Commentary

Thirsting for a first baseman

Area of great need for Red Sox doesn't present many desirable options

Updated: November 12, 2012, 1:08 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

Think of any desirable first baseman. He's probably locked up for the foreseeable future.

Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion and Ryan Howard all are signed through at least 2016.

No one from the younger generation (Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Yonder Alonso, Paul Goldschmidt) will become a free agent for at least four more years.

That leaves, well, not much.

The Boston Red Sox picked a bad time to need a new first baseman.

The internal options are rather bleak. James Loney, a free agent, is at best a platoon player. Mauro Gomez seems best equipped for a bench role. Despite a .900 OPS in Triple-A Albuquerque, newly acquired Jerry Sands needs to put up similar numbers outside an extreme hitter's park.

Of all Boston's offseason needs, first base is the most likely to come from outside the organization. With a weak free-agent class, general manager Ben Cherington might need to get creative.

Adam LaRoche is the cream of the free-agent crop. Having stopped by Boston for six games in 2009, could LaRoche be a long-term solution?

When healthy, he's consistently provided 25 home runs, a .270 batting average and consistent defense. Turning 33 in November, he's coming off a career year with Washington and should find a multiyear deal in this thin market.

Beyond him, the Red Sox would be asking free agents to change positions.

Nick Swisher could be an option at first or in the outfield. He'd also be the most high-profile Yankees free agent ever to sign with the Red Sox. However, he may command a longer deal than Boston is willing to give a 32-year-old.

Swisher's plate discipline -- he's consistently in the top 10 in pitches per plate appearance -- would be welcome for a Boston team that took alarmingly few free passes. You have to go back to 1931 to find the last time the Red Sox had a lower walk rate.

Mike Napoli also might be an option, but would likely make more sense for a team with more playing time available at catcher and designated hitter. Kevin Youkilis and Carlos Pena are potential stopgaps. After that, there are few names worth discussing.

That's why Boston is likely to instead look to the trade market.

The New York Mets reportedly will consider trading Ike Davis in order to free up first base for Lucas Duda.

Davis wouldn't come cheap, but he'd give the Red Sox a 25-year-old with 30-home run power.

But there's a reason he might be available. Davis is coming off one of the most perplexing seasons in recent memory. He hit .188 at home, the second-lowest home batting average in Mets history. But on the road, his .902 OPS was the highest of any MLB first baseman.

That certainly sounds like a player in need of a change of scenery.

Of course, Davis's case is more complicated than his home ballpark. Davis had a .225 on-base percentage against lefties last season, the worst for a Mets regular since Mookie Wilson in 1989. No one in the majors saw a higher percentage of curveballs last season, probably because Davis hit just .185 against them.

But there certainly were bright spots. After a terrible start, Davis hit 20 home runs in the second half. In the NL, only Chase Headley (23) had more.

The Red Sox certainly would need to send back significant parts. Ryan Lavarnway could be a key component going back to the catching-starved Mets.

Another possible target could be Justin Smoak, once the key player acquired for Cliff Lee. But the Seattle Mariners could be ready to move on after a pair of disappointing seasons.

Like Davis, Smoak's numbers reveal a player who could use a change of scenery. His .558 OPS at home was the lowest in the majors. But on the road, Smoak managed 15 home runs and a more respectable .743 OPS.

No bigger hole exists on Boston's 2013 depth chart than the one at first base.

But with a barren marketplace, the Red Sox may need to rely on a forgotten strategy: Patience.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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