BOSTON — The Red Sox can make it rain again.
From the day David Ortiz announced he was retiring, it was universally apparent the Red Sox would need to find a middle-of-the-order bat to replace him. They passed on that chance last winter, preferring to get themselves under the luxury tax threshold for 2017. It was universally apparent how well that plan worked on the field.
But, they did indeed stay under the threshold in 2017. So now the penalties this winter for acting like, well, the major-market Boston Red Sox, are lessened.
Thus, the mea culpa spending can begin.
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The need for power hitting is beyond obvious. The potential benefit of a redistribution of power inside the Red Sox clubhouse is apparent too. Satisfying both areas isn't so easy, though.
Likely, the Red Sox will largely look the same in 2018 as they did this year. The outfield appears set, as does the left side of the infield. First base is an open position with Mitch Moreland now a free agent, and designated hitter is in play as well. Hanley Ramirez could have a guaranteed spot going into 2018 at either first or DH, but the Sox might be wise to acquire not one but two significant hitters — both insurance and competition for Ramirez.
First baseman Eric Hosmer and outfielder J.D. Martinez headline the available bats via free agency. Both get positive reviews for their character. Mutual interest is expected all-around.
Hosmer is an established leader, a quality uncommon for someone entering their age-28 season who is also freely available. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski may be more inclined to pay for intangibles than others, both because of his philosophical leanings and need. And the intangibles will be a part of the price.
The presence is commanding. Hosmer's father is a firefighter, and his mother a nurse who immigrated from Cuba.
A left-handed hitter, Hosmer’s been to a pair of World Series and won one with the Royals, the only team he’s played for. He also won the World Baseball Classic with Team USA this spring, starting over Paul Goldschmidt.
He’s durable, playing 162 games in 2017 after playing 158 in each of the last two. He’s hit 25 home runs each of the last two seasons, slashing .318/.385/.498 this year.
Heck, at the 2016 All-Star Game, Hosmer even said the right things about David Ortiz.
“He's constantly spreading knowledge throughout the whole entire league. As a player, as a leader of a team, you appreciate because you see how he goes about his business,” Hosmer said. “You see how he makes the people around him that much better. So to hear his words and the message before the game was, you know, something you really will look back on and be extremely appreciative that you can be in a locker room and hear words like that from a guy like David.”
No player comes without concern. Hosmer’s defense is not looked at well by the readily available metrics, although he won three straight Gold Glove awards from 2013-15. He hits a lot of ground balls, and ground balls don’t turn into home runs.
But Hosmer’s loved his time at Fenway Park so far, with a .354 average and three long balls in 109 plate appearances.
Strictly from an offensive production standpoint, Martinez has more to offer, although he’s older, entering his age-30 season.
Martinez's 2017 production was tremendous. A right-handed batter, he ripped 45 home runs and led the majors in slugging percentage, .690. He also hit .303 with a .376 on-base percentage, finishing up the season with the Diamondbacks. He's an outfielder by trade but could DH.
When Martinez, a very hard worker, arrived in Detroit after beginning his career with the rebuilding Astros, he had just rebuilt his swing and found a group of veterans to learn from. Martinez has leadership qualities, and could blossom into a lead figure in the clubhouse, but he’s not there yet.
Martinez is appealing as well because he cannot receive a qualifying offer, after he was traded midseason. Hosmer’s a guarantee to receive a qualifying offer, so the Sox would have to give up a second-round draft pick to sign him.
Considering how few home runs the Sox hit in 2017, it'd almost be a surprise if one of Hosmer or Martinez didn't land in Boston.