It’ll be hard for the Red Sox to top last year’s Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
But if Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as Boston’s president of baseball operations has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t rule out the Red Sox being aggressive and making some noise over the next several days in Orlando, Fla., where the winter meetings currently are taking place.
The Red Sox, of course, landed Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox last December in a trade that shook the league to its core. The left-hander went a long way toward stabilizing Boston’s rotation in 2017, although the Red Sox still fell short in their quest to win another World Series.
Now, the Red Sox have different areas of need. And while there are some options available via free agency or trades, it’s difficult to pinpoint who exactly they’ll target, as it’s been a relatively quiet offseason for Red Sox rumors despite some key developments across the league.
In any event, let’s run down three burning questions facing the Red Sox as they descend on Orlando for a week of talking, strategizing and perhaps even a little wheeling and dealing.
1. Who should be the Red Sox’s power target… if anyone?
The Giancarlo Stanton pipe dream was more like a nightmare, with the Miami Marlins trading the reigning National League MVP to Boston’s biggest American League East rival, the New York Yankees. At least the damage was done early in the offseason, though, meaning Red Sox fans didn’t need to spend too much time fantasizing about a possible trade. In fact, the Red Sox never really seemed like a potential dance partner, likely suggesting Stanton had zero interest in playing in Boston.
So, what now? Well, the easiest way for the Red Sox to infuse some much-needed power into their lineup would be to make a splash in free agency, where J.D. Martinez is the preeminent slugger available. Martinez, labeled the “King Kong of Slug” by agent Scott Boras, hit .303 with 45 home runs, 104 RBIs and 1.066 OPS in 119 games last season. He launched 29 home runs in just 257 plate appearances over 62 games following a midseason trade from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Red Sox, who finished with an AL-low 168 home runs, sure could use his pop from the right side.
The problem, of course, is cost. Martinez, who turns 31 in August, won’t come cheap, especially with the Red Sox competing with other teams who missed out on Stanton, like the Giants and Cardinals, for his services. That’s troubling since Martinez, an outfielder by trade, is a terrible defensive player who probably would serve primarily as Boston’s DH, unless the Red Sox trade Jackie Bradley Jr., shift Andrew Benintendi to center field and plug Martinez in left. Let’s face it, giving a long-term contract in the ballpark of $200 million to a DH north of 30 isn’t ideal. And it’s even less appealing when you consider the elite talent that figures to be available on the open market next offseason.
Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso and Matt Adams are among the other options available to the Red Sox in free agency. Hosmer is the best all-around player of that bunch, although he’s never hit more than 25 home runs in a single season, making it difficult to justify the Red Sox shelling out more than $100 million for the longtime Kansas City Royals first baseman.
The trade market is less clear, but Jose Abreu is an intriguing name to monitor. He’s hit more than 30 home runs in three of his four major league seasons, including 33 in 2017, and would be an excellent target if the Chicago White Sox ultimately make him available.
Prediction: The Red Sox sign Martinez, who Dombrowski is familiar with from his tenure with the Tigers.
2. Who’s on first… and second?
Hanley Ramirez’s future — whether he primarily plays first base or DH — might be directly tied to how the Red Sox satisfy their glaring need for another middle-of-the-order bat. There’s a chance they could sign a first baseman who’s a superior defender, thus making Ramirez the full-time DH. Or they could spring for a slugger with a different primary position, like Martinez, thus requiring Ramirez to use his glove. Or maybe they’ll sign Martinez to play left field and add a first baseman, in which case the DH route for Ramirez is back in play. Whatever the case, Ramirez’s exact role is unclear and will be until the dust settles.
Perhaps the bigger question, then, is second base, where the Red Sox will need to fill the hole vacated by Dustin Pedroia, who’s likely sidelined until May after undergoing knee surgery. They have several internal options — Brock Holt, Deven Marrero, Tzu-Wei Lin, Marco Hernandez and maybe even Blake Swihart, who’s been working out at several positions this offseason — who can help them weather the storm, but the Red Sox could decide to look outside the organization for infield depth, especially if they have concerns over Pedroia’s long-term health and the uncertainty that comes with starting Rafael Devers (just 240 big league plate appearances) at third base to begin the season. Eduardo Nunez was solid in a utility role for the Red Sox in 2017 after coming over in a trade with the Giants, so perhaps they’ll look to re-sign him or another player with comparable versatility, like Howie Kendrick.
Prediction: The Red Sox stand pat or make a minor addition in this area, opting to rely mostly on their internal options until Pedroia returns.
3. Will the Red Sox add an arm… or two?
The Red Sox could use some organizational starting pitching depth — who couldn’t? — much like last season, when they added Doug Fister. They’re mostly set in the rotation, with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz all locks to secure spots. But Eduardo Rodriguez underwent surgery in October that likely will force him to miss the start of the 2018 season, and Steven Wright missed most of the 2017 season due to his own knee surgery. Adding a veteran starter should be a priority.
Boston also could look to bolster its bullpen, which is slated to lose Addison Reed in free agency. Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg could provide a boost this season — Smith missed most of 2017 and Thornburg missed the entire season — but that’s a roll of the dice, particularly with regards to Thornburg, who’s coming off surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. Adding another reliever — ideally one who’s left-handed — would serve the Sox well.
Prediction: The Red Sox add a lefty to their bullpen mix, either via trade or free agency.
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