Now that the Boston Red Sox and free agent Mike Napoli have agreed to a one-year deal, the 2013 starting lineup is finally set. Napoli, a former catcher, will move to first base to occupy the vacancy left by James Loney’s departure in the off-season. Napoli’s addition to the team, however, provides only a temporary fix to a problem that may linger for years—lack of depth at first base.
It was less than five months ago that the Red Sox had franchise first baseman Adrian Gonzalez locked up through the 2019 season. Though it wasn’t news then, it’s certainly noteworthy now to point out that the Red Sox had to give up prized prospect Anthony Rizzo in order to acquire Gonzalez. But on August 25 of last year, well after the trade deadline, Gonzalez cleared waivers and was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a blockbuster nine-player deal. In return, the Red Sox received Loney, outfielder Jerry Sands, and three minor leaguers.
Sands was a key component in the Gonzalez trade. In 2011 and 2012 combined, he hit 59 homers and knocked in 222 runs. The Red Sox intent was to move Sands to first, hopefully getting him ready for a mid-season call-up. That plan was scrapped, however, when Sands was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan in late December. Weeks later, the Red Sox lost out on the only true first baseman available on the free agent market when Adam Laroche re-signed with the Washington Nationals.
Now with the preseason looming, the 2013 roster appears to be complete. Napoli, diagnosed with the same hip condition that ended Bo Jackson’s career, is the new Red Sox first baseman. Ryan Lavarnway, the third-string catcher, and Mauro Gomez, a backup third baseman, will fill in if and when Napoli needs time off.
This might work in 2013. The real question, though, is: What about next year? Pay attention, Red Sox fans. Help is not on the way. Rizzo is long gone. Now Sands is gone, too. Napoli will be a free agent at season’s end. There isn’t a first basemen in the Red Sox farm system right now anywhere close to being considered a top prospect.
The Red Sox need to address this situation sooner rather than later. They have the prospects to bring in another franchise first baseman via trade. It’s up to GM Ben Cherington to find the right one—one that won’t have to be sent packing just one year into his deal.