Travis Shaw stepped in when the Red Sox needed him and provided league-average power and solid defense over the past two seasons. He’s gone now, off to Milwaukee in the trade that saw Boston acquire relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg. But that didn’t stop the Red Sox, who signed a player who is basically his offensive clone in Mitch Moreland to fill his shoes.
Both the Thornburg trade and Moreland signing figure to be relegated to tertiary status in comparison to the Chris Sale trade, but they’re both noteworthy nonetheless. Most interesting — with regard to Shaw and Moreland, spectically — is how similar their offensive profiles are.
That’s a bit uncanny. Both hit for the same low average and on-base percentage and both have decent pop. They’re like league-average hitting clones of each other. Moreland has the benefit of having nearly 2,000 more plate appearances, so you’re slightly more comfortable with his baseline, but Steamer isn’t heavily regressing Shaw’s 2017 projection below Moreland’s.
Offensively, Moreland is basically Shaw’s five-years-older doppelganger. Of course, there are a couple of other ways that Shaw was more valuable than Moreland has been, but the way that Moreland fits on the Red Sox helps clarify some things. Both Moreland and Shaw have been above-average defenders at first base, but Shaw also offered average defense at third base. With Moreland in the fold, Red Sox fans now can now feel comfortable in the knowledge that third base will be manned by Brock Holt and Pablo Sandoval, while first base will be occupied by Moreland and Hanley Ramirez.
Moreland could see some time at designated hitter, though not necessarily against lefties. Manager John Farrell said earlier this week that the team may rotate players through the DH role, and you can easily envision a scenario in which Ramirez starts at first against lefties, and one of Holt, Sandoval and Chris Young steps in at DH. This could work out well, as Moreland historically hasn’t hit well against lefties. More importantly, the trio of veterans will need a secondary spot to work their way into the lineup, in the interests of keeping them all fresh. Rotating the four of them — Holt, Moreland, Sandoval and Young — through DH on days that Ramirez plays the field would seem to be the easiest way.
The Red Sox have been clear that they have not been trying to replace David Ortiz, a claim that’s borne out in the Mitch Moreland signing. He’s not a replacement for Ortiz — because really no one can replace Ortiz — but rather a replacement for Travis Shaw’s bat. If they weren’t going to sign someone like Edwin Encarnacion either because of their relative proximity to the luxury-tax threshold and/or a desire to wait and see if prospect Sam Travis can become the first baseman of the future, Moreland is a decent alternative, and one with whom Red Sox fans should feel at home.
Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.
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