The Boston Red Sox may have cleared a ton of payroll by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers—a deal first reported by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston and confirmed by Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (though it's yet to become official)—but they’ve also created a major void at first base.
While Adrian Gonzalez was under contract through 2018 with the Red Sox. Boston didn’t have to worry about a future first baseman — Gonzalez was their future first baseman. In fact, they were so confident in having Gonzalez that they never really prepared themselves for something like this to happen.
They don’t have a great first-base prospect in the minors, one who could hit in the middle of the lineup like Gonzalez had been doing for the last year and a half. The free-agent market isn’t very strong in the position, which will lead to many questions surrounding the future there.
Predicting that James Loney will finish the year as the everyday first baseman is a safe bet, but who will take over once he becomes a free agent after this season ends?
Here are some names to throw around when thinking about who Boston’s future first baseman will be.
Mauro Gomez was the immediate replacement for Gonzalez, being slotted into the lineup just minutes before Friday night’s first pitch. Can he be a full-time first baseman going forward?
Gomez only has a few games of major league experience and would really need a complete spring training to get ready for a full season. He’s only a decent first baseman, but his bat is what could propel him into the starter role.
Gomez has a lot of power, but his contact is less than impressive. His SoxProspects scouting report says that he would likely have below-average contact in the majors since he only had average contact in the minors.
In order for Gomez to be deemed the future first baseman, he has to prove SoxProspects and many more critics wrong. Given the rest of this season working with hitting coach Dave Magadan and then maybe he can improve his contact.
Spending spring training with the Boston hitting coach would definitely help, too.
Chances he’s the future: Low
James Loney is the only major league player coming over from the Dodgers in the deal, which will solve Boston’s short-term question at first base.
Can Loney revamp his career and become the future first baseman, though?
Loney has been a very average first baseman with the Dodgers, never showing much ability to hit with power. His career high in home runs came back in 2007 when he hit 15 in 96 games. This season, he only has four long balls and he’s played in well over 100 games.
Loney would most likely hit towards the middle or bottom of the lineup and not make much of a difference. He was traded as a throw-in, not as an impact player.
Loney is a big downgrade at first base from Gonzalez, both offensively and defensively, but the Red Sox may be forced to use him for more than just this season. His contract will expire at the end of the year and I wouldn’t expect that it would cost the Red Sox to retain him for the near future.
Chances He’s the Future: Moderate
Ryan Lavarnway is expected to be the future catcher of the Red Sox, but here me out on this as this trade really changes things.
With the loss of Gonzalez, the Red Sox will almost be forced to retain David Ortiz as a big bat in the lineup. That means that Lavarnway will no longer have the opportunity to be the everyday DH and that he and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will have to compete for the starting catching job.
If Lavarnway could be transitioned into a decent first baseman, Boston would be able to play each of the three on a daily basis. Lavarnway could still play some games behind the plate, but would be the primary first baseman. He has little-to-no experience at first, but I definitely think it’s a good possibility we see him there starting next season.
What does Boston have to lose?
He’s still young enough to learn during spring training and if it doesn’t work out, he can still catch. It makes a lot more sense to try and use Lavarnway, Saltalamacchia and Ortiz everyday instead of just two.
Chances He’s the Future: High
The Red Sox now have plenty of money to spend, but I would suggest they refrain from trying to replace the players they just traded by throwing a ton of money at free agents.
That being said, it’s much more realistic to spend a few million dollars on a guy who has killed the Red Sox over the last couple of years: Mike Napoli.
Napoli will hit the free-agent market after the conclusion of this season, and Boston should absolutely look into signing him. Napoli can catch and play first base as well as add to Boston’s lineup. He’s hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last four seasons and is three away from hitting that plateau in 2012.
Even though Napoli doesn’t play in the AL East, he’s destroyed Boston at Fenway Park.
He’s a career .306/.397/.710 hitter in Boston with seven home runs in 19 games. He just has one of those Fenway Park swings, much like Cody Ross.
As I said in the introduction, there really aren’t many other free-agent options. Would Boston pursue Nick Swisher to play first? Maybe, but he’s not much of a first baseman and would cost more.
Napoli would be a much better decision.
Chances He’s the Future: Moderate
What’s a bigger question right now: who is the future first baseman, or who is the future shortstop?
It’s very close and Xander Bogaerts could find himself smack in the middle of that discussion.
Bogaerts is the top prospect in Boston’s organization, and even though he’s a shortstop, he might not be for long. According to the SoxProspects’ scouting report on him, Bogaerts will likely transition to third base or left field in the future.
Will Middlebrooks is the future third baseman, and now that Crawford has been dealt there’s a long-term void in left, but what about first base?
This wouldn’t be a popular move, but Bogaerts’ biggest attribute is his bat, not his glove. SoxProspects says that he’s highly coachable and displays strong work ethic, so why not give it a shot?
Would it be that big of a waste of his defensive talent? He’s eventually going to be a big kid and could fit the first-base stereotype perfectly.
With Jose Iglesias currently in front of him on the organizational depth chart, Boston could decide to transition Bogaerts sooner rather than later.
Chances He’s the Future: Low