Red Sox remain in the hunt for free agent J.D. Martinez

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07: J.D. Martinez /

The Boston Red Sox addressed their first base opening but have room to add another bat. Does re-signing Mitch Moreland bring J.D. Martinez closer to Boston?

When the Boston Red Sox announced that they were bringing back first baseman Mitch Moreland on a two-year deal they essentially were bowing out of the race for free agent Eric Hosmer. They each provide elite defense at the same position and their gloves are too valuable to stick in the designated hitter role or force them to transition to another position. There simply isn’t room on the roster for both.

As the list of free agent options continues to dwindle, the Red Sox get closer to the big bat who has been their top target all along.

Boston is going all-in on chasing J.D. Martinez. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski hinted strongly at this plan when addressing the media following the Moreland deal.

"“We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective,” Dombrowski said during a conference call, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “That won’t be a first baseman. But we feel we have a DH — that between Hanley [Ramirez] and if I could find someone else — [and] outfield spots that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for someone to contribute in a full-time fashion.”"

The Red Sox are looking for a bat who doesn’t play first base but could see time at DH and the outfield. Hmmm, who does that sound like?

Despite rumors that Boston’s dream scenario was to sign both Martinez and Hosmer, that option was never realistic. The Red Sox can afford to dive into luxury tax territory by signing one top-tier free agent but signing both would put them into tax hell for the foreseeable future. Sure, they have some big contracts coming off the books in the next year or two, yet they want to re-sign some of those guys and have a young core that eventually needs to be locked up. Ownership is willing to spend but the payroll has limits.

Bringing in a full-time DH and first baseman would have left Hanley Ramirez without a clear path to playing time, necessitating a trade that wouldn’t be easy to find. Hanley’s playing time will still be limited if the Red Sox add Martinez but not to the extent that they risk having a disgruntled veteran disrupting the clubhouse.

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The ideal scenario would have Martinez being the primary DH with the right-handed Ramirez platooning at first base with the lefty Moreland. The latter tends to struggle against southpaws and is best suited for a platoon role. Despite what we saw last season, Hanley historically has crushed lefties, making him the perfect platoon partner.

Martinez, who is willing to DH but has said he still wants to see time in the outfield, can occasionally see time in a corner outfield spot to give another starter a breather. This would allow manager Alex Cora to put Ramirez and Moreland in the lineup at DH and first base respectively.

Cora can rotate these players enough to keep everyone happy and give some other regulars enough rest to ensure they stay fresh for the stretch run. Hanley will still see sufficient playing time but not quite enough to reach the 497 plate appearances he needs for his 2019 option to vest.

Of course, this plan hedges on the Red Sox being able to sign Martinez. Otherwise, they essentially run back the same lineup they ended the 2017 season with, which is certain to irk most fans. While there are plenty of reasons to believe this lineup will bounce back to respectability without a major addition, Red Sox Nation won’t be satisfied without a splashy move to counter the New York Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton.

Next: What if Red Sox don't make a free agent splash?

While some may look at the Moreland contract in a negative light given that it takes a potential free agent target off the board, we can also look at it as a positive. It means that Dombrowski is narrowing his focus to a particular target. Given his history of going all-in to get the player he craves, we should trust that the Red Sox aren’t done adding to the lineup yet.