It’s the move before the move. It has to be.
Mitch Moreland’s quietly strong 2017 season led to a reunion with the Red Sox on Monday, when a two-year, $13 million deal through 2019 plus another potential $1 million in incentives became official.
"I was hoping so,” Moreland said of a return to Boston. “Going into the offseason, obviously had a few questions about it there at the end of the season, and I'll echo what I said then: I loved playing here, loved the guys — everything about it. We had a pretty successful year obviously, didn't finish the way we wanted. Looking forward to being back and maybe taking care of some unfinished business.”
The move gives the Red Sox a reliable first base option, although it does not give the fan base the news its been dying for to this point: the addition of a tremendous power hitter.
Likely, that addition is still to come, although it clearly won’t be at first base, where free agent Eric Hosmer is one of the top names on the market.
“We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective that won’t be a first baseman, but we feel we have a DH, that between Hanley [Ramirez] and if I could find someone else, outfield spots, that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for somebody to contribute in a full-time fashion,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “I don’t know if it will happen or not, but there are some names out there, people from a trade and free agent perspective that we’ll continue to talk to.”
The Red Sox did look elsewhere for a first baseman before going back to Moreland.
“We’ve stayed in contact with Mitch’s representative really all offseason,” Dombrowski said. “We liked the job that Mitch did for us last year. We knew he wanted to come back here. We wanted to explore some other options, which they were aware [of], and so we did that.”
The deal started to pickup steam Friday, per Dombrowski. Dombrowski suspected teams that missed out on Carlos Santana, who signed with the Phillies, jumped into the fray.
Dombrowski said he would be comfortable with the lineup as it is today, but that might just be his way of attempting to create a bit of leverage. Realistically, most everyone knows the Red Sox need another big bat.
“Yeah, I'd feel comfortable with it,” Dombrowski said of his lineup as currently constituted. “I do believe a lot of our people will be better internally than last year. We are looking to improve it … but yeah, I feel comfortable. I think you also have to combine offense with defense and I think we have a good defensive ball club. I think when people look at Mitch sometimes there are a couple guys out there that hit more home runs. (Guys who) from an offensive perspective, that people could think may be more appealing.
“But for us, we really like the all-around game that Mitch brings to us offensively and defensively. But yeah, I'd feel comfortable. We do have a variety of ways that we could go and explore different ways as we go forward. But I also think, at least right now, we're in a position that we could go forward as we are now.”
How exactly the Sox will use Moreland is to be determined. A share situation with Ramirez seems viable.
Moreland’s production in 2017, his first season in Boston, was better than expected. Now entering his age-32 season, Moreland hit .246 with 22 home runs, and set career-highs in games (149), doubles (34) and walks (57). He also did well in the postseason, going 5-for-13 against the Astros in the first round.
A fractured left toe slowed Moreland and messed up his mechanics for a time, but he played through pain and skipped the disabled list. Moreland said he had a minor procedure after the season to repair a small meniscus tear in his left knee.
“That was the most he ever played,” Dombrowski said of 2017. “He's really a gamer. He'll play all the time. He played injured. But I think you always have to be careful.”
Moreland’s incentives are built around time on the field. Moreland makes $6.5 million in each of 2018 and 2019, plus another potential $1 million in incentives, sources said. He can make up to $500,000 each year: if he reaches 500 plate appearances in either season, he gets $250,000, and he gets another $250,000 if he reaches 550 plate appearances.
A platoon situation would allow Moreland and Ramirez, who have both had health issues, to rest more than normal. It would also provide depth if one of them does wind up on the disabled list.
Ramirez’s contract is basically unmovable because of a $22 million vesting option that kicks in for 2019 if he has 497 plate appearances in 2018. The option calls for 1,050 plate appearances combined between 2017-18, plus passing a physical.
Dombrowski said he did not feel it would be necessary to move someone currently on the team to make an addition.
“There's a lot of things to be done in the industry between now and spring training and we'll keep abreast of what those things are and see if we can still help ourselves,” Dombrowski said.