BOSTON -- While the Red Sox had been exploring new options at first base since the Hot Stove season started, they will instead bring back Mitch Moreland on a two-year contract that was announced Monday.
The deal is for $13 million, according to a baseball source.
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"Well, we've stayed in contact with Mitch's representative really all offseason," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "We liked the job that Mitch did for us last year. We really like the all-around game that Mitch brings to us offensively and defensively. We knew he wanted to come back here. We wanted to explore some other options which they were aware of, and so we did that."
This move strongly indicates that the Red Sox won't be signing free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. But Dombrowski indicated he will still explore the market for another bat. This means that free-agent outfielder J.D. Martinez, who smashed 45 homers in just 432 at-bats last season, could still be in play as Boston's top offseason target.
• Feinsand: Moreland deal has ripple effects
"We still continue to feel that we have the opportunity to add someone else to our club from an offensive perspective that won't be a first baseman," said Dombrowski. "But we feel we have a [designated hitter slot], and that between [Hanley Ramirez] and if I could find someone else to DH and play outfield spots, that would give us plenty of at-bats and opportunities for somebody to contribute in a full-time fashion.
"I don't know if it will happen or not, but there are some names out there -- people from a trade and free-agent perspective that we'll continue to talk to."
Moreland, meanwhile, is excited to be back in the fold. Did he expect to be back?
"I was hoping so," Moreland said. "Going into the offseason, obviously I had a few questions about it there at the end of the season, and I'll echo what I said then: I loved playing here, loved the guys -- everything about it. We had a pretty successful year; obviously, didn't finish the way we wanted. Looking forward to being back and maybe taking care of some unfinished business. Definitely excited to be here and looking forward to the opportunity."
With Moreland back, the Red Sox project to have the same starting nine they had last season. The one difference is that Ramirez will probably play first base against lefties, with Moreland getting some rest on those days and another player rotating into the DH spot.
If Dombrowski can acquire another bat, it remains to be seen how manager Alex Cora will finagle that new player into the lineup. It could mean there would be a subsequent move to open up a spot.
The Red Sox have a strong outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, with Ramirez still under contract as the DH.
If the Red Sox are able to acquire a hitter the caliber of Martinez, it's conceivable they could pursue trade options for Ramirez or Bradley.
If they traded Ramirez, it would open up the DH spot for Martinez, who could also fill in the corner outfield spots when someone needed a rest.
Ramirez, who batted .242 with 23 homers and 62 RBIs in 2017 as he played through ailments in both shoulders, is due $22 million in '18, the final guaranteed season of his contract. An option for '19 would vest for that same amount if Ramirez got 497 plate appearances next season.
If the Red Sox decide to trade stellar defensive center fielder Bradley -- something they've given no indication that they want to do -- Martinez could slide into the outfield with Benintendi moving back to his natural position of center field. Bradley is arbitration-eligible for three more seasons.
It seems unlikely the Red Sox would explore trading Betts or Benintendi, two of their cornerstone hitters.
Interestingly, Dombrowski said Monday he could envision a scenario in which the Red Sox add another bat without subtracting anyone from the current core.
He also left open the possibility of going to Spring Training without making another addition to the lineup.
"We do have a variety of ways that we could go and explore different ways as we go forward," Dombrowski said. "But I also think, at least right now, we're in a position that we could go forward as we are now. I think there's a lot of things to be done in the industry between now in Spring Training and we'll keep abreast of what those things are and see if we can still help ourselves."
After watching his team finish last in the American League with 168 homers in '17, Dombrowski went into the offseason with a stated goal of trying to add another hitter. That hasn't changed. Dombrowski also thinks Boston can improve its production by several other players returning to past levels of performance. Xander Bogaerts, Bradley, Ramirez and even Betts are candidates to be more productive than last season.
Moreland signed a one-year contract with the Red Sox last December, and hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs. The left-handed hitter also earned respect from his teammates for playing through a fractured big left toe sustained June 13.
Though Moreland never used the toe as an excuse last season, he thinks a return to full health would enable him to be more consistently productive.
"I don't like pointing fingers at things, but I know it didn't feel good," Moreland said. "It didn't feel good trying to go out there and fight through something. That's who I am, I'm going to try to go out there and play. Whether the numbers show it or not, I'm going to try to go out there and give you everything I've got every day. It might have dipped a little bit, so I'm not planning on breaking my toe this year. Hopefully we can stay out of that."
Though the Red Sox lost to the eventual World Series-champion Astros in four games in the AL Division Series, Moreland was a bright spot, going 5-for-13 (.385) with two doubles, two walks and four runs.
The 32-year-old Moreland spent his first seven seasons with the Rangers before signing his first contract with Boston.
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Although he is sometimes overshadowed at a star-studded first-base position, Moreland has quietly tallied at least 22 homers in four of the past five seasons. He also posted solid totals in RBIs (79) and runs scored (73) while showing improved plate control last year (0.48 BB/K ratio in '17, 0.30 in '16). Returning to a Red Sox lineup filled with talented hitters, the 32-year-old should remain a viable corner-infield option in 15-team leagues.