Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Red Sox Options At First Base

With Mike Napoli hitting free agency this offseason, the Boston Red Sox have a gaping hole at first base that needs to be filled. There are many realistic options on the free agent market to fill the spot at first base, and even some in house options that could work very well. No matter who takes over, the main goal has to be to replace or surpass the production from 2013, and this can certainly be done.

Mike Napoli

After signing a one year incentive laden deal, Mike Napoli has won over the hearts of the Fenway Faithful and provided a flair for the dramatic in a magical 2013 season. Being one of the key factors in bringing a World Series Championship back to Boston, it almost seems crazy not to bring back the 32-year-old slugger. While slashing .259/.360/.482 this past year and leading the league in UZR (9.7) and UZR/150 (13.3) for a first baseman, Napoli has proven that his avascular necrosis has not affected his performance. This reassurance and his strong play should put him in line to get a multi-year deal that could end up being as many as four years. The Sox may be reluctant to give that many years and reportedly have only offered him a one-year deal deal at this point, but without a doubt there definitely is mutual interest between the two sides.

Kendrys Morales

In his first year playing for the Seattle Mariners, Kendrys Morales posted a solid, but not spectacular .785 OPS while serving as the primary DH. Morales didn't get much time at first base, only playing 31 games and advanced metrics show he was below average in his limited time. Morales will also require draft pick compensation after getting a surprising qualifying offer that was later turned down. Although Morales could be a solid, less expensive option at first base, the draft pick compensation tied to him will likely make him a less attractive free agent pick up. All in all, he doesn't seem to be near the top of the Red Sox wish list this offseason, and with limited rumors regarding Morales and the Sox, don't expect him to sign with Boston.

James Loney

Could a return to Fenway Park be in the cards for James Loney? One of the smaller pieces in the 2012 Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers blockbuster deal, Loney hit to a mere .574 OPS in his short time with the Sox and was not re-signed that offseason. As a free agent, the Tampa Bay Rays took a shot on the the now 29-year-old journeyman, signing him for just $2 million. That $2 million went a long way as Loney posted an exceptional .299/.348/.430 triple slash line as a surprising middle-of-the-order presence for the Rays. The Red Sox may want a more legitimate power threat out of their first baseman, but there is no doubt Loney could end up being a good fit in Boston if he can continue his new found success.

Mark Reynolds

Usually Mark Reynolds would not be considered a viable pickup, but this may be one of the only exceptions. Reynolds could serve as a very solid and inexpensive option at first base. Since 2011 Reynolds is the owner of an extraordinary 1.009 OPS in his 87 at-bats in Fenway Park and has served as a premier power threat. While this may be a small sample size, Fenway Park's hitter friendly dimensions seem to suit Reynolds very well, and a platoon where he could hit against left handed pitching the majority of the time could bring the best out of him in 2014. Obviously picking up Reynolds does have its risks, as the fact that Reynolds has struck out at an abysmal 154 times and hit only .221 over his 445 at-bats in 2013 is worrisome, but the upside appears to easily outweigh the negatives.

Corey Hart

As a player who should get an incentive laden one-year deal after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury, Corey Hart should be a great low risk, high reward candidate to fill the void at first base. Hart definitely fits the criteria for a power hitting first baseman, mashing his way to 87 home runs and a .235 isolated slugging percentage in the three years prior to his injury. With such consistency, quite a bit of teams should be interested in the 31-year-old slugger including his former team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Overall, Hart should strongly be considered for the job if the Red Sox can't resign Napoli, and even in a part-time role or platoon, Hart seems like a good fit to take over at first base.

 Justin Morneau

With the decline of Justin Morneau against left handed pitching, a platoon is the most likely option for the 32-year-old former MVP. Morneau seems to offer a lot of value against right handed pitchers (.819 OPS), and none against left handers (.525 OPS). For that reason, Morneau could be a near perfect platoon player with Mark Reynolds should the Red Sox want to go in that direction. A platoon such as that could be inexpensive, yet just as productive as one of the top full time free agent first baseman. Morneau's veteran presence and intangibles along with other factors that he brings to the table should make him a quality option for the Red Sox in 2014.

Mike Carp

Designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners and later acquired by the Red Sox for a player to be named later last February, Carp quietly had the best year of his short career. Posting a robust .296/.362/.523 triple slash line while being an extremely viable bench option, Carp should be evaluated by the Red Sox front office for a larger role. The Red Sox also have team control of the 27-year-old until 2017, and with his .904 OPS in 190 at-bats against right handed pitching, he should be an obvious candidate for a part-time first base role.

Daniel Nava

An unbelievable story and magical 2013 season, words can not describe Daniel Nava's journey to the bigs, and his success this year has been icing on top for the 30-year-old outfielder and first baseman. Nava has been a force for the Sox this year, getting a career high 458 at-bats and hitting to a .895 OPS versus right handed pitching. Those strong numbers should easily earn him an outfield spot in 2014, but  the Red Sox may prefer to move him to first base the majority of the time next year, most likely splitting time with a first baseman that hits left handed pitching better than Nava's .647 OPS. While a transition to first base seems unlikely, he should be considered as an option if the Red Sox cannot
find an affordable upgrade on the open market.

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