Red Sox infielder Michael Chavis is a man without a defensive island
By Drew Athans
Michael Chavis will platoon at first base this season. With the depth the Boston Red Sox have at key positions, how does he fit into their long term plans?
One of the nicest surprises of the otherwise disappointing 2019 season was the emergence of Michael Chavis. After a strong spring training, he was called up to the big leagues in mid-April and stuck with the Red Sox for the entire season. With the glaring hole, the team had at second base in the wake of Dustin Pedroia‘s (injuries) and Eduardo Nunez‘ (injuries, ineffectiveness) absences, Chavis filled in admirably.
While second base wasn’t his natural position (that being third base), Chavis’ defense was adequate and he provided some nice pop in the lower half of the order. Even accounting for his season being curtailed at summer’s end due to injury, he finished 2019 with a .254 average,18 home runs, and 58 RBI in 95 games played. He did, however, also have 127 strikeouts, a number that seemed to grow exponentially as the season wore on.
Once pitchers figured out that Chavis couldn’t hit high fastballs, they began to feed him a steady diet which contributed to his whiff total. He also strangely had more difficulty hitting off of lefties than righties.
In the field, he started an almost equal number of games (43) at first base, which seemed to better suit his physique and athleticism, as he did second base (40) and was adequate in both spots, committing four errors at each position.
Even though he finished the season injured, there was no doubt that Chavis would be on the big league club from the start of 2020. The question as to where he’ll play was answered by interim manager Ron Roenicke this week when he stated that Chavis will platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland.
On its surface, it seems to make sense although as my colleague Sean Penney pointed out, it was odd that Roenicke also said Chavis would get the bulk of the time against left-handed starters.
While Moreland, who both throws and hits left-handed, struggles against southpaws compared to right-handers, so does Chavis (who throws and hits right-handed). Still, for this season the move makes sense on balance.
The Red Sox seem to be okay at second base for the season with Jose Peraza, Marco Hernandez, and Tzu-Wei Lin as options with Jeter Downs waiting in the minors (and probably at least a year away from being ready). But the bigger question with Chavis is: where does he fit in the Red Sox long-term plans? Does he even fit in anywhere?
Chavis came through the minor league system as a third baseman, but with Rafael Devers on the cusp of superstardom after his breakthrough season in 2019, the Red Sox will almost certainly try to lock him (Devers) up long-term. So that position appears to be well and truly blocked off to Chavis. While he filled in admirably at second base in his rookie season, it would appear that he’s not a long-term fit there, either.
A platoon at second base with Peraza this season would seem to make more sense than splitting time at first base with Moreland, but he’s still not the answer at that position beyond this season. If his progression continues according to plan, second base will be top prospect Jeter Downs’ for the taking beginning in 2021.
The Red Sox also have better fielding (albeit lighter hitting) depth at the position with utility players Lin and Hernandez.
When it comes to first base, it would appear that Chavis is a more natural fit and indeed it appears that Roenicke and Bloom agree. Moreland is 34 years old and has had some nagging injuries over the last season and a half. However, even here Chavis is no lock to hold down the position for the future, with prospects Bobby Dalbec and Triston Casas both projecting at the position.
Both Dalbec and Casas are more traditional first basemen, big and strong power hitters whose athleticism will be better served at first base than the shorter, stockier Chavis.
Since he doesn’t play any outfield positions (and the Red Sox don’t seem to have any desire to add that to his repertoire the way they’ve done with Lin this spring), that would leave only designated hitter as Chavis’ final possibility.
However, he again seems to be an uneasy fit at DH: he strikes out far too much and surprisingly struggled against lefties last season. For a player to be an everyday DH, they need to be dangerous against pitchers throwing from either side and slug at a high percentage (think David Ortiz or JD Martinez), both things that Chavis struggles with.
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That’s not to say that he can never improve in those areas, but at this moment he would be a huge downgrade from Martinez. Even assuming that Martinez opts out and leaves the Red Sox after this season (which seems likely but is not guaranteed), Chavis wouldn’t be an everyday DH with his high strikeout rate and struggles against high fastballs and left-handers.
That brings the discussion full circle as to where exactly he fits in with the Red Sox long-term plans.
None of what was pointed out was to in any way disparage Michael Chavis or his talents. By all accounts, he seems like a really nice kid and is a talented baseball player. His rookie season in 2019 was one of the better ones we’ve seen for a homegrown Red Sox player in recent memory and on almost any other team he’d easily be an everyday infielder going forward.
However, with the logjams the Red Sox have at any of the positions that Chavis would play, as well as the depth of players waiting in the wings at the minor league level ready to join the fray, it would seem that Chavis doesn’t seem to fit into the Red Sox plans beyond this season or next. What they decide to eventually do to address this in the near future will be interesting and worth keeping an eye on.