By Gerard Lombardo – @wickedlinedrive
This past season, Mitch Moreland drove in 79 runs, and sabermetrics dictate the Gold Glover saved 10 more runs in the field. However, it’s not a superior mitt that the Sox ownership and fan base are seeking this coming winter, instead a good old fashioned, home run hitting run producer.
It’s not as black and white as it may seem, as fans. There are three factors that could negate the Red Sox search for a slugging first baseman:
- They acquire Giancarlo in exchange for a package including JBJ (I will not entertain the thought of Benintendi or Betts being moved). If this happens, Sam Travis could get a shot at first in a cost efficient solution.
- JD Martinez is signed, thrust into the designated hitter’s role – which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all – meaning Ramirez and his recovered shoulder(s) return to the 2016 status as a full time first bagger.
- Hanley and Travis platoon first base, and a DH not named JD is sought, signed and starts: think Jay Bruce, Jason Werth, Carlos Gonzalez if he opts out, or Curtis Granderson.
The reason that these three options are viable and can still create an influx of power and run production, is because with creativity at play, the offensive output does not need to necessarily stem from one specific position, a la 1B. The lineup is not set in stone for 2018, and we’d be naive to think the other eight positional players are a shoe-in to return next year.
That being said, there will be a logjam of first basemen flooding the market in three weeks time, and if Eric Hosmer is deemed to not be the best fit for Boston, or is blown away by an offer from a team like the Blue Jays, Mets or Cardinals, Dombrowski can’t be caught with his pants down and will have to have not just a contingency plan, but a damn good one. So who is out there, exactly, that won’t come with Hosmer’s price tag and 5-7 years of obligation?
First, there are a litany of names that we can automatically scratch off the list:
Mike Napoli: .193? I wouldn’t call that production. Rumors of his demise are not exaggerated.
Brandon Belt: 18 homers, a career high. Wow. A hitter hampered by ouchies, the 29 year old may be moved in an effort to rebuild the Giants and give Buster more time at first; but it won’t be to Boston.
Mitch Moreland: the incumbent. Blogs would be abound if he was even a consideration.
Miguel Cabrera: About as productive and expensive as Jacoby Ellsbury, Al Avila is going to have a hard time moving that man.
Josh Bell, Tommy Joseph: Two NL rookies with big power and high upside, could centerpiece the Pirates and Phillies for a good while.
Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, and Greg Bird: Inter divisional rivals just don’t strengthen each other’s teams; it’s nonsensical.
Yonder Alonso, John Jaso, Danny Valencia, Mark Reynolds, CJ Cron, and Chris Carter: Nobody in this group should be considered an answer. It’s loaded with either under production or unreliability. Does anybody trust Alonso to hit 28 HR and slug over .500 again? Or can Mark Reynolds even produce anymore outside of Coors? Jaso, Cron, Carter and Valencia are simply not answers to a playoff contender that struggled to hit balls over the walls last years.
Matt Carpenter, Eric Thames, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Cody Bellinger, Yuli Gurriel, Ryan Zimmerman: All above average-superb options, and I wouldn’t say no to any of them. Unfortunately, they’re middle of the lineup hitters on contending teams. It’s foolhardy to consider their GM’s would want to see said sluggers donning another team’s apparel.
Out of the remaining ten, there are some incredibly intriguing options, and they’re listed below in order from who I want to see service the Red Sox in 2018 and beyond.
- Lucas Duda- .217 BA 30 HR 64 RBI: Limited to 491 AB’s and a horrendous batting average of .175 over 52 games after being traded to Tampa, he’s hardly a step in the right direction. But, the pop is there.
- Will Myers- 30 HR, 20 SB, 180 SO: If the K rate doesn’t scare you, a .243 average should. He’s about all San Diego has to offer their fans right now, and was a mainstay on the boo-boo report in his first three seasons as a pro. Not a bad consideration, just not a great one either.
- Justin Bour- 25 HR 83 RBI .536 SLG: Bour mashes. His OPS has steadily risen in each of his four seasons, from .726 to .903. He won’t be a free agent until 2021. The downside? Will be 30 in May, and has never played in 130 games over a season, let alone 145-160. If he can stay healthy, he’ll earn a few all star nods over the coming years.
- Joe Mauer- .305/.384/.417: Think maybe his intangibles helped Minnesota to a wild card birth? Enjoying a bounce back year, the career .308 catcher turned first baseman would provide Boston with that thing we’ve been incessantly bitching about… leadership. But with just 7 home runs, there isn’t a whole lot left in the tank for the 34 year old. Still, I wouldn’t be upset if Minnesota moved him here, assuming they’d eat a bit of his contract, which is a major possibility with just one year remaining on it.
- Justin Smoak- 3.2 WAR .270 38 HR: is he a one year wonder, or the next coming of Edwin Encarnacion? All I know is 38 jacks would have looked great in a Boston lineup this year, paired with a career high in walks, doubles, runs scored and runs driven in. The solid defender is worth a gamble as a plan D if Boston strikes out on some of the upcoming names.
- Logan Morrison- 38 HR 85 RBI 81 BB: almost a mirror image of Smoak. Former Mariner, also jacked 38, also set a career high in walks and runs scored/driven in. I give him a slight edge, as his production came in his first season garnering 500 at bats; Smoak had three previous seasons with an opportunity to deliver. Hits .245 off righties, and .244 off lefties. No need to platoon this left handed bat.
- Carlos Santana- .363/.455/.818: how does seven consecutive seasons of 600 PA, 74 RBI, .810 career OPS and a 1:1 K/BB ratio sound? Rock solid. No prospects will be surrendered for the free agent slugging Dominican, and the .249 batting average will keep the price tag down. With 179 runs scored and 57 long balls between ’16-’17, the 31 year old could meet the parameters our Boston brass is setting.
- Freddie Freeman- 4.5 WAR .989 OPS 65 XBH: Freddie is a beast. Atlanta may not be able to hit, but he sure can. Any time an OPS approaches 1.000, I’m all in, and can set aside any shortcomings that the player brings, which Freeman has very few of. A player of his caliber who has five seasons of 147+ games, a postseason average of .400 (only through five contests), and a price tag of a fair $20M is most definitely a viable option. Does Atlanta hang on to the All-Star, maybe. But if they come to their senses and flip him for some prospects, I’d have no qualms with a Michael Chavis-centered package heading to Georgia for the player. Unfortunately, Freeman was hurt in both 2015 and 2017, but made a solid team move to 3rd base to accommodate Matt Adams afterwards last year.
- Joey Votto- .320 36 HR 100 RBI: Votto is owed 6 years and $150M, under the assumption he’d be bought out at 7 million bucks in his age 40 season, as his contract dictates. That, coupled with the fact that he’d cost the team at least one blue chip prospect is working against a potential trade. He has 10-5 rights, meaning 10 years of service and 5 with one team… this allows him to veto any trade, to any team. But, he’s simply one of the best in baseball. He led the NL in BB, OBP, OPS, and at the age of 34… games played. The MVP winning, five time all star would be a welcome addition to perhaps 27 of the 29 non-Cincy ball clubs, his career could be elongated by an occasional DH start, and with a career SLG% of .541 and a .313 average, he has an outside shot at Cooperstown… if he maintains productivity. Which isn’t too far fetched, considering he’s played in 478 out of 486 possible games over the last three years.
- Jose Abreu- 343 TB 82 XBH 102 RBI: the Cuban, nicknamed Mal Tiempo, has come as advertised. Injuries are not a part of his game, but power sure is. His average season consists of 36 bombs and 103 RBI, atop a .301 average and .883 OPS. After leading the league in total bases, his asking price will be high, but he’s in his prime at 30 years old, isn’t eligible for free agency until 2020, and destroys Fenway Park: a .354 average with 14 RBI in only 16 games. Unlike some sluggers, he doesn’t slow down during the season; he heats up. Post ASB, Abreu has a .914 OPS. Will he require a bye-bye prospect package? Yes. But he’s as much of a sure thing on the market as any player, could potentially cost half of what Hosmer will ask for, hits .324 with RISP, and has crushed AL East pitching over the last four years.
A lengthy list, indeed. But Santana, Freeman, Votto and Abreu are studs, and I’d welcome any one of them. There are no perfect options, no guarantees. If Eric Hosmer is in fact the Red Sox top candidate for the first base position, and that does not come to fruition, there’s no need to panic. My top choice is definitely Abreu, Dombrowski is familiar with him from their time in the Central, and Dealin’ Dave should have the freedom of ownership to move a few prospects. Yes, the farm system has taken a hit, but with every future Boston player moved, a spot opens up for another young potential star to take their place.