The potential of first base prospect Sam Travis convinced the Boston Red Sox not to splurge on an expensive free agent to fill that position.
When the offseason began we expected the Boston Red Sox to dive into the free agent market to find a power bat to help fill the void left by David Ortiz‘ retirement.
That didn’t happen, as Dave Dombrowski pivoted to a cheaper solution in Mitch Moreland, who won’t produce like Big Papi at the plate but does upgrade Boston’s infield defense with his stellar glove at first base.
Avoiding the more expensive crop of free agents was considered to be part of a concerted effort to avoid the steep luxury tax penalties that repeat offenders are forced to pay under the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. While that was certainly a motivating factor, it left fans wondering if they needed to be so frugal when top targets such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo all signed for far less than initially assumed they could command.
Could the Red Sox have signed one of those sluggers instead of Moreland and still stayed below the $195 million threshold? Perhaps, but it would have been tight, leaving them with little room to maneuver if mid-season needs arise.
Ducking the tax line may have been the top priority this winter, but it turns out Dombrowski had another motivating factor dictating the direction the team ultimately went in. The Red Sox president of baseball operations pointed to first base prospect Sam Travis as a reason to avoid long-term deals for a free agent to fill the position.
"“I think the other thing in our mind is that we really like Sam Travis a lot,” Dombrowski told Masslive’s Christopher Smith. “We don’t think he’s going to be ready this year at the beginning of the season because of the injury last year. But if you sign somebody for an extended period as a first baseman/DH, you don’t have room for Sam Travis as you go forward because you’ve got Hanley and you’ve got that other person. And so for us, we really felt it would be better to go on a short-term basis.”"
Travis was having a breakout year in Triple-A Pawtucket before an ACL injury wiped out most of his season, delaying the timeline for when he may reach the big leagues. If he manages to pick up where he left off when he returns to the field then we could see him in Boston at some point in 2017, but it won’t be by Opening Day. The Red Sox needed a stopgap to fill in until Travis is ready, which they found in signing Moreland to a one-year deal.
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Would a bat like Encarnacion’s help the Red Sox in 2017? Of course, but at what expense? Not only could it have inhibited their ability to stay under the tax, but adding a first base/DH type for at least three years would block Travis’ path to the majors. There would be no room for Travis to take on an everyday role if the former Blue Jays star was brought here, not with Hanley Ramirez locked in through 2019, assuming his option for that season vests.
The Red Sox see enough upside in Travis to expect he’ll be worthy of a starting role long before then. Signing an expensive free agent would give the lineup a boost this season, but waiting for Travis is the smarter long-term solution.
In the meantime, Boston will combine Moreland’s Gold Glove defense with an upgraded pitching staff that added Chris Sale. Nobody can replace Ortiz, but improving the defense and pitching can help offset some of the offensive firepower they have lost.
Will Dombrowski’s patience pay off? Time will tell, but his comments do provided us with a compelling alternative narrative for their offseason decisions that go beyond saving money.