The Red Sox and Mitch Moreland have agreed to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million. If this is the answer at designated hitter, it’s one very underwhelming conclusion to an otherwise overwhelming day.
To be clear, Mitch Moreland is not the DH. But he does “solve the problem” as it were by playing first base and moving Hanley Ramirez out of the field. Moreland is a decent fielder. He’s either consistently average or above that depending on what metric you believe, but his 2016 Gold Glove season is an outlier at the moment. Maybe he really did improve, but based on one season’s evidence, it’s hard to give him too much credit for defensive excellence.
For what it’s worth, on a staff that’s light on ground balls and heavy on strikeouts, first base defense is also not at its most valuable. And unfortunately, that really is what Moreland primarily brings to the table. Over the course of his career, he has been a perfectly league-average hitter, which is not really what you’re looking for from that position.
Moreland, unfortunately, also doesn’t really profile to get a bump from Fenway. He’s moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league, and while Fenway is certainly known for being helpful, Moreland’s success largely comes from power to right and center field. For all that Fenway gives every right-handed hitter a bounty of doubles, its cavernous right field and deep center depress right-handed pull power. In over 2700 plate appearances, Moreland has only gone to left field 300 times, with most of his already average offense coming from the 1600 balls-in-play to left and center.
If Moreland is just a bench bat—a lefty who can come in against a right-handed pitcher late in the game for a catcher or something?—that’s fine. Most likely, though, he’s the bat the Sox are bringing in, given their limited payroll availability. He’ll play first base against right-handed pitchers, and Hanley will take over against lefties, with Chris Young playing DH against southpaws. That means Bradley and Benintendi will both have to fend for themselves against all pitchers.
He’s better than nothing. But it’s hard to say he’s a better player than many of the others who were available on short-term deals for this role, and especially hard to say he’s a better fit. He doesn’t cost much, no, but he’s also not likely to do much.