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How will Boston find time for all 3 first basemen?

@IanMBrowne
February 7, 2020

BOSTON -- When it comes to position battles to follow at the Red Sox's Spring Training camp, the most compelling one figures to be at first base, where a gritty veteran will be challenged by two young power bats. The gritty veteran, of course, is Mitch Moreland, the power hitter

BOSTON -- When it comes to position battles to follow at the Red Sox's Spring Training camp, the most compelling one figures to be at first base, where a gritty veteran will be challenged by two young power bats.

The gritty veteran, of course, is Mitch Moreland, the power hitter and slick fielder who didn’t appear to be in Boston's plans for 2020 -- until he was.

Moreland was a free agent after last season, and there were little to no rumblings that he would be back. But on Jan. 28, the Sox signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal that includes a club option in 2021.

That instantly raised the following question: How does Moreland’s return impact the amount of playing time Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec will try to earn at first base?

Under typical circumstances, the manager would be asked that question. But with less than a week before camp opens, the Red Sox don’t have one, as they continue to search for Alex Cora’s successor.

So let’s attempt to envision how the issue might play out.

While Moreland has been the primary starter at first for the last three seasons, he is now being paid at a rate where it wouldn’t be uncomfortable for the Sox to use him as a backup. In fact, the 34-year-old could be a very useful mentor for Chavis and Dalbec, who are both 24.

And the fact that Moreland hits from the left side while Chavis and Dalbec are both right-handed hitters means they can complement each other as a unit and create some nice interchangeability.

Though Moreland has been a key presence the entire time he’s been with the Red Sox, his body has broken down on him at times during each of the last three seasons. So moving to a reserve role could be best for his health as well.

If that’s the case, who becomes the starter?

It would seem that Chavis has the inside track. He played in 95 games last season, slashing .254/.322/.444 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs. While those numbers don’t jump out, it’s important to remember how Chavis started. In his first 106 at-bats, he belted 10 homers along with a line of .283/.382/.585.

That player is still in there. The problem is that once the scouting report got out on Chavis, he had a hard time adapting to high fastballs. And once he started to make that adjustment, injuries forced his season to end in early August.

Healthy again and armed with experience, Chavis will now have a chance to show he’s ready to be a consistent run producer. He also has the ability to play second base, though Jose Peraza is projected to be the starter at that spot.

Dalbec, the club's No. 2 prospect, is the No. 7-rated prospect at third base per MLB Pipeline, though that won’t be his position in Boston. The Red Sox are set at the hot corner for many years with Rafael Devers. But Dalbec, a solid defender, has shown the ability to make the plays at first.

Dalbec hasn’t spent any time in the Majors yet, so it might be asking a lot for him to make the Opening Day roster. But the opportunity will be there for him.

At the end of last season, Dalbec spent a week at Fenway Park working with the team’s coaching staff and was said to be a quick study.

“He’s a really good player, and we expect him to be a big part of our future,” said general manager Brian O’Halloran, “so we look forward to him being with us again in big league camp and [we’ll] go from there.”

Dalbec also impressed evaluators in the Premier 12 Tournament in November.

“It was awesome,” Dalbec said. “Especially playing in high-pressure situations, which is likely to happen up here. It was good. It was fun and a good way to develop some more.”

After smashing 32 homers in the Minors in 2018, Dalbec came back with 27 more big flies last season, starting at Double-A Portland (359 at-bats) and finishing at Triple-A Pawtucket (113 at-bats).

There’s a chance the Red Sox will opt to give Dalbec more seasoning at Triple-A when the season starts. But he will also have a chance to prove that won’t be necessary.

It’s too early to know how it will all play out, but it will certainly be a story to watch throughout Spring Training.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.