By Steve Perrault –
Travis Shaw has come a long way from hitting .185 this April with the Pawtucket Red Sox. But could he actually be the Red Sox starting first baseman for Boston in 2016? At the very least, Shaw has made this a legitimate debate.
Due to injuries to some of the Red Sox corner infielders, Shaw got the opportunity to make some spot starts with Boston. But it wasn’t until his breakout performance on August 1 that he made sure the Red Sox were going to give him a more extended look at the Major League level. That day, against the Tampa Bay Rays, Shaw went 4 for 4 with two home runs and five runs scored. He fell just a triple shy of the cycle and had scored the most runs by a Red Sox player in a game since Dustin Pedroia back in 2008. With Boston 12 games back in the A.L. East at the time, it was the perfect chance for Shaw to stay up with the Red Sox and further prove his worth to the big league club.
Fast-forward to last night, also against those Rays, and Shaw went 3 for 3 with two RBI and a walk. It extended his hit streak to 5 games, and increased his average to .588 during that span. Since that August 1 call-up, Shaw is hitting .301 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI. Shaw already has more home runs than Pablo Sandoval for the entire season, and Sandoval has had 293 more at-bats than the young slugger. This impressive stretch for Shaw has made the Red Sox front office really have to question where he will factor in to the 2016 roster.
After the departure of Mike Napoli back on August 7, there hasn’t been much competition at the first base position for Shaw. The idea that Hanley Ramirez would consistently play first base for Boston is laughable to say the least. So, Shaw’s biggest competition this offseason appears to be the top first basemen on the free agent market. Excluding players with club options (Encarnacion, Morneau), let’s take a look at the those top free agent candidates at first base (includes their age by Opening Day next season, and statistics for this season):
Chris Davis (30 – .264 AVG, 43 HR, 110 RBI with BAL)
Kelly Johnson (34 – .270 AVG, 14 HR, 47 RBI with ATL/NYM)
Steve Pearce (33 – .223 AVG, 13 HR, 35 RBI with BAL)
Garrett Jones (35 – .215 AVG, 5 HR, 17 RBI with NYY)
Sean Rodriguez (31 – .243 AVG, 4 HR, 13 RBI with PIT)
Corey Hart (34 – .222 AVG, 2 HR, 9 RBI with PIT — on D.L. since 7/20)
It would appear that Chris Davis, with an average of 39 home runs per season in the last four years, is ready to fetch the biggest contract of his life this offseason. It’s highly unlikely that the Red Sox would want to spend big money on a player like Davis following the major letdown that was their offseason signings of Ramirez and Sandoval.
Before the season, if you had said the Red Sox would be getting rid of Mike Napoli the expected replacement would have most likely been Allen Craig. To begin his 2015 campaign, Craig had an abysmal .135 batting average with 1 home run and 2 RBI when the Red Sox decided to option him to AAA Pawtucket on May 10. Since returning to the club at the beginning of this month, Craig has continued to fail at the plate, batting .133 with 0 home runs and 1 RBI. It’s rather sad to see from the 1B/OF that, during a three-year stretch, was consistently hitting over .300 and considered a main contributor to a championship-caliber club in St. Louis.
The Red Sox decision is clear. While it’s unlikely that they will make a big splash by signing Chris Davis, expect the decision to come down to a middle-of-the-road free agent 1B or what is right in front of them, in Travis Shaw. The young slugger clearly has shown what he can do at the big league level, and if he closes the last two weeks on a high note he may very well lock up the title of Red Sox starting first baseman for Opening Day of the 2016 season.