The Red Sox have the tall and unenviable task of trying to replace David Ortiz this off-season. As I expressed in my recent piece about what Ortiz meant to Boston, the man himself cannot be replaced, and certainly not in the clubhouse. However, Dave Dombrowski will be tasked with replacing his offensive production however he can. As Dombrowski notes, “It won’t come from one person hitting 38 home runs or knocking in 130, but we’ll do the best to try to combine what we have and keep an open mindedness in that regard.” This may be the preference, but the Red Sox also have $37mm coming off the books next year even after they presumably pick up Clay Buchholz’s option. This means they have money to sign an expensive player should they choose. It is not likely that they would stand pat and rotate Pablo Sandoval, Chris Young, Travis Shaw and Hanley Ramirez through the corner outfield and DH spots.
With this in mind I have put together a list of free agent hitters that check a lot of the boxes that the Red Sox are trying to fill in a post Ortiz world. The replacement(s) will need to hit right-handed pitching extremely well and presumably be a power bat. Considering that the remainder of the Red Sox positions are well set for next season, the addition will likely be someone who can slot in at the DH spot, first base, or rotate in the outfield or at third base. With Sandoval’s bat returning to the lineup in some capacity the need for that bat to be left-handed is not a hard-and-fast rule. Here is the best fits of the available options:
The Old Expensive Sluggers
Edwin Encarnacion: Bats-Righty, Age for 2017 Season-34, Draft Pick Loss:-Yes
Often talked about as a replacement for Ortiz, initially because Ortiz mentioned him, Encarnacion brings power to the table in spades coming off a season where he hit 42 home runs, tying a career high. The consensus is that even at 34 years old to start the 2017 season, the Dominican power hitter will command a deal of at least four years and upwards of $100 million. The price is substantial but he can do the best out of any option to replace Ortiz’s production on his own. Last year Ortiz posted a TAv of .317, which was one of the better marks in all of baseball. Encarnacion had a mark of .291 and PECOTA projects .281 for 2017.
Despite being a right-handed bat Encarnacion has mashed right-handed pitching, slashing .268/.349/.532 with 33 home runs with a TAv of .290. He was even better against left-handed pitching with a TAv of .294. This guy is the total package and can rotate between DH and 1B with Ramirez. Encarnacion is not a great fielder, but FRAA has him ranked as a substantially better first baseman than Ramirez at -2.9 vs. -10.5. Encarnacion is the most expensive but best solution even, if he limits Boston’s flexibility with rotating players at DH. It does not come without risk, since last year marked his lowest contact and z-contact percentage of his career, marks that have been falling since 2013.
Jose Bautista: Bats-Righty, Age for 2017 Season-36, Draft Pick Loss:-Yes
This is an interesting option, but one that is difficult to envision without the Red Sox moving on from one of their outfielders via a trade. Bautista has not graded out as a positive defender in right field over the last two seasons but he is still adequate enough to warrant a full-time job in the field for some club. Last season’s .270 TAv was his lowest since his pre-breakout season in 2009 but PECOTA likes him for a strong bounce back in 2017 with a projected mark of .305.
While I don’t love this option due to his advanced age and high cost, Bautista is not without his strengths. He can play right field, which makes left field at Fenway a possibility as he ages, and he has also seen time at first base over his career should he lose more mobility. Bautista’s bat has also never shown any platoon splits. It does remain to be seen whether or not his dip in performance this year is due to father time or just a down year but I wouldn’t want to take that risk for someone who will command a very high pay day.
Old Guys on Short Deals
Matt Holliday: Bats-Right, Age for 2017 Season-37, Draft Pick Loss:-No
This is a very intriguing option made available by the Cardinals choosing to buy out the last year on his deal worth $17 million rather than hang onto the aging slugger. Since they declined the option, which was lower than the $17.2 million qualifying offer set for 2017, the Red Sox would not need to give up a draft pick to sign Holliday. Holliday will likely be limited to American League teams due to his extremely limited fielding, but he could play LF of 1B for his new team as long as it was in a limited role.
Holliday isn’t what he used to be but his TAv of .279 in limited time last year proves he is still very useful. One of the better hitters of his generation, Holliday has never shown any platoon splits, and he crushes right-handed pitching. This bat, coupled with his flexibility and the fact that he likely won’t command more than a two-year deal, make him very attractive. PECOTA has him pegged for a nearly identical TAv of .282. If he is willing to come to Boston this is a very attractive option for the team and the player. His swing seems tailor-made for pounding the green monster.
Carlos Beltran: Bats-Switch, Age for 2017 Season-40, Draft Pick Loss:-No
Here’s a bold idea; replace one 40-year-old future Hall-of-Famer with another. What could go wrong? After all, Beltran mostly does bat from the left side and has been great in his career vs LHP. Last year though, he was much better against lefties than righties and he had a fairly substantial drop-off in slugging percentage in the second half. For his career, however, he has been substantially better vs RHP. Given his age and lack of mobility Beltran played more than half the season at DH and would likely do so again. He does, however, have the ability to play both RF and LF and he had a very respectable TAv of .279 last season. PECOTA projects him to have a massive drop-off in 2017 all the way down to a TAv of .244. The Sox can probably do better than this.
The Other Guys
Josh Reddick: Bats-Lefty, Age for 2017 Season-30, Draft Pick Loss:-No
Hey, we know this guy! Drafted by the Sox in 2006 and there until the end of 2011, Reddick is a familiar face, and one that the team would benefit from having back. Ryan Sweeney and Andrew Bailey didn’t work out so well and since that terrible trade, Reddick has enjoyed his four best seasons. If you want a righty-masher then Reddick is your guy with a TAv of .317 against them last year. He is rather pathetic against LHP, though, so a platoon partner would be ideal. If the Sox were to trade Jackie Bradley Jr. to the White Sox in a deal for Chris Sale, for example, this would represent an ideal player to pair with Chris Young in LF.
Reddick’s stats all show he is entering his prime as a hitter and he posted a respectable .277 TAv last year with PECOTA projecting a mark of .266 for next. Reddick also rated as the 7th best RF in baseball by FRAA so defense would not be an issue. This may be the type of player better suited to be signed alongside another name on this list and only acquired if an outfield spot is vacated. The Dodgers know his value and have plenty of money to spend. He will not be easy to sign nor will he be cheap, and because of the mid-season trade from Oakland to LA he does not have any compensation attached to him.
Steve Pearce: Bats-Righty, Age for 2017 Season-34, Draft Pick Loss:-No
A familiar foe, Pearce has plied his trade with both Baltimore and Tampa Bay in recent years so Sox fans know what he can do. Pearce provides the ultimate in flexibility, just like Brock Holt, and has played nearly every position on the diamond over the last three seasons. His bat is also vastly underrated. In a part-time role last season his .310 TAv was closest on this list to the .317 of Ortiz. He hits both right- and left-handed pitching well and could rotate anywhere John Farrell needs him. Pearce is 34 and coming off elbow surgery so he is by no means a perfect solution. PECOTA is also skeptical he can keep up the success predicting a TAv of .251 for next year. There is no doubt he can help the team but might be best signed alongside another player on this list.
Encarnacion remains the best option for replacing Ortiz but the job can certainly be done in another way. If a trade can be made with the White Sox then I favor signing Reddick and Pearce and running a platoon in left while also rotating Pearce at DH and around the field with Sandoval, Shaw, and Ramirez. I ruled out Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland, Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, Michael Saunders, and Kendrys Morales because their skills didn’t fit the needs of this team as well as the six players above. However, those players do remain options that the team may explore.
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