The Boston Red Sox had a hole in their lineup following the retirement of designated hitter David Ortiz. Although Edwin Encarnacion was available as a free agent, the Red Sox went in another direction, electing to sign Mitch Moreland to a one-year, $5.5 million deal to play first base. Encarnacion ended up with the Indians for three years and $60 million, and will face Boston for the first time with Cleveland on Monday (7 ET on ESPN).
Encarnacion would be leading the Red Sox in home runs, slugging percentage, walks and OPS. His on-base percentage is only 28 points lower than Moreland’s slugging percentage.
Red Sox first basemen and designated hitters have combined to hit .253 with a .432 slugging percentage and 33 home runs. Each ranks eighth or lower in the American League.
The tradeoff was one relating to flexibility, both on the field and with the payroll.
Moreland plays first base regularly and plays it well. He has been worth three defensive runs saved this season. Encarnacion doesn’t play first base as often and he doesn’t play it well. He’s at -2 runs saved in 17 starts there.
Moneywise, the Red Sox didn’t want to go over baseball’s luxury tax (it would have been their third year in a row over the tax), and meeting Encarnacion's contract demands would have likely put Boston over the threshold.
Prior to making their move, the Red Sox hoped that Hanley Ramirez’s production would make him a productive everyday DH. Ramirez is slashlining .256/.340/.443, a notable decline from last season’s .286/361/.505.
In all this season, Encarnacion has been worth 1.4 WAR and Moreland has tallied 0.6 WAR. Given how tight the AL East is currently, the difference may account for a division title and a wild card spot, but a lot can change in the final two months of the season.