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Martinez holds plenty of appeal for Red Sox

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The search for a slugger continued for Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday, as he stayed on top of both the free-agent and trade markets in hopes of getting closer to landing his target.

Though Dombrowski will stay open-minded when it comes to how he gets that bat, the ideal scenario for the Red Sox would be to land a free agent.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The search for a slugger continued for Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday, as he stayed on top of both the free-agent and trade markets in hopes of getting closer to landing his target.

Though Dombrowski will stay open-minded when it comes to how he gets that bat, the ideal scenario for the Red Sox would be to land a free agent.

And that ideal free agent would seem to be J.D. Martinez. The heavy-hitting outfielder, who smashed 45 homers in only 432 at-bats in 2017, was reportedly on his way to the Winter Meetings on Tuesday to meet with at least one team, and perhaps more.

Anyone who has spent any time with Dombrowski surely knows that he's not going to tip his hand on that front.

"I really wouldn't get into talking about what we would do in that regard," Dombrowski said.

Video: Browne on possible moves the Red Sox could make

Why is a free agent a better fit for the Red Sox this winter than a trade acquisition? After the trades the last two winters for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale, Boston's farm system has thinned out, and one of the immediate goals is to restock it. Making a trade for a big bat could be counterproductive to that goal.

"Well, [free agency would be the] ideal way, yes," Dombrowski said. "But then you get into dollars. You get into length of contracts. I don't mean to downplay it, either. There's some players that are attached to the compensation, so then you're giving up a second-round Draft choice if you're in our spot and some international slot money."

That's another reason the 30-year-old Martinez is such an appetizing free agent: He wouldn't require a compensatory Draft pick, because the D-backs were not able to make him a qualifying offer as a player who was traded in the middle of the season. Dombrowski also has firsthand experience with Martinez, having already acquired him for the Tigers back in 2014 after the outfielder was released by the D-backs.

The Red Sox want their free-agent acquisition to be either a first baseman or a designated hitter. Martinez is an outfielder, but defense is not his strength. Translation: Perhaps he'd be open to spending most of his time with Boston as a DH. The Red Sox finished last in the American League in homers in 2017, with 168, and Martinez is the one available player most capable of helping the team improve in that category.

In his small sample size at Fenway Park (29 plate appearances), Martinez has certainly looked comfortable, slashing .444/.483/.519 with two homers and six RBIs.

Though much of Martinez's power is to center and right-center, he has enough raw power to reach the bullpens in right-center and right.

Free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer could be the next best fit if the Red Sox can't get Martinez. A left-handed hitter, Hosmer could be a doubles machine at Fenway thanks to his opposite-field stroke. His addition would allow Hanley Ramirez to remain at designated hitter.

Does righty or lefty bat matter?

"I'd really prefer whoever it is knock in a lot of runs and hit the ball out of the ballpark, no matter what side of the plate they swing the bat," Dombrowski said.

Have the Red Sox gotten any closer to landing their bat since arriving at the Winter Meetings, which started on Monday and wrap up on Thursday morning?

"I really can't even answer in that sense," Dombrowski said. "We've had a lot of conversations with agents, with clubs. Do I feel like we're any closer? That's a difficult pulse to answer."

There is trust within the Red Sox that Dombrowski will be successful in finding that bat. He usually gets his target at some point during the offseason. This one has just taken a little slower to develop.

"I think the plan is to get better," said manager Alex Cora. "In the conversations we've had, the most important thing is to put this team in a position to win a World Series. I think Dave is going to be able to do that."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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