The recent departure of Mike Napoli to Texas opened up fresh questions about the Red Sox’ immediate future. While the slugger is enduring an awful 2015, with a poor .207/.307/.386 slash line through 98 games with the Red Sox, he at least figured to be in the team’s conversations for next year, despite being a free agent. However, by cutting Napoli loose, the Red Sox displayed their willingness to move on, which raises questions about the team’s first baseman in 2016 and beyond.
In recent times, Boston has enjoyed great continuity at first, with Napoli, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis holding down the fort for the past decade. However, such certainty at the position is no longer possible for the Red Sox, who face some difficult decisions in recruiting a new first-sacker.
Initially, the front office will likely consider all internal options at its disposal, which immediately draws attention to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, two expensive free agent signings who have really struggled this year. Hanley’s transition to left field has been an unmitigated disaster, with the former shortstop ranked by Fangraphs’ metrics as the worst defensive player in all of baseball. Moreover, Sandoval has shown a shocking lack of range, and he is rated as the fourth-worst fielder presently playing in the Majors.
If the Red Sox are to compete moving forward, this situation just has to be rectified. Ramirez is clearly incapable of playing left field, while Sandoval is plainly awful at third. To seriously contend in 2016, Boston needs new players in those positions. That’s an irrefutable fact. Therefore, in an ideal world, either Sandoval or Ramirez would move to first base, a far less challenging position, where they wouldn’t hurt the team as much.
However, Red Sox management can be stubborn and, though it’s plainly obvious for the world to see, they likely won’t admit their mistakes in signing Hanley and Pablo. Quite incredibly, Ben Cherington has already said that he doesn’t foresee a position change for either player, which leaves Brock Holt and Travis Shaw as other organizational options for the first base gig next year. Holt’s greatest value is as a super utility guy, while Shaw doesn’t inspire much long-term confidence, despite a strong performance this season.
Thus, with a lack of strong internal candidates, Red Sox may once again be forced into the free agent market, which is always an adventure with this front office. Yet, aside from Napoli, the only available first baseman of note is Chris Davis, who is too inconsistent to be worth a large financial investment.
A few first basemen may be available via trade over the winter, with Joey Votto and Pedro Alvarez being the most intriguing chips, but the Red Sox have been hugely disinclined to move any of their top prospects in recent years, so that would also be an unlikely move.
Ultimately, the Red Sox should use the remainder of this desperately disappointing season to evaluate their internal candidates at first base, with Ramirez and Sandoval and Holt sharing time with Shaw. If they stumble upon some success, that’s great. But if they discover that none of those options are viable antidotes to the first base conundrum, at least Ben Cherington will know that it’s time to go shopping again this winter.