Red Sox should wait for 2019 to spend in free agency

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 27: J.D. Martinez /

The Boston Red Sox are always a threat to spend big money on the free agent market but are they better off waiting for 2019?

Wait until next year is not a phrase that goes over well with Red Sox Nation. This fanbase has an insatiable appetite for success. Every season is championship or bust here in Boston, so naturally, a team that has proven capable of making the postseason should make every effort to upgrade to a championship caliber team.

As blasphemous as it may seem, are the Red Sox best served by being patient?

After ducking the luxury tax in 2017 to reset the steep repeater penalties, the expectation is that the Red Sox will spend money this winter. However, just because you have money to spend doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

This year’s crop of free agents has some appealing options but lacks a franchise changer worth going all in for.

More from Red Sox News

Boston has a glaring need for power after finishing dead last in the league in home runs. J.D. Martinez stands out as an obvious quick fix after he belted 45 home runs this season. While Martinez would immediately become the best power hitter in the Red Sox lineup, don’t expect a repeat of his 40+ homer performance. 29 of those home runs came after the mid-season trade that sent him to Arizona, where he played in the fourth best park for home runs. While Fenway Park has a reputation as being a great hitter’s park, it was near the bottom of the league in home runs. Martinez’ previous career-high was 38 home runs and he hasn’t topped 23 in any other season.

Eric Hosmer is a popular free agent target but he doesn’t offer the power the Red Sox need. He tied his career-high with 25 home runs this season, which put him only a few ahead of incumbent first baseman Mitch Moreland. Hosmer is a better overall hitter but Moreland can come at least close to the power production while perhaps exceeding his value in the field at a fraction of the cost.

Hosmer’s Kansas City Royals teammate Mike Moustakas offers more power – or at least we think he does after he hit 38 homers this year. His previous career-high was 22 home runs. Which is the real Moustakas? The Red Sox would also need to convince him to move to first base or DH with Rafael Devers firmly entrenched at third base.

Any of these hitters would improve the Red Sox lineup, yet each comes with some risk of failing to meet value on their next contract if they can’t match the production from their career years in 2017. Boston would be happy to have any of them if cost were no deterrent but do any of these hitters put them over the top?

More from Red Sox News

It’s hard to feel confident that any of them would make the Red Sox a favorite to win a World Series or even improve upon their first-round exit.  Wait a year and it’s an entirely different story.

The 2018-19 free agent class is loaded with high-profile talent. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Charlie Blackmon are all MVP caliber bats who may be available on the free agent market next year. All of them are better than what’s available this year.

All of them will also be more expensive, but the Red Sox may have even more money to play with next year. The $22.75 million salary of Hanley Ramirez falls off their books after next season, so long as the Red Sox are wise enough to limit his playing time so that his vesting option isn’t picked up. David Price could potentially opt out of his deal after next season and if he goes elsewhere it will trim another $30 million off the payroll. Arbitration raises for the young core of this team will eat into some of those savings but if both of those highly paid players leave town after next season then Boston can easily afford one of the big name bats on the free agent market.

If Boston splurges on a long-term deal that averages north of $20 million per season this winter then it becomes harder to justify spending big again next year. Cornerstone players such as Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts will reach free agency in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The Red Sox need to project their payroll ahead a few years to ensure any contracts they sign over the next two years doesn’t hinder their ability to re-sign those young stars.

There’s little chance that the Red Sox will ever spend more than $40 million over the luxury tax, which would result in the steepest tax bill and penalize them in the draft. If they are willing to go over the threshold by less than $40 million then they can afford to spend on a big money bat either this year or next.

Next: Red Sox Gold Glove finalists

If spending on an expensive free agent isn’t going to happen two years in a row then I would prefer to wait for next year’s superior crop of free agents to go all in on.