Red Sox

Red Sox hold position of power in deadlocked free agency

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Red Sox hold position of power in deadlocked free agency

BOSTON — Money sits while everyone grows restless. The Red Sox, like everyone else, are waiting in free agency.

More than most teams, though, the Sox are the ones actually being waited on — at least when it comes to the high-end hitting market. The Sox are still looked at as the most likely landing spot for one of the top bats, J.D. Martinez.

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If not them, then who? (Wouldn't you know it, the Sox use that same thinking to justify offering Martinez less than he wants.) The Dodgers are sitting out this round of free agency and the Yankees are too.

The Sox are a unicorn this winter: a big market team that not only has the ability to spend, but may eventually do so.

One of the most prominent player agents, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, put out a statement on Friday, hinting at the potential for a spring training boycott or even a strike down the road as baseball's free agency remains frigid.

“There is a rising tide among players for radical change,” Van Wagenen wrote. “A fight is brewing.”

Van Wagenen wrote that the players are more than upset, they’re outraged.

Union head Tony Clark, who has been quiet publicly but is in communication with his constituents, also put out a statement.

"For decades free agency has been the cornerstone of baseball’s economic system & has benefited Players & the game alike,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement Friday. “Each time it has been attacked, Players, their representatives & the Association have united to defend it. That will never change.”

The Sox have no obligation to move along this offseason, to play the role of icebreaker. None. They must operate in their own interest. They just happen to be well positioned to start a cascade of moves, because they're the most logical landing spot for Martinez.

The Diamondbacks outfielder could end up with the most money of anyone this winter — excuse us, spring. Maybe Eric Hosmer pulls in more because he's younger and plays better defense. Either way, Martinez will be near the top, and his signing can set the market for upper-echelon hitters. 

Speaking on Friday afternoon before a luncheon to benefit the Foundation to be Named Later, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he’d like to add a power bat and a lefty reliever, while stopping short of saying he had to.

The market for lesser players has been somewhat established, but the big names do usually create a trickle-down effect. Seven years for one guy may mean six for another. One guy off the board means another team turns to Plan B, etc.

“Almost every club has some need they’d like to fill,” Dombrowski said generally. “It’s amazing how interactive and dependent upon one move is with another move with an organization, as far as players on your big league roster, other free agent players, trade possibilities. So I mean, ideally, you’d love to make some additions, but when you don’t unilaterally control something, you have to wait and see.”

In a way, though, the Sox do near unilaterally control the outcome. Meet an asking price, sign the player. But that thinking is not the premise of a negotiation. Disparate views on how the market should look has left little middle ground, and the landscape has devolved into a blame game and stalemate.

On the pitching side, the Cubs, Brewers and Twins appear to be in a similar position to the Sox: room for a big name who should propel movement. 

Those teams, like the Sox, do not "have to wait and see," as Dombrowski said the Sox did. They are choosing to wait and see, just as the players are choosing not to accept standing offers. No team is a bystander at the mercy entirely of outside forces, just watching a market move by.

We do know some teams that are choosing to act as bystanders, however.

The Dodgers and Yankees plan to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, taking themselves out of the running for any big free-agent signings. It’s a reset move that allows those big-market teams to pay less of an overage if they go over the luxury tax in upcoming season. 

Los Angeles and New York's choice is the same Boston made in 2017, making it more efficient for the Sox to spend now.

In effect, then, two of the largest spending teams are non-factors in free agency. That just affords the Sox more power in this market. 

The system, the collective bargaining agreement, invited this circumstance. The CBA and labor negotiations are at the heart of the game's freeze. The players are receiving an increasingly shorter end of the stick, and the free agency system is a part of the CBA. 

"It’s important that both sides are in constant communication and the agents are in communications with the clubs and vice versa," Sox president Sam Kennedy said Friday. "But I don’t think our fans want to hear about any type of labor issues from management side or from the players’ side. Communication is the key here."

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The tenor of the communication has grown increasingly tense, and it's hard to focus on anything but labor negotiations at the moment.

That six-year requirement until you become a free agent, such that your prime is likely behind you once you're on the open market, making teems leery? It's all in the CBA.

"Well, it’s a system that this winter time is unusual," Dombrowski said of free agency generally. "I think the thing that’s hard for me is to know, is this something that’s gonna happen on a yearly basis? Or is this just something that’s come together due to a variety of reasons and it’s one winter time? I don’t know that answer. I’m sure that it’ll be looked at by people at much higher positions than me. 

"I don’t think it’s a good situation that we’re sitting here on Feb. 2, there’s 110 free agents. I don’t think that’s good for the game, necessarily. Does a change of system make it happen? I don’t know, we just got a new basic agreement a year ago. So, both sides agreed to that and were willing to sign it. ... I don’t think you can only look at this winter time, I think then you have to look at the future, then you can analyze that."

Everyone's waiting to see.

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The Baseball Show Podcast: J.D. Martinez on pace for monster season

The Baseball Show Podcast: J.D. Martinez on pace for monster season

Lou Merloni and Red Sox insider Evan Drellich debate and discuss some of the week's biggest Red Sox topics, presented by Twin River Casino. . .

0:22 - With a pair of homers on Sunday vs. the Orioles, J.D. Martinez continued his hot streak and is on pace to surpass the team's expectations of him. Lou and Evan discuss Martinez's power to all fields and how his hitting approach has had a positive impact on his teammates.

6:44 - Lou and Evan break down the ugly situations for Carson Smith, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Blake Swihart and discuss what the club can do to deal with the struggles of all three players.

13:40 - Evan and Lou go around the horn and look at a few headlines from around the league: Robinson Cano's 80-game suspension, the Cubs interest in Manny Machado and Dustin Pedroia's nearing return to the Red Sox.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE

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J.D. Martinez's 2 vastly different HRs lead Red Sox past O's

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J.D. Martinez's 2 vastly different HRs lead Red Sox past O's

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez took plenty of ribbing in the dugout after slicing a short home run inside the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park.

A few innings later, he showed his teammates some serious power.

Martinez hit two vastly different drives for his first multihomer game with Boston, powering Eduardo Rodriguez and the Red Sox to a rare 13-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

It was the most hits Boston has allowed in a shutout since at least 1908, the team said.

Signed to a $110 million, five-year deal as a free agent in February, the 30-year-old Martinez curled his first home run an estimated 324 feet around the right-field foul pole. He hammered his second - projected at 443 feet - to the deepest part of the ballpark, beyond the center-field triangle, for his 15th of the season.

"They were making me laugh," Martinez said, standing in the middle of the clubhouse with a smile on his face. "I said, `I've got to get even for some of the ones I hit in April when it was cold out and I thought I crushed some and they weren't even going anywhere.' They were definitely teasing me, but I'll take it."

When reminded about the distance of his second one, he said: "I let `em know."

Martinez drove in three runs, and Andrew Benintendi had a two-run homer among his three hits as the Red Sox won three of four in the series to improve to 6-1 against Baltimore this season.

Red Sox teammate Mookie Betts is impressed by Martinez's power to the opposite field.

"I don't know if anybody else can do what he does, so that's why he's one of a kind," Betts said. "He can also hit it out of any part of the park, too."

The Orioles got 13 hits but lost for the 15th time in 16 road games and dropped to a major league-worst 4-19 away from Camden Yards. Adam Jones had three of Baltimore's 12 singles.

"It's hard to get 13 hits and not score any runs," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's frustrating."

Rodriguez (4-1) scattered nine hits, struck out seven and didn't walk a batter in 5 2/3 innings.

Leading 1-0 in the fifth, the Red Sox chased David Hess (1-1) and took charge with four runs. Benintendi hit his shot into the Orioles' bullpen after Jackie Bradley Jr.doubled leading off.

Mitch Moreland doubled before Martinez belted his second homer of the day. His first came in the second inning.

Hess gave up five runs and eight hits over 4 2/3 innings in his second major league start.

"They definitely make some adjustments quick and you have to be able to adjust just as quick," he said. "That's a lineup that from top to bottom can do damage."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: 1B Chris Davis was out of the lineup because he's been struggling against left-handers, batting only .139 (5 for 36). ... Showalter said Jones exited in the seventh because he was sick.

Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora gave DH-1B Hanley Ramirez, in a 5-for-26 slump with no extra-base hits in his last six games, the day off "to work on a few things and keep him off his feet." ... Cora did the same for shortstop Xander Bogaerts, saying: "I think he only had like one off day since coming back from the DL." Bogaerts was sidelined April 9-27 with an injured left ankle. ... 2B Dustin Pedroia (recovering from offseason left knee surgery) was slated to be the DH in a rehab game at Triple-A Pawtucket.

LIKE AN INFIELDER

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski played a foul ball that sailed into his box behind home plate on the bounce, picking it up from a tabletop in front of him. Next to him was former Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves during his career.

DOUBLE THREAT

Martinez and Betts became the first pair of players in Red Sox history with 15 or more homers in the first 50 games of a season.

GREAT ENDINGS

The Red Sox improved to 14-1 in series finales.

UP NEXT

Orioles: RHP Andrew Cashner (1-5, 4.83 ERA) starts Monday in the opener of a three-game series at the Chicago White Sox.

Red Sox: After an off day, LHP Chris Sale (4-1, 2.29) pitches Tuesday at Tampa Bay. Sale has allowed three or fewer runs in all 10 of his starts.