The case for calling Mitch Moreland a keeper

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By WEEI 93.7

So, of all the players on the Red Sox, why should we talk about Mitch Moreland's future?

He is an almost-35-year-old platoon first baseman who the Sox can keep around next year if they want to just by picking up his very palatable $3 million option for 2021.

Well, because of days like Sunday.

It was this afternoon when Moreland walked-off the Blue Jays with his second home run of the game, lofting his sixth of the year over the left-field wall. By the time the first baseman somewhat awkwardly maneuvered his way through a sea of somewhat socially-distant teammates at home plate, he was carrying a batting average of .323 and 1.299 OPS. If there was an MVP for these 6-9 Red Sox he would be it.

"Last year started off this way also," said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke after his team's win.  "If you remember we didn’t play well out of the shoot last year and the wins that we got were because of Mitch. I think he won four of the first five games that we won last year with big hits. He does it. And when he is feeling this way you want him up there as much as you can."

He's not wrong. In the first 19 games Moreland played last season the Red Sox went 6-13, but it just so happened the lefty hitter went deep six times.

And now, one season later, Moreland is back doing his thing. And it's the kind of thing that should make the Red Sox prioritize keeping him as part of the 2021 solution.

It's odd to think about what he has become. In four seasons with the Red Sox, his numbers don't jump out at you (.249 batting average, .749 OPS). And these days the likelihood of him playing against a lefty starter is slim. Then there are the legs (or knee, if you like) that Roenicke has been ultra-protective of when conservatively putting Moreland in the lineup this year.

"I still know we just had three right-handers which you want him to play those three, but I know we still have to be careful with him," the manager said. "He’s a gamer. He’ll go out there and play and if his legs don’t feel good he’ll still go out there and plays. But I know in the long run … We can’t really take a chance this year because of the short season. If I think a guy needs a day off I need to get him a day off because if I leave him out there too long and he goes down now we’re 10 days on the (10-day injured list) and this season to be on the IL it pretty much kills your team. So that’s why even though we know it’s important to put those guys out there it’s probably more important that I don’t push him to the point where they end up on the IL."

“I do," Moreland said when asked if his legs had felt better from earlier in the season. "Yeah, obviously I’ve always had to fight some nagging stuff here and there. Would I like it differently? Yes, I would love to feel great every day. At times, the legs are a little heavy and I have to grind it out. He’s done a great job communicating with me and we’re a good team. We’re solid all the way through so different guys can get in there and pick up the team too and we have to realize that too that it’s going to take everybody to get us to where we need to be."

But you should take a step back and understand the importance of not using Moreland as a chip at the trade deadline, no matter where he sits in the American League home run chase.

First off, when clubhouses return, he will be an important guy to have in one of them As I wrote in May, Moreland just gets it.

He might not be boisterous or have the inclination to grab youngsters by the collar, but the Mississippi native is absolutely the kind of role model every team needs. A subtle example of this dynamic was put on display when Moreland was asked if he was surprised Roenicke let him hit in the seventh inning against Toronto lefty reliever Ryan Borucki. The answer was sprinkled with the kind of detail young hitters should absolutely take heed of.

"I wasn’t because I knew that the lefty yesterday went two-plus, maybe three, somewhere in there," he said. "I knew Borucki was the only guy they had in the pen and he wasn’t going to roll around until the next time I hit. I was thinking along those same lines, hoping they were too, happy they were, able to come up big there the next inning."

Then there is the roster fit.

The first baseman of the future is either going to Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec. Both are right-handed hitters. Both would seem to need more than just this season before they are to become no-doubt-about-it everyday players. Both could really use a dose of what Chavis is currently experiencing -- some time soaking in the platoon life with a guy Moreland.

There are going to be plenty of names on this roster who will be viewed as means to an end when it comes to the trade deadline, with the likes of J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jose Peraza, Martin Perez, Kevin Pillar and Brandon Workman all possibly heading to free agency this offseason. And it will be those type of players whose value is largely going to be defined at the trade deadline.

But Moreland shouldn't be lumped in with the others. Not because of one day or one thing. Because of everything. Sunday was just a reminder of that.