J.D. Martinez, left, declined an opt-out in his contract and will be back with the Red Sox. Kyle Schwarber declined his option and could return if the Red Sox decide to re-sign him. The question is, do they have room for both? Associated Press photos

Is there room for two impact hitters in the Boston lineup?

It seems like a preposterous question. Every team wants as many big bats it can find. The Red Sox had two over the second half of the season, but it remains to be seen if J.D. Martinez and Kyle Schwarber are both back for 2022.

Martinez remains on the roster after he chose to return for the final year of his contract (and the $19.35 million salary that comes with it) on Sunday. It was the third straight year Martinez could have opted out of the deal, and the third straight year he decided not to.

Last week, Schwarber chose not to return to Boston, deciding he could do better than the option he had negotiated with the Nationals. No surprise there, since Schwarber hit .291 with seven home runs in 168 plate appearances with Boston and then added three more home runs in the postseason.

Schwarber could be back, but it will cost Boston considerably more than $11.5 million. The question is: will the Red Sox be willing to pay both Martinez and Schwarber? Schwarber would’ve been an easy fit had Martinez opted to leave. But he’s back, meaning he will be the primary designated hitter for the coming season.

“We’ve been engaged with Kyle and will stay engaged,” Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom said on Sunday night. “Obviously, knowing J.D. is here changes how we look at the lineup and our player group, generally. But as I said after the season, we played some of our best baseball of the season with both of those guys, they certainly both fit, it just gives us more clarity going forward as to which paths we might take as we reshape and put together this position player group for 2022.”

Bringing both back would mean Schwarber would have to play a significant number of innings at first base. He had never played there before 2021, and struggled at times when thrown into the position after being traded to Boston. He poked fun at himself during the playoffs, celebrating a routine play in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays just an inning after making an error on the same type of play.

Maybe a full spring training would help him master the position. But doing so would impede the development of Bobby Dalbec at first. And further block top prospect Triston Casas.

“(Bobby’s) a big factor for us on our roster,” said Bloom. “It’s also a position, as we saw down the stretch, where it helps to have different options.”

Dalbec struggled over the first half of the season, but slugged .611 with a .955 OPS and 15 homers after the Schwarber trade. A third baseman by trade, he has shown significant improvement on the other side of the infield.

Casas, meanwhile, had a breakout year in the minors and dazzled in the Olympics.

“In the long run we’re really excited about him,” said Bloom, “and that doesn’t preclude us from adding other options to help us in the near, or in the medium, term.”

The Red Sox could choose to bring Schwarber back with the idea of moving him to DH in 2023 when Martinez’s contract ends. They could trade Dalbec, give Schwarber first base for the time being before eventually handing it to Casas. Or they could trade Martinez, knowing it’s easier to deal him now that his opt-out choices are gone, and make Schwarber the DH right away.

Schwarber made it clear he would be happy to return to Boston if the deal is right.

“This is a World Series clubhouse,” said Schwarber after Boston’s playoff run ended, “and I would love to hopefully see if that opportunity comes back.”

With Martinez returning, and a pair of prospects pushing for time at first base, it will take some creative thinking from Bloom and the Sox front office if that opportunity remains open for Schwarber.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.