There is no way to replace David Ortiz in Boston. In his final season, Ortiz hit .315 with 38 homeruns, while leading the league in SLG%, OPS, RBIs, and doubles. Aside from the fact that he had what could easily be considered the greatest final season in MLB history, Ortiz brought a sense of leadership and passion to the Red Sox clubhouse that simply cannot be substituted by a free agent acquisition.
However, the Red Sox are now without a big bat in their lineup, and the biggest question surrounding the team this offseason is this: How will the organization remedy the loss of their star slugger? Well, what if the answer to the Red Sox current problem may not be to sign a big bat, but to sign a big glove?
Names that have been tossed around thus far, names such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, and Carlos Beltran, are free agent hitters that would presumably slide into the vacant DH spot in the Red Sox lineup. These guys would absolutely help fill the hole that Ortiz has left in the middle of the lineup, but the price tags are expectedly high; the four players listed above have an average market value of over $20M, according to spotrac.com.
The Red Sox also may have a DH-in-waiting already in Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez had a quiet 30 homeruns in 2016, while hitting .286 and posting his highest SLG% (.505) and OPS (.866) numbers over the course of a full season since 2009, when he was 2nd in the NL MVP voting. His OPS was only 20 points lower than the aforementioned Encarnacion, who is this years most coveted free agent hitter. And although he proved that he may not be a liability playing first base, don’t let his .996 fielding percentage fool you. Ramirez ranked 13th out of 17th qualified first basemen in 2016 with a -3.5 Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR, a statistic developed by FanGraphs that quantifies how man runs a player allowed or saved through their defensive abilities. It probably isn’t long until we see Hanley’s fielding percentage dip a little bit.
The Red Sox move of Hanley Ramirez to the DH role would then leave first base open. The Sox could opt to throw Travis Shaw into that role, as Shaw showed competence fielding the position last season (6.0 UZR in 289.2 innings), but the sample size is small and Shaw may be needed to play third base early in 2017 if Pablo Sandoval’s weight is still an issue. Shaw has also not won the confidence of the Red Sox organization that he can be an everyday player, as he hit .188 over his last 61 games of 2016. As of right now, the Sox don’t have a player that could comfortably slide into a full-time role at first base.
The answer for the Red Sox could be free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Moreland, 31, won his first ever Gold Glove with the Texas Rangers this year, leading the American League in both fielding percentage (.998) and UZR (6.4). Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who also won a Gold Glove for the Rangers this season (his 5th), had high praise for his teammate. “[Moreland] is a big reason why I won the last three. When you know you have a good first baseman it gives you the confidence to throw it however you want and you don’t worry about it.”
Moreland did take a step backwards offensively in 2016, hitting .233, down from .278 the year before, but some of this can be attributed to bad luck (as well as some good luck in 2015). Moreland can, however, be an above average source of power, being frequently described as “country strong”. In the last 3 years in which he’s played more than 130 games, he has hit 22-23 homeruns. He also hits from the left side of the plate, which is the “preference” of Dave Dombrowski in the search for David Ortiz’ replacement, he told Red Sox writer Ian Browne. And even though Moreland is an incredibly streaky hitter, over the course of a season, a .250 average with 22-24 homeruns is probably what can be expected in the next year or two. Not a terrible output for the best fielding first baseman in the American League.
No, Mitch Moreland, cannot and will not hit like a player such as David Ortiz or Edwin Encarnacion. But that is not why you bring in a player like Moreland. His market value is around $7M, compared to a $25M MV for Encarnacion, he plays Gold Glove caliber defense, and although streaky, is a career 100 OPS+ hitter (definition of league average) who can provide some power from the left side of the plate towards the back of the Red Sox lineup. The Red Sox have yet to be connected with Moreland, but it is a fit that seems to make sense for the Sox.
(Photo Credit: ESPN)
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