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It’s easy to yell collusion in a crowded free agent market. But what baseball has experienced this offseason is more widespread good judgment than conspiracy.
Free agency has never been an advisable way to build a roster because of the expense and risk, and teams have a better understanding of that. It’s an unbalanced system when a player performs at a bargain rate in his peak years, then is overpaid in his decline.
The Red Sox employ dozens of scouts, analysts, and medical professionals to evaluate free agents. But they badly misjudged players such as Carl Crawford, Rusney Castillo, and Pablo Sandoval.
David Price’s contract now hinges on his “unique” elbow, and Hanley Ramirez is only 497 plate appearances away from a fifth season (at age 35) and $22 million.
So it’s easy to understand why the Sox are trying to land J.D. Martinez at something closer to $100 million than $200 million. The same is true of other teams, too. It’s not their job to give in because the players and fans are grouchy about the inaction.
But with spring training two weeks away, the Red Sox have a win-now roster and they haven’t filled in the gaps to win now.
The Sox need a cleanup hitter and a lefthanded reliever. Martinez and Tony Watson are still available and would fit.
New manager Alex Cora should be given the tools he needs. Dave Dombrowski acknowledged in October that the Sox needed more offense, and he can’t pretend otherwise in February. Bringing back Mitch Moreland didn’t solve that problem.
The Sox also need to improve their bullpen. It’s easy to claim they’re satisfied with their depth. But that depth is made up of pitchers who weren’t deemed worthy of the postseason roster. They lost Addison Reed and did not replace him.
Scott Boras, who represents Martinez and Watson, had been scheduled to attend a charity function in Boston Friday. Those plans changed and he will not be there. Dombrowski is filling in for him.
So while there won’t be any negotiations at the Cask ’n Flagon, the Sox and Boras need to find common ground.
Dombrowski’s job is to make his team better, and Boras’s job is to negotiate the best deal he can at the time. There has to be a point where their interests meet. Waiting into spring training hurts both the team and the player.
A few other thoughts on the Sox:
■ Team chemistry isn’t something that can be designed, hard as teams may try. It has to happen naturally, one step at a time. Little things add up to big moments.
So remember what happened Tuesday if in a few months the Red Sox appear better united.
The Sox shipped 10 tons of relief supplies to Puerto Rico, keeping a promise they made to Cora when he was hired in October. The team delivered vaccines to a children’s hospital in San Juan and then distributed other items in Cora’s hometown of Caguas.
That Christian Vazquez helped out was to be expected. He’s the only player from Puerto Rico on the roster, after all.
But Rick Porcello took the flight from Boston and Chris Sale met the group in San Juan. They joined Cora and Vazquez in making the day better for people who have suffered since Hurricane Maria struck.
Let’s not be dramatic; it was one day of community service. But Porcello and Sale showed that they respected what was important to their new manager. That a Cy Young Award winner and a six-time All-Star stood by Cora’s side won’t be forgotten.
It also was meaningful to Vazquez, who the Red Sox hope will become their primary catcher. Sandy Leon was Sale’s personal catcher last year, but here was Sale working side-by-side with Vazquez in Puerto Rico. Their relationship will need to grow if Vazquez catches Sale more often, and the sooner that starts, the better.
Porcello and Sale aren’t the kind of leaders who will stand on a chair and make a speech. But they are two of the most respected players on the team. Their actions won’t be lost on others, and that is how chemistry is built.
■ When Mookie Betts won his arbitration hearing Wednesday, it was the first loss for the Red Sox since Tim Wakefield was awarded $2.5 million in 1997.
The Sox can — and should — try to sign Betts to a long-term extension. They have three years to figure that out. Betts has said he wants to go year-to-year, and a $10.5 million salary this season certainly puts him in a position of being able to afford to wait.
■ The Red Sox announced a “long-term commitment” with David Ortiz back in September. His job doesn’t have a title yet and it remains unclear what influence he’ll have on the major league team.
Ortiz was careful to stay away from the team last season, knowing his presence at the park would be a distraction. But that has passed.
Ortiz was asked at Winter Weekend what his plans were for this season.
“We’ll see how that plays out,” he said. “We have a coaching staff that’s in charge of dealing with the players. We only can do so much at some point.”
Ortiz said he planned to “stop by” spring training but didn’t sound particularly eager to take on an active role. That is certainly his right. But there are players who would benefit from more than a text message from Ortiz. Xander Bogaerts is one.
■ Over the last year, every team has announced plans to extend protective netting to at least the far end of the dugouts.
The Red Sox are in the process of extending the nets to Field Box 79 in left field and Field Box 9 in right field.
When the Sox announced their plans, there were the predictable comments that fans should just pay better attention and that nets somehow spoil the game.
It’s such nonsense. A foul ball nearly killed a child at Yankee Stadium last year, and it was only a few years ago that a woman suffered a terrible injury at Fenway Park when she was struck by a broken bat.
There were 339 pitches thrown in Game 4 of the Division Series at Fenway last year. No fan can stay zoned in on every pitch and prepare to dive out of the way. One glance at the scoreboard or a sip of your beer is all it takes.
The new nets will come as a relief to the players. Every hitter lives in fear that a foul ball will seriously hurt a fan.
■ The Fenway Park grounds crew won’t have an easy summer. The concert schedule so far: Zac Brown Band (June 14-15), Luke Bryan (July 5), Foo Fighters (July 21-22), Billy Joel (Aug. 10), Journey and Def Leppard (Aug. 11), and Pearl Jam (Sept. 2 and 4).
■ The Red Sox should sign a veteran starter to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Steven Wright is the No. 5 starter at the moment and he is coming off knee surgery. Wright also could face a suspension depending on what MLB finds in its investigation of his arrest for domestic assault.
The healthy depth starters on the spring training roster are Jalen Beeks, Roenis Elias, Justin Haley, and Hector Velazquez. The Sox need more than that. Dombrowski ignored starting depth last spring and ended up having to forage for Doug Fister in June. Given the slow market, wouldn’t it be better to act now while there are more choices?
■ Only two Red Sox players — lefthander Jay Groome and infielder Michael Chavis — were among the top 100 prospects listed by Baseball America and ESPN.
That sounds bad. But the Sox turned at least four top-100 types into Sale, Craig Kimbrel, and Drew Pomeranz. They also have enviable young talent such as Betts, Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi in the majors.
■ Castillo was 18 of 56 (.321) with six extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 16 games for Caguas in the Puerto Rican League. Cora is a fan of Castillo, but the outfielder’s salary would count against the luxury tax if he returns to the 40-man roster. Castillo will be in spring training as a nonroster player.
■ Other Winter Weekend impressions: Tyler Thornburg is optimistic about coming back from thoracic outlet surgery but essentially acknowledged that he would have to start the year on the disabled list and get some work in the minors . . . Kimbrel showed only grudging approval of the idea of occasionally pitching in the eighth inning if the situation called for it. He will be a free agent after the season, and closers want saves.
■ Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13 and the vaunted truck leaves Fenway Park on Monday.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.