It seems unlikely that the Red Sox needed a reminder about the difficulty they face in trying to offset the loss of David Ortiz, but further evidence of the scale of their quest was offered on Wednesday prior to Game 2 of the World Series.
Ortiz was honored as the American League's recipient of the Hank Aaron Award, an honor conferred upon the top hitter in each league. Kris Bryant of the Cubs received the honor for the National League, and as Mark Newman of MLB.com writes, Bryant expressed awe at the "surreal" nature of sharing a table with Ortiz and Aaron.
So, now all the Red Sox have to do is accomplish the task of figuring out how to offset the loss of the best hitter in the AL, a man who, at 40, hit .315/.401/.620 with 38 homers, 48 doubles, and 127 RBIs, leading the majors in slugging percentage, OPS, and doubles while tying for the AL lead in RBIs.
In his end-of-season analysis, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted the Sox face that tall task of replacing Ortiz's lefthanded production in the middle of the lineup, but while there are plenty of impressive bats available in free agency – even if there's not a player who matches Ortiz's status in the batter's box – it's worth noting that most of the best ones are righthanded.
Here's a brief look at some of the top free agent hitters available, along with a look at some of their pros and cons:
■ Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH: Encarnacion represents such an obvious fit as Ortiz's replacement that even Ortiz identified him as a logical successor. Encarnacion hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and 127 RBIs in 160 games this year, in line with his performance over the last five seasons in which he's hit .272/.367/.544 while averaging 39 homers.
Pros: He can mash, he's been a force at Fenway (.973 OPS, 14 homers in 41 games over the last five years), and he could rotate with Hanley Ramirez between first base and DH.
Cons: He'll be 34 next season, an age that might make a four- or five-year commitment uncomfortable given that it's reasonable to assume that he has one or two near-peak seasons left but could face a steep decline for the majority of the deal.
He's righthanded, and though he hit .268/.349/.532 against righties in 2016, his strikeout rate against righties spiked, jumping from 14 percent to 19 percent last season. He'd require the Sox to give up a draft pick, as the Blue Jays are all but certain to make him a qualifying offer.
If the Sox have both Encarnacion and Ramirez under contract, they'd render first base and DH relatively inflexible for at least the next two seasons, and possibly beyond if Ramirez's option for 2019 vests.
■ Justin Turner, 3B: Turner has quietly emerged as one of the better hitters in the National League, with a .275/.339/.493 line and 27 homers in a career-high 151 games in 2016. He was even better down the stretch, hitting .301/.349/.573 with 27 homers over his final 98 games.
Pros: Though a righthanded hitter, Turner was arguably the best free agent hitter against righties in 2016, posting a .305/.356/.563 line against righthanded pitchers. (His career numbers are consistently better against righties than lefties.) He posted those numbers despite an offense-suppressing home park; Turner hit .288/.351/.551 on the road. As a player with experience at all four infield positions, Turner could give the Red Sox a host of options if he's willing to be something other than an everyday third baseman.
Cons: Durability should be a question for a player who's surpassed 126 games just once in his career. He'd cost the Sox a draft pick, as the Dodgers are certain to make him a qualifying offer. Given that he'll be in his age 32 season next year, his ability to stay at third long-term would be in question. He's been somewhat unproductive against lefties for much of his career, lacking the more evenly distributed impact of a player like Encarnacion.
Carlos Beltran, OF/DH: At age 39, Beltran joined Ortiz as a productive elder statesperson of the game, hitting .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers in 151 games.
Pros: The switch-hitting Beltran continues to produce steadily in his late-30s. Though probably best suited for DH at this stage of his career, Beltran still can serve as corner outfield depth, and there's a chance he could also give the Sox an option at first base (a position he's played once, for five innings, in his big league career). He would only require a short-term commitment, and he wouldn't require the forfeiture of a draft pick because, as a player who was dealt in the middle of 2016, the Rangers can't make a qualifying offer to him.
Cons: His walk rate was a career-low 5.9 percent, suggesting a player whose need to cheat on pitches can be exploited – with the possibility that a precipitous dropoff looms somewhere, even as he's been able to fight off such an occurrence to date. While he was elite against lefties (.338/.380/.589), he posted merely modest numbers against righthanders (.279/.321/.484), making him an imperfect replacement for Ortiz's ability to dominate against righties.
Jose Bautista, OF/1B/DH: Bautista's worst season this decade (.234/.366/.452 with 22 homers in 116 games) was ill-timed after years as a middle-of-the-order force. That said, if a team believes that 2016 wasn't a harbinger of decline and that he's capable of a bounceback, he could represent a buy-low opportunity.
Pros: Bautista has been a ferocious lineup presence for years, with fantastic numbers at Fenway Park (.276/.375/.597, 24 homers in 66 games) thanks to his ability to pull the ball with loft. While his average endured a marked decline against righties in 2016, he still got on base (.376 OBP) and showed power (.458 slugging) against righties.
Cons: The Blue Jays expect to make a qualifying offer to Bautista, meaning that he'd require the sacrifice of a draft pick and presumably a multi-year deal. He's become a defensive liability in the outfield. His strikeout rate jumped to roughly 20 percent in 2016, up from 16 percent from 2010-15. Given that he is 36, it's fair to wonder whether he's entered the decline phase of his career.
Others: Yoenis Cespedes might command the largest free-agent deal this winter, but the Sox feature an abundance of outfielders, and Cespedes' experience in Boston seemed unfavorable for all parties. … Mark Trumbo led the majors with 47 homers, showing enormous power, though his all-or-nothing approach has created OBPs near or below .300, making him imperfectly suited for middle-of-the-order duties. … Michael Saunders had a big year for the Blue Jays, though the lefthander was oddly pedestrian against righties while showing stronger splits against lefties, suggesting an imperfect replacement for Ortiz. … Matt Holliday could be an intriguing fit as a DH for Fenway Park, though his offensive decline over the last couple of years suggests that his days as a consistent middle-of-the-order threat might be behind him. … Brandon Moss could profile as a first baseman/corner outfielder/DH with big power against righties, but his approach likewise seemed to decline in 2016, with low OBPs that make him more of a No. 6- or 7-hole hitter than a replacement for Ortiz. Mitch Moreland falls into a similar category.
Summary: There aren't a lot of David Ortizes sitting on the shelf in the free-agent aisle this winter -- or, for that matter, in any other.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.