Mitch Moreland

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Had 'em all the way: Red Sox finally wrap up A.L. East

Had 'em all the way: Red Sox finally wrap up A.L. East

BOSTON — Only with gray skies and uncomfortable intrigue did the Red Sox finally close out their second straight American League East title, an appropriate backdrop for a season that was sometimes stormy but ultimately rewarding.

The Sox on Saturday simultaneously ensured their division crown and their Division Series match-up against the Astros, who fell 6-3 to the Sox at Fenway Park in the clincher. An improved Drew Pomeranz and huge seventh-inning outs from David Price ended the Astros’ chances of catching the Indians for home-field advantage in the American League, thereby finalizing the Sox as their first-round opponent.

This is the ninth division title for the Sox since the AL East was formed in 1969, and their first time doing so in back-to-back years.

The Division Series starts in Houston on Thursday, before returning to Fenway Park for at least one game on Oct. 8, a week from Sunday. The Sox have one more game to play in regular season, one game to actually breathe easy, on Sunday.

A loss for the Sox would have forced them to pitch Chris Sale on Sunday, because the Yankees won their game Saturday afternoon, 2-1 over the Blue Jays. Had the Sox lost on Saturday, the lead in the division would have been down to just one game going into the final game of the regular season. Using Sale would have meant he wouldn’t be ready for Game 1 of any Division Series, and worse.

Drama — and potential crisis — averted.

Facing one of the Astros’ expected postseason starters, righty Lance McCullers, the Sox struck first in the fourth inning for two runs, capitalizing on consecutive one-out walks to Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland. Hanley Ramirez struck right away for an RBI single, and Rafael Devers’ double made it 2-0.

The Sox, for once, appeared comfortable in the fifth inning, knocking out McCullers as they pulled out to a 5-0 advantage. The action came again with one out, when Xander Bogaerts got things going with a double and a pair of singles followed, one from Andrew Benintendi to make it 3-0 and another from Mookie Betts that put two men on.

After a double steal, a double from Moreland — who gave the Sox much more than they could have hoped for at the plate — grew the lead to 5-0.

Pomeranz, who showed improved velocity after an uncomfortable dip in September, allowed just three hits and two walks in his six innings.

Price, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time with the Sox, got three key outs in the seventh after the Astros had scored twice against Pomeranz and Carson Smith.  Mookie Betts hit his 24th homer in the seventh and Craig Kimbrel allowed a home run to his old former Braves catcher Brian McCann before getting the final outs for the save. 

Farrell settling into platoon combos that may limit Ramirez's time

red_sox_hanley_ramirez_092617.jpg

Farrell settling into platoon combos that may limit Ramirez's time

BOSTON — The Red Sox platoon situation heading into the postseason seems to be taking shape.

Chris Young was in the lineup for the third time in four games on Tuesday, squaring off with a left-handed starting pitcher for the second straight night. 

He seems to be on his last leg.

Historically at his best facing southpaws, Young just hasn’t gotten it done this year, with a .186/.301/.258 line against them. A respected veteran, Young has been much more competent against righties.

But in the second half, he’s slashing .171/.277/.341 — that's against both lefties and righties.

"No decisions are final here, but felt like these were two games in which those opportunities present themselves,” Farrell said of the choice to play Young on Monday and Tuesday. “You're looking to put guys in a position where they're had a lot of success in the past, and we recognize the reverse to the splits with Chris this year. But felt like left-handers that we'll see, trying to find … the best combination available to us to attack left-handers. We felt it was the spot to put Chris to get some timing, see consistent at-bats against left-handers. We'll see where this goes from here.”

Farrell has previously noted that at this time of year, he’s paying attention to the hot hand. It sounds like Young still has a chance to get hot and make an impression, but not exactly a good chance.

“If a week and a half constitutes a guy getting hot, yeah, that can have a major impact,” Farrell said. “But I think I have to be honest with every guy down there, and certainly with our approach. You put the best combinations on the field that you think can win today.”

Against righty pitching in the playoffs, that means Hanley Ramirez is not going to be playing first base. That means against a righty, the designated hitter spot is likely going to be for Ramirez, or perhaps an ailing Dustin Pedroia if his left knee keeps him away from second base, or Eduardo Nunez, if his right knee is still bothersome.

“If it’s a right-hander it’s going to be Mitch Moreland at first base,” Farrell said. “So, I think the majority of the [playoff] starters are going to be right-handed.”

If the Sox face the Astros in the first round, Dallas Keuchel is the only lefty starter for them to worry about.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE