For a long time now, I’ve chuckled a bit whenever people freak out about the much-heralded "First Baseman of the Future." It’s been happening for what seems like forever, moving from Lars Anderson to Anthony Rizzo to Adrian Gonzalez to Mike Napoli and so on and so on. It’s such an easy position to fill, I’d say. It should really be the last thing on anyone’s mind, I’d say. Well, guess what I’m about to write a whole bunch of words about.
It’s not that I’m worried about the long-term solution at the position. As I said, there will always be someone to fill the void. With that being said, when I look ahead to next year and check out the positions that need to be filled, first base jumps out at me. We all know Napoli’s days in Boston are numbered — he may even be gone by the time this is published — and there’s basically no chance he’ll be coming back in 2016. They’re going to need to find someone new, and while there are plenty of options, they aren’t exactly glowing possibilities.
When we talk about Boston’s first baseman in 2016, Ramirez is the first guy to come to mind. To be fair, there is good reason for this. For one thing, he clearly hits well enough to play first base. No one is going to debate that. The Red Sox signed him this year thinking he would be able to transition respectably to left field, but that obviously hasn’t happened. He has somehow managed to make Jonny Gomes look like Alex Gordon. However, I’m not exactly comfortable with the logic that comes with moving him to first. He’s shown that he struggles with left field at Fenway — one of the easiest positions in all of baseball — so moving him to a position where he’ll be involved in many more plays is a scary proposition. Now, he’s spent most of his career as an infielder, and most plays he’ll be involved with at first base will be routine, but there’s more potential for damage here. I don’t want to write off the possibility completely, but it appears prudent that Boston exhausts all of its other options before committing to this one.
If we’re going to mention moving Ramirez to first base, we surely have to mention Sandoval. The third baseman has had a very disappointing 2015, and a big part of that disappointment has come on the defensive end. It seems logical to move him across the diamond, especially considering his weight issue. However, if I’m the Red Sox, I’m not biting that bullet so early. For one thing, Sandoval’s bat doesn’t really play at first base. A good chunk of his value has always come from his defense at the hot corner, and he at least hasn’t been as bad as Ramirez. High praise, I know. If either of last winter’s acquisitions are moving to first base, it’s Ramirez.
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Now we get to the guy who may get the most time at first base once Napoli is shipped out of town, at least until Dustin Pedroia comes back, if he does at all. Holt has played 119 innings at first base in his career, and has shown he’s more than adequate there. It’s a fine stopgap for the rest of the season, but it’s clearly not his best fit long-term. For one thing, his bat is not that of a first baseman. He’s more of a league-average hitter, which is fine, but not at that position. As many people have noted and will continue to note, Holt’s at his most valuable when he’s allowed to roam all around the diamond. There’s no reason to lock him into any specific position for 2016.
If they’re going to stick with first basemen that are already in the organization, Shaw would seem to be Boston’s only option. He’s gotten a small taste of the majors in 2015, but not nearly enough to make a judgement on him. With that being said, his minor-league track record doesn’t suggest he should be anything more than a Plan B or C. His bat has stalled in Triple-A, and while that alone isn’t room for major worry, he was never projected for big things with the bat. Shaw is better off serving as a backup corner infielder — he’s gotten some work at third base as well — and should only have a major role at first base in 2015 if the first few plans fall through.
We’ve finally reached the point of this article where we look at some candidates from outside the organization. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there aren’t many options available via free agency. Davis is really the only viable starter on the list. It would be hard to complain about this kind of addition, though. He can play the position just fine, and has the big power bat this lineup needs. David Ortiz will be leaving soon, and they could use some pop to pair with Ramirez. It obviously depends on what he’ll be looking for contract-wise, but one would guess there will be plenty of Davis-to-Boston rumors this winter.
There are two possible trade candidates for the Red Sox to target, and I’m putting them both in one section because I’m not sure how realistic they are. The first is Adam Lind. He’s on a struggling Brewers team right now, and is almost certainly going to be dealt today. The good news is he’s a strong bat (135 OPS+ since the start of 2013), he’s under contract through next season, and he shouldn't cost much in a trade. The bad news is he’s more of a platoon bat, and the Red Sox haven’t been connected to him this year.
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The other name I had in mind was Joey Votto, which may admittedly be a reach. However, he’s owed a lot of money, the Reds are a mid-to-small market team, and they’re rebuilding. It’s at least possible they could look to trade him. If he does become available, the Red Sox should be all over that. He’s one of the premier hitters in the game, and has been for a long time. He’s owed a lot of money, but the Red Sox can afford to take that kind of contract on if it becomes available, and they need to use that to their advantage. Again, there’s no indication that Votto would be available, but there are reasons to think he could be, and that makes him at least an outside option at first base.
The Red Sox have a lot to work on if they want to be a contender next year, and I think most would agree that starts with the pitching staff. Their lineup isn't a finished product, though, and first base is a spot that needs a lot of work. Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of options at the moment. Moving Ramirez there is a possibility, but it's an extremely risky one. Going outside the organization for someone like Davis, Lind or Votto could be the best move, leaving Shaw as a "break in case of emergency" option.