It started with a moment we all remember. Back in mid-2017, Manny Machado infamously spiked Dustin Pedroia during a slide into second base, and the Red Sox second baseman limped off the field in pain. Since then, the Red Sox have had limited production out of the second base position, and just generally have struggled to find a competent successor to Pedroia. After all, he gave the team a decade of All-Star level performance, which isn’t easily replaceable.
Over the past three years, we’ve primarily seen Eduardo Núñez, Brock Holt, Michael Chavis, and José Peraza at second. Núñez was unproductive, especially on the defensive side, but his World Series heroics engraved him in Red Sox lore. Holt was a fan favorite and another playoff hero, but wasn’t exactly a franchise cornerstone. For a while it looked like Chavis might be the guy, but his swing and miss problems just haven’t improved; he whiffed on an astronomical 38.3 percent of pitches this year. I think we all know how the José Peraza experiment went.
The long-term answer at second is an easy one. After being acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, Jeter Downs has high expectations from Red Sox fans. He’s a top-100 prospect, potentially with an above-average hit tool, above-average power tool, and above-average defense. He’s struggled with consistency, but has improved both his power and his ability to elevate the ball throughout the minors. Obviously nothing is set in stone, but if Downs can put all of his tools together and stay consistent, he has the potential to lock down the second base position for years to come. My dreams are made of an infield comprised of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Jeter Downs and Triston Casas.
But what should the Sox do in the short-term? FanGraphs estimates Downs will make his debut in 2022, which perhaps could be at the back-end of 2022 depending on how aggressive they plan to be with prospects after this missed season. The Sox can choose to look internally, or at the current free agent class. The good news is that there are a few free agent options who can get the job done without breaking the bank.
My personal favorite free agent is lefty Tommy La Stella. Cueing my inner Cris Collinsworth, here’s a guy who plays three different infield positions, can hit for both contact and power, walks at a solid clip, and never strikes out. He ranked first in the majors with a strikeout rate of just 5.3 percent! His downside is that he has trouble against lefties, and could be viewed as a platoon candidate. He struggled immensely this year in that category, posting a disappointing 61 OPS+. However, he does have a career OPS+ of 87 while facing lefties, which is at least serviceable, so perhaps 2020 was more of an outlier.
A second potential free agent option is former San Diego Padre Jurickson Profar. Profar fits the bill as more of an everyday player than La Stella does, but is not as consistent of a hitter. However, he is incredibly versatile – he played 5 different positions in 56 games this year, and throughout his career has played every position outside of pitcher and catcher. He produced 1.3 fWAR in this shortened season, and has been quite productive since his breakout in 2018.
Finally, the Sox do have a decent internal option at 2nd base in Christian Arroyo. Matt gave his review of Arroyo’s short 2020 season, and despite his impressive stretch, I am also not sold on him. He does have pedigree as a former 1st rounder and top prospect, but is too volatile to be an everyday player on a (possibly) contending team.
I’m sure Chaim Bloom has concocted an impressive offseason plan, and may simply choose to fill the second base hole with Arroyo and/or give Michael Chavis time to figure himself out. However, at a reasonable price, I would jump on an opportunity to sign either of La Stella or Profar to a 1-2 year deal. That would eliminate the risk Chavis/Arroyo presents, and give the Sox time to reassess the position and Downs’ progression in 2022.