As almost everybody on the planet knows, David Ortiz will retire after this season. Big Papi is off to a hot start, which is great for all concerned. However, in professional sports, it’s never too early to look ahead, especially for front office personnel paid to shape rosters and win championships. Therefore, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox should already be eyeing potential replacements for Ortiz, even six months before his retirement.
Since 2003, Boston has used the designated hitter spot as a regular position, with Ortiz filling the role full-time. Elsewhere in the American League, however, that isn’t always the case. A lot of teams refrain from signing a specific guy to DH and instead use the spot as a way of giving older players rest. Yankees manager Joe Girardi calls it a “half day off,” with guys unburdened from playing the field. Joe Maddon was an early proponent of the idea when he rotated several Tampa Bay Rays in and out of the DH slot to keep the team fresh.
The Red Sox could definitely go down this route in 2017 and beyond. In Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, they have two older, more athletically challenged players who could use the additional rest that comes with DH-ing every few days. Of course, either of those players could also benefit from succeeding David Ortiz in taking on the role full-time, especially with the emergence of Travis Shaw giving the front office added versatility.
Yet, Boston is a star town, and the Red Sox have always enjoyed a cast of power hitters. The future is pretty murky when it comes to Sandoval and Ramirez, so Dombrowski should at least consider other options. Also, it’s worth noting that we’re talking about replacing David Ortiz, not some ordinary veteran. Papi is one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history, so I believe his heir should possess similar star power.
In all reality, the Red Sox aren’t going to trade for a designated hitter. The obvious lack of any defensive value from that position means that giving up a prized prospect simply isn’t worth it. However, if the front office could simply spend money on a top hitter for the position, there could be tremendous upside there.
So, who is available on the open market? Well, the main sluggers who stick out in the forthcoming free agent class are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, the twin anchors of a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup. Sure, the former will be 34 next season, and the latter 35, but that’s still considerably younger than David Ortiz. Besides, both Encarnacion and Bautista are still exceedingly productive. They combined to slug 79 homers and drive in 225 runs last year, and both love hitting at Fenway Park. Other free agent options include Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Mark Trumbo, although not all of those veterans figure to be healthy and productive for much longer.
Therefore, if Dombrowski chooses to employ another full-time DH once David Ortiz rides off into the sunset, he should definitely target one of the Blue Jays’ core sluggers. The sight of either Bautista or Encarnacion in a Red Sox uniform, solely focusing on hitting every day as a full-time DH, would be scary for the league and incredibly fun for Boston fans. It would also weaken a division rival, and ensure that there will be little decline in production from a position this franchise helped revolutionize.