Alex Cora

Newly acquired J.D Martinez is no stranger to Fenway

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Newly acquired J.D Martinez is no stranger to Fenway

Perhaps J.D Martinez's youthful passion for the Red Sox may have played a misinscule part in his decision to sign with Boston?

Although he grew up in Miami, he's no stranger to Fenway Park. 

Martinez's sister, Mayra, posted a picture on her Instagram account yesterday of a young  J.D standing on Yawkey Way. The picture was taken on Martinez's 19th birthday celebration. 

Fast forward 12 years, Martinez signs a $110 million deal with the team he rooted for in his youth. 

The Red Sox' recent signing of Martinez to a five-year, $110 million deal acts as a dream-come-true scenario to a Red Sox fan.  

To tie it all together, new manager, Alex Cora, started for the Sox at shortstop the day of Martinez's 19th birthday.  

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Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

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Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

FORT MYERS, Fla.  -- At Fenway Park at least, there may be no need to implement silly mechanisms to increase pace of play. Alex Cora’s vision for the Sox offense could speed us along.

The Sox of yore strove to work counts for the sake of booting a starter out of the game early. A higher pitch count made it easier to get into a presumably weaker bullpen.

The difference now is manifold. For one, relievers are simply better. 

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“We used to wait them out. But that was 10 years ago, 13 years ago,” Cora said Thursday morning, before the Red Sox first exhibition game of the spring. “It's been a while. It's a different game. I had a conversation with Mikey [Lowell] about that. I was like, ‘Mikey, the starters, they go four or five innings.’

“[They don’t] bring in the 87-88 [mph] cutter/sinker/breaking ball guy. Now the guy in the sixth inning is 97 with a great off-speed pitch, secondary pitch. I'm a big believer when you get to that starter, if you can get him right away, get him. Either he'll get you or you'll get him.”

And everyone is very directly trying to "get” one another. Attack plans are both more deliberate and more easily accessible these days. The proliferation of analytics has led to better scouting reports. Waste pitches may still be thrown with some sense of purpose, but there is a trend toward maximizing efficiency. See Chris Sale, who has talked a lot about the need to reduce wasted pitches -- not necessarily the same as a purposeful pitch outside of the zone , but still in the same vein. You don't necessarily need a fastball to set up your amazing curveball, or may not need it as frequently.

The best offense in the majors in 2017 belonged to the world champion Astros, and they saw the second fewest pitches per plate appearance of anyone in the majors, 3.78. Cora was their bench coach.

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Now, you can still have a great offense and work counts. The team the Astros beat in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees, had 3.98 pitches per plate appearance in the regular season, the second-most. The Red Sox were seventh, at 3.94.

Another effect rooted in the same causes: Lineup construction doesn’t mean quite as much. A left-right balance may be helpful throughout the regular season, at least, but it doesn’t have to drive the boat.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter,” Cora said. “You put the best lineup out there. I hate to bring up last year, because I want turn the page, but you saw what happened at the end. We had five righties [in the Astros lineup consecutively], it didn’t matter. If you can hit, you can hit. 

“They’re good hitters. Throughout the minor leagues, you face lefties and righties and all of a sudden, your first month in the big leagues and you can’t hit lefties. I never got that. Probably have to make that decision later on, but it doesn’t matter.”

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Lineup protection isn’t a priority, either, from the sound of it.

“I believe in lineup construction, that’s most important,” Cora said recently. “You’ve got David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez], you pick your poison. You’ve got Miguel [Cabrera] and Victor [Martinez], you pick your poison. You decide when to challenge who at certain times. But I think it’s making that lineup long enough to keep putting pressure on the opposition. 

“The way the league is pitching sometimes, it doesn’t matter who is hitting behind you. It’s a matter of how they attack you. There are certain teams [where] this is how you’re going to attack this guy, regardless of the situation, and they’re going to go there. If they walk him, they walk him. And if they strike him out, they strike him out. If they put together a good at-bat and they get on base, so be it. It’s a lot different because of the way stats are attacking guys. So for me, it’s all about construction."

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Drellich: It's the bench where Martinez creates roster dilemma

Drellich: It's the bench where Martinez creates roster dilemma

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Now that J.D. Martinez is about to join the fold, the Red Sox have some roster intrigue. But it's not at first base with Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez. It sits on the infield with Brock Holt, Blake Swihart and Deven Marrero.

The ideal Red Sox lineup right now — or at least, the version we think we will see when Martinez is officially inked — has Moreland sitting out more often. Still, remember that we are talking about an ideal. Someone will get hurt. Multiple players, in fact. And even if everyone is healthy, we're in an era where teams prioritize depth and keeping players fresh.

"We've got guys that can play the infield and can play the outfield,” manager Alex Cora said Tuesday. "I'm comfortable with that. I'm comfortable with a roster that's very versatile. That's very important. Guys that can complement each other. I've been talking about rest the whole week. It's very important with the travel and schedule and workload, it's very important to have versatile players on your roster.”

In Martinez, Moreland, and Ramirez, there'll be three players on a daily basis for two spots: first base and designated hitter. Martinez just received a $110 million contract to start, likely at DH. So that leaves Ramirez and Moreland to share time at first.

Ramirez has the leg up. He has the bigger bat and the bigger salary. Plus, Cora on Tuesday said he looks at Ramirez as his No. 3 hitter. It would be odd for Cora to declare as much and then put Ramirez in, say, a platoon with the left-handed hitting Moreland once Martinez is officially signed.

“As of now?” Cora said Tuesday. “Hanley Ramirez.”

With that in mind, here’s a quick review (and projection) of the other starting roles:

C: Christian Vazquez
1B: Hanley Ramirez
2B: Eduardo Nunez
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Rafael Devers
LF: Andrew Benintendi
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF: Mookie Betts
DH: J.D. Martinez 

Make no mistake, Martinez’s arrival will have ripple effects. The Sox traded outfielder Bryce Brentz to the Pirates for cash, clearing a 40-man spot for Martinez, whenever his deal becomes official. (It shouldn’t be long, barring any problems with a physical.) Brentz, a depth right-handed hitting outfielder with pop, was one of a few players the Sox have in camp out of options.

Moreland may well lose some at-bats with Martinez in the fold. Ramirez might too. Unless Ramirez mashes, the Sox will have reason to limit his playing time. At 497 plate appearances, a vesting option kicks in for 2019.

“I was supposed to be in a platoon role last year, split time last year, and I played more than I ever have in my career,” Moreland said Tuesday. “A lot of things can happen. He's a great guy. He's going to be a great addition for us, and looking forward to welcoming him with open arms and watching him help us win.”

Moreland's going to get his crack again this year, you can bet on it. And he also may need some down time himself.

Moreland, 32, had a fractured toe in 2017. His 149 games played were nonetheless a career high. Jackie Bradley Jr. was slowed by injuries last season, as was Mookie Betts, as was Hanley Ramirez, as was even Martinez. 

All it takes is one. An injury in the outfield, for example, could give Martinez more time in left field, in turn opening up the DH spot, in turn opening up more time at first base for Moreland.

Martinez had a sprained right foot to start the 2017 season and played in 119 regular-season games. He had an injury when he first got to Arizona as well (because he was hit by a pitch). He also had a fractured elbow in 2016, when he played 120 games.

People wonder too, well, what happens when Dustin Pedroia comes back? Where does Nunez play? It’s the same principle. Pedroia’s coming off major knee surgery. Nunez is coming off a knee injury of his own. Neither of these guys would do well to be in the lineup every day.

So, what is the real roster intrigue to open the season? If everyone is healthy on Opening Day — and that's also a big if — the bench is tricky.

Assuming the Sox carry 13 position players and that Sandy Leon remains the backup catcher, they'll have to choose two from these three: Brock Holt, who has experience and a $2.2 million salary but also has minor-league options; Deven Marrero, who's the surest defender they have; and Blake Swihart, who's not well versed on the infield but has upside as an athlete and at the plate. Swihart and Marrero do not have options.

Holt, who turns 30 in June, by virtue of his salary, has to be considered a favorite to stick around. At the same time, he's the only one the Sox could freely stash in the minors. Swihart and Marrero have upside that makes them appealing not only to the Sox, but to other teams as well.

Demote Holt? Trade one of Swihart or Marrero? Figure someone's hurt to begin Opening Day?

(Swihart conceivably could be carried as a second catcher, but it'd be hard to see the Sox parting with Leon, whose receiving is so well liked.)

Here's a fuller visual for you:

CATCHERS 
1. Christian Vazquez
2. Sandy Leon

INFIELDERS
3. Mitch Moreland
4. Eduardo Nunez
5. Xander Bogaerts
6. Rafael Devers
7. Hanley Ramirez

OUTFIELDERS
8. Jackie Bradley
9. Andrew Benintendi
10. Mookie Betts
11. J.D. Martinez

BENCH
12. Brock Holt?
13. Deven Marrero?
14. Blake Swihart?

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