The most successful teams in baseball have power.
They search under every rock to find it in this mostly post-steroid era.
By sending Travis Shaw to winter ball to play third base, the Red Sox are hoping they have a power-hitting infielder they can plug into the lineup at first or third in case they are fortunate to be rid of Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, or both this offseason.
Dave Dombrowski recently referred to the Red Sox as a Royals type of team, one that doesn’t rely heavily on home runs. But there’s an obvious power concern, especially in the outfield, where only Mookie Betts (18 homers) has shown pop consistently.
How important is it to have power? Eight of the 10 playoff teams were in the top 12 in home runs. The only two off the reservation were the Pirates (23d in homers) and the Cardinals (25th). Both made quick exits and need to address power this offseason.
The Red Sox were last among AL East teams in homers with 161 (15th overall), 71 fewer than the major league-leading Blue Jays.
Dombrowski knows it would be easier to move Sandoval (with some financial aid) than it would Ramirez simply because Sandoval is a third baseman.
One scenario would have Shaw, who hit 13 homers in 226 at-bats this season, at third and Ramirez at first.
There are still many moving parts Dombrowski has to figure out, but the power issue could become bigger than anyone thinks.
The division in which the Red Sox play has power. And we’ve seen in the playoffs that power and pitching are what it’s all about.
“I think we have enough power,” Dombrowski said last week. “It depends on how the lineup shakes out. Personally, I like guys who can drive the ball into the gaps or hit the ball out of the ballpark. David [Ortiz] is a power guy. Hanley can do what I’m talking about. We don’t strike out in abundance. Our strikeouts are down compared to most clubs in the league. We’re very similar to Kansas City — not a power club. Key is how many runs you can score, and I think we can score a lot of runs without a lot of home runs. That means your young players have to keep improving.
“We have talented individuals, so I would be surprised if they took a big step backward. Very talented young guys. We won’t have power like Toronto has, but hopefully we can beat them in another way.”
The Red Sox were fourth overall in runs (748), but third in their division behind the Blue Jays and Yankees. They need power from the infield corners (they think Shaw can keep up what he did this season) because they’re not going to get it from the outfield corners.
The Red Sox, who were fifth overall in doubles (294), are lucky in that Shaw could bail them out in the power department.
A few teams will be trying to figure out their corner power this winter.
The Angels will likely not re-sign free agent third baseman David Freese, who never lived up to his potential after his memorable 2011 World Series with the Cardinals. Will Middlebrooks, who was perceived as a power guy, never made it in San Diego. So, the Padres will be searching for a third baseman with pop.
Chris Davis will likely be the most sought-after first baseman/corner outfielder on the free agent market. Davis has even played third base. As a multiple 40-plus-homer performer, Davis could fit with the Red Sox, Padres, Astros, Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, Angels, Mariners, you name it. The Orioles would love to retain him, and they could if owner Peter Angelos was willing to go where agent Scott Boras wants him to — likely a Prince Fielder/Mark Teixeira type of deal.
Big-bang corner guys such as Davis, Anthony Rizzo, Nolan Arenado, Teixeira, Freddie Freeman, Jose Abreu, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Josh Donaldson, Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant, Kyle Seager, Todd Frazier, and Adrian Beltre are hard to find. And when you have one, it’s hard to give one up.
It was huge, for instance, that the Blue Jays discovered Chris Colabello.
The Reds would likely listen on Frazier (35 HRs, 89 RBIs, 4.0 WAR), who would be an ideal Fenway hitter but would also fit nicely in Anaheim. He’s very popular in Cincinnati, but he could help bring a lot in trade. Votto’s contract is too prohibitive (about $200 million remaining) to move, though he had a great bounce-back season.
You can bet teams will take their best shot at Frazier, Seager, and Arenado. There have been some suggestions that Braves GM John Hart would listen on Freeman.
There’s no doubt that power has become big in baseball again. The Blue Jays, Astros, Dodgers, Mets, Rangers, and Cubs used it to their advantage this postseason. The powerless Pirates and Cardinals could not.
The Royals were 24th in homers with 139 but third in doubles with 300. They were seventh in runs with 724. But unlike the Red Sox, the Royals didn’t have a monster like Toronto in their division.
As Dombrowski pointed out, the Red Sox will have to find other ways to upend the Blue Jays than outslugging them. The Jays are the best at doubles and home runs. But we know four bases are better than two.
Dodgers have many questions
The Dodgers’ offseason should be one of the most intriguing in baseball given the disappointment of losing to the Mets in the Division Series.
Creating the best mix of manager and coaches has to be imperative moving forward because our sources tell us there’s disconnect in that area.
The questions: How can a $300 million team not make it at least to the National League Championship Series? Will Don Mattingly return as manager? Will Zack Greinke be re-signed? Will the Dodgers keep high-maintenance Yasiel Puig? How will they re-tool their poorly functioning outfield?
What we’ve been able to piece together from major league sources is that Mattingly and his coaches really don’t work. If Mattingly stays, then some of the coaches need to be cleared out. Or Mattingly has to go, as the Dodgers were one of the worst teams fundamentally in the league, with no real consequences. Rumors have surfaced about Gabe Kapler, currently their farm director, taking over.
Greinke will be 32 on Wednesday, so if he wants to opt out of his deal (which has $77 million remaining), how far does the richest team in baseball go to keep him? There’s mixed signals on whether Greinke wants to stay in LA. He’s very close to Clayton Kershaw and wouldn’t want to separate from him. The Dodgers don’t have much after Greinke, and in fact will likely be players for David Price in an attempt to have three aces in the rotation. The other question would be, how long of a contract for Greinke? There are those who believe he will be able to pitch well even after he loses velocity because in terms of intelligence, he’s the closest thing to Greg Maddux in this era.
Puig is a source of major concern. One thing that’s agreed upon, there’s a monster waiting to burst out, and perhaps the Dodgers should kill him with kindness rather than trying to kick him in the butt so much. One major league source said, “You have to treat this guy like [Tony] La Russa treated [Jose] Canseco. You know he’s going to be late once in a while and do things you don’t want him do. But handle it in-house. Don’t let that he’s a bad boy leak out all over the place. He has major tools. He could put up big numbers if he’s allowed to be himself.” Yet those who are around him every day feel he has to conform.
The Dodgers had a helter-skelter outfield all season. Carl Crawford, who has done nothing since leaving Tampa, has lost most of his speed, has become a terrible outfielder, and adds virtually nothing. Some of our sources harkened back to Alex Guerrero when he was playing left field early in the year. Guerrero got off to a tremendous start (10 homers in his first 100 at-bats), but because his outfield defense wasn’t very good, the Dodgers stopped playing him, which is when Enrique Hernandez started being used. Joc Pederson was a second-half bust, unable to make adjustments. And then there’s Andre Ethier, who continued to struggle against lefthanders (.200 average).
The biggest head-scratcher was firing two advance scouts (Gary Pellant and Willie Fraser) right before the season ended. The staff was blindsided by this, and it didn’t help in the postseason when other teams had small armies evaluating teams.
Apropos of nothing
1. Boxing promoter Lou DiBella is putting together a group to make an offer to purchase the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox’ short-season Single A team, which is up for sale. DiBella, a Tufts and Harvard Law graduate, created the HBO platform for boxing and also owns the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a Giants affiliate. DiBella’s group includes Lowell native Ken Casey, frontman of the Dropkick Murphys, and former boxer Micky Ward. Spokesman Bob Trieger said the group would like to keep the team in Lowell.
2. Still scratching my head over the Red Sox letting first base coach Arnie Beyeler go. What did he do wrong? Nothing.
3. Should Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly do job sharing?
4. The Twins continue to wait for an answer as to whether Torii Hunter will return, but if he doesn’t, they will contemplate a restructured bullpen, another starting pitcher, and try to get more offense in their lineup, likely in the outfield. Unlike the Astros and Cubs, the Twins were a Cinderella team that didn’t make the playoffs, but GM Terry Ryan seems to have a plan, as usual.
5. Speaking of the Twins, the refurbishing of their spring training home turned out aces. The dorms give it an old-time feel, where the minor league players are housed under one roof.
6. The Astros will search for a veteran presence in their lineup this offseason.
7. To win a major league-high 100 games and fail to get out of the Division Series was hugely disappointing for the Cardinals, who must now deal with the possible defections of righthander John Lackey and outfielder Jason Heyward. The Cardinals want both back, but both are expected to receive multiple offers given outstanding seasons. Both are expected to receive qualifying offers ($15.8 million) and will likely turn them down.
Updates on nine
1. Brad Sloan, special assignment scout, Red Sox — The consensus around baseball is that Sloan, who has worked for the Angels and Braves in his last two stops, is a really good scout who should help the Red Sox make better personnel decisions. Dave Dombrowski will now have Frank Wren, Sloan, and Eddie Bane advising him. Also in the mix will be analytics pitching guru Brian Bannister.
2. Chris Carter, 1B, Astros — While Carter had a good second half, the Astros, according to one major league source, could dangle him as trade bait. Carter’s unpredictable performance, coupled with high strikeouts, could have the Astros seeking a steadier performer at the position. He’s righthanded power, which is sought-after.
3. Brandon Moss, OF/1B, free agent — Moss is an interesting, low-cost lefthanded power option for a few teams, including the Red Sox. Dombrowski said he will be looking for a fourth outfielder, likely someone who could platoon with Rusney Castillo. Moss also would protect them at first base. The Orioles will be another team likely eyeing Moss.
4. Ron Wotus, bench coach, Giants — The reason Wotus should be hired as manager by the Nationals? Instant credibility. The Colchester, Conn., native has been the bench coach for the most successful manager and franchise of recent times. The Nationals have been considering veterans such as Dusty Baker and Ron Gardenhire, feeling they were burned by Matt Williams having no experience.
5. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays — The 30-year-old Longoria’s contract runs another seven years. His production has been so-so. While he’s the face of the franchise, their status makes that meaningless. Over the last couple of years, baseball people have wondered whether the Rays would ever entertain dealing Longoria for a few pieces. With third basemen in demand, there would be a lot of play. Longoria would be a perfect Angel, for instance. “The contract he signed is long but reasonable,” said one AL GM.
6. Alex Gordon, OF, Royals — Gordon should be on the radar of a few teams this offseason. The Indians, Orioles, Mets, Tigers, and perhaps even the Red Sox ( Allard Baird signed Gordon in Kansas City) could all be suitors for the Gold Glove left fielder. The Royals may also try to retain him.
7. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets — Could the Yankees pull off a heist of the 31-year-old in free agency this offseason? The Yankees have certainly been in the “let’s stay within the organization” mode, but Murphy’s lefthanded stroke would play well at Yankee Stadium. Another possibility is Ben Zobrist, but he’s 35 and it’s uncertain how long of a commitment it would take to sign him.
8. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals — A lot of buzz that the re-tooling Nationals could make the 27-year-old available. The Nationals could also lose Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, who was demoted to the bullpen, in free agency. Strasburg was limited to 23 starts with a left oblique strain but went 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA. He’s 54-37 with a 3.09 ERA over his career. The Scott Boras client would enter his final year of arbitration and become a free agent after 2016.
9. Justin Upton, OF, free agent — Like Yoenis Cespedes, Upton is a love-hate guy in the free agent market, but both will get severe action because of their righthanded power. The haters believe both won’t live up to long-term contracts, but the lovers believe they’re both 30/100 guys from the right side. The Yankees could use one of them. Cespedes has had a great run with the Mets, but his six-year demand is simply not going to play there, nor will it in a lot of places. In Boston, Cespedes didn’t work very hard on his defense and was unwilling to move to right field, where his strong arm played the best.
From the Bill Chuck files — “ Zack Greinke allowed 219 total bases, the fewest in the majors. He was closely followed by Jake Arrieta’s 220, Jacob deGrom’s 221, and Erasmo Ramirez’s 222.” . . . Happy birthday, Yoenis Cespedes (30), David Murphy (34), Alex Cora (40), Doug Mirabelli (45), Jeff McNeely (46), and Andy Hassler (64).
Astros ace Dallas Keuchel was historically good at Minute Maid Park this season, going 15-0 in 18 starts. It’s the best home record in major league history, dating to 1914, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and he made it 16-0 when he won his start in the Astros’ AL Division Series win/loss to the Royals. The best seasons by starting pitchers at home — and on the road (since 1970).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.