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A Red Sox guide to free agency

(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

The official end of the 2017 baseball season also means the official start of the 2018 free agent season.

It used to be that players had 10 business days after the World Series to file for free agency. Now, however, that designation comes automatically the morning after the final game of the World Series.

That doesn’t mean that there will be scores of signings in the first few days. For one thing, players can’t sign with other teams until Monday. And this isn’t the NHL, where half the players are off the board within 48 hours. Instead, as befits a sport in which the games don’t include a clock – and whose duration seem to lengthen every season – baseball’s free agency evolves at a more languorous pace.

Here’s a look at where the Red Sox need help and what options might exist to address those needs:

Power bat

Perhaps you heard  - the Red Sox didn’t hit many homers this past season.  As a matter of fact, they finished last in the league. At a time when homers are, more than ever, the coin of the realm, the Sox must upgrade in this department.

The problem comes in where to fit that upgrade positionaly.  They return most of their starters except Mitch Moreland at first base, and it’s likely whomever they obtain will be slotted in at first, or DH – or a combination of the two, perhaps alternating with a healthier Hanley Ramirez.

There are trade options, too, not the least of which include Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Chicago’s Jose Abreu.

But for our purposes, let’s assume that the Sox are more likely than not to address their needs through free agency since doing otherwise would further strip an already depleted farm system.

1) JD Martinez
Martinez is clearly the best hitter available on the market after posing a staggering .690 slugging percentage while belting 45 homers last season, split between Arizona and Detroit.  It’s worth noting that at age 30, he has only one other season (2015) with more than 23 homers.  But the feeling is that Martinez has finally blossomed as a hitter.
PROS: Has a history with Dave Dombrowski, having been signed by the Tigers in 2014, when his career really took off…Won’t require draft pick compensation since he was traded during the final year of his contract…Best bat on FA market.
CONS: Will be expensive, as befits his status…Hasn’t played any first base, theoretically limiting him to the outfield or DH…Is said to have loved his time in Phoenix and may prefer to remain.

2) Eric Hosmer
A case could be made that at 28, Hosmer is the best position player on the market. He’s a very good overall hitter and a well above-average first baseman, along with a reputation as a strong clubhouse personality and leader.  He’s a lefty hitter with an ability to go the other way, which could suit him for Fenway.
PROS: Slick glove, strong bat and someone who could bring some energy and leadership to a team which seems to need some…Has a decent amount of post-season experience after back-to-back pennants with the Royals in 2014-2015…At 28, should just be entering his prime.
CONS:  Will command huge dollars. Think: six (or seven years) at $22-$25 million per season…Represented by Scott Boras, which means he will likely take a while to decide where to sign, potentially jeopardizing other off-season moves Sox have to make.

3) Jay Bruce
Bruce is perhaps the second-best power bat at 1B/DH, although he’s left-handed unlike Martinez. He’s cut down on the strikeouts somewhat in recent years, but is still not very selective, with a career OBP of .319. But he has pop – with five seasons of 30 homers or more, and 29 this past season, split between the Mets and Indians.
PROS: As a lefty hitter, would provide some balance to a lineup that, other than Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, leans right…Hard to deny his 65 homers over last two seasons, more than anyone on current Red Sox roster in that span.
CONS: Had a hard time adjusting to New York when he was traded there at the deadline in 2016, raising questions about his ability to adapt and his suitability for a big market…Has more experience at first than Martinez, but only slightly (15 games).

4) Carlos Santana.  A patient switch-hitter who sports a lifetime .365 OBP, Santana made the transition from behind the plate to first base several seasons ago and has developed into an above-average defender at first base.
PROS: At 32 and in an otherwise crowded field for first base/DH types, isn’t in position to leverage a long-term deal…Adding a switch-hitter to the lineup would provide balance.
CONS: Not exactly a home run hitter, with only one season (2016) with 30 or more homers…Essentially, a similar player to Moreland, though he walks a lot more.

SECOND BASE

The Red Sox still have Dustin Pedroia controlled through 2020. What they don’t have, however, is Dustin Pedroia for the first few months of 2018, as last month he underwent major surgery on his knee which will keep him sidelined through April and May – and perhaps longer.

As such, Dombrowski is on record as saying he doesn’t think the Sox need to go outside the organization and that some combination of Tzu-Wei Lin, Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, and Deven Marrero. But that’s a stretch. What’s more, there’s every chance that Pedroia is out longer than late May, making an upgrade all the more critical.

Keeping in mind that it wouldn’t make sense to trade for or sign a second baseman long-term given Pedroia’s contractual status, there are options out there.

1) Eduardo Nunez
Nunez was a great pick-up last summer, helping to get the offense kick-started while playing all over the infield.  He has said that he enjoyed his time in Boston and would like to return. Once he’s through filling in as the everyday second baseman in Pedroia’s absence, he could help out at short, third, DH, and of course, second.
Depth has never been more important in the sport and Nunez would help cover the Sox at a variety of positions.
PROS: Positive clubhouse influence, popular with all teammates…Has already shown he can adapt to Boston.
CONS: May want to go elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a position he can make his own…His own knee injury, while not requiring surgery, could be problematic.

2) Howie Kendrick
Kendrick would, in essence, be like an older, cheaper version of Nunez. He’s played every position except catcher and shortstop, and last year alone, played left, right, second and first. He’s still a good offensive weapon, too, posting an .844 OPS in 2017.
PROS: A Professional hitter with a little bit of pop remaining in his game (.475 slugging percentage)…Gets on base well, and a better rate than Nunez
CONS: While he’s versatile, defensive metrics suggest that he’s not exactly stellar, especially in the infield…At 34, might not be as durable and versatile as he’s been.

3) Chase Utley
Utley is 38 and clearly near the end. But he might be an interesting (and inexpensive) option to fill the void at second for a couple or three months – with some help from others. His chief value would come in the form of his veteran leadership.
PROS: Utley is widely regarded as one of the best leaders in the game and his presence couldn’t help but have a positive impact on the team…Smart, veteran player who makes up his advancing age with sharp instincts…Wouldn’t cost much.
CONS: Has fallen considerably as a hitter (he was hitless in the post-season).

Starting pitching depth

Eduardo Rodriguez won’t be ready to start the season after undergoing knee surgery. Steven Wright may be ready, but he’ll be coming off knee surgery. And there’s always the uncertainty that surrounds David Price’s left elbow/forearm.

So, it’s important for the Red Sox to have some proven options to provide some alternatives for the rotation. There’s nobody who fits that description currently at Triple A or anywhere else in the organization.

The list here is aimed at veteran, journeyman types. It doesn’t make any sense to focus on, say, Jake Arrieta, or, even the next level down (Alex Cobb). The goal here is to find someone good enough to depend on should the need arise, without having to commit multiple-years at big dollars.

1) Doug Fister
Fister was a great find last summer and, for a stretch in August, was the team’s most dependable starter. He also earned a post-season start, though, like the rest of the Red Sox’ starting pitching efforts in the ALDS, that didn’t go well.
PROS: Liked it here and would presumably be happy to return…Versatile enough to contribute out of the bullpen...Won’t be crazy expensive, unlike many on the starting pitching market.
CONS: May want to go somewhere where he can start every fifth day all year long…Might have done enough in the second half to warrant a deal too expensive for a depth piece.

2) Scott Feldman
Feldman is the very definition of journeyman starter, having been with six teams since 2012. He could serve as an extra starter, and like Fister, could provide innings out of the bullpen.
PROS: Having pitched for both the Orioles and Blue Jays, has experience in the A.L. East.
CONS: Didn’t pitch well this past year (4.77 in 21 starts for Reds), though that may be a reflection of team behind him and pitching in a tough pitcher’s ballpark.

3) Chris Tillman
Tillman has long been a Red Sox killer with the Orioles (10-4, 3.31), so maybe it makes sense to sign him up so they don’t have to face him anymore. He just completed easily his worst season in the big leagues (1-7, 7.84) so that leaves him with little leverage. He could be seeking a one-year deal to turn himself around, which would align nicely with the Red Sox.
PROS:  Accustomed to the demands of pitching in the A.L. East, with all nine of his years spent with the Orioles…Successful (16-6, 3.77) as recently as 2016.
CONS: May have far better offers given his age (just 30) and experience.

Lefty reliever

The Red Sox bullpen looks to be a strength again, with the return of Craig Kimbrel, a full season of good health from Carson Smith, and the projected return of Tyler Thornburg, who missed all of last season and underwent thoracic outlet surgery.

But the Sox could use some help from the left side. Fernando Abad is a free agent and Robby Scott, while effective against lefties, is still largely unproven.

1) Tony Watson
Watson finished the season with the Dodgers after a number of years in Pittsburgh. He’s solid enough to trust against righties, too, providing more value
PROS: Incredibly durable, with 67 or more appearances in each of the last six seasons.
CONS:  His WHIP this past season (1.380) was a career high, suggesting either decline or fatigue from all those innings.

2) Jake McGee
McGee is something of an oddity in that he has great velocity but doesn’t rack up the strikeout numbers that you’d expect in this day and age. He adapted to pitching in Denver far better in his second season than he did in his first.
PROS: His time with Tampa Bay gave him plenty of exposure to the A.L. East. And if you can pitch in Coors Field, you can pretty much pitch anywhere.
CONS: Over the course of his career, has been a “reverse splits’’ pitcher, more effective against righties than lefties.

3) Mike Minor
Minor has a mutual option with the Royals that the team – with four free agents heading out the door -- isn’t likely to pick up at $10 million. The Red Sox showed some interest in him at the trade deadline and will likely target him again.
PROS: After missing two entire seasons with arm issues in 2015-2016, he’s made a nice comeback. He’ll turn 30 before the end of the year and would seem to have plenty left.
CONS: Given the size of his option, he may be looking for more than the Sox would be willing to pay for what would be their fourth most important-reliever.

Right-handed hitting outfielder

It’s hard to see Chris Young returning in this role. He filled the role of fourth outfielder well in his first season with the Sox, posting a .999 OPS against left-handed pitching, but saw his performance dip in a big way last year. Bryce Brentz, added to the 40-man roster Thursday, will be given a chance here, but Brentz’s MO has always been that he needs regular, consistent playing time to produce. At the very least, the Sox will want a more proven option in camp to provide competition.

1) Melky Cabrera
Cabrera is a switch-hitter who is probably still capable of being an everyday player. But at 34, he might be willing to accept a lesser role as long as it’s attached to a multi-year deal with decent money. Remember, the Sox paid Young $6.5 million each of the last two seasons in this role.
PROS:  As a switch-hitter, Cabrera could prove more versatile and get some additional at-bats at DH…Could provide some pop (17 homers) off the bench.
CONS: Cabrera is a below-average defender and is probably best deployed in left field.

2) Austin Jackson
Jackson is still a pretty good defender and could fill in at all three outfield spots. He has a history with Dombrowski, having played for Dombrowski for parts of five seasons with the Tigers.
PROS: Defensive versatility.
CONS: Doesn’t provide much power anymore and the Sox would like to get more offensive production from this spot.