After months of negotiations, the best hitter on the free agent market has finally signed. JD Martinez signed with the Red Sox today, as expected, for 5 years and $110 million. Martinez signed for less than the 5 years/$125 million that was previously rumored to be on the table, and far less than the 7 years/$210 million that agent Scott Boras claimed he was seeking. Martinez is coming off a career year in which he hit .303 with 45 HR and 104 RBI for the Tigers and Diamondbacks. While he may not be as flashy of a name as Giancarlo Stanton, Martinez is definitely a huge addition to the Sox lineup that was desperate for a power hitter.
The real question is, does this shift the Red Sox back to the favorites in the AL East? If not, how much does this move close the gap between them and the Yankees? Despite both teams adding two of the game’s top power hitters, these moves are completely different. The Yankees added on to their biggest strength, their powerful lineup. The Red Sox addressed their biggest need, a lineup that was starved of power. The Yankees actually led the majors in home runs last year, while the Red Sox ranked 27th.
In a division decided by only two games in 2017, who is the favorite going into 2018? The gap between these two teams and the rest of the division is still too wide to consider the Rays, Orioles, or Blue Jays division contenders, in my opinion. So we’ll just compare the Yanks and the Sox and see where they stand in terms of chances of winning the division.
Prior to the Martinez signing, I would’ve given this to the Yankees without question. But adding a player of his caliber definitely opens up the debate. Like the Yankees, most of the Red Sox’ meat of the order guys come from their outfield/DH spots, in the form of Martinez, left fielder Andrew Benintendi and right fielder Mookie Betts. Betts had a down year in 2017, hitting only .264 after a .318 year in 2016. He’s still a stud on both sides of the ball, but he doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Benintendi. I personally think that guy is gonna be an absolute star, and he would’ve been an easy Rookie of the Year choice if not for Aaron Judge’s historic season. Benintendi is what you could call a “Yankee killer”, and third baseman Rafael Devers seems to fall in that category as well (the game-tying homer off Chapman in the ninth is still tough to watch.) In addition to Devers, the infield is comprised of All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia, as well as first baseman Mitch Moreland. Bogaerts, like Betts, had a strong 2016 but really regressed in 2017. Bogaerts vs. Yankee shortstop Didi Gregorious was an interesting debate going into 2017 until Didi’s career year that made him the obvious choice. It will be interesting to see if Bogaerts can make that a discussion again. Don’t get me started on Pedroia, he’s the guy I’ve hated the most for a long time, especially considering he’s won an MVP and Jeter never did. He’s not a guy that’s really gonna scare you when he’s at the plate, but he’s a scrappy guy with a .300 career average that’s gonna help you win games. Moreland is a nice player over at first, a guy who won’t hit for average but can give you some solid power numbers. Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon handle the catching duties, neither of whom are super imposing at the plate but do a solid job.
The Yankees boast Judge and Stanton in the outfield, the last pair of teammates to have both hit 50 homers in a season since Mantle and Maris. Hopefully Stanton can help Judge cut down on the strikeouts, something he has done a good job of himself over the last few seasons. The keys for these two will be Judge staying out of deep slumps like the one he got into in 2017, and Stanton staying healthy. Brett Gardner will play left field and bat leadoff, and while he won’t steal as many bases as he used to, he is fantastic at working counts and getting on base. Aaron Hicks is somewhat of an X-factor to this lineup, as he was All-Star caliber before he got hurt and less than stellar once he got back last year. Regardless of how he is at the plate, Hicks is quietly one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.
Hopefully he can perform at the plate, as it’s possible the Yanks could turn to Clint Frazier or even Jacoby Ellsbury *gasp* if Hicks isn’t the hitter he was a year ago. The infield is extremely interesting for the Yanks, as it includes two rookies, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. Andujar has raked in the minors, but there have been concerns about his defense. As of now, he figures to be the opening day third baseman for the Yanks. Torres will likely spend the first month in AAA before getting promoted to the bigs so the Yanks can gain an extra year of his service time, as the Cubs did with Kris Bryant when he was coming up. Torres is supposed to be one of the best prospects in baseball, and if he lives up to the hype, could be an absolutely electric addition to the lineup. Shortstop Didi Gregorious returns after a career year that included postseason heroics like his game-tying home run in the Wild Card Game, or taking Corey Kluber deep twice in the decisive ALDS Game 5. First baseman Greg Bird looks to reach his full potential after a 2017 season that includes a disastrous 6-60 start, months on the disabled list, and a promising September/playoff stretch. At catcher, Gary Sanchez is one of the team’s most important players. Although he’s been somewhat overshadowed by Judge and Stanton, Sanchez may legitimately be the best hitter on the team. His rocket arm makes him a huge threat to throw out stealing baserunners, and hopefully the weight he lost will help him improve his ability to block balls in the dirt, which was a huge problem last year.
Conclusion: The Red Sox have a deep lineup. A good lineup. But the Yankees simply have too many guys that are not just good hitters, but great hitters. The Red Sox definitely have significant advantages and second and third base right now since you don’t really know what you’re gonna get from Torres and Andujar, but if they live up to their hype that gap wouldn’t be too wide. Sanchez is the clear cut choice at catcher, Didi is better than Bogaerts, Bird at his best is better than Moreland, and I’ll take Judge/Stanton/Gardner/Hicks as my outfield/DH over Martinez/Benintendi/Betts/Bradley any day.
The Red Sox staff is anchored by the best starting pitcher in the American League in lefty ace Chris Sale. I know he wasn’t great in the playoffs last year, but there’s no denying the guy is absolutely filthy. If I was picking a team to make a one-year run at the World Series and I needed a starting pitcher, Sale is probably the first guy I pick not named Clayton Kershaw. I’d consider Max Scherzer or Noah Syndergaard too, but point is Sale is a beast. David Price is an interesting guy at the #2 spot in the rotation. Sure, we’ve seen him perform as one of the best pitchers in the league in the past. But his time in Boston has been riddled with elbow troubles, trouble with the Boston media, and overall sub-par performance. That being said, he still has the ability to shut down any lineup on any given night, as he did to the Yanks on Sunday Night Baseball last year. Rick Porcello followed up his 2016 Cy Young Season with a horrid 11-17, 4.65 ERA 2017. It will be interesting to see which Porcello we get in 2018. Drew Pomeranz quietly had a great 2017 season, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. For a middle of the rotation guy, he is more than solid. Veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright figures to be the 5th starter, although offseason domestic violence charges could come into play there.
The Yanks staff is led by young ace Luis Severino, whose breakout 2017 netted him a third place finish in the AL Cy Young vote, behind Kluber and Sale. However, he has a lot to prove in 2018, coming off of the most innings he’s ever thrown, to prove this was no fluke. He’s followed by Masahiro Tanaka, who had an interesting 2017 to say the least. From shutting out the Sox at Fenway during his early season dominance, to basically forgetting how to pitch for a few months, seemingly getting shelled every time out, until he finally put it back together again for September and the playoffs, you simply don’t know what you’re gonna get from Tanaka. Veteran CC Sabathia returns after a solid 2017 that included a great playoffs, and lefty Jordan Montgomery figures to project as the 5th starter following a solid rookie campaign. The X-Factor of this staff, however, is Sonny Gray. He was good for the Yanks last year after coming over from Oakland in the deadline, but not great. Will he step up to be the ace-potential guy the Yankees thought he could be when they traded three top prospects for him, or will he continue to be a middle of the rotation starter? To me, that’s a huge question regarding not only the Yankees’ division chances, but their title hopes.
Conclusion: These staffs are both interesting. They both boast Cy Young caliber aces (Sale and Severino), and guys who are All-Stars at their best, but pretty bad at their worst (Price, Porcello, Tanaka, Gray). But, considering the Sox staff is overall more experienced, I feel like they have to get the nod here.
Decision: Red Sox
This one is honestly a no-brainer. Sure, the Sox have one of the best closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, but who’s in the pen besides him? For as demoralizing as it is to go into the 9th losing to face Kimbrel, who’s the bridge between him and the Sox’ starters? Literally no one. The Red Sox bullpen was a huge weakness all season in 2017, and they didn’t really do anything to upgrade it going into 2018.
The Yankees, however, boast the best bullpen in baseball. Sure, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman make you want to pull your hair out, but when they’re pitching well they’re elite. Chapman was great in the playoffs, and hopefully Betances has figured it out this offseason. Chad Green was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball in 2017, and David Robertson is extremely reliable. Tommy Kahnle finally looked like the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in the playoffs, and Adam Warren is more than capable.
Conclusion: The Yankees have the better bullpen, and it’s not close.
Overall, the Martinez move is a good one for the Sox. It gives them the power hitter they needed. But do I think it makes them better than the Yankees? No shot. I may be biased, but to me, the Yankees have a better lineup, much better bullpen, and a rotation that, if healthy, gives them a fighting chance on any given night. In my mind, as great as I think the Yankees can be, I don’t think they should be the favorites to win the World Series. That’s still the Astros in my mind, no doubt about it. But in the East? On paper, the Yankees are better than the Red Sox. The Indians even scare me more than the Sox do at this point. But baseball is a long season. If what’s on paper really mattered, they wouldn’t play the games. Let’s hope I don’t regret this blog once October rolls around, but I have a feeling this is gonna be a great year for the Bronx Bombers. Opening Day, where you at??