Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox hope to find a long-term solution at first base this offseason. However, things don't always go as planned, and they may need to find a stop-gap option.
Going into the 2011 season, it seemed that the Red Sox had first base filled through 2018. Adrian Gonzalez had just come over from San Diego, and was one of the elite players at the position, both offensively and defensively. Then, of course, the Nick Punto trade went down and the team was once again in search of a first baseman. They ended the season with a combination of James Loney and Mauro Gomez, but will likely look to upgrade this winter.
A few weeks back, I advocated that the team try to trade for Ike Davis. In addition to him, there are other trade candidates available, such as Justin Morneau. There are also free agents like Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher who will probably command longer-term deals. Ideally, the Red Sox would acquire one of these players. However, baseball's offseason is almost as fickle as its regular season and playoffs, and things don't always go as planned. If they can't get their hands on someone to hold down the position for multiple years, their focus will have to shift towards some stop-gap options. Those options exist both externally and internally.
The first place they will look is at some free agents who could come in for a year or so. This year's class isn't stacked by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some guys who could potentially come in and play at an adequate level. One such option is former Red Sock and pride of Haverhill, Carlos Pena. Last year was a struggle as he returned to Tampa Bay, where much of his previous success had taken place. However, it was just his first season of his career in which he was below-average by both OPS+ and wRC+. As always, he struck out frequently last year, and hit for a low average, but his ability to draw walks and hit for power makes his offensive skills palatable. Over his career, he's hit righties much better than southpaws, so a platoon situation wouldn't be a terrible idea either. He's going to be 35 next May, and is coming off a down year, so he probably wouldn't cost a very expensive one-year contract.
Another older first baseman-type who is coming off a bit of a down year would be Carlos Lee. He split time between Houston and Miami in 2012, and had a rare poor offensive campaign. Because of this, the now-36 year old will likely be looking for a very small contract. His power was way down last year, with a career-low .102 isolated power. However, I'd look for that to bump back up towards his career norms, especially considering that he was hitting for more power before moving to a bigger ballpark in Miami midway through the year.
The most attractive stop-gap option outside of the organization, though, is Kevin Youkilis. He may have been traded just a few months ago, but with Bobby Valentine gone and John Farrell in, I'd think he would be open to returning to Boston. Now that Chicago has declined his option, he is on the open market. Given the dearth that is the rest of the free agency class, he is clearly the most attractive option. The only question, though, is cost. I don't view him as a long-term option at first, since he's approaching his age-34 season and has been breaking down physically just about every year. On top of that, the scarcity of quality third basemen across baseball may lead to him being overpaid by someone to man the hot corner. I'd prefer not to get into a bidding war over him. If he can be had, though, he'd be a perfect candidate.
Just because the Red Sox would like one of the available first baseman, they may not get one. The hot stove season doesn't guarantee anything to anyone. Because of this, Boston may be looking at a combination of young players to hold down the position until at least the trade deadline next year. Firstly, there is International League MVP Mauro Gomez. He's been impressive at the plate in his minor league career, and he performed decently in his first exposure to big-league pitching in 2012. Giving him the bulk of the playing time next season has the potential of working out very nicely for the team next year, despite the lack prospect hype he received over the past few years.
Also available on the roster, thanks to the Punto trade, is prospect Jerry Sands. He's also had some success in the minors, and profiles as a solid major-league player. He probably won't be a superstar, but at some point he should be a solid major-league bench player, if not a regular. In the minors, he has shown a very good ability to draw walks, to combine with some impressive power. That, in addition to good defense, could lead to him being a solid option in 2013, even if it isn't to start the year.
As I said above, Youkilis seems to be the best option should the Red Sox lose out on the premier first base options. However, he may price himself out of that position quickly, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him remain in Chicago. If he can not be had, I would advocate for signing Pena to a cheap, one-year deal. With Gomez - a right handed bat - on board, Pena would have a young platoon option. This would also ensure the team that they have enough money to spend elsewhere, especially in case they need to sign two new outfielders in the event that Cody Ross doesn't return. Pena would be back in his hometown, and in a division he's comfortable with. It isn't the ideal case, but things don't always work out as planned. The Red Sox need to be prepared to enact their plans C, D and E, because the MLB offseason is an incredibly hectic time.