Red Sox Must Avoid Making $300M Eric Hosmer-JD Martinez Panic Move

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 18, 2017

Kansas City Royals' Eric Hosmer celebrates after hitting an RBI-double during the third inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Sunday, July 2, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

You will know the Boston Red Sox have overreacted to their biggest rival's offseason splashes when they drop a few hundred million dollars on Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez.

It's been easy to speculate that the winter winds will blow the Red Sox toward one or the other. But when the winter meetings were coming to a close Thursday, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported that the Red Sox's aim is to sign both.

"I've read that, but I don't know where we'd play those two bats," cautioned Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, to Silverman and other reporters. "I'm trying to figure that one out. But I would say we'd be more limited to probably one bat."

Dombrowski typically isn't one to resist temptations to infuse his rosters with megastars, however. And in this case, these stars would fill glaring needs.

After finishing last in the American League with 168 home runs in 2017, the Red Sox need power. Coming off a career-high 45 homers that were hit at a league-best rate, Martinez has lots of that.

With Mitch Moreland having served his one-year contract, the Red Sox also have a need for a slick-fielding, left-handed-swinging first baseman. With a lifetime .284 batting average and four Gold Gloves, Hosmer would seem to be the perfect solution.

Hosmer and Martinez might be on Boston's radar not by way of careful calculation, however, but by way of a panicky instinct to do something, anything, to keep up with the New York Yankees.

Willie J. Allen Jr./Associated Press

The Yankees are positioned to be the Bronx Bombers like never before after adding National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to an Infinity Gauntlet of sluggers that already contained Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. They also cleared some money by trading Chase Headley. Some of that has already been reinvested in CC Sabathia. A move for a veteran bat (e.g., Todd Frazier) could be next.

In short, the Yankees are upgrading a team that came just one win shy of the World Series in 2017. To boot, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs posit that their 91-win season was more like a 100-win season.

So it's understandable if the Red Sox fear the Yankees. They should.

Just not so much to jerk their knee and end up with Hosmer and Martinez on their payroll.

Signing the two of them could cost as much as $300 million, as they are both expected (including by myself and Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports) to land contracts in the $150 million range. Just one deal like that would come with an enormous amount of risk. Double the number, double the enormous risk.

And while Hosmer and Martinez are fits for the Red Sox, neither would be perfect.

Hosmer's defensive metrics don't align with his Gold Glove reputation, which raises the seemingly unfathomable question of whether the Red Sox would be better off with Hanley Ramirez at first base. 

With just a .781 career OPS and a peak of 25 homers, Hosmer also hasn't provided the offensive thunder associated with first base. Put him in Fenway Park, and the hope would be he could translate his excellent opposite-field track record (1.100 OPS) into a steady supply of hits off and over the Green Monster. Trouble is, his annoyingly indestructible ground-ball habit would keep his power ceiling low.

Martinez comes with poor defensive metrics of his own. Even if the Red Sox were to neutralize that by using him as a designated hitter, they could be disappointed by his power output.

Since he's a right-handed slugger, it's easy to assume the Green Monster would help Martinez even more than Hosmer. But Martinez is more an all-fields hitter than a dead-pull hitter. Barring a change to his approach, his home run prowess could be hurt by deep center field and right field dimensions that would have swallowed up many of the homers he's hit since his 2014 breakout:

Image courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com.

Even more painful than any disappointing short-term gains would be the potential long-term toll.

This winter's free-agent class has nothing on what's coming next year. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Charlie Blackmon will head the list of available hitters. Assuming he opts out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw will head the list of starting pitchers. Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel, who is currently employed by the Red Sox, will head the list of relief pitchers.

The specter of next winter is haunting this winter. Teams have been hesitant to dip into the free-agent market. The Yankees and Dodgers, meanwhile, have maneuvered to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018. This way, they can avoid paying harsh penalties and reset their luxury tax standing just in time to back up so many trucks for so many stars next offseason.

The Red Sox aren't in the same boat. 

With a luxury tax projection of $201.2 million for 2018, they are already set to be over the $197 million threshold. They also have $100.1 million in tax-adjusted commitments for 2019, which is on the high end of the spectrum:

Say the Red Sox sign Hosmer and Martinez, each for $25 million per year. Because the luxury tax calculations use the average annual value of contracts, that would boost them to a whopping $150.1 million in tax-adjusted commitments for 2019.

Add Boston's arbitration expenses, which are projected at $49 million for 2018 and could stay in that range in 2019. Then add Chris Sale's $13.5 million option for 2019, which will certainly be picked up. Then assume David Price won't opt out of his $31 million-per-year contract, which is a fair assumption following his injury-marred 2017 campaign.

Add it all up, and the Red Sox would probably be over the $206 million threshold for 2019. As offenders for a second straight year, their tax rate would go from 20 percent to 30 percent. Unless, of course, Bob Nightengale of USA Today is accurate in reporting that the Red Sox were over the luxury tax in 2017, in which case their 2019 tax rate would be 50 percent.

These numbers obviously aren't final, but they point to the Red Sox having extremely restricted leeway to compete for the premier players from the best free-agent market in MLB history—at least when compared to clubs like the Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and, most distressing of all, the Yankees.

Signing Hosmer and Martinez isn't worth that sacrifice. One would be excusable—especially if it's Martinez, whose power is worth the risk despite the Fenway nitpicks—but signing both would effectively be an all-in bet on 2018. Were the effort to fail, the Red Sox would be facing down all sorts of regret as they find themselves unable to match exorbitant offers for significant upgrades.

As odd as it feels to say it, now is a good time for the Red Sox to show restraint.

               

Stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Contract and payroll data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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