Is Red Sox’ Eric Hosmer DFA a potential lifeline for Bobby Dalbec?
Could Red Sox’ Eric Hosmer DFA put Dalbec back into the first-base picture?
Struggling Red Sox infielder Bobby Dalbec has had an offseason rife with rumors of his departure.
But now that Eric Hosmer has been designated for assignment, could Dalbec end up sticking around?
Dalbec has become somewhat like an appendix, in that he is without discernable purpose amidst the body of the Boston Red Sox. He burst on the scene in September of the forgettable 2020 season and contributed a 151 wRC+ in limited action. A sturdy right-handed slugger he hit 21 doubles and 25 home runs in 2021, but also struck out 156 times in 133 games.
However, Dalbec is a third baseman by trade but was converted to first base due to Rafael Devers. The former has neither impressed nor shown improvement on the right side of the infield and regressed offensively in 2022. He hit nine doubles and 12 home runs and struck out 118 times in 117 games, though he draw more walks. But whereas he’d been in the 88th percentile for barreled balls in 2021, he was in the 41st this year. His expected batting average (xBA) dropped from 23rd to eighth percentile, and his xSLG plummeted from 87th to 38th. The league average strikeout rate is 22.9%; his career rate is 34.9%, which puts him in the 2nd percentile. Between his 80 wRC+ and Franchy Cordero’s woeful numbers (92 wRC+), the offensive output at first was null and void. Cordero is gone, but Dalbec’s future is uncertain.
The Red Sox, in a perplexing move, dumped Hosmer on Friday to open a roster spot for Wyatt Mills. It wasn’t about the money; the Padres were on the hook for that, so the Sox only have to pay him the league minimum each season for the remainder of his contract. Hosmer and Triston Casas are both left-handed-hitting first basemen, and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom made it clear they’re trying to clear a path for the rookie.
The move also created some wiggle room for Dalbec. He may have a hold card in his ability to play third base; familiarity does create a comfort zone. Devers’ status is unclear; the Sox either need to pay him or trade him. He becomes a free agent after the upcoming season, and the Sox cannot come out of this situation empty-handed. Hypothetically, a Devers trade would open third base for Dalbec and any minor-league talent with a modicum of promise.
Is Dalbec worth it? The 25 home runs in 2021 – many Statcast long-range drives – are difficult to forget. Unfortunately, the career 34.9 K% is impossible to overlook.
Dalbec is a run-killer with runners on and less than two outs, but as of now, he has a job. The Sox have made it clear he’s available for trade (the Tampa Bay Rays expressed interest), but it’s unclear what kind of return they can get for him. For now, the assumption is that he’ll share first-base duties with Casas. Manager Alex Cora delights in versatility and switching up the lineup card.
JD Martinez is officially a Los Angeles Dodger, so the Sox will have to look elsewhere for power. Dalbec could get some at-bats as DH, though he’s only done so nine times. Maybe he’ll come off the bench. At 27 years old, the days of hot prospects are in the rearview mirror, but in the strange world of Red Sox baseball, who knows what is going on in the internal metrics war room?
Dalbec is the kind of player a team would expose to an expansion draft, a prototypical 4A with a limited offensive skill set. For now, he has a lifeline with Hosmer gone. How long it exists will be of interest.