In Search Of A Left-Handed Bat

Nick Laham

Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks--the Red Sox are set to punish any lefty who sets foot in Fenway Park. Right-handed pitchers, however? That might be another story entirely.

Eric Chavez is not a flashy name. You don't get terribly excited when your team picks him up, or terribly disappointed when they miss out. At least, that's been true for the last seven or eight years.

Still, when I heard Chavez was going to the Diamondbacks on a one-year, $3 million, I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed. Because right now the Red Sox could really use a guy like him. Consider the lineup, as it stands. Shane Victorino in right field, Jonny Gomes in left, Will Middelbrooks at third, Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second. Even if you assume Nava reprises his 2012 success against right-handed pitchers as part of a platoon in left, it would certainly be nice to have a little more oomph against the league's more populous variety of pitcher.

That's where Chavez would've come in. He's pretty useless against lefties these days, but if you give him a righty to hit, he can get the job done. Whether that means coming off the bench, or getting some occasional starts at first with Napoli catching (which, admittedly, isn't a giant improvement over Salty behind the plate and Napoli at first) or at third giving Will Middlebrooks the day off, Chavez would have provided yet more flexibility to an already flexible lineup.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there's not exactly another Chavez out there. At least not exactly: nobody who can play both first and third and provide a legitimate bat against right-handed pitching.

There are still some other options out there, though, even if most seem to be only for trade rather than available in free agency, and none are quite so flexible.

The one who could come on the free-agent market, assuming we ignore Adam LaRoche, who isn't going to be taking a 50-75% starting role on, is Lance Berkman. Old, injured, unreliable, but oh the upside. Remember, we've seen Berkman look like he was done before back in 2010, when he followed up an uninspired performance in Houston by bombing completely in New York. Then he came back for 2011 and hit .301/.412/.547 for the Cardinals in 587 plate appearances, racking up 3.3 rWAR and 4.9 fWAR.

The problem with Berkman is that he kind of seems destined for Houston. He's 36-years-old, and would likely be mulling retirement barring a serious offer if his old home in Houston weren't moving to the American League and suddenly finding themselves in need of a DH. It would be interesting to see the Sox try and exert their financial muscle here some, but Berkman has made so much money throughout his career that at some point he has to wonder if it's worth taking his second-choice to make a little more, especially now that he's actually won a world series.

On the trade front there are a couple of first basemen who might be interesting, in particular Justin Morneau and Kendrys Morales. Morneau right now is kind of just a large contract to the Twins, who have been poking around to see if there would be any market for him. Morales hasn't had any really overt rumors about him, but the Angels certainly seem to have plenty of 1B/DH types on their team without him. Both can hit right-handed pitching, but both come with a fair bit of injury risk to match it. Generally speaking, it's hard to imagine the Sox will offer up a ton for either man.

Another route, however, might be to simply ignore filling this need with a bench spot. Because even though the Sox made big waves at the winter meetings, they're hardly done with their team yet. With well over $30 million available to them, the Sox still have a potential hole at shortstop--Jose Iglesias has one option year left before the Sox have to push him front-and-center--and of course there's the rumblings over a Jacoby Ellsbury deal. While Ellsbury is left-handed, the big problem with him right now is that it's simply not clear how much he'll produce. Even after returning to the team healthy after the All-Star Break, Ellsbury was absolutely terrible at the plate. Even if he bounces back, if it's only to his career levels rather than his 2011 heights, Ellsbury's splits aren't too big, leaving David Ortiz as really the only bat for righties to really fear.

Signing a guy like Josh Hamilton, however, would be another story entirely, given his career .959 OPS against opposite-handed pitching. Nick Swisher would not be a major upgrade against them compared to Ellsbury, but he would provide consistency against lefties as well.

Alternatively, there's Stephen Drew. It's not as impressive an answer, given that in his best years Drew ranged from a .810 to a .868 OPS against lefties, and hasn't been close to that since 2010. On the other hand, this would be in addition to Ellsbury's bat in center field rather than in place of it, and Drew would not be so significant an investment. While the market has been pretty crazy this year, even after the Jeff Keppinger and Marco Scutaro deals, Drew's market hasn't really seemed to take off. The last news we really had from there was that the A's were serious players with a one-year deal including a player option.

No matter how they go about it, though, it would be good to see the Red Sox find some balance to the team in terms of offense. Yes, it's great to have a bunch of righties who are, as we always hear, "built for Fenway," but 81 games are played away from Fenway, and more than half the time it's going to be a righty on the mound. Having David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia represent the only real lefties on the club (unless Victorino really does manage to pepper the wall with opposite field doubles) is a bit of a sketchy proposition. Eric Chavez might be gone, and the left-handed platoon bat is certainly a lot more rare than the right-handed platoon bat (mostly because they see enough righties to be left-handed starters most of the time), but there's options out there to make sure nobody feels safe taking the mound against the Red Sox.

Except a soft-tossing lefty coming straight from the minors because, let's be honest, that's just a curse.

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