Should first come first?

"<strong/The Boston Red Sox will head into the offseason today with a rather lengthy ‘to do’ list in front of them. Not only will the team be looking at significant front office and coaching staff shakeups, but they’ll have more than their fair share of baseball decisions to make. There are holes-a-plenty on the roster, and all of them need to be filled.

One of the more interesting decisions will be what to do with 1B. With an exceedingly shallow free agent market and a potentially limited trade market, the Red Sox may have to get creative. Today, we’ll talk about some of the more interesting options out there for the Red Sox to explore.

Mike Napoli

Mike Napoli was clearly one of the best stories of 2011, being traded as more or less spare parts, ending up in Texas and going off all year, posting an impressive .320/.414/.631 mark with a sky-high wRC++ of 176. Napoli posted career highs in nearly every single offensive category, making him a prime candidate for regression this year, but even with the pessimistic outlook, it’s surprising to see just how aggressively he regressed to the mean.

Truth be told, this season’s version of Napoli is closer to the real thing. His power is obvious, his OBP acceptable, sub-par contact and his defense well below average at two positions. Everything about last year — minus the power — seems to be an aberration. Looking at his wRC++ over the course of the past five seasons, and it’s pretty obvious 2011 was the outlier:

2008: 48% of team games played, 146wRC+
2009: 70% of team games played, 119wRC+
2010: 86% of team games played, 112wRC+
2011: 70% of team games played, 178wRC+
2012: 82% of team games played, 105wRC+

While he’s not the superstar he profiled as last year, he’s still a pretty good hitter. What’s better news is that his .183/.302/.422 vs. LHP this year has driven a lot of his surface statistics in the wrong direction. I’d assume he bounces back towards his solid .275/.383/.532 career marks vs. LHP and gives whoever buys him a nice little return on their investment.

Another reason to be excited – at least from Boston’s standpoint – is that he loves hitting in Fenway. In 13 AB’s this year, he hit a whopping .462/.500/.1.231 in Boston with a cumulative 1.066 OPS over the course of the last three seasons. While it’s always important to not infer too much based on limited sample sizes, I do think it’s an indicator of what he might be capable of.

The cost to acquire him however, could be interesting. In fact, his contract has been a matter of debate all over baseball the past year or so. He’s currently making a shade over $9 million, leading most to speculate that he should command something in the 3-4 year, $35-$50 million range. Some reports were even as high as ‘somewhere between Yadier Molina and Victor Martinez”. For a team that is looking to avoid longer-term deals, the price might be a bit high. If the bidding sticks around the lower half of that range though, expect the Red Sox to likely cannonball into the pool. Napoli profiles well in Fenway and adds a significant amount of pull power. The other reason? He’s a guy that can catch – albeit not regularly. That could free the Sox up to trade a catcher – perhaps Jarrod Saltalamacchia – for another piece.

Justin Morneau

Morneau will likely be made available in the trade market by a Twins team in an even heavier rebuilding mode than the Red Sox. With one year and $15 million left on his contract, the former American League MVP could provide a unique opportunity for the Red Sox to fill a significant need for relatively low risk and marginal cost.

After hitting a less than stellar .242/.309/.472 mark through the first three months of the season, a lot of folks were beginning to wonder if this was the end of Morneau as an impact 1st baseman at the Major League level. Those questions were quickly answered in July and August, with Morneau clubbing an impressive .315/.355/.494. As the season has progressed, Morneau has gradually regained his old form, meaning this could be an ideal time to buy.

Morneau is made even more appealing when you consider his pretty hefty home/road splits. At home, he’s been a mess, posting a paltry .313 wOBA and .147 ISO. His numbers on the road a lot better, with the former HR Derby Champion posting a perfectly fine .346 wOBA, placing him ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Dan Uggla, Paul Konerko, Mark Trumbo and… Adrian Gonzalez. The power has been there, too – with Morneau hitting a perfectly fine .197 ISO on the road. One would have to think that Fenway’s friendly confines would improve his production quite a bit.

Morneau obviously comes with issues – the first being that one bad bump could be all that separates him from never playing the game again. He’s also had his fair share of nagging injuries over the years, with the latest being a small wrist injury that popped up just a few weeks ago and has resulted in him being shut down for the remainder of the year.

The second major issue is that Morneau is hitting an awful .232/.271/.298 vs. LHP this year. Even if one were to hope he’d regress towards his career triple slash of .255/.303/.426 mark, that’s not saying much. Keeping a player or two around to platoon vs. lefties on certain days may be in order. The good news is that he obliterates RHP, so as is the case with Cody Ross, the Red Sox may be willing to live with the hefty split in the aggregate. Still, it’s a big concern and would certainly need to be taken into account in any deal made to acquire him.

However, with only one year left on his deal, the bump in numbers in the second half and home splits dragging him down, he could be too tempting to look away from considering what else is out there.

Adam LaRoche

The great thing about Adam LaRoche is that he’s probably the most projectable guy who could potentially be available. Subtract a truly horrible 2011 season, and LaRoche is what he is: a career .348 wOBA, 111 wRC++, decent fielding 1B with no funky home/road or insane Lefty/righty splits. He’ll be 33 next year, so you can expect him to start to hit a decline, but with the benefits of Fenway Park, I’d expect that decline to be delayed a bit. All things told, he’s perfectly league average in almost every respect and would be a decent piece of the puzzle, although his impact certainly wouldn’t be super significant.

The downside is a $10 million option the Nationals have on his contract, which they’ll almost assuredly exercise. It’s not to say they wouldn’t be moved to trade him. In fact, they may if the price was intriguing. Problem there is that league-average players aren’t the kinds of guys you offer ‘intriguing’ packages for. I like LaRoche a lot, but I’m pretty well convinced he won’t be an option this winter. Still, he warrants mention.

Lance Berkman

Berkman could be an interesting fit in Boston. He’s expressed his undying love for Tim Bogar, going as far as to publicly endorse him for the Houston Astros job. He’s also expressed a strong desire to play for a contender – which the Red Sox might or might not be depending on the offseason they have. His best years in the field are certainly behind him, but a move back to 1B and the opportunity to occasionally DH might be a boon for a guy heading into his twilight years.

What’s also interesting is that even though Berkman is due to decline, a one or two-year deal at reasonable money could end up being worth it. He’s managed to post wRC++ over 100 every season of his career – even during his dicey 2011 campaign. The bat is still there and there’s even a shot he could provide a decent 1B.

The obvious downside to Berkman is that he underwent his second knee surgery of the year and is becoming – like most hitters his age – increasingly injury prone. Not only is the future of his career up in the air (he’s down to the last of the cartilage in his knee), but he might make the Red Sox organization a bit queasy with the prospect of another injury-prone player on the roster.

The questions surrounding Berkman really have less to do with whether he can still produce. We know he can. The real issues lay in his increasing vulnerability to injuries, overall health and willingness to play for a team that could honestly go either way next year. He’s a great person, awesome in the clubhouse and a quality player. He’d be nice to have, but I don’t know if I’d be burning down bushes to get him.

Ike Davis

Part of me has no freaking clue why I’m entertaining this in my head. I blame Jon Heyman, whom I – as a general rule – try to ignore more often than not, but still. The story he posted yesterday got me thinking; could this actually happen and is there a possibility the Mets are – in fact – that stupid? Maybe its just hangover from the infamous summer blockbuster. Maybe it’s just the fact that I drink too much in general. Either way, I will explore it in spite of how loudly my senses tell me not to.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Mets still-dire fiscal situation and with the prospect of Davis hitting arbitration soon, the Mets may see him as the avenue with which to generate the best return in prospects and undergo a genuine rebuilding process. The prospects they would receive in exchange for Davis would likely have to be significant. Sandy Alderson has gone on the record saying that if they do decide to trade Davis that they’re going to have to receive quite a bit in return.

The downside for the Mets is that Davis is the only source of power on a team that severely lacks it. Trading Davis means finding replacement offense elsewhere which would be almost impossible to do for cheaper. The Mets are walking a very fine line at the moment with an increasingly frustrated fan base that might not have the patience for a genuine rebuilding process. Still a trade for Davis could mean the Mets finally get to rebuild the right way and insure success during and well past their current fiscal issues.

For the Red Sox, the fit would be pretty obvious. A high-upside, young, cost controlled 1B in Fenway Park would really add a solid young piece to what would be an exciting young core. With Will Middlebrooks already in Boston and Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley seemingly on their way, the Red Sox would have a solid basis for another contender. That of course is assuming, the Red Sox get away with not being able to trade one of Bogaerts or Bradley – which would seem impossible.

There’s no question that the Red Sox would get a heck of a player in Davis, but there ‘what ifs’ around it seem to be too abundant. Davis in Boston would be really exciting, but I’m just not sure the cards are on the table to pull it off.

Platoon possibilities

Relatively speaking, 1B always seems to be a place where teams spend entirely too much money for the production they get. Being ‘just good enough’ and platooning the position might be in the Red Sox best interest, and luckily for them, there may be some pieces out there worth considering.

Carlos Pena didn’t have a very successful go of things during his 1st stint as a Red Sox, but there’s still some pop left in his bat. He’s never been a high AVG kind of guy, but has dangerous power that could play well in Boston. His big issue is his increasing inability to hit lefties, posting a paltry .290 w OBA this season. His numbers were passable against righties this year, and when coupled with his capable glove, could make him a nice compliment to someone who can do the same from the right side of the plate.

Carlos Lee is a guy who could be an intriguing right-handed platoon option. He’s hit for a .327 wOBA this season vs. righties, even though he can’t hit a beach ball against lefties. The Green Monster could help his power a bit in RF, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. He’s not an ideal choice by any stretch of the imagination, but if the Red Sox are, in fact, considering the platoon option – he’s someone who could get a look.

With a shallow market and a big decision to be made, filling the 1B position should be one of the bigger challenges of this offseason for the Red Sox. With what’s out there, who do you think the Red Sox should consider?

Categories: Adam LaRoche Boston Red Sox Carlos Lee Carlos Pena Ike Davis Jackie Bradley Lance Berkman Mike Napoli Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogearts

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

5 Responses to “Should first come first?” Subscribe

  1. Steve H October 4, 2012 at 11:57 AM #

    Youk

    • Jim L. October 5, 2012 at 10:48 AM #

      That's what I thought too! Bring back Youk to man first base…. It'll be easier on his body than the hot corner so hopefully he could stay healthy

  2. Gerry October 5, 2012 at 11:49 AM #

    Yes you can go back, it just takes a little more work. Massive apologies would restore Youk to the core for a year or two while Shaw or maybe Bogaerts move up. Much of Youk's injury issues came from moving to the more athletic 3rd base to accomodate AGon. All the above choices, though I like many of them, carry significant risk of injury, poor defense, inconsistent offense. Youk, at 1B, still provides GG caliber D, restores grinding PA's to the position, wearing down pitchers, catchers and putting the IF to sleep. He is also worth 20+HR, 35 doubles, a .370OBP at Fenway. He would be welcomed by fans like the hero he is (2004 and 2007 are among his credentials), and would geet the fans back in the game with the 'Yooooooouuuuk' bellow. And then he retires a Red Sox to fanfare. In other words he offers as much quality at the position as any above choice, while helping restore the lost luster and fan support of recent years. If Ben can pursue Farrel, then he can pursue Youk.

  3. Hunter Golden October 5, 2012 at 12:25 PM #

    Very different circumstances with Youk and Farrell's departures…

    While I"m not opposed to the idea of Youk at 1B, I think some other teams will look at him too, and may even spit multiple years at him. The problem with him is that he's half the bat he was last year and has presented a pretty consistent downward trend. Here's his wFB the past four years:

    2009: 35.5
    2010: 28.8
    2011: 14.2
    2012: 8.8

    That's a near 50% decline each of the last 2 years. His GB% has risen each of the last five years. Bottom line is he's struggling to catch up to fastballs and when he is, he's hitting grounders for easy outs. It's certainly not his selection, becuase he's swinging at slightly fewer pitches and trying to be more selective than he already is.. With his OBP, SLG and AVG all falling to boot – consistently over a three year period – I just don't think we'd be getting much. He's another platoon guy we could discuss on low money (he can't hit righties anymore – .220/.308/.377 against them this year), but between the amends-making everyone would have to go through, nevermind the money and market, I just don't see it as a realistic option. Even if they do add him back, he's certainly not a part of the 'core' anymore.

  4. Gerry October 5, 2012 at 5:42 PM #

    Youk's downward trend was tied as much to injury and other issues as to age related decline. I wonder if the restorative powers of a summer off to heal and chill, playing 1b, and begging him to come 'home' would be enough to get a GG level performance and better #'s than 2012 Napoli, Swish, and a few others. Morneau and Davis, for different reasons, promise better all around performance; Morneau for a year, Davis for a career. There really are alot of good cboices, but each one is problematic. My choices are, in order, Youk, Morneau for a year, Davis without losing any of the B's.

    A good defender at 1B seals up the IF tight. A good hitter at 1B allows Iggy's game changing defense while developing his bat at Fenway. AGon offered both, but Davis, Morneau and hopefully Youk
    would do the same.