Now that Red Sox team president Dave Dombrowski has overtly declared that the longterm future of the Boston Red Sox is not nearly as important as the short-term future is, the team may as well go all-in.
Let’s be real here. The Red Sox biggest offseason priorities were strengthening the bullpen, adding another top starter, and replacing the irreplaceable David Ortiz (with as good a replacement as possible.) The team is currently two-for-three.
Tyler Thornberg doesn’t possess the same type of name-recognition as Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen but the low-cost, high velocity 28 year old righty did manage to strikeout 90 batters in only 67 innings.
Chris Sale needs no introduction and even if you think the deal was awful and the Red Sox gave up way too much, it is impossible to deny that the 2017 Red Sox are most likely a better team with Chris Sale on the roster than they’d be with Yoan Moncada as a rookie and Michael Kopech pitching for their double or triple-a minor league squads.
That leaves one major issue to resolve. The all but impossible task of replacing David Ortiz.
Up until Tuesday morning it appeared that the Red Sox would be taking an understated path through this offseason.
They were rumored to be on the outside of the Sale talks, not engaged with any of the three top free agent closers and occasionally linked to the likes of Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli as potential Ortiz replacements.
That would suggest that the Red Sox were not all that interested in ponying up the big bucks that it will likely require to ink the best free agent slugger on the market, Edwin Encarnacion.
Now that the team has mortgaged a good portion of their best and brightest future prospects, they may as well make the current squad as good as possible.
Could guys like Moreland or Napoli turn out to be solid replacements for Ortiz? Of course they could, but if you’re looking for the ideal available replacement, then it is tough to deny the appeal of Encarnacion.
The 33 year old Dominican slugger hasn’t always been a prolific power hitter, but over the past five seasons he’s really hit his stride, and then some. Since the start of the 2012 season Encarnacion has averaged 38.6 home runs and 110 runs batted in per season. In 2014 he appeared in only 128 games and registered his five-year lows of 34 home runs and 98 RBI’s. Other than that he’s been over 35 long balls and 100 RBI’s every year and in 2016 he led the AL in RBI’s with a career high 127 and tied his career-best with 42 home runs.
Encarnacion reportedly turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays. Since then the DH market has thinned out. The Astros inked Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal. The New York Yankees decided to sign Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13 million deal. Encarnacion’s likely to be former team, the Toronto Blue Jays, inked Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million deal.
A shrinking market for a player best-suited to play DH could put the Red Sox in a good situation. Neither Sale or Thornberg will blow up the Red Sox payroll. Encarnacion might not have made sense for a Red Sox team that still lacked the starting and relief pitching to compete for a World Series title. If he’s the final piece of the puzzle, then all of a sudden the high-price for a guy who doesn’t even play the field most of the time, might not seem all that high at all.
If the Red Sox are truly committed to winning it all in the very near future, then there’s no reason to take chances on guys like Moreland or Napoli. Not when there’s a better option out there, not when you’ve already taken the plunge on trading away one of the most talented prospects in the franchise’s storied history.
If this was just a case of taking the 2016 squad, subtracting Ortiz and adding Encarnacion, then that might not make much sense. That’s no longer the situation though. If there is a time to win for the Boston Red Sox, that time is now, or at least as soon as possible. For a team with the financial resources of the Red Sox, the best available Ortiz replacement is Edwin Encarnacion.
May as well pony up the money and go get him.