BOSTON — After announcing Monday evening that the Red Sox re-signed first baseman Mitch Moreland to a two-year contract, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski declared he would be “comfortable” with not adding additional pieces to the offense that hit the fewest home runs in the American League last season.
You don’t really believe him, do you?
Look, if agent Scott Boras can sit in his Newport Beach, California, office six days before Christmas and pry open his eyes to avoid blinking in staring contests over his 13 unsigned free-agent clients, including marquee slugger J.D. Martinez, then Dombrowski has every right to put on his stoniest poker face about a lineup that still lacks one fearsome middle-of-the-order bopper at a time when the rival New York Yankees just paired Giancarlo Stanton with Aaron Judge.
“We’re in a position that we could go forward as we are now,” said Dombrowski, speaking on a conference call so as to conceal his wink-wink from reporters.
Moreland is a perfectly fine player. He had a good first season in Boston. And it might have been better if he hadn’t broken his toe in midseason and hit a wall en route to eclipsing his career high in plate appearances. Moreland is tough, has leadership qualities and has reached the playoffs in six of his eight major league seasons — all “prestige value” points that Boras has used to sell All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer in free agency.
Hosmer is four years younger and the better player, to be sure. But given the Red Sox’s need for a home run threat, his power numbers over the past three seasons (88 doubles, 68 homers, .463 slugging percentage) aren’t superior enough to Moreland’s (82 doubles, 67 homers, .449 slugging percentage) to make up the difference between the nine-figure contract that Hosmer might receive and the $13 million that Moreland got over two years.
“I think when people look at Mitch, sometimes there are a couple of guys out there that hit more home runs from an offensive perspective that people could think may be more appealing,” Dombrowski said. “But for us, we really like the all-around game that Mitch brings to us offensively and defensively.”
Fine. If the Red Sox are going to sign Martinez — an outfielder/designated hitter and the only truly scary slugger on the free-agent market — they were going to need a first base alternative to Hanley Ramirez. Moreland is as good as anyone.
But by bringing back Moreland, the Red Sox also took themselves out of the bidding for Hosmer, another Boras client, in a buyer’s market for first baseman. So, while Boras must now hustle to find the best deal for Hosmer (the San Diego Padres are one possible landing spot, while a return to the Kansas City Royals suddenly can’t be ruled out), Boras also can focus in on the Red Sox for Martinez, the free agent Dombrowski has wanted all along.
For now, Dombrowski will keep playing it cool. He will insist he’s OK with Ramirez splitting time between DH and a first-base platoon with Moreland. He will talk about the potential impact of a healthy Blake Swihart and what outfielder Bryce Brentz might be able to do, if the Red Sox finally give him a chance.
But it was something else Dombrowski said Monday that is closer to the truth. He noted that the Red Sox could still add another hitter without subtracting from their roster. In fact, it’s exactly what they want to do. By signing Martinez, the Sox could force Ramirez into a part-time first base/DH role and make it more difficult for him to reach the 497 plate appearances that he needs to vest a $22 million option for 2019.
“We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective,” Dombrowski said. “That won’t be a first baseman. But we feel we have a DH — that between Hanley and if I could find someone else — [and] outfield spots that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for somebody to contribute in a full-time fashion.”
Martinez was the best fit for that role before Monday. Moreland’s return does absolutely nothing to change that.