The Boston Red Sox are in a state of change, to say the least, after firing team president Dave Dombrowski after Sunday night’s game against the New York Yankees.
White Sox fans are no strangers to this occurrence. Hawk Harrelson, in his lone year as general manager, fired Dombrowski, who was then a youthful assistant general manager with his hometown team. But they’ll be less interested in what it means for the Red Sox future and far more interested in what it means for their own team’s prospects.
While a regime change in Boston doesn’t initially seem to have much to do with the Pale Hose, already reports are describing the roster change that could be coming to Fenway Park. And that’s where the rebuilding White Sox come in.
According to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, the Red Sox, in a bit of a financial pickle after Dombrowski inked Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to lucrative contracts this year, will “likely end up parting with J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, or possibly even both this winter.”
The White Sox are likely to be in the market for a right fielder this winter — or just power hitting in general — even if starting pitching might be higher on the to-do list for Rick Hahn’s front office. While current major or minor leaguers can be projected to fill in at pretty much every other spot on the diamond, right field is a mystery, thanks to injuries and under-performance that made the organization’s bunch of outfield prospects far less attractive than it was mere months ago.
Betts is Boston’s right fielder, a three-time Gold Glover out there and not even a year removed from being named the American League MVP. His numbers have dipped this season amid the Red Sox significant World Series hangover that has them 17.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East standings. But Betts is still slashing .291/.389/.525 with 27 homers and 77 RBIs. He’s got 40 doubles for the fifth consecutive season and leads baseball with 128 runs scored. Those numbers are still obviously very good, just not the out-of-this-world figures he posted en route to a world championship in 2018.
Betts is the more attractive of the two, simply because he can do a lot more things on the field and he’s younger, 26 years old compared to the 32-year-old Martinez. He would figure to be a much better fit with the White Sox long-term plans, given his age aligns more closely with those of the rest of the team’s young core. Of course, Betts also has just one more year of team control remaining, slated to become a free agent following the 2020 season.
Martinez, meanwhile, might have been heading toward free agency this winter anyway. His monstrous contract allows him to opt out after this season, as well as after next season and after the season after that. He, too, was an MVP-caliber hitter in 2018, and he, too, is experiencing a backslide from those elite numbers, owning a .308/.384/.577 slash line to go along with his 35 homers and 95 RBIs. Again, still very good.
Martinez is not known as a quality defender, though that wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from playing right field for the White Sox. He’s started 35 games in the outfield for Boston this season and has played 486 career games in right. That includes during the three and a half seasons he terrorized the AL Central as a member of the Detroit Tigers.
Martinez, too, would be a natural fit at designated hitter, where he’s played the bulk of his games this season. This is all speculation, of course, but would the White Sox add Martinez as a DH, it would force Jose Abreu to be an everyday first baseman (where he’s played a lot more than initially anticipated, anyway, considering how poorly Yonder Alonso’s brief tenure with the team went) and potentially limit Zack Collins, just returned from a highly successful offensive stint in the minor leagues, to backup catcher, where there are a lot of questions over his defensive future.
If Martinez doesn’t opt out, he and Betts would both need to be acquired via trade. That’s where things could get tricky for the White Sox. The aforementioned rash of injuries and under-performance wasn’t limited to the team’s outfield prospects this season, also affecting many pitchers, as well. The point being that it might be rather difficult to create an alluring package of prospects that would net a player of this status.
It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But the most attractive names in the White Sox system — Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn — figure to be key parts of Hahn’s long-term rebuilding plan. So those guys aren’t going anywhere. And then it becomes difficult to envision a guy one year removed from an MVP win or a top-five MVP finish being acquired for a package built around second-tier prospects.
Remember what it took for the Red Sox to fetch Sale from the White Sox in 2016. The White Sox don’t have prospects the caliber of Yoan Moncada and Kopech that they’d be willing to part with this winter.
But if Martinez hits the open market, then there’s no reason the White Sox — who have pledged to be aggressive with money to spend an offseason after they tried and failed to bring Manny Machado to the South Side — can’t go after that kind of big fish.
Certain baseball people already seem to be mentioning the White Sox and Martinez in the same breath.
It seemed like the market might be light this winter after the flurry of extensions that locked up so many expected free agents. But between Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon and these two suddenly available Red Sox, there will be plenty of high-level names that if acquired would help kick the White Sox rebuilding project into overdrive and make the 2020 season look like a contending one.
It’s still September, but the Hot Stove is already simmering.
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