Following an unexpected 2021 run that nearly culminated in a World Series berth, the Red Sox found themselves watching this year’s playoffs at home after finishing at the bottom of the AL East. One key area of criticism for the team was their production at first base. With four different players having at least 50 at-bats at the position, Boston struggled to a collective .210/.294/.369 slash line that ranked third-lowest in batting average, sixth-lowest in on-base percentage, seventh-lowest in slugging percentage, and resulted in wRC+ of 85, the fourth-lowest league-wide. This came only a year after Boston’s first basemen slashed a respectable .235/.310/.463, with a boosted .266/.366/.560 line during the second half of the season following the mid-season acquisition of slugger Kyle Schwarber (.291/.435/.522) and the seeming breakout of Bobby Dalbec (.269/.344/.611).
As discussed in MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook, Boston faces an interesting decision as the team looks to return to playoff contention in 2023. Currently, the Red Sox have four first basemen on their 40-Man roster: rookie Triston Casas, former top-prospect Bobby Dalbec, 1B/OF Franchy Cordero, and veteran Eric Hosmer. As free agency progresses, it’s plausible that at least one of these players loses their spot on the roster before Spring Training.
Starting with the obvious candidate to earn the bulk of playing time in Boston next season, September call-up Triston Casas. Selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2018 draft (26th overall), Casas profiles as an above-average hitter who peppers the ball across the entire field. After hitting .273/.382/.481 with 11 homers in Triple-A Worcester during the 2022 season, Casas made his major league debut. The 22-year-old showed promise in his limited at-bats, hitting .197/.358/.408 with five homers in 76 at-bats. Despite his weak batting average, he demonstrated tremendous plate disciple, walking at a 20% clip (compared to the 8.2% league average) while striking out at a slightly elevated rate (24.2% compared to 22.4%).
Casas is controllable through the 2028 season and will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2025 season, making him a favorite to potentially hold down first base in Boston for the better part of the decade.
Another front-runner to remain on the 2023 roster is righty Bobby Dalbec. Like Casas, Dalbec was a top prospect who made a promising debut late in the 2020 season, slashing .264/.359/.600 with eight home runs in 80 at-bats. Given these strong numbers, Dalbec was handed first base to start the 2021 season but struggled, hitting a weaker .219/.264/.409 during the first half of the season. His floundering led Boston to trade for reinforcement in the form of Kyle Schwarber.
However, the trade for Schwarber led to a boost in production from the youngster, with Dalbec hitting a resounding .269/.344/.611 during the second half of the season. Dalbec pointed to Schwarber as a source of his production, saying that the veteran helped him “get through the ball more” and allowed him to “pull the ball more instead of trying to force it out there” before more directly saying that Schwarber was “big for me,” per Khari Thompson of Boston.com.
On the heels of a strong end to his 2021 season, Dalbec was once again penciled in as the Red Sox first baseman and, once again, struggled. Over the first half of the season, Dalbec hit a paltry .205/.286/.344 with a high 31.3% strikeout rate. Following the All-Star break, he showed minor improvements, hitting .237/.277/.430, albeit with a mammoth 38.6% strikeout rate.
With just over two years of service time and a fraction of his 2020 trade value, the Red Sox will likely opt to keep the 27-year-old with the organization. Dalbec has two option years remaining, meaning that the Sox can send him to Triple-A Worcester without having to pass him through waivers and risk losing him to another organization.
Franchy Cordero began the 2022 season in Worcester but was called up in late April after veteran Travis Shaw began the season 0 for 19 with seven strikeouts. He spent most of the season in Boston, accruing 275 plate appearances and slashing a respectable .219/.300/.397 before suffering a right ankle sprain in early September and landing on the 60-day IL.
It was Cordero’s second season with the Sox, joining the team in the Andrew Benintendi trade with Kansas. During the second half of the season, the 28-year-old hit an interesting .191/305/.490 with two homers. MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook has flagged Cordero as a potential non-tender candidate with the six-season veteran projected to earn $1.5M through arbitration.
The last first base option currently on the Red Sox 40-Man is veteran Eric Hosmer. Acquired from the Padres along with prospects at the trade deadline, Hosmer is earning $39MM through the 2025 season, but San Diego is covering all but the league minimum MLB salary.
Since signing his now-infamous deal with the Padres, Hosmer has hit .265/.325/.410, a notable regression from his .292/.351/.449 line over his last five seasons with the Royals. He has had a poor start to his Boston career thus far, hitting .244/.320/.311 in 45 at-bats, but brings playoff experience and veteran leadership to a relatively inexperienced first base corp. Hosmer is also a four-time Gold Glove winner and could be used as a late-game defensive substitute and mentor to Casas before potentially being DFA’d later in the season if the Red Sox need a roster spot, speculatively speaking.
Returning to a general discussion, it is relevant to note that out of the four listed players, only Dalbec possesses a right-handed bat. Additionally, Dalbec has been a stronger hitter against southpaws, batting an above-average .268/.333/.522 against them (compared to .212/.278/.418 against righties) and may carve out a platoon role with the left-handed hitting Casas. Moreover, Cordero is the only player in the group that will be earning a “significant salary” (MLBTR projects him to earn $1.5MM), with Hosmer’s contract paid down to the league minimum by the Padres and Dalbec and Casas not yet reaching arbitration.
Lastly, with the Red Sox opting not to tender designated hitter J.D. Martinez a qualifying offer, Boston now has an open spot in their starting lineup. The team is expected to be active in the free agent market, but it is also plausible that they do not make any big exclusive DH addition and instead use the position to situationally rest players. If this is the case, there is a greater chance that all members of the quartet remain on the roster.