It is “What if?” week at SB Nation, so we’ll have a few posts throughout the week looking at some “What ifs” from Red Sox history. This is one of those posts!
While he never played a game for the Boston Red Sox, Anthony Rizzo played a major role in the 2013 World Series run. However, during What If week here at SB Nation, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if the trading Rizzo was actually worth it.
After performing well during the high baseball showcase circuit, the Red Sox took a gamble in the sixth round on the Florida high school first baseman. He was going to attend Florida Atlantic University but decided instead to take the $325,000 signing bonus. While with the Red Sox organization, he moved from the Gulf Coast League to Portland in four seasons, and as a 20-year-old he put on a huge power display in Portland, smacking 20 home runs to go along with this 30 doubles. However, it looked like the team was going to lose their third baseman, Adrián Beltré, to free agency during the winter of 2010. So instead of re-signing Beltré or another third baseman, the Red Sox went after another Adrián, Adrián González of the San Diego Padres. In a big time trade, the Padres sent their franchise player for three prospects, Casey Kelly, Reymond Fuentes, Anthony Rizzo, and Eric Patterson.
González had an excellent year in 2011 with the Red Sox. He slashed 0.338/0.410/0.548 with 108 runs, and 117 RBI. During the season, the Red Sox and González agreed to a seven-year extension worth $154 million. He was selected to represent the team at the All-Star Game and finished second to Robinson Cano in the Home Run Derby. In 2012, the team tanked and knowing they had to unloading some of their more expensive contracts, traded González, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and cash to the Dodgers for James Loney, Iván DeJesús Jr., Allen Webster, Jerry Sands, and Rubby De La Rosa. James Loney spend most of his time at first base, hitting .230/.264/.310 in his 30 games with the team. Loney was finishing out his least season of his contract so the Red Sox had to dig back into the free agent market again.
Adrián González stats - .321/.382/.513 42 HR / 203 RBI / 171 R
Anthony Rizzo stats - .245/.324/.402 16 HR / 57 RBI / 53 R
After making his first ever All-Star appearance with the Rangers, Mike Napoli signed a three-year, $39 million deal to be the everyday first baseman. However, the deal was up in the air after an exam showed a major issue with his hip. Both sides came to terms with a one year, $5 million deal laced with incentives. In that first season, Napoli’s 187 strikeouts not only led the team but was a Red Sox team record. He came up big in the 2013 ALCS, where he hit .300/.333/.700, with two doubles, two home runs, and four runs against the Detroit Tigers. As you know, the Bearded Brothers went on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series and his celebration gave us this glorious picture.
In the offseason, Napoli and the Red Sox agreed to a two-year deal worth $32 million, which was just a few million less than his original contract. His next couple of years was not as productive and was traded to the Rangers in 2015 for a player to be named later. Overall, his time with the club was not overtly bad and slashed .242/.350/.436 during three-year tenure.
Mike Napoli stats - .242/.350/.436 53 HR / 187 RBI / 165 R
Anthony Rizzo stats - .265/.365/.484 86 HR / 259 RBI / 254 R
Hanley Ramirez signed a four-year contract in the winter before the 2015 season and was slated to play left field. Throughout his career, he had played on the left hand side of the infield so moving to the outfield shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Narrator voice: It was
The Mike Napoli trade opened the door to try Hanley at first base. I, as I’m sure many of you, was hesitant on how this would work. I thought it would be an absolute disaster. In a surprising turn of events, it wasn’t. According to FanGraphs, his UZR went from a -13.1 in left field to -0.6 at first base. He also had his best season as a member of the Red Sox in 2016 when he put up a .286/.364/.505 with 30 home runs, 111 RBI, 81 runs.
Hanley Ramirez stats - .286/.361/.505 30 HR / 111 RBI / 81 R
Anthony Rizzo stats - .292/.385/.544 32 HR / 109 RBI / 94 R
Mitch Moreland/Steve Pierce
Even with Hanley not being an absolute disaster at first base, David Ortiz’ retirement after the 2016 season, Ramirez moved into the DH spot and the Red Sox were looking for another first baseman. Many, including me, was hoping the Red Sox would sign Edwin Encarnacion but alas, they went the cost savings route and signed Mitch Moreland to a one year, $5.5 million contract. Moreland, struggled in his last season with the Rangers but seeing him sign for such a small contract was a surprise. In his first season with the team, he was an improvement over Ramirez in the field, with five OAA (outs above average) compared to Ramirez’ one in the previous year. He also had his typical season with a .246 AVG to go along with 22 home runs and 34 doubles. That steady eddy production lead to a two year, $13 million contract for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Unfortunately, he has struggled to stay on the field and his platoon splits have gotten wider. That being said, he was an All-Star in 2018 and also hit .500/.325/.667 in the ALCS against the Houston Astros in route to the 2018 World Series championship.
The Red Sox send Santiago Espinal to the Blue Jays for Steve Pearce in late June 2018. The move was to add some solid production and roster flexibility. He spilt time between the outfield and first but played the majority of the time at first base when a difficult lefty was on the mound. His production during the World Series was out of this world. He slashed .333/.500/1.1667 with three home runs and one double in route to a World Series MVP award to go along with his World Series championship ring.
Moreland and Pearse stats - .246/.328/.448 64 HR / 240 RBI / 206 R
Anthony Rizzo stats - .282/.391/.498 84 HR / 304 RBI / 262 R
So, in an alternate universe, the Sox would have had first base locked up from 2011-2021 (if they gave the same extension as the Cubs) with the following stat line.
.273/.373/.488 218 HR / 729 RBI / 663 R...and saved close to $100 million that they could have used to, oh I don’t know, re-sign Mookie Betts or something.
However, the team overall performed well during that time...
.264/.343/.456 239 HR / 893 RBI / 770 R
...but I think I would prefer Rizzo’s steady production over the hodgepodge we have had over the years.