Red Sox Hope To Find a Bargain in Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland won a Gold Glove at first base with the Rangers last season. Getty ImagesPhoto:

Yes, there were those who felt that the Red Sox would be best-served by pursuing and signing free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. 

The window of opportunity to complete such a deal appears to have closed.

Tuesday evening Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland had agreed in principal to a one-year, $12 million deal.

Moreland is a 31 year old lefty who is best suited to play first base, but could of course slide into the DH spot when needed.

There’s really no comparison between Moreland and future hall of fame resident David Ortiz. Moreland’s arrival most likely means that Hanley Ramirez who pleasantly surprised everyone by not only having one of his best seasons at the plate in 2016, but also by performing very well in his first season as an everyday first baseman, seems destined to spend a lot more time as the Red Sox DH.

Moreland won the 2016 gold glove at first base, so there’s no question about whether or not he’s an upgrade at that position.

There’s also no question about whether or not he can adequately replace the power and run production of David Ortiz. He can’t.

Moreland owns a career slash line of .254/.315/.438. If you exclude an injury-plagued 2014 season, Moreland has hit 20 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons (2013, 2015, 2016.)

He’s never had more than 85 RBI’s in a single season, but considering the all-around strength of his new lineup, there’s certainly ample reason to think he could excel and have a career year in his one year as a member of the Red Sox.

The length of the deal is intriguing. One-year deals such as Moreland’s can bring out the best in players who hope to capitalize on a second foray into the free agent market. At just $12 million, if Moreland is able to have a career type of year with the Red Sox, the team would have themselves quite a bargain.

The deal also allows the Red Sox to easily put Moreland on the midseason trade market if they feel they need an upgrade on offense, or delve into next offseason’s free agent market which could include corner infielders such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Santana, as well as corner outfielder (but potential future DH,) J.D. Martinez.

There is some risk here.

After Tuesday block-buster deal for Chris Sale, the Red Sox are all but certain to give Pablo Sandoval the starting third base job. There’s not much in the form of  a back up plan. Super utility man Brock Holt can play the hot corner, but third base is arguably the position he performs most poorly at.

Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Hanley Ramirez are all coming off career years.  All four players seem likely be very good hitters in 2017, but all four could perform at high levels and still not reach or exceed the production they had in 2016. Subtract Ortiz from the lineup and replace him with Moreland and there’s ample reason to expect the 2017 Red Sox to not produce runs at the same level as the 2016 squad did.

Of course in spite of the team’s league-best run production, the Red Sox made a quick exit from the playoffs. Results like that don’t present a strong case for the importance of replicating the team’s regular season run production.

Signing Encarnacion would have made the 2017 Red Sox a better team than signing Moreland does, but it also would have required a lot more money, not just for next season, but for several seasons beyond.

The acquisitions of Moreland, relief pitcher Tyler Thornberg and starter Chris Sale mean that the 2017 Red Sox are almost certain to be a better team than the 93-win 2016 squad. Tough to be too critical of that.

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro
Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog. I've previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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