Whiffs a real possibility as Red Sox chase free agent sluggers

Giancarlo Stanton J.D. Martinez Eric Hosmer
Three of the Red Sox reported offseason targets. –AP

Dave Dombrowski’s trades have generally worked out well for the Red Sox, save for his generous gift of Travis Shaw to the Brewers last December.

It’s also true to say there isn’t much nuance in his deal-making, whether it was acquiring Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz in separate deals with the Padres, or ace Chris Sale in last winter’s blockbuster with the White Sox.

His mode of operation is to trade highly regarded prospects, sometimes in bulk, to get the established player he covets. It’s effective so far, but it’s hardly subtle. In free agency, he throws money at the problem (hello, David Price). In trades, the farm system is his currency. Don’t get too attached to your favorite Sea Dogs, kids. The boss doesn’t.

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Dombrowski runs the Red Sox in much the same manner he ran the Tigers from 2001-15 before matriculating here after his firing. He’s like the guy in your keeper fantasy baseball league who can’t help but hoard big names in the moment at the expense of building for the future. It’s a win-now mentality that becomes a “What now?’’ lament when it doesn’t work.

Which brings us to this winter and the quest to find a power hitter to fill the void in the middle of a lineup that finished dead last in the American League in homers last year (168). Some might suggest Shaw, who hit 31 homers for the Brewers, could have been that guy. But I’m skeptical that he would have achieved as much here, or that he will achieve as much again going forward. It was a bad trade, but it’s not a haunting one.

So who is it going to be? That’s the question and the quandary. There are three appealing high-end options available, but at significant and varying cost:

■ Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last year, has $295,000,000 remaining on his contract, and would presumably require a steep return, even though he went unclaimed on waivers in August.

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■ Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, an excellent hitter and defender and an anchor on Kansas City’s 2015 champions, but one who would cost draft-pick and international bonus pool compensation.

■ Diamondbacks outfielder J.D. Martinez, a late-bloomer who hit 45 homers with ridiculous .690 slugging percentage last season and who would not cost draft pick compensation.

Let’s start with Stanton, who is the biggest bat, the biggest name, and the biggest dude available (he may be able to help the Patriots at linebacker on Sundays), and thus the one that is generating the most immediate buzz.

The general manager meetings double as the commencement of the hot-stove silly season in Major League Baseball, and so it should have come as no big surprise that Tuesday brought multiple mixed messages about the status of Stanton as it pertains to the Red Sox.

ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted Tuesday morning that the Marlins’ trade demands for Stanton are “shockingly high and somewhat out of touch with reality.’’ I’d assume that means any potential trade with the Red Sox starts with a demand for talented, cost-controlled youngsters Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, then gets greedier from there.

In the afternoon, the Herald’s Chad Jennings cited a source that told him Stanton, who went to high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif., would not accept a trade to the Red Sox or Cardinals.

That report soon was contradicted by NBC Boston’s Evan Drellich, who tweeted that Stanton has his preferences like anyone else but is keeping an open mind and has not ruled out the Red Sox.

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If that is confusing, check out this bewildering comment from Dombrowski in Jennings’s piece:

“I’m not really looking to trade a bunch of young guys,’’ said Dombrowski. “Now, could we? Perhaps. Again, I can’t tell you that we won’t.’’

Well, that clears it up. I’m just grateful Dombrowski can’t trade draft picks. I suspect the Red Sox wouldn’t have a first-rounder until D’Angelo Ortiz is eligible for the draft.

The hunch here is that Dombrowski would love to trade for Stanton, but that contract — which leaves his team stuck with him through his age 37 season but allows him to opt out in three years if he somehow outperforms it — is a tough sell without the Marlins taking on some of the money.

And if the Marlins do take on salary, their asking price in return is rightfully steep for a performer of Stanton’s charisma and magnitude. Asking the Red Sox to part with Benintendi/Devers would be a reasonable request, especially since Dombrowski’s previous trades have depleted the farm system.

It’s a request the Red Sox should reject, of course. Longtime readers may recall that I was driving the Stanton-to-Boston bandwagon for a couple of seasons. But that was before former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria awarded him the most lucrative contract in American professional sports during one of his brief attempts to dupe Marlins fans into believing he cared. It’s too much money and too much risk now.

Stanton, Hosmer, and Martinez are all outstanding hitters who would boost the 2018 Red Sox lineup. But I’m not sure if any one of them is the perfect fit given the various degrees of compensation. Stanton is going to cost a ton in either salary or talent. Hosmer might be the best all-around fit, but he’s not a true power hitter and the Red Sox shouldn’t be giving up draft picks when the farm system needs restocking. Martinez is the biggest risk. Are we sure a player released by the Astros four years ago is worth a nine-figure deal?

Perhaps the best solution is to sign a less-heralded talent like Cleveland’s Carlos Santana and logically expect accomplished Red Sox players who had down years in ’17 to be better in ’18. That’s probably what Ben Cherington would do.

Dombrowski prefers to take bigger swings. Whether his preference is Stanton, Hosmer, or Martinez, this much is certain now. He cannot afford to strike out.