Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Boston lacks a first baseman, unless you believe someone already on hand can fill that void
The Red Sox have a gaping hole at first base, one that's been open since Adrian Gonzalez was sent west to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It won't be easy to bring in a new first baseman, either, as there are not very many to choose from on the free agent market, nor are many talented players available at the position through trade, meaning that those who are available will likely come at a high price.
General manager Ben Cherington is aware of this situation, and has already publicly said that, should it come to it, Boston has the makings of a first base platoon on hand already in Jerry Sands and Mauro Gomez. This doesn't mean they will go with a platoon, but should Adam LaRoche sign with the Nationals again, or Mike Napoli sign elsewhere, or any number of other options vanish for one reason or another, there is a plan already in place to fill the hole at first.
Sands hit lefties well in limited time at Triple-A in 2012, putting up a .294/.388/.522 line in 136 at-bats. In his short time in the majors, Sands has also hit southpaws, at .316/.372/.532. While he hit right-handers well at Triple-A Albuquerque, at .297/.370/.525, he has nowhere near that level of success in brief major-league stints. Chances are good he's nowhere near as bad as his .204/.301/.289 line against righties in the bigs suggests, but the right-handed Sands is more likely to produce against lefties regardless.
The thing is, Gomez is also a right-handed batter. So Cherington might not have meant platooning the two together, just that, on the 40-man roster, there are already two halves of a platoon around. Gomez hit lefties and righties in the minors as well this season, but the right-handed batter was oddly better against righties than lefties in limited major-league duty. The samples are so small, though, that like with Sands, you can't glean much of anything (if even that much) from them.
The more likely to be productive, if it has to be one of them, is Sands. He's younger, he was more of a prospect, and the fact he can play either in left or at first base makes him more versatile than Gomez, who is a designated hitter that can line up at first when needed. Both have options left, but Sands has just one, meaning that the Red Sox either need to put him in the minors and lose it to start the season, or place him in the majors at season's start to keep that option open. Gomez has two options remaining, so he can be stashed one more time if Boston simply wants to give him consistent playing time, or doesn't think he's fit for full-time duty in the bigs and prefers him as a depth piece.
Gomez is well-liked by some scouts, who think he has more of a bat than most late-20s Triple-A MVPs you find, but Sands is also well-appreciated. Power is his most significant skill, and while hitting in the PCL likely overstated that, it's been a strong tool for him since before he went pro. As a right-handed hitter in Fenway, he would reap the benefits of the Green Monster, like many righties with pop before him. Even with that, though, it's important to remember that Sands' bat is likely a better fit for left field than first base, as the latter is the most demanding offensive position on the diamond. Playing Sands at first would be something Boston did because they needed someone there, not because he's the best fit for the job.
He could be placed in a platoon, but that limits the team's bench flexibility, unless it's done perfectly. If, say, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is dealt, and Mike Napoli is signed, then Napoli could catch against lefties, allowing Sands to play first base on those days. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, especially since Sands' best bet at consistent playing time comes in a situation where someone like Napoli isn't brought on board.
The only way Sands at first makes sense for the Red Sox is if they seriously improve at the outfield corners. With the team considering Jose Iglesias for the shortstop spot, Sands at first isn't something that can happen without upgrades elsewhere, as the lineup needs to squeeze extra run production out of other positions in order to help make up for Iglesias' bat. That's why, if you want to see Sands play in the majors for the 2013 Red Sox, it might be better to hope for a first base acquisition in lieu of a new left fielder, in order to let Sands slot in for the latter position instead. Scouts like him better in an outfield corner than at first, his bat profiles as above-average in left, and the Red Sox can gain a lot of flexibility in their lineup and bench by trying to sign someone like Mike Napoli.