Red Sox re-sign first baseman Mitch Moreland to 2-year deal

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Mitch Moreland
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Mitch Moreland /

Apparently, a mediocre 2017 offensive campaign, an opening at first base and an obvious need for power equals… Mitch Moreland.

When news broke that the New York Yankees had acquired Giancarlo Stanton for essentially Starlin Castro, the glaring lack of thump in the current Boston Red Sox lineup became all the more apparent.

By this point, everyone knows the 2017 Red Sox finished 27th in home runs, 26th in slugging percentage and 22nd in OPS. This, of course, came just one season after finishing 9th in homers, 1st in slugging and 1st in OPS.

Look at the lineup difference between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and the biggest discernible change was swapping legendary DH David Ortiz out for first baseman Mitch Moreland.

Moreland didn’t warrant high expectations from the start, as his left-handed stroke never seemed to suit the dimensions of Fenway Park. But that was just speculation. Now there’s a full season of evidence to examine.

Coming into 2017, Moreland had only gone to the opposite field in 306 of nearly 2000 plate appearances. As a lefty slugger with the Green Monster looming in left and a deep right field, it was evident that a similar approach would not translate kindly to Fenway. And credit Moreland with trying to make the adjustment – he posted his second highest opposite field percentage at 26.7 percent with a career-low 37.2 percent pull rate. It’s the right idea, but the problem is, that’s not who Mitch Moreland is.

Moreland’s power has always come from pulling the ball, and a new approach hampered his ability to drive the ball. 15 of his 22 homers last season still went to right field.

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Fenway Park concerns aside, Moreland just isn’t the prototypical slugger we usually identify with a first baseman. His glove is arguably his best attribute: he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2017 and won the award outright with the Texas Rangers in 2016.

His career OPS+ stands at 100 – perfectly league-average – and he is coming off two straight seasons of below-average offensive production. His 2017 slash line stood at .246/.326/.443, nothing to write home about, and finished the year with a 2.0 WAR. Merge that with his 2016 campaign, and the slash line stands at .240/.313/.433 with a 93 OPS+.

But that’s okay. 2017 is in the past, 2018 is a new chance, a new offseason to improve. Moreland’s one-year contract expired, and an open slot at first base means a golden opportunity to add power.

Eric Hosmer (132 OPS+ last season), Logan Morrison (135 OPS+), Carlos Santana (112 OPS+) in free agency. Jose Abreu (140 OPS+) in a trade. Move Hanley Ramirez to first and sign or trade for someone as a DH (a la J.D. Martinez and his 166 OPS+). Even moving Rafael Devers across the diamond to first and acquiring a new third baseman was an option. The opportunities and possible combinations were endless.

Well, guess who is coming back on a two-year, $13MM deal? Yeah, you and fellow contributor Rick McNair guessed it.

Moreland and his perfectly mediocre offensive production returns for not just one more season, but two. It’s the least Dave Dombrowski move I have ever seen, from an executive known for pulling off deals for Miguel Cabrera, Chris Sale, Prince Fielder, Craig Kimbrel, Max Scherzer, and the list goes on. The arch-rival Yankees go out and add Giancarlo Stanton to one of baseball’s already-premier lineups, and Dombrowski counters with Moreland?

I was never calling for a reactionary move just for the sake of reacting to the Yankees. But come on. Keeping things as the status quo is the last thing any Red Sox fan wanted to see.

The money in this contract is almost meaningless. Yes, it’s a cheap contract for a starting first baseman. But the biggest crime here is that the valuable roster spot that fans were counting on to bring power will once again belong to Mitch Moreland and not somebody better.

Carlos Santana, the very model of above-average consistency at first base, went to the Philadelphia Phillies on a three-year, $60MM deal, reportedly outbidding the Red Sox. Logan Morrison is still out there, and will likely command no more than four years at about $15MM annually. Hell, Lucas Duda is a free agent and just hit 30 bombs with a 116 OPS+. All of these options and the more expensive Eric Hosmer can be confidently crossed off the list of possibilities now.

Despite all of the optics, the Red Sox were in a fantastic spot heading into the offseason. Power is the easiest commodity to find in today’s baseball landscape, and it was the biggest thing that the team lacked. Surely finding it on the open market would be a simple task and a more complete Boston squad would head into 2018 ready to take home a third straight AL East title.

Instead, the Red Sox now find themselves in a spot where first base seemingly belongs to Moreland again, DH belongs to Hanley, and all other roster spots seem relatively filled. Perhaps most importantly, J.D. Martinez, Boston’s biggest free agent target and biggest chance to add immense power quickly, now has no open spot to play without requiring a trade of the valuable Jackie Bradley Jr.

Next: Red Sox: Finding a trade partner to take Hanley Ramirez

Unless a Hanley salary dump is on the horizon, which is unlikely given his $22MM contract and a market full of first basemen, or Boston plans to deploy Moreland off the bench – also unlikely – the storylines in 2018 will be the same as the year before

Oh, except for all the ones about all the Yankee home runs.