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2023 Offseason Outlook: First Base

So, the Bobby Dalbec/Franchy Cordero timeshare didn’t exactly work out last season. . .

Over the course of this series I will go position by position around the diamond to look at what options the Red Sox have for each position in 2023. We’ll look at what players are currently under team control or under contract, who’s in the upper minors, and what options there are in free agency. And finally, I’ll give my suggestions for how the Sox should approach each position. I hope this will serve as a useful primer to what I expect to be a pivotal offseason for the team. Here’s our look at the catching situation, and here’s our complete hot stove coverage.

Players On The Roster In 2023

Boston Red Sox vs Toronto Blu Jays Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The Red Sox began 2022 with 27-year-old Bobby Dalbec as their primary first baseman. This was a risky proposition to begin with, since we had seen very high highs and very low lows from him during the 2021 season. The first half of 2021 was disastrous and saw him post a 75 wRC+, but that was followed by a scorching hot second half where he put up a mark of 149. I was always skeptical of this second half, leading me to predict him to be the team’s biggest disappointment in 2022. He rewarded my skepticism by performing terribly. Dalbec hit just 12 home runs in 2022, while posting an 80 wRC+. Needless to say, I was not happy to be right.

Dalbec’s struggles began right away as he started off the year with his worst stretch by posting a 22 wRC+ in March/April with just one home run. This led to the Red Sox calling up Franchy Cordero on April 29th, leading to a massive reduction in Dalbec’s playing time. Cordero rewarded the team with a solid month of May, posting a 120 wRC+ with two home runs and 16 RBI. June was worse for Cordero, and by July he had gone down to near Dalbec levels of production.

Both of these players have massive flaws in their offensive game, as evidenced by them both eclipsing the 33% strikeout rate in 2022. Both players walk a fair amount, but both are miserable defensively. Overall, Dalbec was worth -0.1, and Cordero -0.2 fWAR on the season. A decision must be made about Cordero, who is estimated to make $1.5 million dollars in 2023 during his second year of arbitration. I expect him to be non-tendered. Dalbec, on the other hand, will be in his last year of pre-arbitration and is far more likely to hang around as a bench piece or be traded.

In addition to this underwhelming mix, the Red Sox traded Jay Groome to the Padres for Eric Hosmer at the trade deadline. The vast majority of Hosmer’s salary is being paid by the Padres, making him incredibly inexpensive. Unlike both Dalbec and Cordero, he can field his position and he doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate. The Red Sox can and should do better at this position though, since Hosmer doesn’t hit for much power and his OBP is middling. He may make an attractive platoon partner for another team and would certainly garner some interest on the trade market. The Red Sox have him at the league minimum through 2025.

Players In The Upper Minors With A Chance To Contribute In 2023

Tampa Bays Rays vs. Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Without a doubt, the biggest piece that the Red Sox have in their system at this position is Triston Casas, who made his debut with the big league club on September 4th. Before making his debut, Casas had been routinely ranked by most major prospect outlets as one of the team’s top two prospects in the system. Most outlets had Marcelo Mayer ahead of him, but few prospects project to do what Casas can do at the plate. At 6’5”, Casas is just a massive person who can hit the ball a country mile. In addition to this, he possesses incredible plate discipline, rarely chasing pitches out of the zone and instead looking to drive the ball and make hard contact. Casas consistently posts walk rates upwards of 15%, but he has been criticized for not doing enough damage on hittable pitches. He should be a little more aggressive in hunting for pitches to drive out of the ballpark.

Injuries have also been an issue for Casas over his time developing in the minor leagues and limited him to 86 games (plus the Olympics) in 2021, and 103 games in 2022. It would be a bit risky to rely on Casas as the team’s primary option at first base in 2023, especially considering that his knee is currently keeping him from playing in the Dominican Winter League. With that being said, his defense is way ahead of Cordero or Dalbec and could possibly be even better than that of Hosmer at this point in his career. If given the opportunity, I do believe he will perform. However, I think it would be wise to add another player, preferably a right handed bat, to take some of the load off of him.

Other bats in the upper minors to keep on your radar are Alex Binelas and Niko Kavadas. Binelas is primarily a third baseman now, and he struggled mightily at Double-A. Kavadas has a more advanced bat, which makes sense considering he is two years older than Binelas and was drafted out of Notre Dame. Kavadas is a poor defender, though, and neither is really a consideration for next year. Further down in the system is Blaze Jordan, who has performed well offensively at all levels and could debut at Double-A to start 2023.

Options In Free Agency

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There are some very interesting right handed first basemen in this particular free agent class. The most interesting of these, by far, is Jose Abreu. All Abreu has done since coming to the MLB in 2014 is mash. When you look up “professional hitter” in the dictionary, it’s just a picture of his face with his glorious beard. Last year, his power dipped from his usual mark of 30+ home runs per season, but he still slashed .304/.378/.446 with a .378 xwOBA. That xwOBA is good enough to be the second best mark of his career, behind his MVP season in the shortened 2020 campaign, it also came with a 137 wRC+.

At 35 years old, it would not take a long term commitment to get Abreu and the benefits are many. He can easily step in and be your new DH to replace J.D. Martinez, and Abreu can play an adequate first base when Casas is injured or needs a day off. One of the underrated traits that Abreu has is his durability, as he has now played in 145 or more games in seven of his eight full seasons in the majors. His last free agent deal was three-years at $50 million; if you can get him here for a similar figure or less I would do that in a heartbeat.

Other notable right handers are Brandon Drury, Trey Mancini, and Jesus Aguilar. Of these, Drury is coming off the best season of his career and can play many positions. Mancini has historically been the best hitter of the bunch. Josh Bell and Carlos Santana are interesting options as switch hitting first baseman, but I expect Bell to command more money than the Red Sox would be willing to give him with Casas waiting in the wings.

My Suggestion

It just makes far too much sense for the Red Sox to sign Abreu to come in here and provide a power right handed bat at both DH and first base. With J.D. Martinez leaving, the team can plug both Casas and Abreu into the lineup at all times and if Casas gets injured, the team has a durable and experienced solution at first base. Dalbec’s trade value is incredibly low right now, so I’m fine keeping him as a bench piece to work on his craft while he fills in at the corners when guys need a day off. The short commitment to Abreu also comes without draft pick compensation due to his acceptance of the qualifying offer last season. This is way too good for Chaim Bloom to pass up.