Red Sox targeting lefties to replace Big Papi

Dombrowski won't rule out anyone, but preference is to balance lineup

Red Sox targeting lefties to replace Big Papi

In his quest to replace David Ortiz in the lineup, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski appears unlikely to land Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista, two free-agent sluggers who have often haunted Boston while wearing Toronto uniforms.

Instead, the preference would be to get a left-handed bat -- perhaps on a shorter-term deal -- to help balance out the lineup.

One intriguing option is Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who remains productive despite the fact he will turn 40 next April. In fact, Dombrowski tried to acquire Beltran in July, and he turned to prospect Andrew Benintendi when that quest was unsuccessful.

Beltran would be a good fit at DH at this stage of his career, with the ability to give Benintendi or Mookie Betts a rest at the corner-outfield spots when needed. In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers, posting a .295/.337/.513 slash line with 29 homers and 93 RBIs.

Beltran's two-run homer

With a strong crop of hitting prospects in the upper Minors, Boston is more apt to sign a player on a shorter-team deal, and Beltran fits in that regard.

MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman tweeted on Tuesday that Beltran is "on the radar" of the Red Sox.

"If you had to say a preference, the preference would be a left-handed bat," Dombrowski said from the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'm not going to make John's lineup out for him, but you'd probably say three of the guys in the middle of your lineup right now are [Mookie] Betts, [Xander] Bogaerts and [Hanley] Ramirez, and they're all right-handed. You have other left-handers around them."

That said, Dombrowski is doing what most executives do this time of year by keeping his options open.

Looking ahead for the Red Sox

Michael Saunders, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Kendrys Morales are other free agents who are either switch-hitters or exclusively lefties.

Morales helped the Royals win the World Series in 2015, and he belted 30 homers in another solid year for Kansas City in '16.

"It wouldn't have to be [a lefty]," Dombrowski said. "I wouldn't take a guy who's left-handed just because he's left-handed over a guy you feel is a force but who's right-handed. We can still mix in guys like [Andrew] Benintendi, [Jackie] Bradley, [Travis] Shaw and [Brock] Holt. There's different ways you can do that."

Ortiz still hasn't submitted the paperwork for his retirement, but Dombrowski has every expectation that he will in the coming days or weeks. Just to cover themselves, the Red Sox exercised Ortiz's option for 2017 to assure he would remain with Boston if he did have a change of heart.

Ortiz on Hank Aaron Award

"He has to provide services to get paid," Dombrowski said of Ortiz. "It's more of a formality [picking up the option], because if he changed his mind, which I don't think he's going to -- like I said, it's procedural -- but if he changed his mind, he's with the Boston Red Sox rather than being a free agent. But he still plans on retiring."

Unlike last year, when Dombrowski clearly had his sights set on acquiring closer Craig Kimbrel and lefty ace David Price, he is in more of a "read and react" frame of mind this offseason, in part because he likes the overall nucleus of a club that is coming off a 93-win season.

"I don't know what's going to happen, because you don't know what phone calls are going to take place," Dombrowski said. "There are some clubs looking to move players. I'm not so sure patience may not end up being the situation [this year]."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.