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2021-2022 Offseason Preview: The corner infield market

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What it looks like on the corners.

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World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With option decisions having been made and the five-day window after the World Series closed, we are now officially in free agency and player movement should be upon us. (The CBA situation is likely to slow down that progress, but players can change teams now.) For the coming week, every day we will look at a new position group of free agents and trade candidates, finding some who may or may not be fits for the Boston Red Sox this winter. Note that this is not a complete list of free agents and trade targets. Today we look at the first and third basemen making up the corner infield market.

Where the Red Sox stand now

It would seem this is not a spot on the roster where change is needed to any large degree, though that could change for either spot, at least in theory. At third base, the defensive questions still linger for Rafael Devers, and while all indications at this point are that they are not planning to make any move at this point, nothing can be written off until the offseason is over. That said, at this point we are not expecting any change.

Over at first base, it might be a little bit murkier with swing and miss issues still plaguing Bobby Dalbec. But even with strikeout concerns, the second half almost certainly earned Dalbec some leeway. There’s a chance that second half surge could actually turn him into an intriguing trade chip to be replaced by a free agent, or with an eye at opening the spot for Triston Casas. That’s not my expectation, though. I would certainly want to get a little insurance on the bench behind him in the mold of Mitch Moreland in years past, but I’d head into the season with the idea that Dalbec is going to start at first base more days than not.

Free Agents

2021 numbers and team(s) in parentheses

1B:

  • Freddie Freeman (ATL; 695 PA, .300/.393/.503, 135 wRC+, 4.5 fWAR)
  • Brandon Belt (SFG; 381 PA, .274/.378/.597, 158 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR)
  • Kyle Schwarber (WAS/BOS; 471 PA, .266/.374/.554, 145 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR)
  • Anthony Rizzo (CHC/NYY; 576 PA, .248/.344/.440, 112 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR)
  • Brad Miller (PHI; 377 PA, .227/.321/.453, 105 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR)
  • Albert Pujols (LAA/LAD; 296 PA, .236/.284/.433, 90 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR)
  • Travis Shaw (MIL/BOS; 250 PA, .200/.286/.373, 78 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR)

3B:

  • Kris Bryant (CHC/SFG; 586 PA, .265/.353/.481, 123 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR)
  • Eduardo Escobar (ARI/MIL; 599 PA, .253/.314/.472, 107 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR)
  • Kyle Seager (SEA; 670 PA, .212/.285/.438, 99 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (ARI/CIN; 352 PA, .230/.313/.366, 82 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR)

The first base class is certainly better than the third base class, which is more of a reason why a chance is not likely to happen with Devers this winter. Even someone like Bryant, who is outstanding and doesn’t have draft pick compensation attached, could be seen as more of a left fielder at this point. But either way, in terms of true talent he’d likely be the only free agent for whom it would be worth signing to move Devers to a new spot on the diamond.

Over on the first base side, though, there are some good options for all tiers. At the very top, Freeman is as good a bat as you’ll see on the market this year. I can’t see the Red Sox going big at this position, though, so he and Belt (who also got a qualifying offer) are likely off the table. I’m not convinced they’re really going after Schwarber, either. Rizzo will be a bit cheaper, but I think the contract will be longer than what Boston is looking to give out for this spot. Instead, someone like Miller seems like a great target. He won’t cost all that much, and hits from the left side. He can start the season as a backup to Dalbec and a bat off the bench, and if Dalbec struggles as the season goes on Miller is good enough to feel comfortable stepping into a bigger role, even if it’s temporary.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Potential Trade Partners

  • Oakland Athletics: The A’s look ready for something of a fire sale this winter, and with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman the corner infield spots is where most of their value lies.
  • Cleveland Guardians: With Cleveland looking like they’re not going to compete the next couple years, Ramírez trade rumors should heat up often.
  • Cincinnati Reds: Like the A’s, the Reds look like they’re ready to move cash this winter, guys like Eugenio Suarez and (more unlikely) Joey Votto could come up in talks.
  • Baltimore Orioles: Still in their rebuild, Trey Mancini could be shipped off to a team closer to contention.
  • Kansas City Royals: They have other options on the corners, and after a disappointing year Carlos Santana could be a buy-low target.
  • Miami Marlins: The Fish have a couple of older first basemen who could fit on the Red Sox roster in Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper.
  • New York Mets: With Pete Alonso at first and coming off a disappointing year, the Mets could look to move on from Dominic Smith.
  • Washington Nationals: It’s not clear they are going to rebuild with Juan Soto still in their lineup, but if they do Josh Bell would be a nice one-year rental.
  • Colorado Rockies: Ryan McMahon has played all over the infield and would be a nice top bench player for the Red Sox who could also be Dalbec insurance.
  • Philadelphia Phillies: It’s hard to see Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm continuing to exist on the same roster, though the likely addition of the DH spot in the NL should help.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Colin Moran is a nice depth option from a rebuilding team that will at least consider dealing basically any veteran.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: It would be a cheap depth addition, but Christian Walker has been interesting at times in his career.

There’s a lot of options here, especially at first base. That doesn’t come as a major surprise, of course, because it’s just not as difficult to develop first basemen as other spots, especially talking about non-stars. Some of the names up top are really interesting, and Olson is someone who makes you consider shaking up all of the long-term first place plans, but it feels prudent to save prospects for other spots on the roster.

Instead, I find myself enamored with some of the second tier options here. If the Red Sox were worried about Dalbec regressing again and looking to trade him, Bell would be a great bridge to Casas. But again, I think I’d hang on to Dalbec, and Smith really interests me here. He’s coming off a rough season, but he also has strong prospect pedigree and was a fantastic hitter in 2019 and 2020, albeit in relatively small samples. I wouldn’t give up a ton for him, but if he’s available as a buy-low it’s worth looking. Moran could fill a similar role, though with a higher floor and lower ceiling.