Generally speaking, as we’ve gone and looked at various targets for the Red Sox this winter, we’ve focused on or around the top of the market at the main positions of need for the roster. This makes sense, obviously, as that’s the place where all teams have to start and then they filter down based on how much they’re willing to allocate financially (or prospect-wise when it comes to trades) to each position. So while we can try to look at who would be the best get at every area, we know logically that it won’t work out like that. No team, particularly not one with as many holes as Boston currently has to fill, is going to get all of their top targets.
And so part of the job of the front office is to look beyond the top names and try to find the mid-tier, or sometimes bottom tier, options that make the most sense and fit the best with the roster. You can’t win without stars, but to really put yourself over the top you need to supplement the stars with good roster management on the fringes. To some extent we saw that in 2013 with a lot of mid-tier free agents coming together to form a champion. And for the Red Sox, it makes the most sense to go cheap on the infield since they have other options there — how attractive those options are is certainly up for debate and I’m likely on the lower end of that discussion, but the players exist — which cannot be said for the outfield, rotation or the bullpen. And among the cheap infielders, there may be no better fit than Derek Dietrich.
Dietrich is a veteran who has been bouncing around in the majors since back in that 2013 season. The bulk of his career was spent with Miami, with whom he made his major-league debut and stayed there through 2018. After that he spent a year with the Reds before opting out of his deal there prior to last season. In 2020 he struggled to really latch on anywhere, originally signing a deal with the Cubs but quickly being granted his release before even playing a game. Eventually he’d land with the Rangers, for whom he played in 25 games.
Prior to 2020, however, Dietrich had been somewhat quietly consistent as a producer. The now-31-year-old was never a star, to be sure, but he played fairly regularly and put up numbers. Going back to 2016, he played in at least 100 games every year through 2019, and going back to 2015 he has been above-average at the plate by wRC+ every season, and at times well above-average. Last season was a small sample, of course, but over his 75 plate appearances the veteran put up a solid 114 wRC+.
The path to that production isn’t always pretty, as there are some clear weaknesses in his offensive game. Most notably, Dietrich is not going to be putting up high batting averages. In fact, he’s finished each of the last two seasons with an average under .200. But he can make up for that with decent patience and good power. He’s had Isolated Powers (SLG - AVG) above .250 in each of the last two years, and while his ISOs weren’t as impressive before that point a big part of that had to do with playing in Miami, which was not friendly for power hitters. Additionally, he’s carried a walk rate of at least roughly eight percent — league-average, more or less — in five of the last six years.
The real key to getting the most out of a player like Dietrich is being sure to put him in the best positions to succeed. This is not the type of signing where you just pencil him into the lineup at the same spot and the same position 150 times over the course of the year and never think about again. Dietrich can help fill a couple of holes, but also can step aside for other players as well. Most notably, he probably shouldn’t see too much time against lefties. He’s not a disaster against same-handed pitching, but he has an 86 wRC+ over his career against southpaws compared to a 113 mark against righties.
And as it turns out, that kind of arrangement would fit very well with Boston’s roster. Defensively, Dietrich has played all over the place but at this point in his career second and first base are two of the spots that make the most sense. Boston needs help at second base for sure, and Dietrich would be able to play most days against righties there. Christian Arroyo has some supporters in the organization still, though, and a signing like Dietrich would allow Boston to have their cake and eat it too. Arroyo could play every day a lefty starts, and still get some starts against righties as Dietrich can also spell Bobby Dalbec against tough righties when the time calls for it. The veteran has also played a fair amount of left field, and the Red Sox can certainly use depth there.
The big part of this is obviously the price, and that’s appealing for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the obvious part, they can use money they would have used on other infield options to find more substantial upgrades at other portions of the roster. But even beyond that, making what would be a minimal commitment to Dietrich — he likely wouldn’t command much more than a million bucks or maybe two, if he gets a major-league deal at all — would allow them to move on quickly if they need to. For example, I’ve made clear that I’m not super high on Arroyo as an everyday player, but if we get to mid-May and he’s proven me wrong while Dietrich has been just average or worse, the team can pave the way for Arroyo to get more time without thinking twice about it. But if Arroyo does look more like a part-time or Quad-A player, they have a steady veteran in place with whom they can roll.
Clearly this would not be the sexiest signing of the winter, and if it were we’d riot. But not every signing is going to come with huge fanfare, and making the right moves on the fringes is important. Dietrich could be just that, providing a solid bat and just enough versatility in the field to fit perfectly with this roster.