Red Sox Rumors: Boston looking to sign both J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox may not be content with signing a big name free agent. Dave Dombrowski is reportedly chasing two of the top names on the market.
We have heard rumors swirling since the free agency period opened that the Boston Red Sox have been linked to the two top bats on the market. They have shown interest in J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer, creating a debate across the fanbase as to which star hitter the team should splurge on.
Why not both?
According to the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman, that’s exactly what president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has in mind. A source told Silverman at the Winter Meetings this week that the intent is for the Red Sox to sign both prized free agent targets.
Dombrowski has been coy about plans, refusing to confirm if this pair would be his dream scenario. Comments he made to the Herald earlier in the week implied that signing both players would be a challenge due to where they would fit in the lineup.
"“I’ve read that, but I don’t know where we’d play those two bats,” said Dombrowski when meeting with the Boston media on Monday. “I’m trying to figure that one out. But I would say we’d be more limited to probably one bat. I can’t say that — I guess if we went for a platoon-type guy or something somewhere else, but I don’t really know where that second bat would play. Middle-of-the-order type. I mean you can get a better offense, but a middle-of-the-order type bat.”"
How they would fit seems fairly clear. Hosmer would give the Red Sox a Gold Glove-winning first baseman, while the defensively challenged Martinez would slot perfectly into the designated hitter role. There’s no need to shake up an outfield that rates among the best defensive trios in baseball to plug Martinez into left field when he can DH instead.
Of course, if the Red Sox manage this free agent coup to land both targets, the elephant in the room immediately becomes the fate of Hanley Ramirez. If Hosmer takes over at first and Martinez is the DH then there is no room for Ramirez, who enters the final guaranteed year on his contract.
Limiting Ramirez’ playing time would be a shrewd move to ensure he falls short of the necessary plate appearances that would allow his 2019 option to vest. However, they can’t make it too obvious that this is their intent. Taking his starting job away to start the season won’t sit well with the veteran.
Ramirez, who turns 34 later this month, may hit the free agent market next year looking to secure what could be his last big league contract. Depriving him of the opportunity to prove himself as an everyday player would severely limit his earnings on that next contract, which obviously would leave him rightfully frustrated. Not only would this scenario make Ramirez an expensive bench ornament, he could threaten to disrupt the clubhouse culture if his attitude sours with a limited role.
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Looking at Ramirez’ disappointing numbers this year and how the combination of Hosmer/Martinez could improve the lineup looks great on paper but we can’t ignore the fallout from those moves and how they would affect the team.
This would explain why Dombrowski has deflected questions about his pursuit of both top free agent targets. He can’t publically reveal his plan without alienating Ramirez, which would be a disaster if he falls short in his quest to sign one or both free agents and is forced to rely on Hanley next season.
The other aspect that makes signing both free agents unrealistic is the financial impact. The duo could combine to add in excess of $40 million to the 2018 payroll to a Red Sox team already scraping up against the luxury tax line. While ownership has expressed a willingness to dip into tax territory, there are limits to how far they will go. Exceeding the tax by more than $40 million would result in steep penalties that Boston’s brass should want no part of no matter how desperate they are to improve the lineup.
Signing both Martinez and Hosmer only seems realistic if the Red Sox manage to dump Ramirez on another team. Good luck with that. Any team willing to take the risk that Ramirez will produce in a bounce-back campaign will certainly insist on Boston swallowing a hefty portion of his remaining $22.75 million salary. While that frees up the logjam at first base and DH, it may not save the Red Sox enough money to leave them with much flexibility for any other moves.
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It’s easy for fans to look at the list of top available free agents and demand that Dombrowski do whatever it takes to lure them in. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple. The Red Sox chasing two top free agent bats sounds great but falling short of that goal would hardly mean that Dombrowski failed at his job. It may simply mean that he was hit with a dose of reality.