There’s a case to be made that Michael Chavis is the most interesting Red Sox hitter looking just at the 2020 season. It should go without saying that is not the same as saying he’s the best. Beyond Chavis, we basically have a rough idea of what everyone is going to prove. We know Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts are going to be very, very good. We’re very confident Rafael Devers will be the same. We know Jackie Bradley Jr. will be inconsistent, but we’re pretty sure he’ll finish with a wRC+ somewhere in the 90s. José Peraza is less of a sure thing, but even if he hits his ceiling he’s more fine than outstanding.
There are arguments to be made for Christian Vázquez or Andrew Benintendi, I suppose, but the point is there are a fairly wide range of possibilities for Chavis in 2020. That’s the case both offensively and defensively, too. At the plate, Chavis has the talent to be a very, very good hitter but he also has enough holes in his swing where it’s not unreasonable to get to mid-May and see that he just isn’t an everyday-type hitter. With the glove, the questions are both with his ability — he looked good last year, no doubt, but it wasn’t a huge sample — and simply where he’ll play.
Heading into his second season in the majors, Chavis has said he’s embracing versatility with the glove as he looks ahead. Although he was drafted as a shortstop and had spent basically is entire professional career as a third baseman, Chavis spent essentially his entire time in the majors on the right side of the infield. That, of course, is because the Red Sox are pretty locked down on the left side. It is now realistic that Chavis can split time between three spots (he’s not a shortstop, even if he was drafted as one), which is good. Even with rosters expanding to 26, versatility can only help. No reason to stop here, either. Everyone would be better off if he could add left field to his repertoire.
To be clear, this is not some original thought on my part nor is it something the team hasn’t at least considered. In fact, the plan was for Chavis to get some time out there this winter in Puerto Rico before health concerns kept him out of winter ball altogether. It should, of course, be granted that this entire thing would have been much more reasonable if he could have gotten time out there in the winter. For a career infielder, it may not be reasonable to expect him to learn left field just in spring training, particularly since he’d presumably be getting some time on the dirt as well. That said, it’s still worth a shot.
Chavis should of course be game because, as I said, versatility still has value. Selfishly, the more positions he can reasonably be expected to play the more money he will make long-term. Obviously, his ultimate value on the open market down the line will come to his bat and if he hits well enough he’ll almost certainly settle into one spot, but it can’t hurt to play more positions.
People reading probably care more about what this could mean for the Red Sox than what it means on the margins of Chavis’ future earning power, so don’t worry it benefits them too. For one thing, the Red Sox really don’t have a whole lot of outfield depth as we talk right now. Obviously, more additions can be made before the start of the season, but at the moment J.D. Martinez is the fourth outfielder and then it’s... Tzu-Wei Lin? Marcus Wilson? John Andreoli? Tate Matheny? It’s not great! The Red Sox need major-league caliber players who can stand in the infield. Chavis’ bat should be that (again, no guarantees here, but I have always been a believer), and I have seen him stand.
More specifically, Chavis being able to play left field helps them very specifically against left-handed pitching, which I talked about yesterday. Bradley is one of the team’s worst hitters against lefties and at this point, if he’s still on the roster he should sit more often than not. This would result in Benintendi in center field, but theoretically being able to do that with Chavis in left field and Bobby Dalbec at first base is a much better lineup. Speaking of Dalbec, this also gives Chavis more opportunity to play if Dalbec gets off to a hot start and/or has a big spring and plays himself into the first base job sooner than later.
As far as whether or not he could do it, for me it simply comes down to time to learn the position. I don’t really have any doubt he can do it passably from an athleticism and base skills standpoint, particularly in Fenway’s tiny left field. He has the arm to keep baserunners honest from his time at the hot corner and the athleticism to move around well enough. Granted, he’s not a potential Gold Glove or anything but if Sam Travis can play that role, so can he.
Like I said, I have no idea if he would be able to get enough time in the outfield in spring training to really be ready there without being thrown into the fire in the regular season, but it’s at least worth a shot. It’s worth it for him, and the team has a lot more room for creativity if they can add one more position to Chavis’ rapsheet.