Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s offseason plan does not include locking the team into a full-time designated hitter.
For the last dozen years or so the Boston Red Sox could enter the season knowing exactly who they can expect to see penciled into the designated hitter spot in the lineup. When you have a prolific hitter like David Ortiz on the roster it makes that decision relatively simple.
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Now that Big Papi is hanging up his cleats, the Red Sox appear to be moving in a different direction in terms of how they intend to handle the position.
Dave Dombrowski told reporters this week that while he is seeking another bat to help replace some of Ortiz’s production, the players he intends to target aren’t necessarily expected to take over the DH role full time.
“We’re not looking to have just a DH,” explained Dombrowski, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “I think really in today’s game the only way you really do that is to have somebody like David Ortiz and most of the time you really prefer to have some flexibility. It’s not to say that somebody won’t settle in most of the time, but your goal is to use the flexibility of the players at this point. We’ll see how that all fits in.”
Teams have moved away from using a primary DH in recent years – and we’re not just talking about the National League. Only five players started more than 109 games at DH last season, a number likely to decrease further now that Ortiz is out of the picture.
Now that Ortiz is gone, the Red Sox don’t necessarily have to lock themselves into another DH-only player.
Many assumed that Hanley Ramirez was the heir apparent to Ortiz’s DH role, but he was surprisingly competent in the field after transitioning to first base this season. He’s not a particularly good defensive player, but he’s hardly the disaster most expected. Dombrowski indicated that Ramirez is capable of playing first and filling the DH spot, indicating he’ll likely see significant time in both roles.
With Ramirez proving to at least be a competent first baseman, the Red Sox have been linked to other defensively challenged free agent sluggers to take over as the DH, such as Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo. While either could conceivably split time at first with Han-Ram, doing so would limit the roster flexibility Dombrowski is aiming for. He also indicated that he’s looking for a short-term commitment, which likely rules out those big name power hitters.
Kendrys Morales may take a shorter deal, but he’s been used almost exclusively as a DH in recent years. Carlos Beltran and Jose Bautista are still capable of playing the outfield on occasion, but at their age you would prefer they didn’t.
If the Red Sox intend to stay flexible with the DH spot then none of the big bats they were rumored to be interested in appear to be a fit.
Boston had by far the best offense in baseball last season. Losing Ortiz hurts, but they can still remain among the highest scoring teams in the league without him. With the continued progression of their stable of young stars, they can do so without a splashy free agent signing.
The Red Sox could follow the blueprint that several other AL teams have done by rotating players through the DH spot, allowing their regular starters to get some extra rest without hindering their offense. Having a player with the versatility of Brock Holt on the roster becomes even more valuable, as he can fill in at virtually any position without having to take any of their regular bats out of the lineup.
The Red Sox signed Chris Young because of his ability to mash left-handed pitching, but finding room for him in the lineup against southpaws meant someone else had to sit. Now Young can DH against lefties instead of benching someone from their star-studded outfield, or he can play in the field while one of the regular starters DH’s.
Rotating different players through the DH role also opens more opportunities for players like Pablo Sandoval and Blake Swihart, if they can return to form from injuries that ended their season. The Red Sox are stuck with the former and still have high hopes for the latter, yet neither has a clearly defined role entering next season.
There is depth on this roster that they should take advantage of before throwing a pile of money at aging free agents that come with the risk of declining skill sets and would be a detriment to that coveted flexibility.
Nobody is going to argue that the Red Sox are better off without David Ortiz, but he’s gone now and the team needs to adjust. It could prove to be beneficial in the long run to remain flexible with the DH position rather than sign another one-dimensional slugger that will never live up to what Ortiz was to this franchise.