With Saturday's mega-trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers now a few days in the rear-view mirror, one thing is clear about the rest of the Red Sox' season: it's time to evaluate players with an eye on 2013 and beyond.
Since the deal was consummated, the one major league piece Boston received back from La La Land, James Loney, has now received three consecutive starts at first base. Of course, with Adrian Gonzalez out of town and Loney's contract set to expire at the end of the season, there's a gaping hole at third base in the Sox' future lineup for 2013, and Loney is likely one of the cadidates for that role.
However, if it's internal candidates the Red Sox are looking for, then they have an MVP ready to prove his worth at the major league level, a candidate who should be seeing the majority of the playing time over Loney — a seven-year major league veteran whose bat hasn't justified a corner infield spot in years.
On Tuesday Red Sox infielder Mauro Gomez was named MVP of the International League for his season-long exploits with Pawtucket. On the year, Gomez hit .310 with a .960 OPS, slugging 24 home runs and 74 RBIs in just 387 at-bats. He also crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .717 slugging percentage.
That, folks, is pure offensive production, and Gomez deserves a serious chance to see if it can translate to the major leagues.
Of course, it's not exactly accurate to call Gomez a "prospect," as players who are slated to turn 28 (the same age as Loney) in about two weeks have probably worn out that label. However, Gomez hasn't had the typical development arc of most players coming up through the minor leagues. In fact, Gomez didn't really show much of a bat at all until playing with Baksersfield in the Single-A California League in 2009, when he posted an .868 OPS over 316 at-bats.
Since that point, though, Gomez has hit consistently at a similar clip — until reaching a whole new level in 2012, that is. In his second full season at Triple-A, and his first in the Red Sox organization, the first baseman owned a .589 slugging percentage.
So, to recap, after spending six years stuck in various rookie and Single-A leagues, Gomez has steadily climbed the ladder — just as any prospect — since his breakout 2009 campaign. Physically, he may have reached his peak already, but it's a legitimate question to ask whether his high-flying 2012 season is due to familiarity with the league or actually finding something new at the plate.
Unlike Pedro Ciriaco, for instance — another elder prospect who has a long track record in the minor leagues — Gomez has showed he has shown he has one key element as a hitter that Ciriaco lacks: plate discipline. While Ciriaco's breakout 2012 has shown indications that it may not be sustainable long-term (most notably in drawing just three walks in 139 at-bats), Gomez's has shown proof that it may be for real.
And Loney, again, just doesn't look like the first baseman for a championship caliber club. In his first two campaigns — during which he saw just 102 and 344 at-bats, respectively — in the big leagues, Loney posted OPS figures of .901 and .919. Since then, however, Loney has never had a campain in which he's reached .800, falling all the way to .646 during his time with the Dodgers this year.
In short, we know what kind of player Loney is at this point in his career, and his bat just doesn't look like it will play at first base for a club with World Series aspirations. The veteran is a known quantity by now.
Mauro Gomez, likewise, may yet have an upside, and is a Most Valuable Player. It's about time the Red Sox see just what that value is.