RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Sox made solid signings, but this FA would make a real impact

RED SOX INSIDER

The Red Sox offseason formula thus far can be summed up by two words: value and versatility.

They haven't broken the bank, and they haven't added an obvious starter, but they've improved the overall composition of the roster. Their latest additions -- infielder Enrique Hernandez and right-hander Garrett Richards -- fit this mold precisely, if uninspiringly.

Hernandez is a jack-of-all-trades who has reached 400 at-bats only twice in seven seasons spent primarily with the Dodgers. He'd have to be considered the starting second baseman at this point, though his lifetime .222 batting average vs. right-handers suggests he's best utilized if there's a lefty on the mound.

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Meanwhile, Richards is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the American League, but he's never healthy. His one-year, $10 million deal will be a bargain if he can maintain a spot in the rotation while pitching to his lifetime 3.62 ERA. It'll be something less than that if his struggles against left-handed hitters in 2020 (.853 OPS) continue and he's forced to the bullpen, or even worse, if he's hurt again.

They join a number of similar signees. Outfielder Hunter Renfroe boasts 30-homer power, but he's a lifetime .216 hitter vs. right-handed pitching who has generally been viewed as a platoon player. The Red Sox seem inclined to start him every day in a corner outfield spot, depending on what happens with Andrew Benintendi.

Right-hander Matt Andriese could start, but he'll probably spend more time in relief, and either way, he's a depth piece. In a perfect world, we'd say the same about Martin Perez.

 

Even if we accept that this winter was never going to be all fireworks and Cirque du Soleil spectacle, it's OK to wonder, is this really it?

And that brings us to one name that would prove the Red Sox remain serious about putting an entertaining product on the field in 2021 without simply relying on everyone who was injured or subpar in 2020 to regain their level.

That name is Marcell Ozuna.

The free agent slugger has been consistently linked to the team all winter, albeit tangentially. The latest report, out of his native Dominican Republic, lists the Red Sox among six interested clubs.

Ozuna will cost real money to acquire after a monster season in Atlanta that saw him lead in the NL in homers (18) and RBIs (56) while winning his second Silver Slugger Award and finishing sixth in the MVP voting.

He won't come cheap, and that's kind of the point. There's no reason the Red Sox shouldn't flex their financial muscles on a true difference-maker this winter, and Ozuna is the perfect target, with a right-handed swing made for Fenway Park and no draft pick compensation attached to his free agency, since he wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer from Atlanta. He's a true free agent who can be signed with nothing but cash, and the Red Sox, despite their recent actions, still have plenty of that.

Ozuna reportedly wants a four-year deal. Though he's only four years removed from winning a Gold Glove with the Marlins, he's considered more of a DH now, which obviously isn't happening in Boston as long as J.D. Martinez remains on the roster. Still, if there's one place to hide a below-average defender, it's left field in Fenway Park. Should the Red Sox find a taker for Benintendi, as they appear intent on doing, then Ozuna would give them one of the deepest lineups in the American League.

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Imagine a batting order that starts with Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Martinez, and Ozuna. That is thunder upon thunder upon thunder. Add Renfroe, Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec and catcher Christian Vazquez, and even if the Red Sox are heavily right-handed, they'd be punishing.

Ozuna has a little bit of a Martinez 2.0 feel, a hitter who really unlocks his full potential around age 30. He launched four homers in a three-game set at Fenway, including three in one game on Sept. 1.

In short, he's a difference-maker, and after finishing 2020 with baseball's fourth-worst record, the Red Sox need as many of those as they can find. They've done enough tinkering around the margins. It's time to land someone who can make an impact.