Boston Red Sox: Under-the-Radar Free-Agent Hitter Options

Jonathan Cullen@@jcullen71Senior Writer INovember 6, 2012

Boston Red Sox: Under-the-Radar Free-Agent Hitter Options

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    David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox wasn't always Big Papi. At one time in his career, he was just David Ortiz, a young hitter that the Minnesota Twins gave up on during the winter of 2002.

    Letting Ortiz go was a decision that a smaller-market team like Minnesota routinely has to make. They look at a salary increase weighed against the player's expected production. A larger-market team can hold on to a player like Ortiz to see if he could build on his 2002 campaign.

    More then any other recent transaction in Boston Red Sox history, the Ortiz signing altered the fate and direction of the franchise.

    And it also altered the course of the Twins franchise. The Twins would advance to the playoffs five more times in the next 10 years, failing to reach the World Series each time.

    In fairness to the Twins, the Red Sox really didn't know what they had when they signed Ortiz, making him compete for at-bats with Jeremy Giambi. Ortiz was released on December 16th, 2002 and could have been signed by any team in baseball.

    The Red Sox didn't sign Ortiz until January 22nd, 2003.

    Ortiz was a 26-year-old slugger in 2002 after finishing his sixth season with the Twins. The 2002 season was the first season that Ortiz reached the 20-home-run plateau. There were signs that Ortiz was capable of producing more, but nothing that would have indicated what he turned into with Boston.

    Fast-forward to today, and there are a couple of younger players that the Red Sox could look at this winter, players that have fallen out of favor with their current organization or need a change of scenery or simply haven't been given the opportunity to succeed.

    Looking at the Boston Red Sox roster entering free agency, there is an ability for the team to build depth at the major league and minor league levels without hindering the development or advancement of younger prospects in the minor leagues.

    These players are depth players that can platoon in Boston, earn at-bats or grow and develop into a larger role.

    All the Red Sox need to do is go back into their recent history, the winter before the 2003 season, when Boston added David Ortiz, Todd Walker, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Gabe Kapler and Brandon Lyon to the core roster of the team.   

    All statistics are used courtesy of the website.

Brennan Boesch

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    Now, I am not going to say that Brennan Boesch is David Ortiz circa 2002, but the young Detroit Tigers hitter had some success early in his career before struggling mightily in 2012 and bottoming out when he was left off the Tigers' postseason roster.

    The Tigers could give Boesch another opportunity to work his way back into the mix in the Motor City, or they could decide to move in another direction.

    If the Tigers decide not to tender the 27-year-old Boesch a contract, he would be an ideal fit to take over in Boston in a platoon situation until the Red Sox see what he's got. His career slash line at .259/.315/.414 is pretty average, but those numbers are driven down somewhat by his poor 2012 season.

    Maybe he would turn into a productive player that the Red Sox can grow and develop or maybe he'd wash out like former top-prospect Jeremy Hermida.

    Defensively Boesch isn't going to win any awards, but if he hits like his early career results indicated, he could man left field in Fenway well enough to also take advantage of the Green Monster offensively.

Jonny Gomes

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    With the Red Sox failing to give free agent Cody Ross a qualifying offer, it opened the door for Ross to leave Boston and see what the market is like elsewhere.

    Cody Ross isn't a great player, but he's a solid professional, plays the game the right way, is good in the clubhouse and hits left-handed pitching.

    The Red Sox might not be able to replace Ross with one player, but they might choose to partially replace Ross with a platoon player like Jonny Gomes.

    The 31-year-old Gomes has a career slash line of .284/.382/.512 against left-handed pitchers in 1,100 at-bats in 10 major league seasons.

    The Red Sox could do worse than replace Cody Ross in a platoon situation with a hitter like Gomes who was very productive in 2012. Gomes hit 18 home runs and knocked in 47 RBI's in only 279 at-bats with an OPS of .868.

    Gomes is likely to take a 1-year contract as well, leaving the door open for players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz to advance to the majors when they're ready.  

Reed Johnson

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    If the Boston Red Sox do end up moving Jacoby Ellsbury this winter, they may not look for an outfielder in return, putting them in a position to get a short-term player until top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready.

    Reed Johnson has always been a valuable fourth outfielder, but he has developed over the years to something a little bit more than that, someone who hits left-handed pitching very well.

    Johnson's career slash line against lefties is .311/.367/.461 in well over 1,200 regular season plate appearances. He has a little power, runs pretty well, defends well and generally plays the game the right way.

    The Red Sox could do worse than replace part of Ellsbury's OBP with a player like Johnson in a platoon.

Juan Pierre

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    Although still a productive player, 34-year-old Juan Pierre is at the tail end of his career, one that has seen him remain a pretty useful player even as he transitions to a part-time role.

    Again, the Red Sox are unlikely to replace Jacoby Ellsbury with another star player if he is traded. The plan would likely be to look for a short-term solution until Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready.

    Pierre's career slash line of .297/.346/.363 shows good average and on-base percentage, but little power. Matching Pierre with a right-handed hitter platoon partner would give the Red Sox a good OBP player that would hit and hopefully be on in front of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

    Pierre's 2012 season showed his transition from full-time player with the Chicago White Sox to more of a part-time bench player with the Philadelphia Phillies. Pierre still runs very well as evidenced by his 68 steals as recently as 2010 and 37 bases in 439 plate appearances last season.

    Matching Juan Pierre with another player like Jonny Gomes or Reed Johnson would allow the Red Sox to replace the OBP that they need at the top of the lineup.

    Is that going to grab headlines like making a huge trade or signing Josh Hamilton would? No. Will the fans be excited about replacing Cody Ross or Jacoby Ellsbury with a platoon? No. But Boston can win with role players filling key roles on the 2013 roster.

Drew Stubbs

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    Drew Stubbs has been a useful player who had a down season in 2012, which might lead to the Cincinnati Reds deciding to non-tender him this winter according to the MLB Trade Rumors website.

    Stubbs has been a solid player for the Reds, although his production has fallen off the past couple of seasons, leaving his career numbers of .241/.312/.386 little to be desired. Stubbs is a solid defensive outfielder and has good speed and good base stealing numbers in his career.

    The key to Stubbs becoming a better player is contact.

    Stubbs strikes out far too much for a player who displays league-average power. If Stubbs could cut down on his strikeouts and increase his walk total slightly, he would be a much more valuable piece in the outfield.

Daric Barton

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    Daric Barton has never truly lived up to expectations in his time in Oakland. Drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft, Barton was a key piece, along with Dan Haren, in the Mark Mulder trade in 2004.

    Barton had some success in two solid seasons with the A's in 2009 and 2010. But by 2012, Barton was virtually a non-factor in Oakland's amazing run to the AL West title.

    At his best, Barton would be a good hitting first baseman who makes contact, draws walks and grinds out at-bats at the bottom of the order. He fields his position well, meaning he could be used as a late-game replacement for a player like Mike Napoli.

    His career slash line of .249/.360/.371 shows that he can get on base, but with very little power to show for it. Will he be the first option for the Red Sox?  Probably not. But once you get past Adam LaRoche, Lance Berkman and Mike Napoli, there isn't much on the first base market.

Carlos Pena

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    Alright, stay with me here. Carlos Pena was almost the worst first baseman in baseball in 2012, but he might be the perfect platoon player for the Red Sox in 2013.

    As an everyday first baseman, Pena's days in the major leagues are numbered. His slash line with the Tampa Bay Rays was .197/.330/.354. It's almost impressive that Pena was able to have a .330 OBP while batting only .197.

    His career splits of .247/.367/.497 would make him the ideal platoon partner, say if the Red Sox were to sign Mike Napoli, to face solely right-handed pitchers and handle first base.

    Defensively, Pena is still solid at the position and would be able to handle late-game defense as well.

    His salary has gone down the past three seasons, with last season for the Rays at $7.25 million. Based off of his poor performance in 2012, the Red Sox might be able to sign Pena for a modest $3-4 million with incentives.  

Lance Berkman

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    The Cardinals will be unlikely to bring Berkman back after an injury-plagued 2012 season where he played in only 32 games. Berkman's last full season, the 2011 campaign, saw him back in his career stride. He finished the 2011 season at .301/.412/.547, very much in line with his career averages.

    Lance Berkman's last experience in the American League, with the Yankees in 2010, didn't go very well. Berkman simply wasn't the same force that he had been in the National League during his entire career with the Houston Astros

    If he were to join the Red Sox as their first baseman in 2013, he would bring a veteran switch-hitting presence to the lineup while playing a solid first base.

    He would also be a proven winner, someone that has been a World Series winner in 2011 and to the playoffs in 2012. Changing the clubhouse and providing the right atmosphere for the younger players transitioning into the majors will be key for the Sox moving forward.