For the second straight year, the Red Sox will be entering the offseason with a hole at first base. Of course, the difference this year is that they have hopes of retaining their incumbent, which wasn't the case with James Loney and Mauro Gomez. After the long saga of his negotiations last year, Mike Napoli finally wound up in Boston, and put up a season that has many interested in bringing him back for 2014, and for good reason. Despite the injury worries coming into the season, he racked up 578 plate appearances and put up a .259/.360/.482 batting line (129 wRC+) while playing surprisingly good defense. Ideally, the Red Sox would bring Napoli back and look to add new faces to fill other needs. Matt Kory has the full explanation on why this is the best move. The baseball offseason never really goes according to plan, though. Like any front office in this league, the Red Sox have backup plans in case someone - maybe the Rockies, who reportedly have serious interest - outbids Boston for Napoli's services. Those other options can be found both in free agency and on the trade market. The question is, which is the best road for the Red Sox to take?
One of the most common observations about the Red Sox organization as a whole is the lack of a true first baseman of the future. Admittedly, that's a pretty small problem to have, as it's not too hard to shift someone there if needed, but there is no obvious answer in the system. So, if they are trying to find a long-term fit this winter, they could do so on the trade front.
The first target that will come up if Napoli signs elsewhere is Mark Trumbo. The Angels are in desperate need of starting pitching - an area in which the Red Sox seem to be oozing with depth - and Trumbo has a ton of power, and is young. He probably wouldn't be the most effective addition, though. The Angels are reportedly looking for a young, cheap, controllable pitcher who can contribute right now. The only pitcher who fits that description for the Red Sox is Felix Doubront, and one would think a deal involving the young lefty would bring back more than Trumbo. He just finished his first major-league season with an average walk-rate, while also striking out more than he ever has. His impressive power still leads to good offense - he had a 106 wRC+ in 2013 and a 111 wRC+ for his career - but it's not good enough to justify the cost. One can find that type of production without giving up a pitcher like Doubront.
Another potential target could be Ike Davis, who seems to be forever looking for a bounce back season. The Mets' first baseman burst onto the scene in his first two seasons, hitting .271/.357/.460 in 750 plate appearances between 2010 and 2011. In the last two years, however, he has stumbled to the tune of a .219/.315/.414 line, making him an essentially league-average hitter. The Mets are looking to shop him this winter, as they also have Lucas Duda who needs to be moved out of the outfield immediately. The potential has always been there for Davis, who will be in his age-27 season next year, and there will likely be a good number of suitors. There hasn't been much indication as to what the Mets are looking for in a return, but if the cost remains low, Davis could be a good buy-low candidate.
Staying with the NL East, the Marlins are always a good bet to be on the lookout to unload some of their talent who is due to make a little bit of money. They have this in Logan Morrison, though he shouldn't exactly be expensive in the context of most teams' payrolls. Like Davis, Morrison impressed everyone upon first arriving in the majors, putting up a .259/.351/.460 line in 2010 and 2011. However, between injuries and plain struggles Morrison has lost his luster, putting up two consecutive below-average offensive seasons. The biggest culprit here has been a lack of power, with his Isolated Power dropping from .221 in 2011 all the way down to .133 this past season. Morrison would be another buy-low candidate, though Davis seems like the more attractive candidate since he's shown more flashes more recently.
Photo Courtesy of Thearon W. Henderson
Maybe the Red Sox don't want to part with any of their young talent, and are more willing to just spend money for a player who will help them win now, but won't likely be a big part of the team's future. If that's the case, there are a few options on the free agency market, some of which would require some shuffling of the current lineup.
The first guy is the most interesting candidate, in my opinion. Corey Hart had established himself as one of the most consistent hitters in the league in Milwaukee, with a .279/.343/.514 line (130 wRC+) over 1787 plate appearances from 2010 through 2012. Following the 2012 season, Hart experienced some bad luck with his knees, first getting surgery on the right one, then injuring the left one while rehabbing the right one. He was only supposed to miss part of the 2013 season, but in the end he didn't play a game. While health issues like this will always cause teams to be wary, Hart will be looking for a one-year deal to re-establish his value, a la Stephen Drew, which could really appeal to Ben Cherington.
They could also look for a reunion with James Loney, who was here for a month two years ago. After struggling for most of his career, he caught some of that Tampa Magic, and hit his way to a 118 wRC+. Since his track record suggests that 2013 would be a career year, he shouldn't be too expensive this winter, even in this crazy free agent market. His first go-around in Boston wasn't great, but he could be a cheap alternative to trading away important assets.
The other option would be to move Daniel Nava out of left field to first base, where he had his first taste of action this year. Based on everyone's comments, the team was impressed by what they saw from Nava in his first taste at the position, and it would be a way to fill a hole while keeping his plate discipline in the lineup. Then, they could go after one of the corner outfielders on the market. Someone like Shin-Soo Choo would probably be too expensive in both years and dollars, but Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson could be cheaper options. Both players would require losing their first round pick, but in this scenario, they have probably gained three compensation picks from the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Napoli. Losing the final pick of the first round doesn't hurt as much when you pick up three additional picks in the same area of the draft.
If I were running this team, the most attractive route definitely seems to be via free agency. The options on the trade market all have upside, and could potentially hold the position for years to come, but they all come with obvious flaws. The ideal move seems to be moving Nava over to first, and bringing in Beltran or Granderson. Both of these players would replace some of the much-needed offense that would be lost with the departures of Ellsbury and Napoli. If that wasn't feasible, Corey Hart seems like the prototypical Ben Cherington signing. Re-signing Mike Napoli is clearly Plan A right now, but if that doesn't work out, the Red Sox could go in a number of different directions.