The Road Map For 2018

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Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates that the Red Sox have a touch over $202M already on the books for next year. They also just finished their season with another disappointing showing in the ALDS and their contention window is shrinking.

The team has an infield of Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez, all under control for the rest of the expected competitive window. They also control a stellar defensive outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts, with the uninspiring Hanley Ramirez due to return as the designated hitter. They have one open position (first base) to fill and need to find some significant power with whomever they sign.

The rotation will be mostly the same, with Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello all set to return. The bullpen will lose Fernando Abad but retains control of everyone else.

So what are the Sox to do with the Yankees back in the divisional mix (and currently playing in the ALCS) and not a lot of room to maneuver and address their weaknesses from the 2017 season?

To start, they will need to prioritize their targets: a power bat needs to be at the top of that list. Luckily, J.D. Martinez is available as a free agent and the Sox have reset their luxury tax penalty, so the fact that they are already over the limit shouldn’t be much of an impediment. He also won’t cost any draft picks to sign since he was traded mid-season.

There are sure to be several suitors for his services, but this is Dave Dombrowski we are talking about. If he has identified Martinez as a need, he’ll strike fast and hard, maybe even during the winter meetings, going the extra year or the extra 1-2 million in AAV to close the deal.

Martinez isn’t likely to repeat his 2017 season, in which he posted a 166 wRC+ with 45 home runs and a career high .376 OBP. But even getting something closer to a .350 OBP with 30 home runs would give them a reasonable replacement for what they lost when David Ortiz retired following the 2016 season.

After that signing, the Red Sox could call it an off-season, at least as far as major moves go, and plan to go into 2018 with Martinez as the primary DH and Hanley back at 1st, or with Martinez picking up a first baseman’s mitt. However, they could also get a bit creative.

If Martinez costs something around 6/160 to sign, that puts the Red Sox at around $230M, so money is going to be very tight, and getting back under the threshold before next winter becomes impossible. That also puts them precariously close to the max payroll they can have without incurring a draft pick penalty, which would move their top pick down ten spots in the following year’s draft ($237M).

How can they alleviate that concern? They can trade JBJ to a team that is probably looking to convert a power-hitting corner outfielder with an awful glove into a Gold-love-caliber defensive outfielder who still has some decent pop: The Chicago Cubs.

Offering Bradley for Kyle Schwarber addresses problems for both clubs. The Cubs can’t really afford to keep running Schwarber out there as a left fielder, they can’t put him back behind the plate and they don’t have a DH slot to hide him in. The Red Sox need a lot more power (home runs and doubles) and Martinez might not be quite enough on his own, if we assume regression toward his career numbers.

If Schwarber is what he looked like in the second half, negative defensive value and all, he’s probably about as valuable as Bradley is overall. It’s a fair swap and would allow the Red Sox to tuck him away as a DH who can spell LF and maybe take some innings at first from time to time and puts Martinez out in the field in left. The downsides are all defensive: replacing JBJ with Benintendi in center and Benintendi with Martinez in left, plus the drop from Mitch Moreland to Hanley Ramirez at first.

The overall defense takes a hit, but now they are sporting a lineup of Betts, Benintendi, Schwarber, Martinez, Hanley, Devers, Bogaerts, Pedroia, and Vazquez, which is quite a bit more intimidating than the 2017 offering. And the team gets to shave $3-5M off the payroll by moving from the arb2 JBJ to pre-arb Schwarber.

It also frees up Dombrowski to dump Hanley’s contract if he can find someone willing to eat a portion of it. Even if the Red Sox have to eat half to move him, they could save $10M, which would open the door to re-signing Eduardo Nunez as a safety net for Dustin Pedroia, and to bringing Moreland back with his Gold Glove and 20 home runs per year.

It’s a bit far-fetched, but you don’t have to squint to hard to see it happening. Dombrowski likes making big moves, and he’s very aggressive when he sees a problem he can solve through the free agent or trade markets. Expect the Red Sox to be rumored as major player for Martinez this winter, and don’t be surprised to hear some “JBJ to the Cubs” rumors pop up as well.

There are other options, of course. Justin Upton might opt out of his deal and give Dombrowski another 30 HR talent, though likely with a little bit less OBP, only with a much better glove in left field. He was also traded and would cost no draft picks to sign. There is also 1B Eric Hosmer, and Andrew McCutchen, who may have his last year bought out by the Pirates and enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in 2017. Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda are also on the market, and both were traded, so no draft pick penalty for them, either. There is plenty of power available.

But this is Dave Dombrowski we are talking about. He may have a medically diagnosed allergy to medium-sized moves. He’ll target Martinez and he’ll make a very strong effort to sign him. And if he believes the Sox need even more power than that, he’ll explore a trade market that will be dominated by Giancarlo Stanton talks (Boston can’t afford the cost in prospects anymore), looking to make a splash in a way that no one is expecting.

The contention window is going to close hard after 2019, so take your foot off the brake, stomp on the pedal and maximize the Boston Red Sox chances of getting back to the World Series.

Featured image courtesy of stlouistrib.com

Updated (10/20/17): The concept for this article came from a discussion in a thread at sonsofsamhorn.net. Specifically, the idea of JBJ for Schwarber was kicked around Monday starting in the morning. Another poster (Yo La Tengo) had suggested the swap a day earlier. I apologize for missing that and not hat tipping him earlier.

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