Perhaps you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too engulfed in yet another Patriots Super Bowl run or you’ve been watching the rad-as-hell Celtics or you’re as thrown off as I am by an actual fun-to-watch Bruins team, but this Red Sox offseason has sucked. I don’t mean that in the sense that they’ve destroyed their chances to compete in 2018 and/or in the long-term, I mean that in the sense that it’s been a total snoozefest. They’ve signed Mitch Moreland and....that’s it. Clearly, both by simple observation and numerous reports, the front office is prioritizing J.D. Martinez this winter. Essentially, it seems, they’ve put the rest of the offseason on hold as they pursue the player they see as the best fit. I’ll be clear from the get-go: I’m all for the Red Sox signing Martinez. He’s a legitimate star-caliber hitter and there just aren’t many of those available in any given year. He also happens to fill the biggest hole on the roster right in the middle of their lineup. As with any other negotiation the team has to set some sort of limit — though what that limit should be is certainly up for debate — but it makes sense for them to have him as their number one target. With that being said, in that pursuit they have seemingly ignored other corners of their roster. Is that something they are going to live to regret?
I think the general consensus for any situation like this is that it’s always wrong for a team to focus wholly on any one player or avenue. Generally speaking, it’s better to give yourself as many options as possible at any given time. That being said, I think there is a case to be made that the Red Sox are fine looking at J.D. Martinez and only J.D. Martinez. The biggest point in this favor comes down to whether or not you believe the offense is the only part of the team that needs improvement. If that is the case, then you look at what they need. The answer is obvious: A true, middle-of-the-order bopper who will strike fear in opponents’ hearts and just generally mash on a regular basis. J.D. Martinez is in a rare class of players who can do that. In terms of free agents, in fact, there is no one even close to the stratosphere of the right-handed slugger. Sure, he is not a perfect player as he’s had some trouble staying on the field consistently and he is well below-average in the field, but in terms of offense no one comes close. If the Red Sox were not willing to further deplete their farm system and were only looking for a star-level bat, then Martinez is/was the only option.
That line of thinking, of course, requires a lot of confidence in the roster as it’s currently constructed. Even if you put all of your resources towards signing Martinez, there’s always a chance he opts to head somewhere else. At that point, your left scrambling and forced to go into the season as-is or to make a panic move. Since no one plans to make a panic move, the Red Sox must be confident with their current roster. There is certainly an argument in this favor. This is, after all, a team that has won two straight divisions mostly with this roster. It’s fair to expect improvement from all over the lineup, and the pitching shouldn’t fall off by much. It’s that last point that’s key. You have to believe that David Price can stay healthy, and that Drew Pomeranz truly is as good as he was last year, or at least close. For what it’s worth, projections are on board with this idea, and Fangraphs has this current roster pegged for 90 wins, two fewer than the Yankees.
All of that being said, I still think the Red Sox may live to regret focusing so much on Martinez. Again, I think he is a great fit and I would agree that he should be the top target, but that’s different than focusing all of their energy on him. There were certainly other avenues to explore, beginning with Giancarlo Stanton. Admittedly, I wasn’t the highest on the idea of trading for the former Marlins slugger, but I also thought he’d go for a larger trade package. It’s possible he wouldn’t have waived his no-trade clause to come to Boston, but it seems as if the Red Sox didn’t even stay involved in negotiations long enough to truly find out. Beyond Stanton, they could have (and still could, I suppose) explore deals for someone like Jose Abreu, or they could have gone a cheaper route with someone like Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana. The Red Sox may or may not have been involved in those negotiations, but it seems if they were truly motivated they could have easily beaten the offers those two eventually received.
Furthermore, the Red Sox have other weaknesses beyond the lineup. First and foremost, in my mind, is in the bullpen. They didn’t need to get involved at the top of the market for someone like Wade Davis — or Greg Holland, who remains a free agent — but some mid-tier help wouldn’t hurt. Left-handed options in particular would have been helpful, but now the only option on that front who remains is Tony Watson. From the right side, someone like Bryan Shaw could have been a great fit for a relatively cheap price and given some certainty to a bullpen with a whole lot of questions to go with its upside.
It’s true that this offseason has been slow and unusual around the league, and it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely?) that this all ends up working out for the Red Sox. They certainly have a better read on the market than I do, and they have a better idea of some possible backup plans on the trade market that I may not be aware of. If they end up signing J.D. Martinez and Tony Watson, a plan many of us were down with from the start, then this whole post becomes irrelevant. That being said, from where I stand and where the Red Sox offseason stands right now, it seems as if they are putting all of their eggs in one basket. Sometimes that can work, but it’s always a terrifying strategy.