The Red Sox finished dead last in home runs in 2017. Now, they’re in the market for a big-name power bat. Should they, instead, wait for 2018 to address that need.
The outcry for the Boston Red Sox to make a move is there.
This outcry comes with plenty of merit. The Red Sox finished near the bottom in all major power production categories in 2017. Home runs; 27th in baseball, last in the AL. Slugging; 26th in the majors – next to last in the AL – at .407. Their ability to get on base with singles and walks was a major reason they were able to finish farther from the bottom in OPS and OPS+. They finished 22nd and 23rd in those categories, respectively.
The Red Sox are typically near the top of the junior circuit in the major power categories. So, whenever they don’t fit that image, it’s easy to react with the phrase “go get somebody.” People seem to gloss over the fact that they hit for a ton of doubles. Their 302 doubles in 2017 ranked them 7th in baseball – 4th in the AL. But those aren’t home runs. So, to fans, they don’t matter.
Martinez and Stanton have been linked to the team since the offseason started. Stanton has been the apple of Boston’s baseball eye since 2013, as I’m sure you already know. The team has been linked to other, lower-tier power bats like Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda and Carlos Santana. The lower tier will not cost as much as Martinez, but they’re not the big money signing people are looking for.
My question here is, and bear with me now, should the Red Sox hold off on making that big money signing or massive trade for a year? Should the Sox target those lower-tier players in free agency instead of the big money guys? Would using 2018 as a year of internal reflection pay dividends for the future? Its blasphemy and heresy, I know.
But that free agent class next season is too good to pass up. A free agent class headlined by players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. It’s a far superior crop of available players than the group this year.
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Both Donaldson and Machado have played within the AL East for the last few years, making their dominance at the plate all too familiar to the Red Sox. Their standing as third baseman is even more intriguing, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The Red Sox payroll situation is getting more and more difficult by the year. The young nucleus of the team – Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and (if you include him, like I do) Christian Vazquez – are all arbitration eligible this offseason. Bogaerts and Bradley are in their second arbitration year, coming off of $4.5M and $3.6M years, respectivley. Betts and Vazquez are entering their first year. Andrew Benintendi, while still two years away from arbitration, is also going to become more expensive as time goes on.
Betts is projected to earn $8.2M in arbitration this season. His following two arbitration years, with his talent? God only knows what he’ll be worth. This is where “internal reflection” comes in. Instead of the Red Sox adding a player like J.D Martinez or Giancarlo Stanton for massive sums of money, they should get their own ducks in a row, and extend Mookie Betts through his prime. If they can get him cheap on a Supreme Court-style lifetime contract, that would be even better.
Another prime candidate for internal reflection in 2018 would be Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez, who is entering his age 34 season, should not part of Boston’s master plan past this coming season. He has a plate appearance-based vesting option for 2019 that should – and will – be avoided like the plague, even if it does come with a mid-season controversy and slight collusion. The Red Sox have already been linked to free agents who could fill their need for a first baseman, like Morrison or Santana, for instance. These players aren’t top-of-the-line, five-tool players, but they’re above replacement level. And their most important attribute? Their ability to eat into Ramirez’ plate appearances. Hanley’s removal from the Red Sox payroll frees up $22M for 2019.
Santana is the ideal player of the two for multiple reasons. He’s a switch-hitter whose platoon splits show he’s much better from the right side of the plate than he is the left. He plays first base currently, but his large frame profiles as a back-nine designated hitter. Which is perfect. You’ve found your designated hitter after the Hanley Ramirez era.
Now, let’s get back to third base, shall we?
Does Rafael Devers seem like a life long third baseman to you? Sure, he’s only 20. But the frame he carries is extremely similar to that of Carlos Santana, who many people forget started his career behind the plate. In order for Devers to achieve his maximum offensive potential, a position change may be in order, and first base is the place to put him.
So, what am I getting at? Machado and Donaldson are very good offensive players, both are arguably more valuable than Martinez, as they provide power from the infield. And they won’t cost the prospects/roster players Stanton will.
The more desirable player of the two is Machado, as he’ll be entering his age 27 season as a free agent. That desirability comes with a hefty price tag, but that’s okay, because Machado is the better bet. He has AL East experience and has played in the playoffs. He has two gold gloves to his credit. Machado has accumulated a .502 slugging percentage, a .222 ISO and has averaged 35 homers over the last three seasons. In short, Machado is extremely good.
In summation, my master plan goes as follows:
Sign Carlos Santana in 2018, play him at 1B.
Hanley Ramirez becomes a free agent. Move Santana to DH for 2019.
Sign Manny Machado that offseason, move Devers to 1B for 2019.
Or scrap this all and sign Bryce Harper just for fun. Either way, a message to the Red Sox: do not put all your eggs in the 2017 offseason basket.