Fifth in a series
A year ago, the Red Sox projected that Dustin Pedroia would be their primary second baseman. He played in six games.
Brock Holt’s son scratched his eye on Opening Day and it took two months for him to return to both health and productive contributions.
The Opening Day second baseman, Eduardo Nunez, was released by midseason.
It was not a Plan A, B, or C kind of year for the Red Sox at second base, and it showed.
A total of eight players — Pedroia, Holt, Nunez, rookie Michael Chavis, Marco Hernandez, Chris Owings, Tzu-Wei Lin, and even catcher Christian Vazquez — made starts for the team at second, and the cumulative contribution was woeful.
Red Sox second basemen had a combined .251 average, .309 OBP (22nd in MLB), and .377 slugging mark (26th).
According to Fangraphs, the group’s combined WAR was 0.0 — 28th in the majors.
Within that performance, there were bright spots. In mid-April, Chavis — who’d spent most of his professional career at the corner infield spots with minimal exposure to second base in early 2019 — came up from Triple A and gave the Sox a much-needed offensive jolt while proving unexpectedly capable at the position.
While his numbers tailed off (.254/.322/.444 with 18 homers in 95 games) and his season ended in early August due to a pair of shoulder injuries, he showed the ability to contribute.
Once Holt returned from the injured list, he likewise offered solid bottom-of-the-order production, hitting .313/.380/.424 from May 27 through the end of the year.
Overall, however, the production of Sox second basemen was glaringly inadequate, and the path to getting better remains uncertain.
At this point, it’s impossible for the Red Sox to assume that Pedroia can contribute in any capacity. Holt is a free agent. Questions still linger about whether Chavis can adjust to big league pitchers’ plans of attack and whether he has the range and athleticism to be an everyday second baseman.
Hernandez has the athleticism for the position, and the fact that he returned to big league action after two years and numerous surgeries represented a remarkable development, but his swing-at-everything approach wasn’t productive (.250/.279/.338 with three walks and 42 strikeouts in 155 plate appearances).
In short: The Sox lack an obvious in-house second base option with big league experience. Chavis is the closest thing to such a player, but with questions hovering on both sides of the ball.
In the minors, C.J. Chatham had a solid year at age 24 in Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket, hitting .298/.333/.408. (He led the Double A Eastern League with a .297 average.) He has shown a knack for hitting for average, though with an aggressive approach that caps both his OBPs (5.0 percent career walk rate) and power (14 homers in 266 games). He’s mostly played short, but spent plenty of time at second toward the end of the year (including in the Premier12 international tournament), and he projects as a solid to above-average defender there.
The free agent market features a number of veterans, but few with obvious impact.
Brian Dozier (.238/.340/.430 with 20 homers in 135 games) looms as perhaps the most intriguing Red Sox target, given his ability to rake against lefties and the fact that his tendency to pull the ball in the air was punished while spending 2019 with the Washington Nationals in the NL East, but would be richly rewarded in the AL East. (Overlaying his spray chart at Fenway shows potentially more than a 10-homer increase from his 2019 total.)
Holt makes sense as a versatile option at the right price point. Ben Zobrist would, too, though he a) is considering retirement; b) probably would want to stay closer to his Nashville home; and c) likely would seek more than the Sox will offer.
Jonathan Schoop has massive power but no plate discipline. Starlin Castro and César Hernandez have the wrong batted-ball profiles — up-the-middle for Castro, all-fields as a righthanded hitter and pull-side as a lefty for Hernandez — to take full advantage of Fenway.
The Red Sox could go in a number of directions at the position.
If the team doesn’t trade Mookie Betts, then it could opt for a glove-first, bottom-of-the-order option, perhaps an internal option like Chatham.
If the team does trade Betts or another player in the top half of the lineup, the offensive needs from second would be greater — though if the Sox are making moves to get under the luxury tax threshold, it’s hard to imagine them paying more than a few million dollars for a second baseman such as Dozier.
In that scenario, barring a contract that fits such a description, perhaps Chavis makes sense. Or, perhaps a trade could bring back an upgrade at second base.
There is little known about the shape that second base will take for the Red Sox in 2020. As such, it will become a fascinating case study in the team’s willingness to get creative.
SECOND BASE OUTLOOK
Primary 2019 starter: Brock Holt.
Projected 2020 starter: TBD.
Major league depth: Michael Chavis, C.J. Chatham, Marco Hernandez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Dustin Pedroia.
Prospects to watch: Chatham.