Justin Morneau

Rebuilding the Red Sox: Budget Options at First Base

The need to move either Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez has already been talked about ad nauseam this off-season in Red Sox circles and the World Champion Kansas City Royals have barely had enough time to enjoy their champagne.  One of the biggest debates of the off-season in Boston has centered around which one of these players the Red Sox should trade if either can be traded at all. That answer is simple: Ramirez.

Why Ramirez over Sandoval?  There is simply no one else at third base.  The free agent headliners at the position this off-season include David Freese, Juan Uribe, and Casey McGehee.  I think we would all agree that rolling the dice on a 29-year-old Sandoval returning to form is a lot more attractive than any of these guys.

The idea of Ramirez fielding balls at first base with any regularity is so frightening to me that I can’t think the Sox brass are really considering it as an option. Of course they are going to say that he’s in the plans so they do not kill whatever motivation/trade value he has left, but Dave Dombrowski is probably fielding calls on him as we speak.  Let’s say he’s successful in moving Ramirez to a team that needs a DH: will you feel comfortable enough with Travis Shaw to give him 600 plus PA?  I didn’t think so.

There are great things about Shaw, not the least of which is the breakout that he enjoyed last season.  Shaw batted .274 with surprising pop, smacking 13 home runs over just 248 PA. These marks, along with his ISO of .217, were better than any that he achieved during his two stints in Triple-A.  In addition to his offensive production Shaw was also very versatile defensively, filling in at third base on eight occasions while playing first base majority of the time.

While Shaw did well as a whole, his average against left-handed pitching of .329 was lightyears ahead .243 he hit against right-handed pitching, and at this point we don’t have a great reason to think it’s a sustainable mark.  During his time in Triple-A the left-handed Shaw predictibly did hit better against right-handed pitching which makes me further question the validity of last year’s struggles.  He likely was not as bad as he showed against righties and not as good as he showed against lefties.

With first base prospect Sam Travis at least a year away from being a legitimate option I have found several lower cost options that could be excellent fits with the Red Sox in 2016.  The first one is the more expensive and certainly less sure thing, but the other three are capable veterans that should come at a steep discount and would make for optimal platoon mates with Shaw.

Byung-ho Park (29)

It has recently been announced that Park would be posted by his KBO club, the Nexen Heroes, and bidding for his services is ongoing and will conclude on November 9th.  There is still a lot to be skeptical about when it comes to KBO stars heading to the MLB. However, Jung-ho Kang did a lot to convince scouts and front offices that a successful transition is possible.

Over his 537 PA last season Park hit an impressive 47 home runs while slashing .348/.439/.731.  This power display also came with an already somewhat high K rate of 25.3%, which would be very likely to rise should he come stateside.  FanGraphs predicts he will get somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million guaranteed, a significant step up from Kang’s four-year $17 million deal.

At this cost, if Park can be a .270 hitter with 20+ home run power, which is possible considering how his stats compared to that of Kang, he will prove to be a bargain.  Park would likely not be given everyday playing time right out of the gate as the club would likely treat him similarly to how Kang was treated last season.  A platoon of Shaw and Park could prove to be not only low-cost but formidable.  This would also allow Shaw the flexibility to spell Sandoval at third on occasion.

Moving on from Ramirez would also give the Red Sox flexibility in the event that Sam Travis does come up in 2017 and earn the starting job at first base. In this case, Park could slide to DH. By this point the position will likely be vacant from the immortal David Ortiz.  Park seems well worth the risk to a club that already has some financial issues to work through as they will certainly be eating at least some of the money for Ramirez’s terrible contract.

John Jaso (32), Justin Morneau (33), or Mike Napoli(34)

Coming off a season where he made just $3.2 million on a one-year contract and an injury shortened campaign Jaso should be a huge bargain.  When healthy last season he hit .286 with a .173 ISO over 216 PA.  As the chart posted below shows he has always had significant success against right-handed pitching. Jaso has spent most of his career as a catcher while sporadically playing at first and in the outfield and he may yet prove athletic enough to adapt to the position with a full off-season of work.  Then again the Red Sox may not want to take this risk again since it sounds so familiar.

Career Stats vs RHP

John Jaso 0.155 0.274 0.368 0.429 12.4 13.9
Justin Morneau 0.223 0.297 0.374 0.520 10.7 14.3

Morneau is certainly the safest option of the bunch and is fresh off a two year-deal that paid him $12.5 million dollars.  The Colorado Rockies and Morneau recently agreed to part ways, terminating their mutual option for 2016 rendering him a free agent.  As with Jaso, injuries have hampered Morneau in past seasons with 2015 be no exception. However, he has a much more accomplished history as a hitter and a first-baseman.

The problem with Jaso and Morneau is that they both bat left-handed, as does Shaw. Signing either could move Shaw to a bench role, letting him fill in at first base and third base sporadically, but there’s a solid argument to be made that the Red Sox should target a right-handed first baseman instead. The problem? The options aren’t as appealing.

That being said, the Red Sox could entertain the idea of bringing back Mike Napoli.  We all know Napoli’s struggles from last season and his limitations but he is also an excellent clubhouse guy and a sound defensive first baseman.  Throughout his poor stints with the both the Red Sox and the Rangers he still was able to maintain a health .278 batting average vs left-handed pitching.  It is unknown what the market will be like for his services but he is not going to even come close to approaching the $16 million dollars he was making last year.

Final Thoughts 

There certainly isn’t an easy answer when it comes to filling the void that we all hope Ramirez will leave at first base.  The truth is that Shaw has likely done enough to warrant at least partial platoon at-bats at the position, but adding one of the three lower-cost options mentioned later on would be excellent insurance for the almost inevitable regression.

That being said, I do believe that this is the level of player the Sox will aim at since Chris Davis is going cost tremendous amounts of money and the club is financially handcuffed by Ben Cherington’s 2015 off-season spending spree.  The reality is that the Sox could sign all four of these players to contracts for a fraction of the cost it will be to sign Davis.

With either Jaso, Morneau, or Napoli, Dombrowski will likely be able to load up their contracts with performance incentives making the cost to the club relatively cheap.  It may not be the big splash people are looking for but a platoon of, say, Napoli/Shaw or Napoli/Morneau could perform at a high level for a fraction of the cost if they can stay healthy and maintain their performances from last season.

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “Rebuilding the Red Sox: Budget Options at First Base”


What about David Freese? Seems to be a solidly above average hitter with a little bit of power. Right-handed hitter who traditionally hits LHP better, which would certainly help. I really haven’t watched him, but I would hope that going from 3B to 1B would improve his D slightly as it’s further down on the defensive spectrum. Would he be a possibility?

It is certainly not outside of the real of possibility but with so few options at third base it would be hard to imagine him being asked by a team to move off the position. Freese has a borderline bat for a third baseman and would be considered a below average option at first base. While he is a possibility I really do not see him being an option.


Brandon Moss anyone? He finished the season with St Louis in a better streak than he started with Cleveland.
4th OF to back-up a LF/RF corner positions or he could step up if Bradley/Castillo bats falter. Gives us some Carbo pop off the bench. Also plays 1b so we have more options behind Hanley/Shaw.
A bench of Holt, Shaw & Moss is as flexible as they come.

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