The consensus is that J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer are the top hitters in free agency, and the Red Sox have apparently chosen Martinez as their primary pursuit. Did they make the right choice?
It could be that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is more familiar with Martinez from their relationship in Detroit, or that he feels a righthanded power hitter at Fenway is more effective than a lefthanded hitter such as Hosmer.
You could have made a strong case for either player being the top free agent hitter. Hosmer is the youngest free agent at age 28, probably will get a smaller AAV than Martinez, is a great clubhouse presence, and has won a World Series.
Then there’s the first base market next year. While Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Josh Donaldson headline next year’s free agent class, there are no star first basemen who will hit the market.
The Red Sox last month elected to re-sign first baseman Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal, and they also have a potential vesting option on Hanley Ramirez, who needs 497 plate appearances in 2018 to secure a $22 million salary in 2019.
The Red Sox would likely not want that contract to vest, but given the first base options in free agency, a good season by Ramirez could make achieving the 2019 option a good thing.
Another option would be for the Red Sox to put together a satisfactory prospect package to send to the White Sox for Jose Abreu. The White Sox, however, haven’t been motivated by what’s left of Boston’s farm system.
So that brings us back to Martinez, who is 30 years old. His agent, Scott Boras, characterized a USA Today report about a five-year deal offered by the Red Sox as “inaccurate,” but wouldn’t elaborate. Does that mean the Red Sox offered beyond the five years? Does it mean they haven’t offered anything?
What we do know is that neither Red Sox ownership nor Dombrowski are afraid to give out long-term contracts to hitters. Dombrowski’s done it with Prince Fielder, Magglio Ordonez, and Miguel Cabrera. Those players had contracts that brought them into their age-36 season and beyond (in Cabrera’s case). So offering Martinez a six- or seven-year deal wouldn’t be out of the norm for Dombrowski or Red Sox ownership.
Don’t forget, Red Sox ownership was willing to offer Mark Teixeira an eight-year deal. They signed Dustin Pedroia to an eight-year deal. So signing a player who hit 45 homers last season and who has been a top performer the last four years wouldn’t be stepping out on a limb.
Some of the reasons for pursuing Martinez lie in the numbers.
For one, Martinez can hit high velocity, which is very important in these times. The Yankees had the highest average pitching velocity in the league last season at 94.5 miles per hour, and Martinez had an OPS of 1.001 against pitches that were clocked at 95 or faster. The Red Sox hit .238 and had an OPS of less than .600 against pitches at 95-plus m.p.h.
The Red Sox also had the fewest number of righthanded home runs in the American League with 90, a decrease of 25 from 2016. The Orioles hit 189 righthanded homers last season. Quite a disparity.
Martinez hit 31 of his 45 homers last season after the All-Star break. In that same period, the Red Sox’ leading home run hitters were Moreland, Ramirez, and Rafael Devers, each with 10.
Of course, there’s also the aspect of keeping up with the Yankees. Even with Martinez, there’s no way the Red Sox can match the Yankees’ potential output in the home run department. The Yankees have four players — Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton — who could hit 30-60 home runs. If they bring back Todd Frazier, that would make five guys. Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner each hit more than 20 last season.
The Red Sox need an added dose of excitement to reconnect with their fans, and nothing can do that quicker than adding a true slugger and a legitimate replacement for David Ortiz.
While other teams that are interested in Martinez (believed to be St. Louis, San Francisco, and perhaps Toronto) see him as an outfielder, the Red Sox would use him primarily at DH, which would likely allow him to play more.
Clemens, Bonds creeping closer
According to Ryan Thibodaux, who tracks Hall of Fame voting, nearly 39 percent of the ballots have been made public ahead of the BBWA’s election announcement on Jan. 24. And with 75 percent needed to gain entry into Cooperstown, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are getting close.
With 164 ballots revealed/~38.7% of the vote known:— Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) January 4, 2018
Chipper - 99%
Thome - 95%
Vlad - 94%
Hoffman - 78%
Mussina - 74%
BB/RC - 69%
Schilling - 68%
Walker - 40%
Vizquel - 29%
Manny - 27%
McGriff - 17%
Rolen - 10%
Andruw - 5.5%
At last check, Clemens and Bonds each had garnered nearly 70 percent, up from last year’s percentages of 54.1 (Clemens) and 53.8 (Bonds).
“To be honest, the Hall of Fame is not going to change me as a person or as a man. I know how hard I worked and played, and what I did and how I did it right,” Clemens told WFAN last week. “Like I said, you cannot defend a negative even though we did really good doing it and put some people in their place. But we really don’t worry about it a whole lot because I have zero control over it and we are going on to bigger and better things right now.
“But, you know, I appreciate [the increase in votes]. This is the first I’ve heard of it this year and I hear about it this time of year every year. Big thumbs up to the ones who are voting for me, and really that’s all you can say. There is really nothing else you can do.”
According to vote tracking, there are five players currently above 75 percent: Chipper Jones (99), Jim Thome (95), Vladimir Guerrero (94), Edgar Martinez (81), and Trevor Hoffman (78).
Just under the qualifying line are Mike Mussina (74), Clemens (69), Bonds (69), and Curt Schilling (68).
In his first year on the ballot, Omar Vizquel was surprisingly polling at just 29 percent. Larry Walker was at 40 percent, and Manny Ramirez at 27.
Apropos of nothing
1. According to GM Dan Duquette, the Orioles are discussing whether to move Manny Machado to shortstop in 2018, the final year of his contract. The Orioles are still entertaining trade offers for Machado, but at some point Duquette has to know whether to pursue a third baseman if Machado plays shortstop.
2. Bronson Arroyo is loving life. He’s going to make some special appearances for the Reds but doesn’t want to be tied down after retiring from baseball. He’ll be performing with Theo Epstein at Hot Stove Cool Music at Paradise Rock Club in Boston on Feb. 3. Here’s an interesting fact: Arroyo and former catcher A.J. Pierzynski played Little League in Brooksville, Fla., at the same time and they logged a combined 35 years in the majors.
3. Nobody tried harder to revive his baseball career than Daniel Bard. He retired last week and will now complete his degree at the University of North Carolina. Bard was a terrific setup man for the Red Sox, but things fell apart for him when he tried to transition to starting in 2012. His manager at the time, Bobby Valentine, told management to keep Bard in the bullpen, but his opinion fell on deaf ears.
4. Alex Cora and Aaron Boone, the rookie managers of the Red Sox and Yankees, both have Houston connections. Cora was bench coach of the reigning World Series champions, and Boone spent his final big league season with the Astros, going 0 for 13 in 2009.
5. It was tough to see the pushback Derek Jeter received at a Marlins Town Hall in Miami. Jeter was skewered by fans for breaking up the Marlins’ core, dealing away Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon. And the sell-off isn’t over as center fielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto are expected to go next. The Marlins will be in the market for “bridge” players — one-year, low-money contracts with incentives. We think this is where a guy like Jose Bautista could end up. If Mike Napoli doesn’t sign with the Twins, he could land in Miami. Other veteran free agents who fit that mold include Erick Aybar, Rajai Davis, Chris Young, Stephen Drew, A.J. Ellis, Andre Ethier, Matt Garza, and Clay Buchholz.
6. I’d find a way to sign free agent Jayson Werth to my team as an extra outfielder/DH.
7. I’m thinking MLB Network’s Mark DeRosa could be the next future manager plucked from the analyst chair. I always thought DeRosa would eventually manage, and now that experience isn’t necessary, why not him?
8. Love what Brewers owner Mark Attanasio is building. Nice blend of analytics and scouting with some pretty bright people on board.
9. The annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner is Jan. 18 at the Boston Marriott Copley. Tickets start at $200 apiece and can be purchased by calling 617-624-1231.
Updates on nine
1. Lorenzo Cain, CF, free agent — Cain, 31, is drawing interest from a few teams, including the Brewers, Rangers, Giants, and Blue Jays, who would move him to right field. Cain is a fine player who still has his speed, and the defensive metrics remain in his favor. The question becomes length of contract. Most of the teams involved feel three years is sufficient, but Cain will try to get four. When will his speed diminish?
2. Christian Yelich, CF, Marlins — More teams have entered the mix for Yelich in the last week as the Marlins continue to shed payroll. The Nationals are the latest to get involved, while the Blue Jays, Giants, Phillies, Braves, and Rangers also appear to have some interest. The Marlins are looking for a haul in return, and in Washington’s case, they’re eyeing No. 1 outfield prospect Victor Robles.
3. Greg Holland, RHP, free agent — With Wade Davis signing with Colorado, the Cubs are now in the picture for Holland, as are the Nationals.
4. Jed Lowrie, 2B, A’s — Lowrie would be a really good fit for a few teams, including the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets. With Dustin Pedroia expected to miss the first couple of months, the Red Sox could use a good bat and someone who could move around the infield when Pedroia does return. Lowrie might strike some homers in the Bronx.
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B, free agent — We’re hearing very little about Moustakas, which seems to indicate teams are hoping to get Scott Boras’s client at a bargain rate or through a pillow contract. He’d fit with the Yankees, Mets, Braves, and also the Orioles if they move Manny Machado to shortstop.
6. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates — McCutchen’s name is continuously out there in trade talks. The Giants seem to be involved with several center fielders, including McCutchen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Cain, and Jackie Bradley Jr.
7. Nick Castellanos, RF/3B, Tigers — Castellanos broke out in his age-25 season, hitting 26 homers with 104 RBIs. With the Tigers rebuilding, would they listen on the big righthanded hitter who is arbitration eligible? Castellanos can’t become a free agent until 2020. A few teams have asked about him.
8. Alex Rodriguez, Fox Sports analyst — A-Rod is being wooed by ESPN to be a color analyst on game broadcasts. He has carved out quite a post-baseball career, to the point where his opinions are truly valued. Yankees GM Brian Cashman sought his insight during the team’s managerial search. Surprised that he didn’t wind up in an ownership situation with his hometown Marlins instead of Derek Jeter. If A-Rod replaces Aaron Boone on ESPN’s game broadcasts, it’ll be the second time he followed Boone. Boone’s injury during the 2003-04 offseason led the Yankees to acquire A-Rod.
9. Mookie Betts, RF, Red Sox — Betts’s potential arbitration case should be interesting as to where he falls on the salary spectrum of a player who has accomplished what he has. The MLB Trade Rumors model has him at $8.2 million. We wonder if this is when the Red Sox start talking multiyear contract with him, or whether Betts would want to take his chances in arbitration until he becomes a free agent in 2021.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last season, the Astros led the AL with a .291 batting average leading off an inning. I love even more than that they led the AL with 88 doubles leading off an inning.” . . . Also, “Batters hit .104 off Corey Kluber’s curveballs. Batters swung at 478 of his curves and missed 235 times.” . . . And, “In 2015, 1,799 starters went at least 6⅓ IP in a game; in 2016, that number dropped to 1,523; and last season it dropped to 1,298” . . . Happy birthday, Jon Lester (34), Eric Gagne (42), Dave Gray (75), and Dick Schofield (83).