Dave Dombrowski must answer the bell with a power bat
Dave Dombrowski knows what he has to do. He’s known for a year now.
He has to obtain a slugger — someone who can put fear into opposing pitchers, who teams must game-plan for, who can win a game with one swing of the bat.
We can name them.
Giancarlo Stanton fits that mold. You’d have to trade for him, he’d have to waive his no-trade clause, and you’d have to give up good players to obtain him. There’s White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. Again, you’d have to trade for him and his contract is controllable. There’s J.D. Martinez. He represented one of Dombrowski’s best moves as Tigers general manager; Dombrowski basically signed him off the scrap heap after the Astros released him. Martinez is a free agent. Problem is, where would the Red Sox play him other than DH?
There’s lefthanded-hitting Eric Hosmer, an excellent hitter and defender at first base. He’s not a slugger per se, but scouts think he’d hit a few homers over Fenway’s left-field wall. He also has a desire to play in Boston.
Long shots are Miguel Cabrera and Oakland’s Khris Davis.
The lack of a slugger was the problem with the 2017 Red Sox, not John Farrell. The nitpickers won out when Dombrowski decided he was going to make a change. He has not told us why Farrell had to go, but teased us by saying he had his reasons, which he would keep to himself.
Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina had no idea what those reasons could have been. He had been close to the situation all season, was in the clubhouse when Dombrowski was around, and never heard of any discord between Farrell and Dombrowski. But while Farrell had nice things to say about the owners, he did not discuss Dombrowski, which shows you a rift had developed between the two.
Farrell had to play with a deficient roster. He had good players, but no replacement for David Ortiz’s 37 homers. No middle-of-the-order power guy.
Dombrowski showed restraint by not exceeding the luxury tax threshold, which probably went over well with the Red Sox ownership. But in saving that money, it cost the Red Sox a chance to move on in the playoffs. Farrell was powerless.
So all of the little stories will now come out that Farrell wasn’t communicating well with his players or that he wasn’t using analytics, which was vehemently denied by DiSarcina. According to DiSarcina, Farrell and all of the Sox coaches used analytics in their preparation and during the game.
This team lacked sufficient offense to go places. Their pitching had to be outstanding all the time and it usually was. Winning 93 games in the AL East, arguably the toughest division in baseball, was no small feat. But accomplishing that isn’t enough in these parts, though it might be impressive to those living in other parts of the country.
Obtaining the right players will be challenging.
Stanton, who hit 59 home runs this year, signed a 13-year, $325 million deal that’s paid in full through the 2027 season. Starting in 2018, his salaries will start at $25 million and escalate to as much as $32 million per season.
Whew. But what if the Marlins subsidize some of that? What if they were to take on $8 million to $10 million a year and get a better haul of players in return?
From my discussions with Marlins officials — and I don’t know if this jibes with new baseball ops guru Derek Jeter —
A Red Sox lineup with Stanton in the 3- or 4-hole would look more daunting. Tough to give up someone like Benintendi? Sure, but you have to consider what you’re getting back. Stanton’s power at Fenway would be legendary. But the Red Sox would have to do their due diligence on whether Stanton could play in this environment. They don’t want another Carl Crawford/David Price situation.
Stanton, too, has a 2020 opt-out clause in his contract.
What I like about him is his consistency. Since coming over from Cuba, he has averaged 33 homers, 108 RBIs, and a .301 average, with an .883 OPS in four seasons in Chicago. He’ll play at age 31 next season. He made $10.8 million in 2017, is arbitration eligible for the first time in the offseason, and can’t become a free agent until after 2020. He’s considered a leader and well-respected.
Martinez is an interesting alternative. He’s a free agent so the Red Sox would not have to give up any players. How far do you go on a contract to take him away from Arizona, which desperately wants to re-sign him? Is it five years at $100 million? Martinez will play at 30 years old in 2018.
He hit 45 homers and knocked in 104 runs last season with the Tigers and Diamondbacks. He hit .301. He had an OPS of 1.107 in Arizona and 1.108 in Detroit. His manager with the Tigers was Brad Ausmus, which would be an interesting dynamic if Ausmus gets the Boston managing job.
Question is, where would you play him?
The Red Sox could play him in left if they deal Jackie Bradley Jr. and use Benintendi as their center fielder. Or Martinez could DH with Hanley Ramirez playing first base.
Hosmer is a solid overall player who would play at age 28 in 2018. Hosmer is represented by Scott Boras, and the Red Sox would likely pay in the range of a five-year, $100 million for his services. Boston is definitely one of Boras’s targets, as will be the Yankees.
Hosmer just had his best major league season out of seven years with the Royals. He hit .318 with 25 homers, 94 RBIs, and an .882 OPS far above his .284/20/87 career averages. By no means is Hosmer the slugger the Sox need in the middle of the order, but scouts will say that Hosmer would hit 30-plus simply by playing 81 games at Fenway rather than Kaufmann Stadium.
You would have to take that chance with Hosmer.
Jay Bruce was out there for the taking at the trading deadline and the Red Sox didn’t bite. There was no room in the outfield. Bruce is a lefthanded power bat, but he would only enter the picture if Dombrowski was unable to secure one of the above.
And then there’s Cabrera. Dombrowski had him in Detroit. The Tigers would be willing to eat some of the contract, but it’s a double-whopper with cheese. It’s a deal Dombrowski negotiated and it’s about $30 million per year through 2025 if two vesting options kick in. This one is highly unlikely unless the Tigers eat quite a bit of that contract.
Davis has had two very consistent years. In 2016 he hit .247 with 42 homers, 107 RBIs, and an .831 OPS with 165 strikeouts. In 2017, he hit .247 with 43 homers, 110 RBIs, and an .864 OPS, with 195 strikeouts. He also played in a pitcher’s park in Oakland. Again, where would you play him? He’ll play at age 30 all season in 2018. What would the A’s want?
Who does Dombrowski want?