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Mitch Moreland became an improbable Red Sox lifer

He wasn’t here long, and he wasn’t a heralded addition, but he left his mark and then some.

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World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five (G) Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

In case you missed it while enjoying a Sunday afternoon doing something other than sitting around on the internet — crazy, I know — the Red Sox made a trade on Sunday. Just about 24 hours before the league’s trade deadline Boston sent first baseman Mitch Moreland out west to the Padres in exchange for a pair of prospects in Hudson Potts and Jession Rosario. This was a very good return for the Red Sox by all accounts, including my own. We’ll have more on the prospects later this morning, but it is a good return. Heading into the deadline I was on the fence about dealing Moreland, but with this kind of package coming back it was something that had to be done. Chaim Bloom was able to use a player who probably wasn’t going to play a major role on the next good Red Sox team and send him to a team facing a 40-man crunch in the coming winter to get an impressive return. It was what you want as a seller at the deadline.

All of that can be true, and one can still be extremely bummed out. It’s sort of a strange juxtaposition, being clearly in favor of the deal that was made but still partially wishing the departing player was sticking around. Of course, that is simply part of rooting for a team year in and year out. You grow attached to players, and in an era with as much player movement as ever, you see players you grew to really enjoy rooting for head to other clubs. That sort of attachment certainly grew for Moreland, and it was a fairly unlikely attachment that, in a way, came out of nowhere.

Moreland’s original signing with the team prior to the 2017 season was not exactly one that was beloved by many, myself included. I was extremely underwhelmed with this addition as the team was looking to move into the post-David Ortiz era. Hanley Ramirez was moving over to the DH spot, and they needed a new first baseman. That they brought in Moreland, who had been below-average by OPS+ in three of his previous four seasons with Texas, did not have me excited. I was fairly vocal in my disappointment with the deal.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five

The Red Sox did end up winning a second straight division title in that 2017 season, and Moreland became something of a fan favorite in part due to the Mitchy Two-Bags moniker as the season went on. However, that team was built on pitching and Moreland again was below-average by OPS+, granted just barely with a mark of 99. Still it was not the performance you are looking for from your first baseman, so the hope from me was they’d find an upgrade for the next year. Instead, they brought Moreland back for two more years, and I was even more vocal with my displeasure this time around.

This is when the tide started to turn. Just like in 2017, Moreland got off to a huge start in 2018 before injuries and fatigue caught up to him in the second half. Still, he finished that season with a solid 102 OPS+, and of course the season did not end in September. This was the best team in franchise history, and Moreland was a big part of that postseason run. Over the entire run he hit an impressive .294/.368/.529. It was the final game for which we’ll most remember him in that run, too. With the Red Sox trailing 4-0 in Game Four, Moreland came to the plate with two outs in the seventh and his a monster three-run home run, putting much-needed momentum into the pockets of the Red Sox, not just for the game but for the series. They’d continue to roll from there and eventually the next night.

Moreland, of course, came back or 2019 as well. That season wasn’t quite as enjoyable, but remember the start of that season. It was as brutal as the start of this season, but when they were able to pick up wins it was almost always on the back of clutch hits from Moreland. It took a while for me to come around on it, but that was who he became for this team. He was never the guy the opponent feared most in the Red Sox lineup, but he seemingly always came up when it mattered most — partially because he was always trusted as a pinch hitter in big spots — and he came through more often than not.

In a way, it is extremely fitting that he was able to fill that role without really standing out to other teams, because that was just who he seemed to be. As he heads out to San Diego, the thing we hear the most is regarding his leadership. It’s not terribly surprising that a veteran is a leader in the clubhouse, but Moreland has never really stood out on camera as a guy who is leading anybody. He is more of the quiet type who will pull people aside and give them the guidance they need without being noticed. Just like his presence in the clubhouse. The one that always sticks out to me in this regard, and probably the moment I started really coming around on Moreland, was this story from The Athletic about his mentoring relationship with Rafael Devers when the latter first came up. Fairly or not, that is not the mentor you’d be expecting for Devers, but it proved to be an impactful relationship for this franchise.

And even beyond the field and the clubhouse, Moreland ended up being a very important member of the community. Like Brock Holt, who of course was not re-signed this past winter, Moreland was a big supporter of the Jimmy Fund. They gave him a farewell on Twitter on Sunday. Beyond that, Moreland and his wife Susannah organized a Christmas in July charity for the Boston Children’s Hospital, and more recently he called for the organization to create some sort of charity to help with the race-related issues that sparked protests across sports last week. To put it more succinctly, he truly embraced being a part of this community and genuinely did what he could to make it a better place.

It’s kind of hard to put a concise definition on what it means to be a “Red Sox lifer.” It kind of makes me feel like a WEEI caller even uttering the phrase. But it’s also really the only way I can describe what Moreland became to this organization and this community in just over three years playing here. He came in as an underwhelming signing, and then an underwhelming re-signing, but he became a clutch leader on the field, in the clubhouse and in the community. Most of the players who come to Boston in the fashion Moreland arrived come and go after a couple of years and it’s just part of the ebb and flow of the franchise. Moreland made his mark here, and became one of those guys who is always going to get an ovation and an interview on NESN when he comes to Fenway. And it’s a well-deserved distinction.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated Moreland’s World Series homer was in Game Five rather than Game Four.