The Boston Red Sox finalized a minor league deal with free agent first baseman Lyle Overbay late last night that includes an invitation to spring training. Although it’s a low-risk, medium-reward type of deal, the Red Sox would have been better off not even bothering.
First baseman Mike Napoli and left fielder Jonny Gomes present problems for Boston as the 2013 season fast approaches. Napoli has a hip condition that may or may not be a problem all year, and Gomes simply cannot hit right-handed pitching. Neither player is very good in the field. What the Red Sox need is a decent left-handed bat off the bench that can fill in late in games for either player. Overbay just doesn’t meet those needs.
Overbay is 36-years old. He’s been in the league for 12 years, and the signing gives the Red Sox another veteran presence in the dugout, but frankly, it doesn’t give them much else. Sure, Overbay hits left-handed, but he hasn’t had a decent season at the plate since 2008. By all accounts, Overbay’s best seasons are well behind him.
Furthermore, he can’t play the outfield. He’s been on the field for over 12,000 innings in his MLB career, but not one of those innings has been played away from first base. For this reason alone, the signing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If the Red Sox wanted an aging defensive first baseman that couldn’t hit, they could have gone after free agent lefty Casey Kotchman—a much better defender.
All the Overbay signing really accomplishes is the creation of a logjam behind Napoli at first. The Red Sox already have Mauro Gomez, Ryan Lavarnway, and Alex Hassan taking up space on the 40-man roster. Overbay will be hard-pressed to beat out any of those guys for a job. What he will do, however, is take valuable at-bats away from them in spring training.
On top of everything else, the most glaring problem with the Overbay deal has to do with Napoli’s injury. If Napoli misses any extended period of time this season, the team will have no chance of competing with Overbay as their everyday first baseman. It’s a big “what if” at this point, but it’s GM Ben Cherington’s job to have a plan for such matters. There’s still plenty of available talent to meet Boston’s needs, and Cherington would have been wise to explore other options.