Shohei Ohtani is coming to the United States! But the Babe Ruth of Japan isn’t interested in beginning his major league career with the team that gave the actual Babe Ruth his start.
Under the ownership of Derek Jeter, the Miami Marlins are ready to trade Giancarlo Stanton! But baseball’s pre-eminent slugger prefers to play on the West Coast and therefore is unlikely to approve a deal to Boston.
Hey, at least Ohtanimania and probably Giancarlopalooza aren’t stopping at Yankee Stadium either. That’s a measure of consolation to a Red Sox team that finished last in the American League in homers for the first time since 1993 and produced sagging ratings on its regional cable network. It does not, however, change the fact that the Sox are desperate for a power hitter — and star power, too.
But the offseason is still young. The winter meetings don’t begin until Sunday night. There’s plenty of time for Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski to do his thing and fill the David Ortiz-sized hole smack dab in the middle of the Boston lineup.
Dombrowski tends to be tight-lipped about the specifics of his offseason pursuits. But here are some educated guesses — based on conversations with people within the game — about the top names on the Red Sox president’s radar.
The twin sluggers: J.D. Martinez and Jose Abreu
Player A, since the beginning of the 2014 season: .300/.362/.574, 124 doubles, 128 homers, 185 walks, 560 strikeouts, 149 adjusted OPS, 14.6 Fangraphs WAR. He’s 30 years old and bats right-handed.
Player B, over the same four-year span: .301/.359/.524, 144 doubles, 124 homers, 172 walks, 515 strikeouts, 142 adjusted OPS, 14.4 Fangraphs WAR. He’s also 30 and a right-handed hitter.
Martinez (Player A), meet Abreu (Player B).
Either would instantly become the Red Sox’s top power threat, even though both lack the name recognition of Stanton. In the case of both sluggers, their stock has never been higher than after a strong 2017 season.
Choosing between them will come down to whether the Red Sox prefer to spend big in free agency for Martinez — billed by agent Scott Boras as the “King Kong of Slug” — or swing a prospect-laden trade for Abreu. After several such deals the past two years, including the Chris Sale blockbuster last December, it’s unclear whether the Red Sox have enough high-end talent left in their farm system to acquire Abreu from the Chicago White Sox, who are seeking “an arm and both legs,” according to one American League source.
“You can only do that three-, four-for-one move one time,” the source said, referring to the trade that sent top prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two other minor leaguers to the White Sox for Sale. “That road has already been paved.”
Abreu seems to be the better positional fit. As a first baseman, he would enable the Red Sox to use Hanley Ramirez as a designated hitter. Martinez, an outfielder, likely would be the primary DH, forcing Ramirez to play first base.
But Martinez would cost only money, albeit a lot of money, considering he hit 31 home runs after the All-Star break last season. Boras is believed to be seeking a $200 million contract, and though that seems ambitious, it’s hardly a stretch to think that Martinez could fetch a six-year, $150 million deal. (Abreu, by contrast, has two years left on his contract and will make a total of about $40 million through salary arbitration.)
The Red Sox have thrown money at their problems in recent offseasons. Desperate for a third baseman in November 2014, they signed Pablo Sandoval for $95 million. Two years later, they forked over $217 million for David Price, the ace they lacked.
In the search for a big bopper, Martinez might represent Boston’s next big buy.
The best all-around player: Eric Hosmer
Asked recently to choose from among Stanton, Martinez and Hosmer, two National League talent evaluators said they preferred Hosmer based on his durability, superb defense at first base and reputation as a clubhouse leader.
But they also acknowledged what Hosmer is not: a pure slugger.
It’s true you can’t spell “Hosmer” without “homer,” but the longtime Kansas City Royals first baseman hasn’t hit more than 25 homers in any of his seven big league seasons. In part, that’s likely a byproduct of his playing half his games at spacious Kauffman Stadium. But it’s also indicative of Hosmer being an extreme ground ball hitter.
Hosmer hit 55.9 percent of pitches on the ground last season, a higher rate than all other major league regulars except Dee Gordon, David Freese, Hunter Pence and DJ LeMahieu. By contrast, Martinez, who was at the forefront of the launch-angle craze that has so many hitters consciously trying to lift the ball, hit only 38.3 percent of pitches on the ground.
Publicly, Dombrowski says the Red Sox are looking to add another good hitter, plain and simple. But what they really need is someone who can change a game with one swing. It’s worth wondering whether Hosmer would be an appreciable upgrade or just another solid hitter who doesn’t particularly strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.
The field: Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda and the best of the rest
Outside of Boston, at least, power wasn’t difficult to find this year. Seventy-four players hit at least 25 home runs, and though none of them played for the Red Sox, several are available in free agency.
There are downsides to all of them, though. Santana is only one year removed from a 34-homer season, but his value is tied more to walks and on-base percentage than pure power. Morrison hit 38 homers last season, more than double his total in any of the previous five years. Alonso’s 28-homer breakout marked the first time he reached double digits in homers. Bruce has averaged 29 homers the past eight seasons but has never posted an OPS better than .875.
All are nice complements to a lineup. None is the showstopper the Red Sox need.
The long shot: Stanton
One source with knowledge of the situation said it’s “less than 50-50” that Stanton would waive his no-trade clause for sports-obsessed Boston until all West Coast options are exhausted, and the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are very much in the mix.
But Stanton hasn’t been traded yet, so there’s still a chance.
Forget the injuries. Never mind the money. The only reason for the Red Sox to be wary of trading for the NL MVP is that he might actually knock down the Green Monster with a line drive.
Over his eight-year career, Stanton has homered once every 13.4 at-bats, the fourth-highest frequency of all time, after those of Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. At 28, Stanton is in his competitive prime, to say nothing of a worthy successor to Big Papi, a counter to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and a drop-everything attraction that would keep NESN viewers from changing the channel.
If you’re Dombrowski, how can any other hitter top your wish list?
But if Stanton isn’t all-in on coming to Boston, it’s difficult for the Red Sox to be all-in on him, regardless of how good he is.