The Red Sox have expressed strong interest in free agent 1B Mitch Moreland to fill David Ortiz’s void. Is this cause for excitement, or concern?
The Boston Red Sox have spent the bulk of the winter thus far searching for a replacement for legendary DH David Ortiz. Dave Dombrowksi has said, “If you had to draw the ideal scenario, it’d be probably somebody that swings the bat from the left-hand side who could play first base.”
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Albeit a fairly vague description of an ideal target, one potential match is former Texas Ranger first baseman Mitch Moreland.
A tweet from Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jeff Wilson confirms Boston’s interest in the 31-year old slugger:
Source: Boston now in on Mitch Moreland, who could be making a decision soon. Cleveland also in the mix. #Rangers are out.
Now let’s be honest, after hearing names like Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli float around the rumor mill, hearing “Mitch Moreland” inevitably comes with some level of disappointment. He’s not a big name, he’s not someone who will generate tons of excitement and buzz, but most importantly, he’s not all that good compared to the other options out there.
Moreland has had his fair share of up-and-down seasons; in the last two seasons alone, he saw his OPS go from a solid .812 in 2015 to a mediocre .720 in 2016. He packs consistent power, posting 23 and 22 homers in those years, respectively.
But his ability to get the ball past defenders for base hits has been all but consistent. This could be due to some unfortunate bad luck – in 2013 when he hit .232 and in 2016 when he hit .233, his BABIP was a ridiculously low .255 and .266, respectively. In 2015 when he hit .278, it was all the way up to a .317 clip. Even if we attribute Moreland’s batting average failures to luck, it’s hard to justify banking on that luck to change when there are more proven options to fill the 1B/DH spot.
Aug 21, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland (18) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Or maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle, and Dombrowski would deploy him as a platoon. After all, Moreland has hit righties better over his career (.258/.321/.457 slash line). Well don’t worry, there’s still reason to be concerned.
For some reason, Moreland was dreadful against opposite-handed pitchers last season. His slash line versus righties dropped to .221/.293/.407, good for a wRC+ of 81 (league average is 100). As a first baseman, offensive numbers are expected to be above league average, and anything less is simply a liability when the opposing team has Chris Davis, or Miguel Cabrera, or Edwin Encarnacion, or Eric Hosmer.
Adding onto the list of concerns is that Moreland doesn’t fit the profile of a Fenway success story. Lefty hitters have to be able to hit to the opposite field and take advantage of the Green Monster. David Ortiz could do it, Adrian Gonzalez could do it, and the Red Sox would be asking Moreland to do it as well. Problem is, Moreland is a pull hitter through-and-through. Over his career, Moreland has a .966 OPS on pulled balls put in play, an .899 OPS on up-the-middle balls put in play, and a .782 OPS on opposite field balls put in play. In almost 2,000 plate appearances when he put the ball in play, only 306 times did he use the opposite field. Fenway Park is not friendly to power hitters who like to use center and right field, and that’s who Moreland is.
On the plus side, Moreland has proven to be a solid defender at first base. Advanced metrics like defensive runs saved pegged him at a +7 and UZR awarded him a +6.4 for his work in 2016. A first baseman with such metrics in the positives is hard to come by, and to Moreland’s credit, he certainly adds value on the defensive end.
However, it seems as if Dombrowski is prioritizing the left-handedness characteristic of a potential newcomer over their ability to provide a big impact. And if he wants a low-cost option, there are still better choices than Moreland. Napoli, Brandon Moss, or even a trade target like Jay Bruce have a higher ceiling and floor than Moreland, and none of them would break the bank like Encarnacion would.
Dombrowski should be applauded for looking outside the typical candidates to find a creative replacement, but in this case, he should look for a more established option. It doesn’t seem fitting for David Ortiz’s legacy to be carried on by someone with the risk of Mitch Moreland, it just seems cheap and unwise.