MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said Friday night that the team “is in active negotiations” with free agent slugger J.D. Martinez and predicted the roster would be improved.
“Opening Day isn’t here yet,” Werner said, addressing what has been a stagnant offseason for the Sox. “We’re going to make some more moves.”
Werner is the first Sox official to speak directly about Martinez, who hit 45 home runs last season. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has claimed to be satisfied with the roster.
That the Sox need a power hitter is obvious. They finished last in the American League with 168 home runs in 2017 and have essentially the same roster returning. The Sox won the American League East at 93-69 but lost to the Houston Astros in four games in the Division Series.
Now they are waiting out Martinez, a player who would fit neatly into their lineup as the designated hitter and fill the gap left by the retirement of David Ortiz after the 2016 season.
“As a fan, I’m sure the fans would like us to make a big announcement,’’ Werner said. “We are one of the highest payrolls in baseball and at a certain point we have to have some discipline.”
“A lot has been written about players in their late 30s not performing as well as in their sweet spot, which we know is in their late 20s or early 30s.”
That was a direct reference to Martinez, who is 30. Major league sources have said the Sox are comfortable with a five-year commitment worth $120 million-$125 million but are hesitant to go beyond that. Martinez is seeking seven years and closer to $200 million.
The Diamondbacks have expressed an interest in retaining Martinez but acknowledge they could be priced out of his market. What other teams are competing with the Red Sox, if any, isn’t clear.
The slow-moving free agent market has created some leverage for the Sox in negotiations with agent Scott Boras. The Sox also could pivot to another free agent or make a trade.
But Boras knows the Sox need a boost after seeing the Yankees trade for National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and the Astros for righthander Gerrit Cole. Martinez would be that boost.
“Well sure there’s pressure,’’ Werner said. “Houston was formidable last year. I thought we played them competitively at Fenway Park [in the Division Series]. They’ve obviously improved. The Yankees have improved, there’s no question about it. They have a great offense.”
But the Sox don’t necessarily feel a need to counter other teams move for move.
“It’s important for us to be competitive with them,” Werner said. “But we’re not trying to play chess with them.”
Werner and Dombrowski were among the team officials who took questions from fans at a town hall-style event. Dombrowski was almost immediately asked about roster additions.
“At some point, the ice is going to melt, and it is going to move very fast,” he said.
Before the event, Ortiz spoke to a group of reporters and expressed surprise at the slow pace.
“I’m just wondering who the hell is going to play this season? Because nobody has signed yet,” Ortiz said. “What’s going on? It’s almost spring training, bro. What’s the deal?”
Werner also has been following Major League Baseball’s negotiations with the MLB Players Association regarding speeding up games. The union has so far rejected the idea despite knowing commissioner Rob Manfred has the right to implement a pitch clock or cut down on visits to the mound.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s too much dead time in the game,” Werner said. “It’s really not about pace of play but trying to have less dead time”
Werner said it would be “common sense” to cut down on trips to the mound by the catcher or manager. “I’m hopeful the union and owners will come together on this,” he said. “I think it’s something that the fans are expecting.”