SSG Red Sox Land Gregorius, but Where will he Play?

The SSG Boston Red Sox won the bidding war for Didi Gregorius by inking the shortstop to a very team friendly deal that will pay him an average of $5 million per season over the next three years.  I say won the ‘bidding war’ but more than money factored into the equation as Gregorius is confirmed to have turned down more – perhaps as much as 50% more per season to sign with the Los Angeles Angels.   Regardless, Didi Gregorius is now a Boston Red Sox.  The big question is what do the Red Sox do with him? Out of Gregorius’ 818 career major league starts, all but 9 of them have been at shortstop.  He is without question an above average defensive shortstop and had a pretty good year at the plate for Atlanta last season.  The problem Boston already has a pretty darn good shortstop in Xavier Bogaerts? Bogaerts actually had a better fielding percentage that Gregorius last season but the newcomer would still be considered a upgrade on the incumbent when you consider that Gregorius has superior range factor, zone rating and efficiency numbers.  While Gregorius gets a slight edge with the glove, Bogaerts is vastly superior at the plate.  Boston also has $26 million over the next two seasons invested in Bogaerts.  It is clear the Red Sox will find a place for Bogaerts to play, but the question is will it still be at shortstop or would it make sense perhaps to move him somewhere else in the infield? Bogaerts has played 53 games in his career at third base and with Pedro Sandavol gone to free agency there are some innings available at third.  However, I don’t think there is a pitcher on the Red Sox staff who would prefer to be standing on the mound and look over to the hot corner in a tight game to see Bogaerts guarding the line instead of Yoan Moncada, who split the duties at third with the Panda a year ago.  The 24 year old Moncada looks like a rising star, coming off a .310/.363/.555 season and you have to think he should be playing pretty much every day.  Now Moncada could easily shift to second and let Bogaerts play at third base but I just can’t see the Red Sox, or Bogaerts for that matter, being comfortable with him at third base. So if we rule out third base for Bogaerts then what about second?  That could be a possibility although Bogaerts has never played a major league game at that position.   If there is an infield position in Boston that could use an upgrade it is definitely second base.  29 year old Tim Beckham is average to perhaps a shade below average with the glove and had a decent, but by no means dominant, two seasons at the plate in Boston.    However, I think the combination of Beckham at second and Bogaerts at short is a much preferred one to having Bogaerts at second and Gregorius at shortstop.   The defensive upgrade you get by having Gregorius in the field might by more than offset by what you could lose playing Bogaerts over Beckham at second base and production-wise, based on last year, Beckham brings at least as much as Gregorius to the Boston offense.  Beckham and Gregorius were equal in WAR while Beckham had a better OPS+, a better on-base percentage and a better slugging percentage than Didi did in Atlanta a year ago. So first base then for Bogaerts?  Not a chance.  Rafael Devers should own that position for the next several years. Just 23, he hit .284 with 26 homers a year ago and provides solid work with the glove.   Where does that leave us?  DH?  You could DH Bogaerts occasionally to get Gregorius some time at shortstop as long-time fan favourite Dustin Pedroia was quietly released a few weeks before Christmas, but then you take Dan Vogelbach’s bat out of the lineup.  The 27 year old who switched teams twice last year through waivers seems to have found a home in Boston.  He slashed .271/.329/.568 with 25 homers and his lefthanded stroke seems well suited for the short right field line at Fenway with 15 of his homers coming in his 49 home games. The other option of course is for Boston to leave Bogaerts at shortstop and play Gregorius at second base.  Sources have indicated that is the Red Sox intention and Gregorius must be on board with the idea as he turned down more money to go to the Angels, where he would likely have allowed the Halos to shift Franklin Barreto to either second or third base. So how would Boston stack up with a double play duo of Gregorius at second and Bogarts at shortstop.  Gregorius has very limited experience at second base but one would expect, given time at spring training, he should have little difficulty with the switch and stands a good chance of being an upgrade on Beckham in the field.  However, I am not sure that I would prefer Gregorius’ bat in the lineup over Beckham everyday.   Platooning them certainly makes sense as the lefthanded hitting Gregorius fared pretty well against righthanders a year ago but Beckham was far superior facing a southpaw. If more moves are coming and Boston is going to add to their outfield, then I have no concerns about this deal.  However, if not, then I can’t help but think the $15 million over 3 seasons could have been better spent elsewhere by the Red Sox.

OUTFIELD SITUATION It is in the outfield where the Red Sox really need to be looking at a free agent or two.  Mookie Betts is set in right field and under contract for 3 more seasons at close to $10 million per.  You would like to think Boston was also set in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. but the 29 year old  seems to spend as much time on the injured list as he does in the outfield.  Bradley has not played more than 92 games in a season since 2014 and was limited to 89 games while slashing .266/.324/.370 last season.  In left field the only options right now apper to be Jeremy Hazelbaker, a 32 year old who hit just .240 in 84 games last season, or 27 year old Breyvic Valera, who spent half the season in Pawtucket and slashed .273/.366/.359 for Boston.

Without a doubt the pitching staff Toronto has makes a huge difference but you can’t discount how much of an upgrade the Blue Jay outfield is over Boston.  Which would you rather have: POS  NAME                      AVG   OBP  SLG HR RBI RF  Michael Choice         .273  .393  .539   41 107 CF  Dalton Pompey         .288  .339  .558  39 112 LF  Nick Williams           .262  .310  .488   24   72 4th  Anthony Garcia       .258  .329  .515   37   90 POS  NAME                      AVG  OBP  SLG HR RBI RF  Mookie Betts             .282  .380 .389  13   78 CF  Jackie Bradley Jr     .266  .334  .370    5   34 LF  Jeremy Hazelbaker .240  .288  .401    8   34 4th Breyvic Valera          .273   .366  .359    1   21 The Red Sox are certainly not alone as there are close to 28 other teams in the league that would also have a huge upgrade exchanging outfields with Toronto.  The issue for Boston is that the Blue Jays, and that outfield, is standing directly in there way if Boston wants to be more than a wildcard team. The Red Sox did get 3 months of Michael Brantley last season at the cost of a pretty good pitching prospect in Ritzi Mendoza but Brantley, who hit .311 with 13 homers last season, decided to leave Boston and resign with the Giants, the team that had traded him away last summer, for $14 million per season. Brantley elected to test free agency and ended up going back to San Francisco instead of exercising his option with Boston.   His demands were quite possibly out of the Red Sox price range as likely is the rumoured $19-20 million per season Matt Kemp is said to be asking for and may yet get from the White Sox.  The compensation cost of signing Kemp is also something that may be scaring Boston off.  Perhaps JD Martinez, who is rumoured to want something north of $10 million after hitting .268 with 17 homers in 93 games for the Angels last season, might fit in with Boston’s salary plan? But I can’t help but wonder if the Red Sox only had the $5 million or so to spend, why they felt it was more prudent to spend $5 million a season on Didi Gregorius then say Yoenis Cespedes.  The 34 year old left fielder hit 22 homers and slashed .265/.330/.453 with 22 homers for Miami a year ago before singing with Pittsburgh for one year at just over $4 million.  I would suggest the money spent on Cespedes could possibly have addressed a bigger need had it gone to brining Cespedes to Fenway. Let’s see what else the Red Sox have planned before we judge the decision to sign Gregorius.