J.D. Martinez’s high asking price is driving the Red Sox towards other options. Logan Morrison, however, isn’t the solution to their offensive woes.
The biggest story of the Boston Red Sox’s offseason to date has of course been the J.D. Martinez saga. Players are already reporting for camp and yet Martinez, and many other top free agents, are still without new contracts. Though they remain the favorites to acquire his services, Martinez to Boston is looking less likely by the day.
Morrison is coming off a career year in which he launched 38 home runs and accumulated 3.3 fWAR in 149 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s not hard to see why the Red Sox are interested; they finished last in the American League in home runs last season and Morrison certainly won’t require the level of commitment in both years and dollars that Martinez will. But, despite a great 2017 season, Logan Morrison is not the remedy for Boston’s dilemma.
Consider the following to stat lines.
They seem like reasonably similar hitters don’t you think? If anything you’d have to give the edge to player B. These lines are actually the 2018 PECOTA projections for Logan Morrison (Player A) and Hanley Ramirez (Player B). This isn’t a completely fair comparison as these projections are based on their most recent offensive environments. As such, this is Morrison’s projected line if he were to play in Tropicana Field again this season. However, Fenway isn’t a whole lot better for lefties than the Trop.
I’d probably slightly rather have Morrison for next season; Hanley’s older and coming off an injury-plagued season. However, Morrison has been worth more than 1.1 fWAR exactly once in his career. Prior to this season, he hadn’t hit 20 homers since 2011 and he’s only been an above-average hitter in about half of his campaigns. As PECOTA’s projections show, it is not at all unreasonable to think that Ramirez may outperform Morrison.
Morrison probably represents something close to a lateral move. Essentially, the Red Sox would be exchanging risk in the form of age and injuries for risk in the form of regression. But Ramirez is already on Boston’s payroll. Signing Morrison wouldn’t necessarily improve the team drastically, but it would hamper their flexibility.
The biggest problem the Red Sox have is that their lineup lacks a true middle of the order threat at the moment. The only man on the market right now who fits that bill is Martinez. Morrison is not that guy and if the Sox don’t sign Martinez they likely won’t find that guy before the 2018 season starts. But Morrison could prevent them from signing that guy next offseason.
At the beginning of this offseason, MLBTR projected Morrison to land a three-year $36 million pact with the Red Sox. This offseason has not been player-friendly so it’s reasonable to expect Morrison’s contract to come in below that mark.
However, Mitch Moreland landed a multi-year deal so it would be quite the surprise if Morrison did not. That means Morrison’s contract will likely be on the books next offseason when the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson hit the open market. As it stands, the only member of the Red Sox lineup who may not be under contract after 2018 is Ramirez. So there is currently one place to put a shiny new slugger, but signing Morrison for multiple years clogs that spot.
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Maybe the Red Sox could get creative and dump Morrison or Moreland to open a spot. Certainly, Moreland’s $6 million remaining in 2019 could be slid to the bench without the contract becoming an albatross. But a Morrison contract is another moving part to deal with and with everything that goes into nailing down a $400 million dollar commitment to a Harper or a Machado, you don’t want to add moving parts when you don’t have to. Even just at the deadline this year Morrison could tighten the Red Sox’s budget enough to limit moves.
As it stands, the Red Sox’s payroll is already likely over $200 million. Remembering that the Sox will likely need to add an infield depth piece, a bullpen arm, and maybe some starting pitching depth and that number could easily climb over $210 million. The penalties get much harsher over the $237 million line; notably, teams will have their first-round selection moved back 10 spots. Morrison may push them dangerously close to that mark.
If a serious injury or need arises, Morrison’s contract may not leave the Red Sox with enough payroll flexibility to deal with that situation without serious repercussions.
The bottom line is that the difference between Morrison and Ramirez is almost certainly not going to make or break a championship season. Morrison will, however, reduce Boston’s flexibility both for in-season moves and for moves next offseason. The Red Sox need a middle of the order bat and if they can’t find one Ramirez represents a better option than any stopgaps they are likely to find on the open market. Boston’s plan A is Martinez, but their plan B should be to stand pat.