The signing of Gomez created barely a ripple in the pond of Red Sox Nation, and I have to admit—of all of Ben Cherington's free agent signings this offseason, Gomez puzzles me the most.
Yes, he's a decent left-handed hitting first baseman with considerable pop. He hit 24 home runs at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011, and has averaged 24 home runs each year for the last four years. According to RedSox Prospects.com, 24 home runs would have put him third in the entire Red Sox system last season.
But at the age of 27, there's not a lot more development to be done. He's as good as he's going to get as a hitter. And where does he fit with Boston? First base is locked up for the foreseeable future by Adrian Gonzales, and Lars Anderson is already waiting in the wings at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Unlike Jason Repko
and Josh Kroeger
, he has no versatility in the field. Yes, he played some third base for a while, but not since 2009 at Bakersfield in High-A California League. A fielding percentage of .843 ended that experiment. (His fielding average at first is a respectable .988.)
Sure, on the surface, it seems the Braves may have made a mistake by letting 27-year-old minor league slugger go, especially after the numbers he put up at Triple-A Gwinnett last season: .304/.356/.522 with 24 home runs and 90 RBI in 135 games. His HR total was good for third in the International League, and he finished fourth on the RBI leaderboard.
For the season, Gomez led the IL in total bases with 264, was second with 60 extra-base hits and 154 total hits, and fourth with 76 runs scored. His OPS of .878 was good for 13th.
For the last week of the season Gomez was the hottest hitter in the International League, crushing the ball at a .520 clip including a pair of homers and three doubles. He added five RBI, six runs scored, two stolen bases and two walks. He hit safely in each of Gwinnett’s six games for the week and had four multiple- hit games.
Perhaps Cherington is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, manifested by a continuation of his hot hitting to end last season. But even if that happens, what do the Red Sox do with him?
Gomez, a Dominican, originally signed with the Texas Rangers as an international free agent in 2003
During his eight minor league seasons with the Rangers and Braves, he batted .277 with an OBP of .329, a slugging percentage of .469, and an OPS of .798.
Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars did an excellent analysis of why the Braves let Gomez go, even though his 2011 numbers compared favorably with super prospect Freddie Freeman in 2010. The bottom line is that Freeman put up his numbers at age 20, and when you’re talking prospects, the seven year age difference is a lifetime.
The biggest knock on Gomez has been a very high ratio of strikeouts to walks. Stoltz reports that Gomez strikes out nearly once per game (131 K in 135 games in 2011), and for his minor league career he has whiffed 713 times in 712 games. "That’s just not going to get it done against major league pitching," concludes Stoltz. "His propensity to swing and come up empty is a huge red flag."
Combine that with an alarmingly low walk total—only 38 times in 2011—and it is unlikely, Stoltz concludes, that Gomez could hold up at such a demanding and competitive offensive position. (Just look around the majors today, and see the studs that are playing first.)
Seedlings to Stars ran his Triple-A line through the Minor League Splits Major League Equivalency calculator, and came up with an equivalent .259/.300/.429 line with a 140/30 K/BB and 19 HR. That just doesn’t get it done, and it certainly isn’t of much use for a team that has Adrian Gonzales around.
Bottom line, there is no shortage of first baseman putting up similar stats with better strike zone discipline (and more versatility in the field) than Mauro Gomez.
Again, we're back to where we started. This signing doesn't make a lot of sense for the Red Sox, unless they are ready to pull the trigger on a trade involving Lars Anderson.
In that case, Pawtucket would need a first baseman.