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Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Boston Red Sox and 2018 MLB Free Agents

The 2017 Major League Baseball season has just kicked off but it’s never too early to look ahead to next year. There is an interesting crop of potential free agents, and the Boston Red Sox, who are annual players in the market, may look to go shopping once again. Let’s take a look at what players might be good fits.

No matter what happens this season the Red Sox won’t be heading into 2018 sweating out how to retain any of their major stars. To the contrary, first baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder Chris Young are the biggest names on the team playing in the final year of their contract. On a positive note, Allen Craig, who has hit a combined .139 in 65 games with Boston since 2014, is scheduled to have his $11 million 2017 salary come off the books. While the team may not have many obvious holes, they are always in the process of trying to get better. Here are some of the anticipated free agents that may help them do that.

Jonathan Lucroy- Catcher/First Baseman: Barring a breakout season from Moreland (which is happening in the early going), the team could be looking for an upgrade at first base for next year. Now that Hanley Ramirez has transitioned to designated hitter, it seems unlikely he would return to the field. Finding a more traditional first baseman could be costly given the premium at the position but Lucroy represents an intriguing option. A catcher throughout his career, he has also played 46 games at first since the 2013 season.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter would be a welcome addition to the team’s middle of the order. Coming  off a career year in 2016 where he hit a combined .292 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs with the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, he is a proven hitter who would be a great fit playing half his games at Fenway Park (he has three doubles and a home run in six career games at the venue).

The team struck gold in the past with a former catcher shifting to first base (Mike Napoli), so rolling the dice again makes sense. Lucroy is making $5.25 million this year, so a big raise is in line. However, he won’t break the bank and could provide the offensive production of an above average first baseman at a lower cost than some of the premium names. Now in his 30s and rating as one of the worst catchers in baseball at framing pitches in 2016, a position switch may be desirable for Lucroy as well as to maximize his offseason value.

Jarrod Dyson- Outfielder: Now in his second season with Boston, Young has done everything that could possibly be expected as the team’s fourth outfielder. That means his return is possible. However, if he chooses to go elsewhere, Dyson is an intriguing replacement option.

A completely different player than Young (who relies on beating up on left-handed pitching), the 32-year-old Dyson’s game is built on speed and defense. Able to play all three outfield positions, he hit .278 with one home run and 30 stolen bases last year in 107 games with the Kansas City Royals. He is just a .258 career hitter with seven home runs and 177 stolen bases over seven-plus seasons in the majors, and is slated to become a free agent at the end of this year with the Seattle Mariners.

A downside to Dyson, who bats from the left side, is that he is fairly useless against left-handed pitching, as suggested by his career .583 career OPS against southpaws. On the other hand, Young has struggled mightily against righties in the past.

Dyson’s true value is his glove. His 4.9 dWar over the past three seasons is even better than defensive stalwarts like Jackie Bradley Jr. (4.4 over the same period). Adding that to his speed should make him a strong consideration for Boston’s 2018 fourth outfielder role.

Clayton Richard- Pitcher: The Red Sox have plenty of horse power at the front of their rotation but lack a tried and true swing-man who can shift easily between starting and relieving. This is where the 33-year-old left-hander could come into play.

Richard is currently holding down the fort as the “ace” of the moribund San Diego Padres. His career has already seen various iterations, as he has shifted from starting to relieving and back to starting again (missing most of 2014 due to injury in between). He began last season pitching in relief with the Chicago Cubs; posting mediocre results. He ended up with the Padres and returned to the rotation. His 2.41 ERA in nine late season starts suggested he still has something left in the tank.

Relying on a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup, Richard doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but is a example of a hurler who truly “knows how to pitch.” This is knowledge and ability that has come with age and experience. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan recently pointed out how he has cleaned up his delivery in recent times and become an extreme ground-ball pitcher.

The Red Sox would likely not be interested in Richard if he has suitors trying to lock him up in their rotation for multiple years, as the salary he would command in that role could be prohibitive. Barring a Rich Hill-esque surge in 2017, all options are still on the table as to what his future holds. Boston ended up having a decent swing man last year in Clay Buchholz but it remains to be seen if anyone will fill that void this season. Going in strong on the lefty would be a good step in addressing that need and seeing what value they might find in the veteran.

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