Eric Hosmer still isn’t signed. J.D. Martinez still isn’t signed. The Boston Red Sox still haven’t signed anyone to impact their lineup The 2017 free agency class has been one of the most forgettable offseasons in MLB history.
However, the Red Sox managed to re-sign Mitch Moreland to a very cheap deal back in December, and while it’s not a sexy transaction, it fills a need at first base. Moreland’s inconsistent year didn’t grab headlines nor turn many heads, but the Red Sox found it sufficient enough to pencil him in the everyday lineup.
It’s worth noting that Moreland, 32, battled injuries for much of the season. His stats drastically changed after his broken toe.
But what if Moreland is able to stay healthy all season? What are realistic expectations for Moreland in 2018?
Moreland will always offer Gold-Glove caliber defense. Last season was no different, as Moreland had a .995 fielding percentage in 1170 innings — the second highest amount of his career. Moreland isn’t going to make many rangy, diving web gems that goes viral on social media, but he offers consistency and reliability. His ability to cleanly protect first base while executing the safe play or throw, leaves the Red Sox with one less worry on the field — something that can’t be said Hanley Ramirez.
Moreland will rarely make errors or miss routine plays, giving the Red Sox very important reliability in a season when the young Xander Bogaerts will be joined by younger Rafael Devers on the left side of the field. Bogaerts is a good defensive shortstop, but has had his share of growing pains, while Devers hasn’t played a full season yet, and isn’t a Gold Glove caliber defender (yet). Moreland will provide a nice safety blanket for these two young stars.
The Red Sox know what they’re getting from Moreland defensively, but what can they expect from him at the plate?
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His career averages from 2013-2017 are telling of what we can expect. Taking into account that his 2014 campaign was riddled with injuries — he only played 52 games — his annual stats are very similar.
His average slash line during the past five years of his career is .247/.313/.438/.751. Additionally, Moreland has sat around 22/23 home runs per year — minus the horrible 2014 season where he only managed two — and averages about 62 RBI.
Moreland finished last season with a slash line of .246/.326/.443/.769 with 22 HR and 79 RBI. But the one number that jumps out at us is 34 doubles — a career high for Moreland in his first season playing at Fenway Park.
There’s no doubt Moreland has mastered the wall-ball technique, leaving dents and bruises to the Green Monster. After all, he did earn the nickname “Mitchy Two-Bags” for his high amount of doubles, all while playing injured.
Barring a breakout year — which very well could happen given Moreland’s success at Fenway when healthy — Moreland’s slash line could look something like this, should he stay healthy in 2018: .260/.340/.457/.783. He could potentially add about 23/24 HR, roughly 85 RBI and 35+ doubles.
Again, staying healthy has been a bit of a challenge for Moreland, but if he can stay healthy and use Fenway to his advantage again this season, he’s primed for one of the best years of his career. These projections are estimates, but realistic estimations.
However, signing J.D. Martinez would certainly derail any chance of a break out year for Moreland, especially with Han Ram claiming he wants to have a huge bounce back season. There clearly won’t be enough at-bats to go around should all three guys jockey for lineup appearances. Given Martinez would be the big offseason acquisition, it seems highly unlikely he’ll be the one sacrificing at-bats.
Ultimately, it’ll be a race between Ramirez and Moreland to battle for plate appearances without causing any tension or drama in the clubhouse. The only way the Red Sox succeed, is by coming together as a team. Play unified baseball, and let the results on the field grab the headlines for the media.
If Ramirez is producing for the Red Sox like he did in 2016 — aka Miami Hanley — Moreland must understand that. If Han Ram becomes Chris Carter — swinging for the fences and failing to produce a complete slash line — Ramirez must realize that’s not a winning recipe for Boston and Moreland deserves more AB’s.
The bottom line is the Red Sox can use offense wherever they can get it; whether that’s from Ramirez, Moreland or both. Even if the Red Sox sign Martinez and Moreland’s healthy projections are cut in half due to lack of AB’s (roughly .247/.315/.435/.755, 11/12 HR and 43 RBI), he can still play a large part in Boston’s offensive success as a role player.
Moreland was signed to such a cheap contract, Boston will take whatever they can get from him, leaving Moreland with virtually zero pressure for 2018. The fans hope for the best with Mitchy Two Bags, but won’t sharpen pitch forks should he have a down year at the plate.
Martinez and Ramirez on the other hand, are different stories.