The Boston Red Sox are rumored to be eyeing a pair of Toronto Blue Jays sluggers as potential replacement options for David Ortiz in 2017.
We haven’t even made it through the offseason yet and here we are already looking ahead to near year’s. After poaching David Price from the starting rotation of their division rival Toronto Blue Jays, rumor has it that the Boston Red Sox will seek to lure a bat from the middle of their lineup next.
Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents after the 2016 season, which just so happens to coincide with the retirement of Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. Not only will the Red Sox have a hole to fill in their lineup, but they will have money to burn in their budget once Ortiz’s $16 million salary falls off the books. We have seen baseball insiders attempting to connect the dots to map out a path that could lead one of those power-hitting Jays to Boston, while here on BoSox Injection we have discussed how realistic those options would be. Now ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has thrown fuel on the fire to reignite these rumors by suggesting the buzz around the league is that the Red Sox will land either Bautista or Encarnacion next winter.
Our friends over at Jays Journal recently discussed the growing concern that one of these sluggers could leave Toronto for a division rival next year.
"“The total contract value here will obviously be a step down from David Price,” writes Keegan Matheson. “That allows some more wiggle room if you’re the Jays, but I struggle to see Mark Shapiro as a front office leader that would make an increased financial commitment out of fear that Encarnacion or Bautista would stay in the division. That’s flirting with an ’emotional’ decision, and again, their age profiles don’t seem to fit Shapiro’s past ways.”"
It sounds like they are already starting to prepare for the exits of at least one of their star hitters up in Toronto, but from the Red Sox’ perspective, would it be wise to chase either of them in free agency next season?
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The idea seems to be that either of these Jays hitters could slide into Ortiz’s DH role in 2017, but don’t the Red Sox already have his replacement on the roster already? The Red Sox are forced to try Hanley Ramirez at first base this season due to a lack of alternatives, but he’s a defensive liability that is best suited as a DH.
Bautista has been an above-average right fielder in his career, but he’ll be 36 when he hits free agency. The Red Sox are also set with Mookie Betts at that position and have no apparent openings in an emerging outfield that is expected to be one of the top defensive trios in the game. Even if Jackie Bradley or Rusney Castillo were to fail, the organization still has the rapidly rising Andrew Benintendi waiting in the wings, with top prospect Yoan Moncada also a candidate to shift to the outfield. Adding Bautista to that outfield mix would block their path, while his defensive skills are sure to erode during his next contract. If the Red Sox look to add him it would have to be with the intention of making him primarily a DH, which can only happen if Ramirez proves himself to be passable at first base.
Encarnacion spent the majority of his time last year as a DH, but is also capable of playing first base. He’s not particularly good at it, having cost the Blue Jays -17 defensive runs saved in 311 games at the position over the last five years. Given how poorly Ramirez adapted to learning a new position last year, it’s not difficult to imagine him being even worse than that when he transitions to first base, making it conceivable that the Red Sox could target Encarnacion to play first base so that Ramirez could DH. By that point Ramirez will only have two years left on his contract, so Encarnacion would slide in the DH role after he’s gone, when he’ll be 35 years old.
As long as the Red Sox can stomach fielding a defensively challenged first baseman, the option of adding one of these Toronto sluggers remains on the table. Seeing how Ramirez takes to his new position in 2016 will go a long way in helping the team consider that risk.
The Red Sox will need to add some power to their lineup to replace the departing Ortiz in 2017, but they must be mindful of where that power comes from. Adding a player for his bat while trying to figure out what position to stick him in later is exactly the type of flawed planning that led them to be stuck with Ramirez. Team building is about more than merely buying the biggest name on the free agent market. Bautista and Encarnacion are both prolific hitters, but before the Red Sox can consider offering either of them a lucrative contract next winter they must first consider where they would fit on this team.