With only $45.6 million in payroll commitments for 2013, it would seem that the Boston Red Sox will either acquire a big bat or perhaps sign a free agent to fill the void at first base left by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez last month.
The Red Sox could sign a veteran like Mike Napoli, Adam LaRoche or Nick Swisher; or they could acquire a young first baseman with potential like Seattle’s Justin Smoak. Another option – and this one is more feasible if the club signs a power bat like Josh Hamilton and, of course, brings back David Ortiz – is signing the recently acquired James Loney (who will be a free agent) and platooning him with Gomez at first base.
With Will Middlebrooks returning and Cody Ross likely to be signed to an extension, the Red Sox will have some pop in the lineup to accompany Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, who will have every incentive to post monstrous numbers in 2013, the final year before he is eligible for free agency. If the Red Sox decide to add a big bat elsewhere – like in the outfield – they could afford to go with a Loney-Gomez tandem at first base.
The left-handed hitting Loney is known for spraying line drives and could benefit from spending a full season at Fenway Park. He is also a defensively sound first baseman and is just 28. From 2008 to 2010, he drove in 90, 90 and 88 runs respectively and has a career .283 average in the majors.
The 28-year-old Gomez, who ripped a two-run triple off Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen in the ninth inning on Friday that contributed to Boston’s 8-5 victory, was named the 2012 International League Most Valuable Player after batting .310 with 24 home runs, 74 RBI and a .960 OPS in 370 at-bats at Pawtucket.
It was not a fluke season for Gomez, who had a .304 average with 24 home runs, 90 RBI and a .878 OPS in 506 at-bats at Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) in 2011.
Entering Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays, Gomez was batting .297 with two home runs, 14 RBI and a .805 OPS in 74 at-bats for the Red Sox in his first taste of the majors. Versus right-handers, the right-handed hitting Gomez has a .341 average with two home runs, 11 RBI and a .966 OPS. He has encountered trouble against lefties, hitting .233 with a .570 OPS in 30 at-bats.
With the presence of Loney and Gomez, and the upside of both players, it makes sense if the Red Sox spend more money on acquiring a frontline starting pitcher or two, and a power bat in the outfield, than the free agent alternatives at first base. Swisher, who plays right field and first base, is intriguing, but media reports indicate he wants a long-term deal rivaling Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, which the Red Sox would avoid. Napoli can catch, play first base and DH, but he has been plagued with injuries this season. The Nationals will reportedly do what they can to retain LaRoche, who is a run producer and a solid defensive first baseman.
In a feature for WEEI.com, Rob Bradford wrote, “There was a reason the Red Sox had three scouts – Galen Carr, Bob Hamelin and Mark Wasinger – following Gomez throughout 2011, not only while he was turning a very similar season to this one with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, but also in the Dominican Winter League.
“The takeaway that was that Gomez had matured as a hitter to the point he could perform on a bigger stage (a notion only bolstered when the first baseman stood out in the Dominican World Series while playing for Escogido).
“Besides the bat, Gomez also convinced the Red Sox’ scouting trio that his glove was better than some had believed. While he has played eight games at third base for the Sox this season, and even worked out in the outfield before a few games, the big righty should be limited to first, where he has performed adequately at during his time with Boston.”
Gomez is under affordable team control and has two options remaining, so there is no risk of losing him to free agency. The Red Sox must decide whether they can afford to take the risk of giving him a prominent role in 2013, or adding a big bat at first base and having Gomez as insurance at first base and DH.