While David Ortiz keeps teasing us with tweets about a possible return, the Red Sox seem to be doing the same in their own way.
Though president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has stated that he doesn’t believe Ortiz wants to return in 2017 — despite Ortiz expressing excitement about Chris Sale joining the team — the possibility isn’t going away.
Whether it’s strategic or purely coincidental, Dombrowski has created optimism about Ortiz unretiring. He said at the Winter Meetings that first baseman Mitch Moreland was signed to replace Travis Shaw, who was traded to Milwaukee. He didn’t say Moreland, a .233 hitter last season, was replacing Ortiz. After all, how could he? So in essence, the team has not acquired anyone to replace Ortiz and his major league-leading 1.021 OPS.
It could be that the Red Sox haven’t replaced Ortiz because they would prefer to not go over the luxury tax threshold. Perhaps they figure that after acquiring Sale, better starting pitching will make up for the expected reduction in offense. The Sox led the majors with 878 runs last season, 101 more than the next-closest team in the American League, Cleveland.
Or, Dombrowski may be keeping a spot open for Ortiz.
Jose Bautista would have accepted a two-year deal from Boston. The Red Sox informed Edwin Encarnacion’s agents that they weren’t interested in a long-term commitment, feeling that first baseman Sam Travis isn’t far off from being a big-league contributor.
Surely, they can’t rely solely on Pablo Sandoval to make up for Ortiz’s production. While Sandoval has lost 40 pounds since he last played for the Sox, they know that could change in a hurry.
Ortiz was such a huge presence in the clubhouse for years, and his leadership will be hard to replace.
Standing in his shadow to some degree was Dustin Pedroia. He is a fiery guy, but Ortiz was an imposing figure. Well, now Pedroia stands alone.
Pedroia doesn’t view himself as an Ortiz-type leader. He’s not going to stand in the middle of the clubhouse and declare himself the de facto captain. That’s not him. But there will be times when a leader needs to speak up in tough situations, and we expect that Pedroia will be that guy.
Certainly, younger players such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. will have bigger leadership roles, but Pedroia is the grizzled veteran now. He still represents what a Red Sox player should be — gritty, tough, playing the game at 100 percent and setting an example through performance, which he has always done.
The rest of the lineup takes their cue from him, and Pedroia has never tolerated anything but maximum effort from his teammates. He’s never been afraid to call them out.
He’s never wanted the “C” on his jersey, as Jason Varitek once wore, and we don’t suspect that will change unless management pleads with him to do it. But they will likely respect his wishes on that matter.
Ortiz is keeping in shape. He’s at Fenway working out a lot. He hints every once in a while about a possible return.
We know Ortiz hates spring training, so he doesn’t want to go through that anymore. We know he’s turned down an invitation to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
But as he told this reporter late in the season, when I mentioned that at this time a year from now he’d likely be on a beach sipping on a pina colada, he said, “Yeah, unless I get tired of that and I miss playing baseball.”
Ortiz wants to retire because his legs and feet are shot and he often played in pain. But you can tell that he battles himself over retiring. He tells everyone that he’s done. But whether he believes it is another story.
Even if Ortiz shows up at spring training as an instructor, and he’s in good shape and hitting balls 480 feet, and if the Red Sox haven’t adequately replaced him, will we still believe he’s retired?
If Ortiz did express a desire to return, would his salary put the Red Sox over the luxury tax threshold and would they be willing to do that?
There are certainly a lot of what-ifs concerning Ortiz. But the Sox seem to be in position to welcome a return if that’s in the cards.
WINTER MEETINGS WRAPUP
Red Sox should reconsider bait
The Red Sox are likely making the wrong pitcher available if they’re trying to maximize return. They’re trying to keep Drew Pomeranz and deal Clay Buchholz. They’d like to deal Buchholz to save his $13.5 million salary, but some interested teams, such as the Royals, Twins, and Mariners, think the salary is too high and would much rather have the cost-controlled Pomeranz, who is expected to earn $4.7 million next season after arbitration.
Said one AL executive, “The medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great. That’ll be another reason why dealing either one of them could run into problems.”
The Rays did something bold and really smart when they signed catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal worth $12.5 million and added incentives that could make the deal worth $18.25 million.
Ramos, coming off his second ACL surgery, won’t be ready to catch until July or August.
The Rays have forever tried to find a significant No. 1 catcher. If Ramos can be effective behind the plate again, they’ll have an All-Star and one of the best at his position. He can also DH. Ramos greatly improves Tampa Bay’s offense.
The Yankees didn’t shock anyone by signing Aroldis Chapman, who loved playing in New York. General manager Brian Cashman is creating a very interesting scenario by surrounding his young players with veterans. It’s similar to the Red Sox’ model, where they want to compete and retool at the same time.
Cashman has again created a very formidable back end of the bullpen with Dellin Betances and Chapman. Tyler Clippard is very good as the seventh-inning guy, and Cashman may look to add another piece.
Cashman had some inquiries about Brett Gardner, “but nothing that would compel us to deal him.”
The White Sox traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Todd Frazier, Dave Robertson, Jose Abreu, and Jose Quintana could still be in play.
Frazier could land with the Dodgers, who have yet to pull the trigger on re-signing Justin Turner. Robertson could be headed to toward Washington, the Dodgers, or St. Louis, while Quintana, who was being pursued by the Nationals, could go virtually anywhere should a Sale-like package become available. Texas perhaps? Abreu may be tough to deal, though the Astros could still be interested.
While Padres GM A.J. Preller made a couple of deals in the past few weeks, there is great scrutiny when it comes to his business dealings after he was caught withholding medical information in the Pomeranz deal with Boston, for which MLB issued a 30-day suspension.
“I think it’s just human nature to keep your eyes open when dealing with him at least for a while,” said one team executive.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Tigers had to be disappointed at the Winter Meetings. GM Al Avila wanted to start rebuilding, but Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Jordan Zimmermann, and Justin Wilson all remain with the team. The Angels and Dodgers are seeking a second baseman, and J.D. Martinez’s righthanded power plays well in a number of scenarios. Navigating the big contracts is a problem. “I don’t think there’s going to be a ton of change,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “Miguel, Justin, I don’t want those guys traded. Are you kidding me? That’s the last thing I want. I just think it’s easy to talk about and harder to do.”
2. The Diamondbacks hired former major league pitcher Dan Haren to serve in a role similar to the one Brian Bannister serves with the Red Sox. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said of Haren, “I think he’s going to be somebody behind the scenes, and that’s by his choice. He didn’t want any credit. He’s probably going to get mad at me that I’m talking about him, to tell you the truth. He wants to just remain behind the scenes and help our pitchers be successful. I think he has an attachment to Arizona. I think he and Zack [Greinke] know one another. So I think there’s a good starting point for him to come in and come up with a game plan as to how to reach some of these guys and how to help them as quickly as possible. You’re going to see him. He’s going to be around.” Lovullo also hired Ron Gardenhire as bench coach. He wasn’t previously friends with Gardenhire but said he respected Gardenhire as a manager and said that if he was ever in position to hire a bench coach, he would consider the longtime Twins skipper.
3. With all the talk about Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Otani, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if he’s ever considered pitcher Kenta Maeda for the outfield. “I haven’t considered it yet, but that opportunity might present itself,” Roberts said. “Kenta is a very good athlete. He can do a lot of good things on the baseball field. So never say never.”
4. Speaking of Otani, there seems to be less incentive for him to be posted after next season if the CBA indicates you can only offer international free agents no more than $6 million per team. If Otani came over after 2019, when he’s a true free agent, he could receive the moon.
5. Dave Dombrowski was asked whether the Red Sox spent any time discussing Chris Sale’s violent delivery and whether it might catch up to the lefty. “Well, they said the same thing when we had Max Scherzer in Detroit,” said Dombrowski, “and look, he’s been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball, as has Chris.” Said one NL talent evaluator, “You hear this every year about Sale and Scherzer and nothing’s happened, in fact they’re dominating pitchers. I suppose one of these years someone’s finally going to be right.”
6. Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked at the Winter Meetings, “You spoke about looking in the mirror after the season ended. Can you share maybe what you might have learned?” Scioscia deadpanned, “I’m ugly.”
7. New Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey is from Lynn and got his degree in economics from Trinity College in Hartford.
Updates on nine
1. Wade Boggs, special assistant, Red Sox — Boggs will be in uniform during spring training, providing hitting advice. Boggs was hired after his No. 26 was retired last season. He will do also special appearances for the team during the season.
2. Joel Hanrahan, RHP, free agent — Hanrahan decided to retire after a few comeback attempts following a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The former Red Sox closer was at the Winter Meetings in search of a coaching position.
3. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, free agent — Agent Seth Levinson said Papelbon continues to deal with a personal family matter, and until that’s cleared up Papelbon will devote his time to that issue. “We hope that people can respect his privacy during this time,” Levinson said.
4. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox — Pedroia was ecstatic about Chris Sale joining the Red Sox. “I think it’s great. I’m so excited,” he said. Pedroia loves the pitching staff and its potential to be dominating, plus the fact he won’t have to face Sale anymore. Pedroia is 1 for 9 against him.
5. Bill Smith, executive vice president, Twins — Smith has been told he will lose his position in January after 36 years with the organization. Smith is the team’s former GM and in recent years has overseen the rebuilding of the minor league complex and the building of a Dominican training facility. After all that time and loyalty, Smith was told by the Pohlad ownership that he’s being let go. Seems cold.
6. Koji Uehara, RHP, Cubs — Uehara is certainly more injury-prone at age 41 but still a very effective reliever when healthy. Uehara pitched very well for the Red Sox down the stretch and it may have been a mistake to let him go. The Cubs signed Uehara to a deal worth about half of what he made for the Red Sox last season, and they have plenty of replacements should Uehara get hurt. The Dodgers and Giants also considered Uehara.
7. Yasmany Tomas, OF, Diamondbacks — Former Arizona GM Dave Stewart, who has returned to his player representative agency, said he expects big things from Tomas. “He loves to play and he made great progress last year,” Stewart said. “I really believe in this kid. He’s so dedicated to baseball and he wants to be the best.” Tomas, who signed a six-year, $68.5 million deal two years ago, hit 31 homers and drove in 83 runs with an .820 OPS last season at age 25.
8. Jose Bautista, RF, free agent — Agent Jay Alou thought he might find a spot for Bautista after the Red Sox elected to go with Mitch Moreland. But he held back and continues to survey the field. It appears Bautista could get at least a two-year deal. The Orioles look like the best fit, but GM Dan Duquette said last week Bautista is unpopular with the fan base. The Indians, Rangers, and Blue Jays could also be in talks.
9. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates — One surprise of the Winter Meetings was that McCutchen wasn’t traded. The Pirates had significant talks with the Nationals and Dodgers, but Washington acquired Adam Eaton from the White Sox, and the Dodgers and Pirates couldn’t come to an agreement. Will talks reignite? The Pirates say they’re not going to actively shop him, but McCutchen could still have a new home address by Opening Day.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Chris Sale is not afraid to pitch inside: Over the last two seasons (435⅓ IP) he has hit 30 batters, the same as Dick Radatz in 693⅓ career innings, Don Newcombe in 2,154⅔ career innings, and Billy Pierce in 3,306⅔ IP.” Also, “Since 2012, Max Scherzer leads the majors with 43 10-plus-strikeout games; Scherzer is followed by Clayton Kershaw (36) and Chris Sale (35).” . . . Happy birthday, Frankie Rodriguez (44).
With a weak class of free agent starting pitchers, the trade market this offseason is shaping up as a busy one. The Red Sox already claimed the biggest name, acquiring Chris Sale. Another frontline starter thought to be available is the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, whose calling card is his ability to pitch every fi fth day, season after season. Where the 33-year-old righthander stands among active pitchers in three workhorse categories:
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.