Photo credit: NJ.com
The offseason is moving at a glacial pace. There are still quite a few big names available, and the odds of those players going into the 2018 season without a team are slim.
It’s no secret that the Red Sox need a big bat in the middle of the order, and they’re the most (and possibly only) team tied to free agent slugger JD Martinez, but according to multiple reports super agent Scott Boras is not coming of his demand of 7 years in the $27-30M range for his client. According to many of the same sources, the Red Sox are unwilling to offer more that 5 years guaranteed. This stalemate has led to a fairly uneventful off season.
It’s still likely that the two sides find some middle ground and Martinez is in the Opening Day lineup for the Sox. The common theme being heard from the Red Sox front office and from the players is that this team is ready to contend right now without JD Martinez. Bounce back seasons from the “Killer B’s”, Hanley Ramirez (under the proclamation that he’s feeling the best he’s felt since his days with Marlins), and the continued development of Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Christian Vasquez make a fairly sound case for that argument.
It’s no secret that the MLB free agent market a year from now – headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – will have the type of young, generational talent available that can change the fortunes of a franchise for the next decade.
It seemed that since making his MLB debut with the Nationals in 2012 that Bryce Harper would eventually become a Yankee. He stated many times that the Yankees were his childhood team and that his dream was to one day play his home games in the Bronx. However, the Yankees acquisition of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and the 10 years and nearly $300M in salary left on his contract, may have altered those plans dramatically.
Since the Stanton trade, the team that seems to dominate the rumors when it comes to a new home for Harper is the Chicago Cubs. They are a major market team and a storied franchise, and one of Harper’s best friends –fellow superstar Kris Bryant– would be there to lay the foundation for an National League super team. But with the need to lock up Bryant to mega-deal, and $52M due to Anthony Rizzo over the next four years (assuming Chicago picks up his options) the financial means that would need to be created to bring Harper into the fold may not exist. That’s especially hampered by Theo Epstein’s signing of Jason Heyward to an immediately regrettable 8yr/$184M free agent deal after the 2015 season.
It seems clear that Bryce Harper wants to play in a major market and he wants to be the face of Major League Baseball. There is still a chance that he signs with the Nationals, who drafted him #1 overall in 2010, but the chances of signing an extension prior to hitting the free agent market are close to zero.
Harper is a phenomenal talent who landed himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15 years old. With the Yankees and Cubs looking like illogical destinations, the Red Sox could be a fit on paper for a guy looking to play on a major market team with a storied history; the type of organization that he can be the face of the league, once he does sign a record breaking deal.
Sure, the Sox have some players of their own that need to be locked up long term in the coming years – most notably Mookie Betts and Chris Sale – but with big money owed to Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez coming off the books, the ability to sign Harper is within reach. While Bryce’s all-out style of play has led to some injury shortened seasons, the ability to play him at DH for any number of games should increase the likelihood of staying healthy. A lineup built around Harper, Betts, Benintendi and Devers should be able to go head to head with the revamped Yankees for years to come,
What if the career National decides to take his services somewhere other than Boston? Well, the Baltimore Orioles are headed for a rebuild. With franchise stalwart Manny Machado headed toward free agency after the 2018 season, the team has already opened up trade talks for the 3x All-Star. They’re asking a king’s ransom for what basically amounts to a one-year rental player, and while he has yet to be moved, it’s no sure thing that an aggressive general manager won’t meet their asking price.
Surprising, the Red Sox were heavily involved in trade talks. Whether it was the lack of prospects, or the unwillingness to part with them, the teams were unable to come to an agreement on Machado. Like Harper, Machado was drafted as a teenager in 2010 (#3 overall) and made his MLB debut in 2012.
Drafted as a shortstop, Machado has played the majority of his career at third base and has won a pair of gold gloves while manning the hot corner. His bat is equally impressive, as he owns a .280 / 35 / 92 slash line over the last 3 seasons – and that factors in a “down” year in 2017 that saw him bat just .259 (albeit with 33HR & 95RBI). It should also be of note that Machado and the Sox do share some recent bad blood. His questionable slide that took out Dustin Pedroia, which ultimately ruined Pedroia’s season as he was never the same after returning from a DL stint directly related to the dirty play, have brought his character into question. Fans, media and some current players seemed a little frosty about adding the “enemy” at the height of the trade rumors. Like Harper, Machado is young and talented, and he’s exactly the type of player that can be the centerpiece of a core that contend for many years.
For the past few years it has been believed by many in the industry that the 13 year/$325M contract that Giancarlo Stanton signed after the 2014 season would be the floor for the free agent contracts signed by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado after the 2018 season. The recent market trends may prove otherwise, but regardless, the future of the Boston Red Sox may become a lot more clear if they don’t sign JD Martinez.