By Jeff Louderback
By finalizing a one-year deal with Mike Napoli, the Boston Red Sox added a power-hitting right-handed bat at first base for 2013. Seeking a left-handed hitting complement, the club recently added 36-year-old Lyle Overbay. The question remains, “Will the Red Sox bring in another left-handed hitting candidate to play first base?”
Overbay represents a low-cost and low-risk signing since he was inked to a minor league deal and he has an out clause if he is not placed on the active roster by the end of spring training. At this stage of his 12-year Major League career, he is not the same player as he was in 2004 when he batted .301 with 53 doubles for Milwaukee or even 2010 when he slugged 20 home runs for Toronto. Still, if healthy, he can give the Red Sox a potential run producer against right-handed pitchers.
The 28-year-old Gomez is a right-handed power hitter who has 48 home runs over the last two seasons at Triple-A, and was named 2012 International League Player of the Year at Pawtucket. During his first Major League stint with Boston last year, Gomez was unable to hit for power, producing two home runs and a .422 slugging percentage in 111 plate appearances. The Red Sox like the power potential of Gomez, either as a first baseman or a DH, but since he is a right-handed bat, he will likely begin the 2013 campaign at Pawtucket unless an injury arises to Napoli or David Ortiz.
Like Gomez, Hamilton is 28 and has toiled for several seasons in the minors waiting for a chance to make a Major League roster. Unlike Gomez, Hamilton is a left-handed hitter, and he belted 15 home runs in 359 plate appearances last season at Triple-A Memphis in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
The Cardinals released Hamilton, who was a second round pick out of Tulane University in 2006. A run producer in seven minor league seasons, Hamilton struggled in two brief Major League stints, batting .197 (12-for-61) with no home runs over the last two seasons for St. Louis.
Likely, Hamilton will find himself at Pawtucket when the 2013 regular season begins, but he is the kind of low-risk minor league signing that can eventually help the Major League roster. He can play left field along with first base.
Instead of trading for a left-handed hitter who can play first base and the outfield, which is what general manager Ben Cherington indicated the team might do, Boston could also give the switch-hitting Daniel Nava a chance to fill that role. The 29-year-old Nava, who was a walk-on at Santa Clara University and an independent league standout before the Red Sox inked him to a minor league contract, has a .243 average but a .352 on-base percentage in parts of two seasons with the Red Sox.
The likable Nava is an experienced outfielder who last played first base in junior college, but he said he is willing to learn first base in spring training. Ideally, Overbay will be healthy and prove he can still produce enough to earn a spot on the opening day roster, and Nava will show he is proficient at first base and give the Red Sox a versatile option who can play the outfield and first base.