By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Mitch Moreland played about as well as anyone could have expected for the Red Sox, but at the end of the day he didn’t give the team what they really needed at first base. Moreland was a well-rounded presence at the plate and in the field; what the team needs now is power. Real, serious power.
And president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski knows it.
He hinted that a major offensive upgrade is coming for the Red Sox at first base when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday at Fenway Park. His comments were mostly about his decision to fire manager John Farrell (but not necessarily why he did it), and he also addressed the team’s lack of power in the wake of removing David Ortiz from the lineup.
“You talk about ‘We need to score more runs’. I didn’t supply the players that would give us enough runs,” said Dombrowski. “I think we do need that. That’s part of our offseason goal.”
The Red Sox were a middling offensive team in 2017, scoring the seventh-most runs in the league with 785. It was the worst total of the five playoff teams in the AL. But even more striking was the team’s power outage, as they finished dead-last in the league with 168 home runs. Moreland hit 23 homers with 79 RBIs, which is right in line with his career averages – and he was exactly what Dombrowski expected, which was not an Ortiz replacement.
“I know that we didn’t have David, but if you said that he was basically replaced by Mitch Moreland, we didn’t look to replace him one-on-one with Mitch Moreland,” said Dombrowski. “Mitch Moreland did fine for us.”
He went on to run through the rest of the Red Sox lineup, making it clear that he expects offensive improvement across the board – especially from guys who took steps back in 2017 like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Hanley Ramirez. But notably, he hinted that first base is the position where the team will make a major change.
“We have three young outfielders that are all good. We’ve got a young third baseman, a young shortstop,” said Dombrowski. “Second base, we know [Dustin Pedroia]. We’ve got young catchers.
“You’ve got first base and DH, then, left at that point. Hanley is one of the guys that we look forward to having a bigger year for us from an offensive perspective. But really, some of that is gonna come from an internal perspective. And then you can look to add somebody from outside to help you somewhere. But we need to score more runs.”
You can never rule out a blockbuster trade with Dombrowski, who moved several top prospects in deals for Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel in his first two offseasons. It would shock no one if he at least took a stab at acquiring a player like Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 home runs for the Marlins in 2017. But based on his Wednesday comments, his preference is that the team’s current talent hits for more power while he adds pop at first base – and only first base.
That’s where this offseason’s crop of free-agent bats comes in. Dombrowski will have options, whether he wants an experienced first baseman or someone he can move to that spot.
The big prize will be the Royals’ Eric Hosmer, and you’ll surely hear his name uttered a lot around here in the coming weeks. He is one of the better pure hitters at his position and would certainly produce more runs than Moreland in the end. But Hosmer, who turns 28 on Oct. 24, has never been a big-time power hitter. His 25 longballs in each of the past two seasons are his career-high, and he’s never slugged over .500 in a season (he slugged .498 in 2017).
A better fit for what the Red Sox need offensively would be J.D. Martinez, who batted .303 and hit 45 home runs in just 117 games – including a ridiculous 29 homers in 62 games with the Diamondbacks. Martinez clearly has more pop than most players in the majors, but has never played first base in his career. He would have to agree to make the transition, but for the Red Sox, it would be worth the defensive downgrade for what he would bring to the lineup.
Martinez’s recent injury history, including a Lisfranc injury in his right foot this past season, should also be a concern – but it obviously didn’t affect his bat when he returned to the field.
The free-agent market will also have no shortage of more cost-effective, experienced first basemen that could give the Red Sox a power upgrade. Among them are the Indians’ Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana, the Rays’ Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda, and the Rockies’ Mark Reynolds. But do those players really move the needle in terms of a marked upgrade in the middle of the lineup? For Dombrowski – and most Red Sox fans – probably not.
If Dombrowski doesn’t sign Martinez or Hosmer, perhaps he tries to go the much-talked about Stanton route. Maybe he tries to swing a deal for someone like Jose Abreu, Freddie Freeman, or Wil Myers. It sounds crazy, but Dombrowski wouldn’t be afraid to do it. As an option to improve their power, such a move should not be ruled out.
But ultimately, Dombrowski sounds like an executive who’s poised to make a push for a free agent and bank on the players he already has to hit better next season. Whatever he does at the first base position, it’s a spot where fireworks ought to be expected.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.