Red Sox Free Agent Targets: First Baseman Matt Adams
By Sean Penney
A Boston Red Sox team searching for a power hitter this offseason should give some consideration to free agent first baseman Matt Adams.
The Boston Red Sox have an opening at either first base or designated hitter and a desperate need to add more pop to the lineup. While most fans are enamored with the flashy free agent and trade targets there are low-cost options who could fill those needs without breaking the bank.
One of those options is Matt Adams, who became eligible for free agency when the Atlanta Braves didn’t offer him a 2018 contract by Friday night’s deadline. Adams would have been arbitration eligible but he’s now free to negotiate a new deal with any team.
Adams may not seem like a solution to Boston’s power problems on the surface but dig deeper and there are signs suggesting he would be an upgrade in that department. While the 20 home runs he hit this year were a career-high, Adams has been a part-time player for most of his career. He appeared in 131 games this season but received only 367 plate appearances. He has only one full season’s worth of playing time in his career when he received 563 plate appearances in 2014.
After starting the season in a bench role with the St. Louis Cardinals, Adams was traded to the Atlanta Braves in May. He began seeing regular playing time with his new team and responded with 19 home runs over 100 games with the Braves. Extrapolate that over a full season’s workload and he would easily have topped 30 homers at that pace.
The career-high .841 OPS Adams produced this year would have put him inside the top 25 in the National League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. His .248 ISO would have tied Jose Abreu for 25th in the majors.
That’s not to suggest that Adams is in the same class as Abreu, a potential trade target for the Red Sox. However, he does have similar power upside.
Adams owns a solid .271 career batting average but does come with some warning signs at the plate. His 24.0 K% would have been the 25th highest rate among qualified major league hitters and his 6.0 BB% would have placed him outside the top 100.
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Unlocking the 30-homer upside in his bat may mean accepting his other flaws but would giving Adams a heavier workload expose him or would steady playing time help improve those results?
His career splits show that using Adams in the right situations could be the path to getting the best out of him. He’s a career .286/.333/.495 hitter against right-handed pitching but that slash line plummets to .206/.236/.357 against southpaws. This explains why he’s been used part-time for the bulk of his career, as he’s rarely utilized against lefties and quite frankly shouldn’t be.
Limiting his playing time may prevent Adams from reaching his power ceiling but that’s of little concern to the Red Sox if he’s platooned with another power threat who can hit lefties. How about a reunion with Mike Napoli? He’s a right-hander coming off a down season but still managed a respectable .270/.379/.513 line against left-handed pitching.
Split playing time in a strict right/left platoon between Adams and Napoli and it’s reasonable to expect they could combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of a .280/.340/.500 slash line with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. That’s borderline All-Star production for a first baseman yet signing both players would come at a fraction of the cost of what the Red Sox would need to spend for a star slugger.
If Boston isn’t able to lure in Napoli or a similar free agent right-hander then they could platoon Adams with Sam Travis instead. The 24-year old hasn’t shown much power upside but he crushed lefties in his limited time in the big leagues this year (.381/.458/.500). Travis still has much to prove against right-handers (.118/.143/.147) but would be useful in a platoon role.
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The Red Sox clearly have their eyes set on a bigger prize but need to have a backup plan if their top targets don’t plan out. Adams would be a cheap, short-term solution to add some power at first base or DH while retaining financial flexibility for a bigger move down the line.