The 2017 Boston Red Sox won 93 games last year, but it didn’t feel like that. The pitching was mostly dominant and the offense scored the sixth most runs in baseball, but there was something missing. The loss of David Ortiz drastically affected the offense, as the Sox finished dead last in home runs. In previous off-seasons, this would lead to management throwing an endless sum of money at any and all solutions they could find. However, this off-season, the Red Sox aren’t panicking, and it’s a welcome change of pace.
The Boston Red Sox Aren’t Panicking
Learning From History – Rusney Castillo
The Red Sox have had their fair share of free agency blunders, but let’s begin with what happened in the 2014-2015 offseason. The 2014 Red Sox were not a good team, and there were some glaring holes that needed to be fixed heading into 2015.
One year earlier, the Red Sox were outbid for Cuban first baseman Jose Abreau, who was tearing up the league with the Chicago White Sox. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, they signed the next big thing out of Cuba, Rusney Castillo, to a seven-year, 72 million dollar contract. The Sox were the highest bidders by a wide margin, and Castillo made the move from Cuba to Boston.
Suffice to say this deal hasn’t worked out. Castillo never showed the ability to hit at the major league level and showed a frightening lack of situational awareness. Castillo is currently playing for the Pawtucket Red Sox and hasn’t seen the majors since early 2016. There’s no clear road back to the majors for him, as his contract is essentially keeping him in the minors. As long as he stays in the minors, his contract won’t affect the luxury tax. He’s shown improvement in AAA, but not enough to justify the luxury tax impact promoting him would cause.
2015’s Quest for an Ace
While international free agency didn’t work for the Sox that year, they also struggled assembling major league talent. Their first misstep came in their attempt to find an ace. After completely ruining the Jon Lester situation by lowballing him in contract offers, the Sox found themselves without an ace on the staff. Secondly, the Red Sox needed more power.
The Red Sox correctly identified both needs, but failed in finding the players to fill them. The Sox traded for Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello and tried to make him the ace of the team. He signed a four-year, 82.5 million dollar contract extension before the season started, more than the Red Sox initially offered Lester.
Porcello struggled his first year in Boston, but most of that falls on the Red Sox organization itself. Porcello had always been reliant on accuracy and pitching to weak contact. With the big contract signed, Porcello tried to become a true ace and transform into Corey Kluber. It backfired, and Porcello admitted he put too much pressure on himself to change his style.
2015’s Quest For Offense
The Red Sox signed Sandoval to be a star. It….didn’t work out
Image credit: Total Pro Sports
The Red Sox also entered the 2014-2015 offseason needing more power. Ortiz was still great, but outside of him the team couldn’t buy a run. They needed to find power hitters in free agency. Once more, the Sox overpaid and missed big. Boston brought in two of the biggest sluggers on the market and drastically overpaid for both. Hanley Ramirez came over on a four-year, 88 million dollar deal and Pablo Sandoval joined the team on a five-year, 95 million dollar contract.
While Ramirez has had his high points for the Sox (mostly in 2016), both players were terrible in 2015 and neither are living up to their contracts. Sandoval in particular was horrendous, as the Red Sox had to eat the whole contract just to get the third baseman off the team.
In the case of all four contracts, the Red Sox overreacted to a flaw on the team. They tried to make Castillo into Abreau, Porcello into an ace he had never proven to be, and they paid Ramirez and Sandoval as if both were in their prime. While Ramirez and Porcello have helped the Sox recently, neither one is living up to their contract.
Quest for an Ace – Part Two
The Red Sox worked hard to make sure this shirt wouldn’t make another appearance
Image credit: Rob Bradford
Expectations rose for the 2016 Red Sox thanks to a young core that finally looked ready to break out. Everyone wanted to end Ortiz’s final season with a championship. There was still one glaring flaw in the roster: there wasn’t a true ace.
In a desperate attempt to make sure the “He’s the Ace” T-Shirt wouldn’t come back, the Sox signed free agent David Price to a seven-year, 217 million dollar contract. This was a hard break from the Sox typical strategy of not investing in pitchers over 30.
Some people make the Price signing out to be as bad as the Sandoval signing, and that’s unfair. Like Ramirez and Porcello, Price has made an overall positive impact on the team. He performed adequately in 2016 and played through a painful elbow injury in 2017. However, his production has not matched his contract, just like Ramirez and Porcello. The elbow injury isn’t likely to get better as he gets older, and soon the contract will be another burden the Red Sox have to plan around.
The 2017-2018 Offseason
Fast forward to the present, and the Red Sox appeared to have learned their lesson. They need a power bat, and J.D. Martinez fills the role. However, they’re not just blindly throwing money and hoping he will single-handedly win a World Series.
According to reports, the Red Sox currently have offered Martinez a five-year deal worth roughly 110-125 million. Martinez’ camp was expecting an offer closer to seven years and over 200 million. The 30-year old outfielder seems content to wait for a better offer, but the Sox are right to stay put.
Signing Martinez on a five-year deal for roughly 25 million a season would be a big boost to this team. He’s a great power bat and would be a perfect complement to a great pitching staff and an already solid offense. However, he’s not the type of player who deserves the seven-year, 200 million deal he’s looking for.
Martinez is below average defensively, and would spend most of his time as the designated hitter. Health is another concern, as he’s played more than 125 games just once in his career. Power numbers typically decrease with age, and the injury concern would only get worse as time goes on. There’s no doubt that by year six or seven of the proposed contract, Martinez would be nothing more than a 30 million a year burden.
Not only that, but the Red Sox know they have the best offer. In years past, the Red Sox would intentionally overpay free agents such as Price, Ramirez and Sandoval. This strategy ensured the Sox would get whoever they wanted, but it drastically hindered their ability to build a team.
Current reports state that the Arizona Diamondbacks have the next closest offer with a five-year, 100 million dollar offer. This means that the Red Sox are beating the Diamondbacks by roughly 10 to 25 million dollars over the life of the contract. Instead of bidding against themselves, the Red Sox are wisely staying put with their current offer. Even if they don’t get him, there’s other options on the table.
It’s been a very boring offseason for Boston and around the league. The players want more money than teams are willing to give, and the league is currently in the midst of a giant standstill. However, this is the right strategy for the Red Sox. They’ve made reactionary, impulsive moves before, and all have been disappointing in some form. This free agent strategy ensures that the Sox should still get their guy without burdening the team for years to come.