By: Noah Wright
The Red Sox just recently designated struggling utility man Eduardo Nunez for assignment. He was the team’s primary 2B up to his DFA’ing on Monday. This was subsequent after Nunez posted an OPS+ of just 42 this season, along with a sub-par 2018. That, plus the fact former All-Star MVP second baseman, Dustin Pedroia’s health has put his entire career in jeopardy, the Red Sox are going to need an answer at second base, and very soon.
For now, the current second baseman looks to be utility man Brock Holt. Holt is batting a strong .324/.372/.417 with a 107 wRC+ in just a limited 121 PA’s. But with a BABIP of .400, this seems quite unsustainable. Although Holt is usually a solid infielder with the bat, he will be a free agent at the season’s end. Young slugger Michael Chavis could also be an answer at the future of second base for the Sox. He has seen 256 innings at 2B in his rookie year. He has even been an average defender at second, but with the current lack of production from first base, he might be kept at a corner position until further notice. The Red Sox also don’t have a middle infielder who is considered a high ranking prospect.
In the off season, the Sox could explore multiple avenues for second base. The first being through a trade. Currently, the Red Sox’ #1 and #2 ranking organizational prospects are Triston Casas, and Bobby Dalbec. Both are corner infielders, but the Sox don’t really need both. Michael Chavis was a former third base prospect, and his handling first base quite well. Third baseman Rafael Devers has had a great breakout season, batting .325/.379/.552 line, 17 home runs, and a 139 OPS+ through 391 PA’s. Devers has answered the defensive questions he had at third base, having 1 DRS, and .5 UZR, and .4 dWAR at the hot corner so far in 2019. The Sox can sacrifice one, if not both in a trade for a middle infielder. However neither are really high ranking, so they’re not gonna fetch a Francisco Lindor, or Whit Merrifield for instance. If the Diamondbacks go full sell mode this off season, I could see them going after glove first shortstop Nick Ahmed. Ahmed has been roughly league average with the bat this year, batting .269/.320/.431 with 9 long balls, and a 91 wRC+, but he has posted 17 DRS, and 4.8 UZR, and a 2.1 dWAR at short. Plus Ahmed is crushing the ball away from home (.626 OPS at home, .847 line away). The 29 year old is controlled through 2020 with arbitration. They could either move Ahmed to second, or even conceivable move current shortstop Xander Bogarets to 2B. Since his rookie 2014 season, according to Fangraphs, Bogarets has been one of the worst defenders at shortstop with -64 DRS. Baseball reference also pegs him at an atrocious -37 DRS for his career. But his bat has been great. Currently, Bogaerts is batting .301/.389/.559, has 20 home runs, and a 144 OPS+. If they don’t want to trade either Casas, or Dalbec, they could bring up one, and move Chavis to 2B since he has shown he can hold his own at 2B in the MLB.
The Red Sox could search for a long term solution for the middle infield in the upcoming free agent market. However, they’re going to have to be careful with payroll depending on the opt out of J.D. Martinez. Let's look at both scenarios. If JDM opts out, that frees up $23 million for the 2020 season. That means that they could call-up one of Dalbec, or Casas, and move either of the prospects, Devers, or Chavis to DH with one of the prospects to a corner infield position. One of the best middle infielders who is going to be on the upcoming FA market is rival Yankee SS, Did Gregorious. While Gregorious has struggled through his first 106 PA’s since his Tommy John surgery, he had put up 3, very solid seasons between 2016 and 2018. Between those 3 years, Gregorious put up a combined .277/.319/.472 batting line, a 108 OPS+, and 72 home runs. Gregorious is also a solid defender at shortstop, so he would probably push Bogaerts to second. Another more pricey middle infielder the Sox could look at is Scooter Gennett. Like Gregorious, Gennett has missed most of the 2019 season so far. He only has 24 plate appearances this season, but batted .303/.351/.508 between 2017 and 2018, and cranked 50 long balls combined between those 2 seasons as well. However Gennett isn’t much of a defender and with Bogarets being the defender he is, the Sox might take a second glance at Gennett. Worse case scenario with Gennett is that they have to get a glove first middle infielder for the bench if they do not already have one.
In the even of J.D. Martinez staying with the Red Sox, they won’t have nearly as much salary to play with. The Sox will have to solve a bullpen issue, but if they want to put any money toward middle infield, there still are a few options, but most are stopgap veterans. For instance, Neil Walker (.753 OPS, 104 OPS+), and Howie Kendrick (.952 OPS, 139 OPS+). Another glove first option on the market is going to be former friend and shortstop Jose Iglesias. While his .701 OPS or 80 OPS+ are pretty weak, his 6 DRS, and 1.9 UZR, and a .9 dWAR at short this season. However if Martinez does stay in a Sox uniform, the best option may be to allocate resources to improve the pitching staff as a whole (since Sale and Price can’t carry the rotation on their own), and go with the plan of Chavis at second base, and calling up Dalbec or Casas to take over a third or first.
The Red Sox need a long term solution for second base. Whether that’s a traditional second base option, moving Bogaerts to second (which is something I would suggest), or just going with internal options is up to the team, but without a solid answer past 2019, the Sox could suffer both offensively and defensively in the future.