LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic -- The question was put to one of the big league players attending the David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic. (And, no, the player was not named David Ortiz.)
"Jose Abreu or Carlos Santana?"
The reason for the question was that both first basemen had been recently surfaced as possibilities to land with the Red Sox, with some making the case that Santana -- who is a free agent -- is the offensive equal of the power-hitting White Sox. The numbers? Over the past three seasons, you can certainly make them work in a fashion where Santana comes out with the slight upper-hand.
But, this time, the analysis was quick and telling.
"Abreu. No question. He's the guy pitchers won't want to face. And that means a lot."
Fair point. And one which Ortiz actually brought up when asked later in the weekend-long charity event (supporting the David Ortiz Childen's Fund). The former Red Sox designated hitter didn't mention names, but he did reiterate the importance of having that slugger in the middle of the lineup. The kind of guy the Red Sox didn't possess after the retirement of Ortiz.
"It takes pressure away from everybody," he told WEEI.com when asked about the importance that the Red Sox find a power-hitter this offseason. "When you are that one guy in the lineup that pitchers worry about, pitchers know they are going to make a stop there, they have a tendency to make more mistakes with the rest of the guys. All of their focus is going to be not let that Big Papi guy beat you."
While some of what Ortiz is talking about is hard to quantify, there is an element of proof from 2017: The Red Sox had the lowest OPS out the No. 5 spot in their lineup than any team in baseball.
While this isn't a news flash -- (cue the Edwin Encarnacion conversations from a year ago) -- it is a reminder that this isn't just about adding more home runs, or getting on base a bunch. Ask the pitchers who faced the dynamic of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez a year ago about such an anxiety. Or how about the perceived ease opponents were able to get through the middle of the Red Sox' batting order, which was No. 25 when it came to OPS out of the cleanup spot.
Ortiz has always understood this dynamic, even when he was in the middle of it. It was the reason he lobbied so hard for Nelson Cruz leading into the 2014 season, a year the Red Sox started the season with Mike Napoli and Mike Carp fourth and fifth, respectively. Now, he is pushing for that big bat once again.
"We always talk about getting this or getting that. Hopefully it's not just throwing names out there," Ortiz said. "It's making it happen.
"I think we're going to be fine. Guys are still learning. The addition of a big bat, I think it will be better for the lineup. Hopefully it happens. I like the makeup we had the past season because even not hitting that many homers we made it to the playoffs. Our pitching did a hell of a job this past season, even with a few guys struggling. But the team knows they need another power hitter. I'm pretty sure Hanley [Ramirez] is going to be better after the surgery. He's feeling really good. Those power hitters are always needed in the middle of the lineup in the division we are."
Written By: WEEI | Rob Bradford | December 5th, 2017