The start of free agency is upon us, and with it, comes plenty of predictions about which players will sign where (and for how much).
A projection from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post has Eric Hosmer signing with the Red Sox. MLB Network Radio surveyed 15 on-air personalities and eight had Hosmer coming to Boston. More predictions will surely follow.
In some ways, that makes some sense. With Mitch Moreland, last year’s first baseman, a free agent and seeking a long-term deal he’s unlikely to get from the Red Sox, there’s a vacancy at first. Hosmer is arguably the best free agent first baseman on the market and the Red Sox, who’ve signaled a willingness to spend this winter, have the resources to sign him.
And make no mistake: the Red Sox could do worse than landing Hosmer. He’s in the prime (28) of his career, is widely regarded as a veteran leader (something the Sox could dearly use), has won multiple Gold Gloves and has played on two pennant-winning teams.
But they could also do better.
J.D. Martinez, another free agent, would be a better investment for the Sox than Hosmer. Here are five reasons why:
1) Length of contract
Hosmer is 28, while Martinez is two years older at 30. Hosmer will likely be seeking a six- or seven-year deal, while the consensus is Martinez would be looking for a five-year deal. And while Martinez is slightly older, the Sox could limit how long they’re committing to him.
The baseball landscape is littered with players – many of them first basemen – who are playing out long-term, mega-deals and clogging payroll space. The shorter the deal, generally, the smaller the risk and liability at the back end.
2) Righty vs. lefty
Martinez hits righthanded while Hosmer is lefthanded. All things being equal, a righthanded hitter can do more damage in Fenway than a lefthanded hitter.
Yes, Hosmer is capable of hitting the ball the other way and, like other great lefty hitters in Red Sox history (Fred Lynn, Wade Boggs, David Ortiz) could reach out and tattoo The Wall.
But the fact remains that for what the Red Sox are seeking (power), Hosmer could end up hitting a lot of long outs to the warning track in right or the triangle in right-center, while Martinez can more easily pound balls off – and over – the left field wall.
And speaking of power…
3) Hosmer isn’t a home-run hitter.
(Say that three times fast).
The Red Sox desperately need more homers. They finished dead last in the American League last year, and the postseason only reinforced how the best teams rely on the long ball. The Sox need someone who can hit the ball out of the ballpark.
Hosmer is a good hitter. Last season, he compiled an .882 OPS and hit .318. He’s a career .284 hitter and he’s patient enough to have a .342 on-base percentage.
But until 2016, he had never hit as many as 20 homers in a season. And after hitting 50 in his last two seasons combined, he’s still never hit more than 25 in a single year.
By contrast, Martinez hit 48 homers this past season. And if you want to argue that his output was boosted by playing the final two and a half months in hitter-friendly Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix (Hosmer has played his entire career in the more spacious Kauffman Stadium), consider that Martinez hit 38 homers two years ago at Comerica Park, arguably the toughest ballpark for hitters in the American League.
In the complicated world of free agency, some players cost more than others – and not just in salary. Because Martinez was dealt in the final year of his contact, he could not be given a qualifying offer by the Diamondbacks, and thus, has no strings attached. The Sox wouldn’t have to give up anything in compensation for signing him.
That’s not true of Hosmer, who was given a qualifying offer by the Royals on Monday. That means if the Sox sign him, they would forfeit their second-highest draft pick next June and $500,000 of their international bonus pool money.
For a team looking to restock its depleted minor league system and rebound from the penalties imposed on them a few years ago after they were found to have broken the rules in the international free agent market, that’s a significant consideration.
5) As the team’s DH, Martinez wouldn’t block anyone’s development.
Martinez is, admittedly, an average defender in the outfield – at best. The best spot for him would be as the team’s full-time DH, who could occasionally fill-in in left field. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez, projected to be healthy after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, can return to first base, which he handled capably in 2016, his best season with the Red Sox.
The Sox have a number of players in their system, meanwhile, who could potentially project as first basemen for '19 and beyond: Sam Travis, Josh Ockimey and maybe even Michael Chavis, who had been playing the position as an experiment in the Arizona Fall League.
If the Sox sign Hosmer for six or seven seasons, those players would have to find another path to the big leagues. Martinez represents no such problem. He would give the Sox plus power at the DH spot and not be in the way of anyone else’s development.