The Boston Red Sox have had an action packed off-season following their lackluster 2015 campaign. Those moves, paired with news of David Ortiz’s retirement, has led to speculation that Dave Dombrowski could be looking for a big bat next offseason. Damian Dydyn suggests that we not get too excited about Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista calling Fenway Park home.
ESPN.com recently posted an article on the most interesting names in MLB right now. Among them are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with the teaser, “The buzz is already building that one of the two will eventually land in Boston as Ortiz’s DH heir at Fenway.” Exciting, right? Either would make for a fine DH, or first baseman should Hanley Ramirez struggle at the position – or have trouble with his hamstrings because of all the stretching. Red Sox fans across the internet are salivating over the blurb. Dave Dombrowski has clearly demonstrated he’s willing to go big when he sees a player he likes on the market, splashing the pot on David Price and trading two top 100 prospects for Craig Kimbrel.
We should probably pump the brakes a bit, though. There are a number of reasons why the thought of Dombrowski as a go big or go home type of GM might be premature. Yes, the Price signing was enormous. It was also the best way to fill an enormous hole while preserving what was, arguably, the best farm system in the game at the time. Yes, he then turned around and traded away Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra to bring Kimbrel in, but again, he was filling a big hole and he avoided trading any of the team’s top four prospects. Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Anderson Espinoza make as good a top four as you will find and the team still has Sam Travis bludgeoning his way toward Fenway park.
Speaking of Travis, he’s a big part of the reason fans shouldn’t get too carried away with thoughts of Bautista or Encarnacion donning a navy blue cap with a red B at a press conference next winter. Since being drafted, Travis has done nothing but hit at every stop. His wRC+’s for each level in order are 140, 124, 144, 146, and 140. That’s remarkably consistent. He’s athletic enough to provide solid defense and a little bit of value on the bases, and will cost the team around $500,000 for his first three years with Bogaerts and Betts both hitting arbitration at the same time he will likely be cracking the 25 man roster.
The Red Sox will probably be looking to work Moncada and Benintendi into the mix that season as well. That’s three prospects that should be ready to hit the majors over the course of the 2017 season with only one of the starting nine departing in David Ortiz. Inevitable injuries and underperformance will free up some plate appearances, and there could always be a trade of someone like Pablo Sandoval if Moncada is kicking down the door at Gate C in June or July of that year, but the roster will be tight. Signing one of Bautista or Encarnacion to a long-term contract all but forces Dombrowski to trade some or all of those prospects.
From the starting lineup going into 2016, only Ortiz isn’t under contract long term. Signing a big name free agent to replace Big Papi might be a great short-term move, but when you consider the financial implications of adding another $25-30 million in payroll to the club while blocking some really exciting prospects, the idea starts to unravel quickly.
Dombrowski transformed the Red Sox into a team that looks like a legitimate contender on paper by the middle of December while holding onto the team’s 4 best prospects and 8 of their top 10. That looks more like a GM who is willing to spend big when needed, while valuing young, high-ceiling players that help balance payroll long term than a guy who is going to go big all the time. And it’s not like the Tigers didn’t balance their payroll with cost controlled young players under Dombrowski. J.D. Martinez, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Rick Porcello, Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos, and Anthony Gose all provided significant production in Detroit for very little cost in the last few years.
The idea of Bautista or Encarnacion blasting home runs in Fenway is fun, but it’s probably best to let that thought collect dust in the bin with Giancarlo Stanton.