For the Red Sox, it’s been a bit of a strange winter with the entire offseason essentially focusing around just one player. There’s often a favorite target in any given offseason, but this has been unique in that J.D. Martinez has long seemed to be the only offensive upgrade in which the team appeared interested. Of course, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s at least a fair perception from the outside. As those negotiations may or may not be getting more and more tense depending on who you believe, it seems the Red Sox are looking into some backup plans. Specifically, according to Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston, they have approached Logan Morrison to start conversations with the free agent lefty.
Red Sox and Logan Morrison's camp have been in touch recently. Sox still want Martinez, but there is groundwork for alternatives— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) February 9, 2018
On the surface, this makes plenty of sense. Morrison is coming off a phenomenal season at the plate and if he can repeat that performance he would be the power bat so many want to see in the middle of Boston’s lineup. In 2017, the former Ray, Mariner and Marlin had the best year of his career hitting .246/.353/.516 for a 130 wRC+ with 38 home runs. He’s never going to impress with his batting average, but he has increased his walk rate in each of the last three years and showed a huge power outburst with some improvements to back it up. Specifically, he has become one of the poster boys of the so-called “Flyball Revolution,” as he upped his flyball rate by 11.5 percentage points from 2016 to 2017. That’s all very good, and has people understandably excited.
Even with all of that in mind, though, I’m not sure how much sense Morrison would make as an alternative. For one thing, the fit is not ideal on this Red Sox roster. Part of the reason that Martinez is an attractive target is that, while he’ll mostly serve as a designated hitter, he can also become the fourth outfielder. I know his defense is well below-average (though at this point I’d argue that his shortcomings in the field have become overstated, but that’s a topic for another day), but he can play the outfield when needed. Morrison, meanwhile, would be simply a DH or first baseman. That’s a fine and relatively common profile, but it’s also one that the Red Sox already have. Mitch Moreland is going to play first base most days, and Hanley Ramirez can also only play first base or slot in as the DH. In this era with bigger bullpens and shorter benches, versatility is key. It would be incredibly difficult to build a competent roster with three spots taken up by 1B/DH-only players. The counterargument would be that they could try to offload Ramirez or simply cut him, but I would definitely not do the latter and I’m not sure they’d realistically be able to do the former.
It’s not only the fit that has me worried about Morrison, either. Although he was outstanding in 2017 and there were real tangible changes in his game to lead to that breakout, I’m still not 100 percent sold that he is this kind of hitter now. For one thing, I have no idea how the juiced balls — or whatever you think is behind the sudden home run explosion around the league — affected his numbers. Furthermore, even with the increased flyball rate it seems his home run total involved plenty of luck. His home-run-to-flyball-rate came in at 22.5 percent, ten percentage points higher than his previous career-high. I’m skeptical that’s sustainable in a vacuum, never mind for a pull-oriented left-handed hitter coming to Fenway Park. There’s a chance Morrison, entering his age-30 season, has legitimately overhauled his offensive profile and is going to be a 35+ home run hitter with good OBP skills moving forward, but I’m not super high on that being the case.
At the end of the day, I understand the rationale behind targeting Morrison. He’s coming off a wildly encouraging 2017 in which he showed real, tangible changes that led to his outburst. The Red Sox need power, and he could be a cheap source of it. However, from my perspective, it’s far from a sure thing and I’m not sure the Red Sox should so severely limit the versatility of their roster for a relatively risky bat. If Morrison could play the outfield, this backup plan would make a lot more sense, but as it stands in reality I wouldn’t be using Morrison as anything more than leverage in the Martinez negotiations.