Boston Red Sox are playing a dangerous game

In re-signing Mitch Moreland, the Boston Red Sox are gambling on their AL East hopes



The Boston Red Sox have been oddly quiet this offseason and with the re-signing of first baseman Mitch Moreland yesterday, fans should be concerned. The team that won the AL East despite ranking last in the AL in home runs in 2017 has done little to nothing this offseason save for hiring Alex Cora to succeed John Farrell as manager.

That isn’t a good sign with the new year approaching, the team officially out of the market for Eric Hosmer, and no big bat acquired for 2018. Front office head Dave Dombrowski is playing a dangerous game and barring a significant move on his end, Boston is bound to take a step back next season.

Bringing Moreland back

For what it’s worth, bringing Mitch Moreland back was not the worst move. The two-year, $13m deal is about market value for him, with Moreland receiving a $1m annual raise from the $5.5m he earned in 2017. Moreland also had 22 home runs with 79 RBI last season, making his .246 batting average a bit more palatable.

Moreland was also a strong defensive first baseman in 2017, posting an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of +4. To give a better idea, Hosmer won the AL Gold Glove for first base this year and had a UZR of -0.3, so Moreland was the better overall fielder. This suggests Moreland was brought back to Boston at the insistence of Cora, an analytics-minded manager who values defense.

Thus, while not the most ideal move on Boston’s end, retaining Moreland was not the absolute worst thing Dombrowski could have done this offseason.

No free spaces

With Moreland back, Boston’s lineup is more or less set unless a trade is in the works. The outfield has Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts penciled in as the starters, and veteran Hanley Ramirez is the DH. To add a big bat like JD Martinez would require a trade, easier said than done given Boston’s roster.

Let’s start with Benintendi and Betts, neither of whom are going anywhere. Benintendi finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and is only 23 years old, and he will only get better as both a hitter and fielder. Betts is just 25 and, on top of posting a combined 18.1 WAR over the last three years, has finished in the Top 10 of AL MVP voting each of the past two seasons. Throw in that the two come fairly cheap, with Benintendi under team controlled salary and Betts set to hit arbitration for the first time.

That leaves Bradley who, at 27 years old, leaves a lot to be desired. He is a great defensive centerfielder and holds a career UZR of 23.5 at the position, but has hit just .239 for his career. He appeared to turn a corner in 2016 when he hit .267 with 26 home runs and 87 RBI, all career highs, but took a step back last season in batting .245. Bradley is also not an elite base stealer, so it’s hard to justify keeping him around solely for defense when he has three years of arbitration left.

The JD Martinez odds

This brings the conversation to the hottest hitter on the market, JD Martinez. The powerful righty bat hit .303 and slugged 45 home runs with 103 RBI in just 119 games in 2017 and is on Boston’s radar, but a report from Michael Silverman of The Boston Herald states Martinez prefers to play in the outfield over being a DH.

This means that if Boston wants to improve its standing in the AL East and counter the rival New York Yankees’ trade for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, there is only one option: trade Bradley, overpay Martinez (who Dombrowski knows from their time in Detroit together), and roll the dice with Benintendi or Betts in center field. Bradley is a good enough defensive outfielder that teams looking to fill a hole will be interested, and the prospect haul he’d fetch in return wouldn’t be terrible either.

Not only that, but Ramirez is due $22m in 2018 and is such a defensive liability that only AL teams would be suitable trade partners. Throw in that Ramirez has a $22m vesting option for 2019 that could kick in if his plate appearances from last season and 2018 total 1,050 or more, and the Red Sox would surely have to eat money in any trade involving him.

Thus, Dombrowski has two options. He can either trade Bradley and overpay Martinez and say the reward of his natural power outweighs his known injury risks, or he can roll with the roster as is and gamble on the middle-of-the-order bats producing enough to stay competitive with the Yankees in the AL East.

For this writer’s money, better to go after Martinez rather than stay the course and risk being left in the dust by New York.



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