At the close of 2016, the depth chart measured significant quantity at third base. Quantity, not quality. There was Travis Shaw, the fateful incumbent. He was followed by a “fit” Pablo Sandoval, can’t-miss prospect Yoan Moncada, late season pickup Aaron Hill, and utility men Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge, and Marco Hernandez. That’s what you would refer to as a good problem to have; there’s seemingly too much talent at the position.
Shaw was shipped to Brew Town, the brass finally paid Sandoval to go away, the Giants signed Hill, Moncada was dealt for 2017’s Cy Young runner up, and the three positional doppelgängers of Holt, Rut and Marco all suffered from prolonged injuries last year. Somehow, the depth chart’s hot corner went from plentiful to baron overnight, which was affectively – yet late in the game – remedied by Dombrowski’s acquisition of Eduardo Nunez and the promotion of Rafael Devers.
Devers, Nunez combined from 7/25 on:
.300 18 HR 57 RBI 57 R 9 SB
You could make the case Boston won the division purely based on the offensive firepower those two supplied.
But as we presently stand, with pitchers and catchers reporting to the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues in just six weeks, the Red Sox now face a muddled depth chart, this time at first base. Here’s a scope of the team’s depth:
Mitch Moreland: perhaps with an eye out for next years crop of superstar free agents like Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Brian Dozier, DD made a value decision to bring back Moreland for just $6.5M per year. Mitchie Two Bags, is a virtual shoo-in for .250 / 24 / 74, and might be able to provide a little more leadership in the clubhouse with a season under his belt. The left handed hitter should be spelled against southpaws, leaving the lineup susceptible to late inning relievers.
Hanley Ramirez: 1B? DH? Helmet on head? Helmet in stands? Who knows what to expect from Ramirez in 2018. Albeit, he’s fully aware the fate of his $22 million option rests in the fate of his surgically repaired shoulder as much as his offensive prowess if he wants to kick in his extra year on contract. There’s no barometer to measure what the 34 year old Dominican speedster turned slugger has in the tank.
Sam Travis: the rookie didn’t homer last year, but there are prolific power hitters who have gone 76 AB’s without a dinger, like he did. In 569 AAA at bats, the right handed first baseman had 12 long ones, which would hopefully translate to something better than a lowly 2012 version James Loney prototype (6 HR 434 AB’). If Ramirez misses any time, Travis would be a terrific compliment to Moreland; Sam slugged .500 off them in the limited playing time of 20 games last year.
Josh Ockimey: the 21 year old slugger is expected to open the year in Portland, but as we saw the in the previous two seasons in Benintendi and Devers, the Sox won’t be shy about promoting a hot hitting AA prospect directly to the show during a summer pennant race. But it would take a dismal state of affairs for Ockimey to see significant playing time in the Majors.
Blake Swihart: it’s been an unusual start to the 25 year old’s career, as he’s yet to find a home in the bigs. With the catcher out of options, he has to either earn a spot on the Red Sox next season, or be put on waivers. In an effort to get him steady playing time, the Sox have sought his services at first, and gave him some time in left field during the ’16 campaign. Like Ockimey, a lot would have to fail up top for Swihart to log serious time at first.
Are you comfortable with that crew? Moreland is a .241 hitter against lefties, Hanley may not be able to field the corner spot at all, Travis’ ’17 was underwhelming, Ockimey hasn’t even smelled Pawtucket, and Swihart only saw 257 AB’s last year. It seems that the problem our Sox were plagued by in 2017 may appear at some point in 2018.
At this time last year, the Sox had already parted ways with Moncada and Shaw. With Sandoval only playing in 32 games before being released, the Red Sox positional depth was exposed by a slew of injuries and absences of bats; they ended up fielding eight players at third last year. Now this year, if both Mitch and Hanley were to be slowed by afflictions, slump, or land on the disabled list, the team’s now stuck with last year’s issue, just across the diamond. Travis would see a multitude of reps at first. He’d have to be backed up by Ockimey or Swihart, and even Mike Olt is on the peripherals. That sounds more like a problem than a solution, and with Ramirez yet to be tested defensively or offensively, Boston will most likely have three first basemen on the Opening Day roster: him, Travis, and obviously Moreland. An injury to any of the three, combined with the early absence of Dustin Pedroia, could result in the right half of the infield being mirror images of last year’s Lin-Travis pairings, or even an Esteban Quiroz-Josh Ockimey sighting. We can’t yield to a slow start out of the gate, with the expected Goliath Yankee lineup to be ready at season’s beginning.
This leads to the unfortunate truth that Boston’s not strong at the position. Dombrowski can either make an acquisition, or go to battle with the soldiers he’s got. The first base spot has an open tab of forty million dollars on Ramirez, Moreland, and the Allen Craig buyout. With the above league average salary already being applied to the position, you can count free agents Hosmer and Morrison out. There are, however, a number of low cost free agents available, like one-trick ponies Mike Napoli, Ryan Howard, and Pedro Alvarez. An invite to spring training for the league minimum couldn’t hurt, could it?
If the front offices stays put, then they’re relying on a 32 and 34 year old pair of first baseman/DH to stay healthy for the entirety of the summer, or else face a Travis-Ockimey/Swihart/Olt platoon. We lived through the mistake last season of overvaluing the stocks of a single position, and waiting til it’s too late to atone for the error.
Now, I’m leery of it happening again.