FORT MYERS, Fla. — Who’s less controversial or more boring than nice guy Mitch Moreland?
This Red Sox spring training got off to a rugged start with new baseball boss Chaim Bloom stating, “We’re going to be worse,’’ while explaining the unpopular salary dump of Mookie Betts and David Price.
Since the promotion of bench coach Ron Roenicke to interim manager in place of fan favorite Alex Cora, we’ve had the announcement that Chris Sale has pneumonia and a report that outfield prospect Alex Verdugo (the key piece coming to Boston in the Betts deal) may not be ready for the start of the season because of a back issue.
Meanwhile, the Sox won their arbitration case against 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez (more savings!) and are being investigated by MLB for allegations of cheating during their 2018 championship season.
Which is exactly why Nice Guy Mitch was the perfect player for the Sox to put in front of the media Friday morning at JetBlue Park. While we waited for the official announcement that veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar was joining the team (he was in the Red Sox clubhouse Friday morning and the official statement came Friday night), Moreland was hooked up to a microphone and brought us back to baseball for a few minutes.
“This team’s going to be good,’’ said Moreland, a 34-year-old veteran of 10 big league seasons. “We’re being overlooked right now, so bring it on.’’
Just what Sox fans need to hear at this hour.
Moreland has been a solid, though oft-injured player, for the Sox the last three seasons. A career .251 hitter with 166 big league homers, he has played a solid first base and came up with one of the biggest (and most underrated) home runs in Red Sox history when he clubbed a 437-foot, three-run, two-out, pinch homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.
The Sox had lost an excruciating 18-inning Game 3 and were looking at a 2-2 World Series tie when they trailed, 4-0, in the seventh inning of Game 4 at Chavez Ravine. Moreland’s bomb changed everything.
I asked him about the MLB investigation into those 119-win Red Sox. Unnamed sources told The Athletic that the Sox were illegally using the video replay room to pick up signs and relay them. MLB is well into a lengthy probe.
“Obviously that’s still ongoing,’’ Moreland said. “I think it’s probably coming to an end maybe next week or something from what I’ve heard. I don’t know, but from what I remember from it, we were just really a good team.
“We went out and prepared well and we won it. It’s the best team I’ve ever played on. It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s a great memory for me and I’m looking forward to making another one this year.
“I talked to them [MLB investigators], but it’s still ongoing, so we’ll let that finish up.’’
What’s his level of confidence in how the investigation will conclude?
“We’ll talk about it when it comes out.’’
Moreland was a free agent at the end of last season, and many assumed he’d played his final game for the Red Sox, but Boston signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal in late January. The Sox hold a team option for $3 million in 2021, or they can buy him out for $500,000 after this season.
“This is my third time to sign here,’’ Moreland said with a chuckle. “I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out. I’ve learned to keep an open mind because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“This is my No. 1 choice. And it’s nice coming in and not having to relearn the system. I’m excited about coming back.’’
His reaction to the trading of Betts and Price?
“That’s a tough loss,’’ he said. “We’ve still got a great team. When you look around the room, there’s guys that have been doing it good for a long time.
“[Betts and Price] are not replaceable. They are great ballplayers, but at the same time, we’re going to be fine.’’
Back and quad issues limited Moreland to 91 games last season. In that small sample, he hit 19 home runs.
“The health question has always been my thing,’’ he said. “If I can continue to stay on the field, that’s going to be good for me and hopefully for the team. I got a lot of work in this offseason, trying to get my body in a good place.
“Obviously I’m not getting any younger. The miles start adding up. You’ve got to figure out different ways to keep yourself ready.’’