has been one of the National League’s better players for just as long. It seems hard to imagine Braun playing for another team, but it’s a little easier to envision it during this winter that’s seen Evan Longoria traded from Tampa Bay and Andrew McCutchen shipped out of Pittsburgh. Now 34, Braun is still a strong hitter, though he is coming off the worst year of his career. He provides legitimate and consistent power — something missing from this Red Sox team, of course — to go with solid plate discipline, good contact skills and surprising impact on the bases. On the other hand, his defense has only gotten worse as he’s gotten older and there’s also that whole steroid scandal that involved him unfairly (to put it lightly) trashing a tester. A lot of times a single baseball player is disliked by such a large percentage of fans and it can seem unfair. With Braun, it seems a little more understandable.
Santana is a different player in many areas, though he is another potential fit with positives and certainly some negatives. One of the big breakouts on this roster from last year and one of the reasons the Brewers were such a surprise, Santana came into his own as a hitter. The 25-year-old is going to strike out a lot, but he more than makes up for that with big power and great patience. He’s young enough that the jury is still out on his contact abilities, but he’s posted a batting average on balls in play over .350 in each of the last two years, and if that (or something close) is for real then Santana’s OBP more than masks that high strikeout rate. On the other hand, he suddenly becomes much less valuable if he comes down to a BABIP closer to .300. Additionally, Santana is not much of an asset with the glove, like Braun.
Despite their flaws, both Braun and Santana seem like perfect fits for the Red Sox, at least on the surface. Boston can deal with neither being particularly strong defensive players as they already have perhaps the best defensive outfield in the league. If acquired, either Braun or Santana would be primary DHs, and they could be hidden in front of the Green Monster for many of their defensive appearances. Essentially, they’d be filling the exact role many have pegged for Martinez. The Red Sox need power, and just generally a frightening bat, in the middle of their lineup, and both Braun and Santana bring that to the table.
Of course, you need two to tango, and just because these players make sense for the Red Sox doesn’t mean the Brewers like what Boston has to offer. Remember, these two sides know each other at least a little bit after pulling off the Tyler Thornburg deal last winter. Obviously, one side has gotten the better of that deal to this point. With Milwaukee clearly looking to compete, they’d presumably want major-league ready talent in exchange for either player. Braun wouldn’t cost as much in terms of talent, but he’s got three more guaranteed years left on his deal for a total of $56 million. That’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s enough that it could limit the market for the veteran.
Santana, on the other hand, is under control through 2021, and presumably the Brewers would be looking for a good young pitcher or second baseman in return. The Red Sox don’t have to latter, and Eduardo Rodriguez is likely the only match they could find on the pitching side. One could make an argument that Rodriguez is expendable for the Red Sox right now, but I’m not sure I’d be ready to sell him right now. Plus, given the southpaw’s inconsistencies in the majors, that probably isn’t enough for a young slugger coming off a breakout season.
In the end, I’m not sure these two sides are a great match even if the Brewers have two players who would be great fits for Boston’s lineup on the surface. Braun would be the easier player for the Red Sox to acquire, but between his money and the PR hit they’d take as a team looking to rebuild their image after being seen as unlikable in 2017 it doesn’t appear Boston would be eager to jump on that kind of trade. Santana should have a big market and the Red Sox may simply not be able to compete with some other packages. All of that being said, it’s worth it for the Red Sox to at least explore these possibilities, even if J.D. Martinez will and should remain the top priority.