The Boston Red Sox have had a very quiet offseason so far. While that may lead some to panic, they’ll be fine with the team they have.
If polled, most people in and around baseball would probably agree that this offseason has been maddeningly uneventful for the Boston Red Sox.
Every offseason sees a few teams that go without making a headlining move or two, but this is different. Every team seems to be moving cautiously as if they’re waiting for something. We all believed the free agent market would take shape after Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels, or after the Winter Meetings, or after Giancarlo Stanton landed with the New York Yankees. Maybe MLB’s franchises are waiting for something else. Maybe they’re all saving up for the much-heralded 2019 free agent class.
Whatever the cause, one thing is sure: aside from a couple bombshell acquisitions what feels like years ago, this offseason can only be truthfully described as boring.
The Red Sox have been one the league’s quietest teams thus far. They came into the offseason with one glaring need, power, and one obvious target, J.D. Martinez. While there have been reports that the Sox have offered Martinez a five-year contract, nothing has come of that yet. The Red Sox have otherwise been involved in a few rumors here and there, but never as serious players, and have made a few minor signings. Other than that, however, we haven’t heard anything out of the offices of Fenway Park.
Fans of any team tend to get antsy when they don’t see obvious signs of the front office at work; Red Sox fans tend to be among the antsiest. The thing is, even if the Sox don’t get Martinez and don’t make a big splash to compensate, they’re still going to be competitive next year. Their roster, as currently constructed, is built to win. After all, they’ve retained the lineup and pitching staff that won them the American League East in 2017. Yes, they stumbled through a disappointingly short playoff run, but the American League was beastly last year. Losing to the Houston Astros, who eventually won the World Series, is hardly worth shaming the team over.
Many may worry, understandably, that the Red Sox won’t be able to keep up with a Stanton-powered Yankees. After New York acquired the slugger, the team suddenly became the favorites to win the division. Yet, if we step back and take a look at the Yankees as a whole, they’re still a very flawed team, perhaps more so than the Red Sox. Stanton’s greatness can’t be questioned, but he’s still just one player. New York may outhit most of their opponents, but they aren’t going to outpitch many. Their pitching staff, mediocre at best in 2017, remains a critical concern. In the long run, and in a short playoff series, pitching wins. New York may not be able to rely on its rotation to deliver.
Consider also that New York fired a popular manager with a winning record in Joe Girardi, and hired a guy with no managerial experience whatsoever in Aaron Boone to replace him. Boone will have to not only learn how to manage, but how to manage New York’s stable of young stars. That’s no small task. If he can’t, and if the team doesn’t buy into his leadership, all that power won’t count for much in the end.
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Martinez may still sign and, if he does, the Red Sox power woes may be solved. Then again, they may not be. Big-name offseason acquisitions have worked out for the Red Sox in the recent past. A player by the name of Chris Sale comes to mind. Yet, more often, big acquisitions have failed to live up to their price tags. Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, and, arguably, David Price are just a few examples of that.
Martinez seems more likely to fall into the Sale category; his power and batting average are proven commodities. Yet, 2017 saw him put up career numbers by a mile. He could easily regress. He’d still be a solid contributor even if he did, but the fans’ disappointment would nonetheless be palpable. The Fenway atmosphere can hinder even the most talented players.
Something mentioned earlier in this piece bears revisiting: Boston won the AL East in 2017. They did so without David Ortiz, with a patchwork starting rotation for much of the campaign, and without two of their top relievers. Rick Porcello, the 2016 Cy Young Award winner, had his worst season to date. Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all missed significant portions of the season due to injuries, and Ramirez, Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts, who was also battling injury for much of the season, all experienced significant drop-offs in power. And yet, the Red Sox still won.
The Sox had a full season to learn how to hit without Ortiz, and a full offseason to get healthy. They’ll have a full season of Carson Smith in 2018, and Tyler Thornburg will finally be there, too. Pedroia, Price, Ramirez, and Bradley Jr. will be healthy again. Price, for his part, should be available to start the season. If he is, and if Porcello can come out looking more like his 2016 self than his 2017 self and Drew Pomeranz can build on his strong work, Boston will have the deadly rotation it was supposed to have in May of last year. Stephen Wright will be healthy again too, which will help with depth.
While it might be nice to see the Red Sox add a power bat, they also simply might not need one. Bradley Jr., Bogaerts, and Betts are likely to see their home run numbers rise at least a little in 2018. They’re just too talented when healthy. Andrew Benintendi, in his second full season, should also see a few more leave the park. Add in full years from Rafael Devers and Eduardo Nunez, and you have what looks like a dangerous lineup. They might not go homer-for-homer with the Yankees, but they’re going find ways to get runners home. There’s little doubt J.D. Martinez would make the Red Sox a better team, but he wouldn’t make them competitive. They will be anyway. He might, however, push them over the top.