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Martinez deal puts Red Sox back in game

Boston Herald

February 20. 2018 11:31PM
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder J.D. Martinez celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game one of the 2017 NLDS at Dodger Stadium. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — This might come as crushing news to the gang at his beloved Dunkin’ Donuts in Brookline, but Dave Dombrowski returned the Red Sox to contending status in the American League East.

The Red Sox had been just one player away from being back in the game. The one player’s name was J.D. Martinez. And now he belongs to the Sox, even if, and let’s get this right out the way, he’s not David Ortiz. But Martinez is definitely an Ortiz-type, and that’s what the Red Sox are going to need to contend with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of the Bronx Bombers.

There’s an added bonus to this that has absolutely nothing to do with baseball ops: As soon as word filtered out late Monday that the Sox were on the cusp of signing the slugging free agent, who hit 45 home runs last year while splitting time between Detroit and Arizona, it officially became time for hibernating Sox fans to rise and shine.

Thank you, Dave Dombrowski, for getting this done. The Sox’ president of baseball operations kept speaking of concerned fans at the neighborhood coffee shop who wanted him to do nothing, that the Sox are just fine the way they are. As recently as Sunday morning, Dombrowski reported that Sox fans watching the team’s spring training workouts on the practice fields behind JetBlue Park were telling him to stay the course — “This team is fine the way it is!”

But we all know what this team needed, and now they have it. They needed a bopper, a presence. They needed a masher who could take pressure off Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and others, and that’s what they have.

Not to beat up on Hanley Ramirez here, but while the guy tried very hard last year to be a sort of Big Papi reboot, what with the high fives, photo ops with kids and bold proclamations, that’s only a very small part of what Ortiz gave the Red Sox over the years.

He also crushed the ball, and often.

Critics will point out that the Houston Astros cut Martinez loose during the last days of spring training in 2014. Big deal. The Minnesota Twins once cut Ortiz loose.

Critics will argue that Martinez is conveniently coming off a career season. Big deal. He’s actually coming off four straight seasons that would have looked good on the Red Sox ledger.

They needed this guy. They need his bat and they needed his name if they are going to win over a worried fan base that might have been ready to double-jump from the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to whatever the Bruins and/or Celtics are doing come April.

And here’s something else that might come in handy this season: A new face in the clubhouse might bring new urgency, new energy, a new mission. While there were some offseason conversations between Martinez and not-always-happy-camper David Price — “I’ve talked to him a couple of times,” Price said last week — don’t read anything into that. It might even help.

If Martinez hits, if the Red Sox win, if the customers are happy, if the ratings high, then the clubhouse will follow right along.

It’s been said the late, great Don Baylor had this very effect on the 1986 Red Sox when he joined the team in, you guessed it, spring training. Baylor’s bat cooled off some late in the summer, but not before he had transformed the clubhouse into something other than what it had been.

Whether Martinez can be that guy in 2018 is a story yet to be written. The sense here is that the boyos who currently occupy the room are going to be very, very happy to see a fresh face.

When Red Sox owner John Henry met with the media Monday and insisted the team had actually made many changes during the offseason other than bringing in a new manager and coaching staff and reorganizing the manner in which it does its scouting, maybe he assumed everyone already knew about J.D. Martinez. Or maybe only a few others knew and he was having a little fun.

Makes no difference. Dombrowski has made a deal that matters, that changes things, that’ll get New Englanders to stop worrying about Malcolm Butler for a few days.

To the few, the proud, the cautious Red Sox fans at Dunkin’ Donuts who kept telling Dombrowski to stand down, they will get over this.

And, anyway, today there are another two or three million fans who would like to buy Dombrowski a cup of coffee, and then some.

Red Sox/MLB