Two things, in my eyes, are true about the state of the Red Sox right now. Number one: They have a good team. There is a ton of talent on the roster, much of it is young and poised to improve from 2017, and they have won two straight division titles. Number two: They could use some improvement. For one thing, there’s always room for improvement and you’d be silly to think your team is perfect at any moment in time. Plus, the American League has some incredible teams right now and whoever wins is going to need as much talent as possible. I think the Red Sox could certainly make a run as things stand now, but they’d be better with more talent. Wild, I know.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard this mentioned here or elsewhere on the internet before, but J.D. Martinez is the presumed favorite to join the Red Sox as their major upgrade of the winter. He makes the most sense, for reasons that have been mentioned upwards of six billion times this winter. We talked not too long ago about what the Red Sox would do if they don’t sign Martinez, which is probably more likely than we’re all assuming. There are a lot of options for backup plans, though none are as enticing as sticking Martinez in the middle of the lineup. I do want to go a little deeper into one scenario I laid out in that linked post, however.
This is a scenario I discussed both in that post and our latest podcast that went live on Thursday. Essentially, the idea would be that if the Red Sox miss out on Martinez they could zag in a totally different direction and approach some of the biggest pitchers on the market. Essentially, they would be working under the (mostly correct) assumption that a run saved is the same as a run scored. Looking at the free agent market, the closest thing to a star beyond Martinez would be on the pitching side with either Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Boston’s roster looks like a more obvious fit for a bat, of course, but if they are looking for a big splash it may have to be a pitcher if it’s not Martinez.
First, let’s take a look at some of the options they could pursue if they decided to take this unexpected, creative and possibly insane route. Darvish would be the top prize on the pitching market. When healthy and right, he is one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball and would give the Red Sox an absurd strikeout duo atop their rotation. Of course, he’s had some health issues, is entering his age-31 season and is coming off a dreadful postseason. Then, there is Arrieta, who saw his career take off over the last few years in Chicago, though he wasn’t quite as strong last year as he had been in the past. He’ll also be 32 by the time the 2018 season begins. On the trade market, Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer represent the biggest names potentially available. Of those names, Darvish and Archer would be my preferences in terms of impact, but all four will be in high demand this winter.
Ultimately, the fit seems strange in adding a pitcher to this roster that already has a ton of arms on it and that was carried to a division title in 2017 on the back of its pitching staff. That being said, it could be a good time to add a starting pitcher. Right now, teams are getting set for next year’s free agent class, which has undoubtedly been a factor in the biggest names not signing yet and the price tags potentially being relatively small this winter. Jumping on a weak market when you can has the potential to pay off in the long run. On top of that, Boston could lose a couple of their best pitchers next year with David Price’s opt-out looming and Drew Pomeranz set to hit free agency, not to mention Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen. They’d have some work to do to make room in the short-run, but jumping into these waters now could be better than having to make a move next winter.
Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks with this kind of move as well. The free agents have similar concerns, as they have already shown some potential signs of slowing down that could only continue as they move deeper into their 30’s. Being committed to large contracts to declining versions of Darvish or Arrieta isn’t super appealing for a team that will be looking to lock up some of its stars in the near-future. Cole and Archer, meanwhile, will cost a ton in prospects, and that’s not really something Boston is flush in. Cole specifically is frightening as a pitcher who has been fine but has never really reached his full potential. It could be hard to see that happening in the AL East when it couldn’t happen in the NL Central in a pitcher’s park. Archer, I think, is outstanding, but the Red Sox would likely have to deal off their major-league roster to make that work, and it’s questionable as to whether that trade off would be worth it in this hypothetical, J.D. Martinez-less world.
At the end of the day, I would admittedly be shocked if any of this actually came to fruition. If there was one front office head that I could see doing something like this it’d be Dave Dombrowski, but even he may be beyond this kind of strategy. Though I’m intrigued by the possibility of this zigging when the zagging doesn’t work out, I’m not even sure the positives outweigh the negatives for me. If I were to take part in this kind of strategy, I’d only do it for Darvish or Archer and I wouldn’t even be sure about them. Still, it would be a thrilling turn of events and would at least liven up a fanbase that would undoubtedly be downtrodden if the team were to lose out on Martinez. The team shouldn’t make decisions based on that sort of thing, of course, but it would probably be tempting. At the very least, I think it’s an intriguing hypothetical in a market with no clear offensive backup plan to Martinez.