Boston Red Sox fans are known for many things, but patience is probably not one of them.
So when you look at your calendar and see that it’s mid-January and the Soxies have made zero notable roster moves, you can understand the frustration stirring around Beantown.
And then you look at the Yankees lineup, anchored by the trio of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and shiny new toy Giancarlo Stanton, you can REALLY understand why Sox fans may find ants in their pants.
I used to be one of them, especially the week of the Stanton deal. The bad guys were getting better… WHY WEREN’T WE GETTING BETTER TOO? Back in early December, I would have offered it all to get a big-ticket free agent or two so that we could keep up in the never-ending arms race against New York.
But now, I think I’ve flipped.
Let’s be clear. General Manager Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox made a mistake in not landing Stanton, who was 100% EXACTLY the type of piece Boston needed- a legit power bat from the right side of the plate to slide in at DH or man left field (and a generational talent to boot). Dombrowski then compounded that mistake by not pursuing Stanton harder, in order to try to at least drive the asking price up for New York. Dombrowski himself even admitted to giving up his efforts once he heard that the Yankees were closing in on a deal, saying that it was simply too late in the game. So instead of throwing out some outrageous offer at the Marlins to get the Yankees to really pay a premium for Stanton, he stayed passive as the Evil Empire basically got the all-MLB slugger for a handshake and a bag of baseballs. I’m not saying that the deal the Yankees landed falls completely on Red Sox management (of course it doesn’t), but it’s a little disappointing to not see Dombrowski try a little harder to make things difficult for New York.
So after all that, the Red Sox were left in the no-man’s land they find themselves today. No big signings yet, and a lineup that is more or less the same as it was in October.
And now I’m worried Dombrowski is trigger happy in this purgatory, which could lead to overpaying for a free-agent bat in one J.D. Martinez. Do I like Martinez? Sure. He’s got excellent abilities at the plate, and can play at least adequate defense (he would probably be a better fit at DH). But he’s 30 years old, and looking for a long-term deal that will easily exceed $200 million. And to me, he’s not the type of game-altering talent that is worthy of such a contract, as well as he has played in recent seasons. Very few guys are. I worry that such a deal would go the route a la David Price: mega contract for a slightly older star player, who goes on to produce well- but not at the level of what his contract would indicate.
At this point, I think Dombrowski and the Red Sox should cut their losses. It’s hard to imagine that happening though, considering they already made a five-year offer to Martinez (reportedly, and the exact terms are unclear). Signing J.D. Martinez would not be a terrible mistake, but it’s not the best direction for the team right now. The Sox should hold on to this money, play this season out, and next winter launch an all-out assault to land Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Harper and Machado would both be 26, and are franchise cornerstones to which guys like Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi would be excellent supporting pieces. And the most important part? They’re young. The primes of their careers are ahead of them, and align with the youth the Red Sox have in their lineup- from Betts to Benintendi to Bogaerts to Devers, all of whom are currently under 26 years old. Sign Machado or Harper to a five or seven-year contract, and they’d be at most 32 by the time the contract expires. To me, one of these sluggers would be a snug fit for the Red Sox next season.
There are rumblings now that J.D. Martinez is willing to hold out to see what the market will look like before accepting the Red Sox offer (or any others, for that matter). So, like it or not, the Red Sox might be stuck in this “power-hitter” limbo for the weeks to come.
In the meantime, I’d tell Boston to decline any counter-offers Martinez and agent Scott Boras will throw back their way, and go forward with what they got. After all, the Red Sox are still defending AL East Champs. Their pitching staff is one of the best in the bigs from top to bottom, and their lineup can still produce runs despite a lack of consistent power. And I expect the latter to change- I highly doubt we will see Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia all slump like they did last year in the home run department. The power won’t be great, but it should certainly be a little better than last year. Take this season to develop Bryce Brentz perhaps- the guy hit 31 home runs and reached 85 RBIs in 120 games in AAA. Give him some playing time, and maybe he can provide a little pop that the Red Sox sorely lacked last season.
So what does that mean for this coming season? I hate to call this “punting” on the 2018 campaign, because Boston will certainly be competitive. They have way too much talent not to be. They should be at least in arm’s reach of the division title, if not securing a Wild Card berth. But their focus here should now be more long-term. The resources in free agency or the trade market just aren’t available to compete with the Yankees or Astros in the playoffs quite yet, but the free agent class after this season’s end will be a whole different story. The fish in that pond are going to be a whole lot bigger. And that’s where the Red Sox should make their move.
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