Mitch Moreland

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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Moreland ready to take care of 'unfinished business' in new deal with Red Sox

Moreland ready to take care of 'unfinished business' in new deal with Red Sox

It’s the move before the move. It has to be.

Mitch Moreland’s quietly strong 2017 season led to a reunion with the Red Sox on Monday, when a two-year, $13 million deal through 2019 plus another potential $1 million in incentives became official.

"I was hoping so,” Moreland said of a return to Boston. “Going into the offseason, obviously had a few questions about it there at the end of the season, and I'll echo what I said then: I loved playing here, loved the guys — everything about it. We had a pretty successful year obviously, didn't finish the way we wanted. Looking forward to being back and maybe taking care of some unfinished business.”

The move gives the Red Sox a reliable first base option, although it does not give the fan base the news its been dying for to this point: the addition of a tremendous power hitter.

Likely, that addition is still to come, although it clearly won’t be at first base, where free agent Eric Hosmer is one of the top names on the market. 

“We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective that won’t be a first baseman, but we feel we have a DH, that between Hanley [Ramirez] and if I could find someone else, outfield spots, that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for somebody to contribute in a full-time fashion,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “I don’t know if it will happen or not, but there are some names out there, people from a trade and free agent perspective that we’ll continue to talk to.”

The Red Sox did look elsewhere for a first baseman before going back to Moreland.

“We’ve stayed in contact with Mitch’s representative really all offseason,” Dombrowski said. “We liked the job that Mitch did for us last year. We knew he wanted to come back here. We wanted to explore some other options, which they were aware [of], and so we did that.”

The deal started to pickup steam Friday, per Dombrowski. Dombrowski suspected teams that missed out on Carlos Santana, who signed with the Phillies, jumped into the fray.

Dombrowski said he would be comfortable with the lineup as it is today, but that might just be his way of attempting to create a bit of leverage. Realistically, most everyone knows the Red Sox need another big bat.

“Yeah, I'd feel comfortable with it,” Dombrowski said of his lineup as currently constituted. “I do believe a lot of our people will be better internally than last year. We are looking to improve it … but yeah, I feel comfortable. I think you also have to combine offense with defense and I think we have a good defensive ball club. I think when people look at Mitch sometimes there are a couple guys out there that hit more home runs. (Guys who) from an offensive perspective, that people could think may be more appealing.

“But for us, we really like the all-around game that Mitch brings to us offensively and defensively. But yeah, I'd feel comfortable. We do have a variety of ways that we could go and explore different ways as we go forward. But I also think, at least right now, we're in a position that we could go forward as we are now.”

How exactly the Sox will use Moreland is to be determined. A share situation with Ramirez seems viable.

Moreland’s production in 2017, his first season in Boston, was better than expected. Now entering his age-32 season, Moreland hit .246 with 22 home runs, and set career-highs in games (149), doubles (34) and walks (57). He also did well in the postseason, going 5-for-13 against the Astros in the first round.

A fractured left toe slowed Moreland and messed up his mechanics for a time, but he played through pain and skipped the disabled list. Moreland said he had a minor procedure after the season to repair a small meniscus tear in his left knee.

“That was the most he ever played,” Dombrowski said of 2017. “He's really a gamer. He'll play all the time. He played injured. But I think you always have to be careful.”

Moreland’s incentives are built around time on the field. Moreland makes $6.5 million in each of 2018 and 2019, plus another potential $1 million in incentives, sources said. He can make up to $500,000 each year: if he reaches 500 plate appearances in either season, he gets $250,000, and he gets another $250,000 if he reaches 550 plate appearances.

A platoon situation would allow Moreland and Ramirez, who have both had health issues, to rest more than normal. It would also provide depth if one of them does wind up on the disabled list.

Ramirez’s contract is basically unmovable because of a $22 million vesting option that kicks in for 2019 if he has 497 plate appearances in 2018. The option calls for 1,050 plate appearances combined between 2017-18, plus passing a physical.

Dombrowski said he did not feel it would be necessary to move someone currently on the team to make an addition.

“There's a lot of things to be done in the industry between now and spring training and we'll keep abreast of what those things are and see if we can still help ourselves,” Dombrowski said.

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Drellich: Hosmer's leadership, Martinez's power fit Red Sox' needs

Drellich: Hosmer's leadership, Martinez's power fit Red Sox' needs

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.

MORE: 

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.

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