Following a last place finish in 2020, there are a slew of areas the Boston Red Sox need to improve upon to return to a competitive state in 2021. Along with addressing the starting rotation, bullpen and the outfield, the Red Sox have to find a solution at second base. While the rest of the infield is seemingly locked in with established stars (Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers) or a rising power hitter (Bobby Dalbec), second base remains a bit more of a mystery.
Of the many free agents out there who could play second base on a regular basis, the Red Sox have been connected to more than a few. Before DJ LeMahieu signed with the Yankees last week, there was indication that Boston had spoken with the veteran early in the offseason and that those talks could reignite. In addition to LeMahieu, the Red Sox have been connected to a handful of other potential second base options including but not limited to Kolten Wong, Marcus Semien, Jurickson Profar and Tommy La Stella. In fact, when the folks at MLB Trade Rumors released their predictions for the 2020-2021 offseason, they penciled Wong in for a two-year, $16 million deal with the Red Sox.
So far, the Red Sox have been pretty quiet in free agency, with the re-signing of Martín Pérez over the weekend and deals with Hunter Renfroe and Matt Andriese standing out as the major transactions so far this winter. There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox to make some moves, but with January more than halfway finished, there is the possibility that they will opt not to make any new signings aimed at improving their second base prospects.
On the one hand, that would not be the best strategy for a team that is actually interested in getting better and not just entering a deep and lengthy rebuild. Among all MLB teams last year, the Red Sox tied for 25th in fWAR from second basemen (-0.2). Second base was one of only two positional groups that produced a negative fWAR total for the Red Sox last season. The other was designated hitter, and the Red Sox aren’t about to give up on J.D. Martinez just yet.
Even with that kind of evidence pointing to a desperate need to get better at second base, the Red Sox may choose to stick with the players already on the roster. It’s still very unclear when or if Dustin Pedroia will make a return to the field, so for now, those internal candidates on the 40-man with some MLB experience are Jonathan Araúz, Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis. All three share one thing in common: youth. Arroyo and Chavis are both 25 years old and Araúz is only 22. At those ages, players are generally still developing to some degree, and the Red Sox may want to see some of that progression before they bring in a more veteran player. But what have those three shown so far?
Let’s start with Arroyo. The Red Sox are his fourth organization in four total MLB seasons. After the Red Sox claimed him off waivers last August, he settled in and provided roughly league average production at the plate (94 wRC+, 95 OPS+) across 14 games (13 at second base). Arroyo was also a decent defender in that small sample, especially at second base, where he produced two defensive runs saved. That 14-game run is nothing to write home about, but a league average-ish bat with solid glove skills up the middle isn’t something the Red Sox should turn away out of hand.
While Arroyo was brought in to shore up second base, Araúz began the year with the Red Sox and was used a bit more in a utility infielder role, although he got the bulk of his time at second (16 of 25 games). Araúz was not especially terrible, but he wasn’t particularly good either, showing that he still has a long way to go. That’s understandable for someone his age. He posted an even 0.0 in fWAR, although his offensive work was much further off from that of an average player (78 wRC+, 75 OPS+) compared with Arroyo.
Then there’s Chavis. Of the three, he has the more recent prospect pedigree (Arroyo was a top 100 prospect as recently as three years ago) and thanks to a hot start to his first season (2019), he is probably the player with the most potential (imagined or otherwise) among the three. As I wrote last week, however, Chavis’s tendency to strike out a lot derailed his sophomore season and lost him a chance to secure the starting second base job entirely, as did his struggles on defense. He isn’t a natural second baseman, of course, but there isn’t really a spot for him at his usual posts (third base and first base) and even if there was, after posting a 65 wRC+ last season, its not like he’d be a lock for those spots either. Looking at second base, Chavis has to do the most to improve offensively and defensively to be a legitimate option at second base (or anywhere on the field).
Even though there are red flags with each of those three players, the Red Sox could be hoping that one of them takes a major step forward in 2021, especially as all three are just entering what is usually the prime of an MLB player’s career. However, the Red Sox could also simply be biding time for their second baseman of the future, and signing someone to a potentially expensive multi-year deal could mess with those plans.
That second baseman is Jeter Downs, of course, and seeing a lack of movement on the free agent second base market this offseason could signal that the Red Sox think he is even closer to his MLB debut than we realize. Downs is unanimously a top two prospect in the organization (and number one according to FanGraphs) and he might be brought up to the MLB level this season, potentially in “mid 2021,” per the aforementioned FanGraphs. The 22-year-old missed some important playing time last year with the minor league season halted, but if he gets up to speed quickly this year, the Red Sox may opt to accelerate his road to the big league club, especially if they don’t sign anyone new and Araúz, Arroyo and Chavis all fail to take hold of the starting second base role.
In addition to Downs, C.J. Chatham is another promising infield prospect and he’s on the 40-man roster already. Although his natural position is shortstop, the Red Sox aren’t about to bump Bogaerts, and second base would be a the obvious positional shift that would give Chatham a chance at playing time.
All told, the Red Sox actually have a lot of roads they could follow when it comes to solving their second base conundrum. They could sign a free agent, but they may also roll the dice and hope to hit with one of the three players from last year’s team who played at second base, or just bridge the gap until Downs is ready to claim the position for which he is destined. It’s difficult to say which path is the correct one, especially without knowing what the Red Sox’s goals really are for 2021. Hopefully, we’ll get more clarity on that soon.