The Michael Chavis Problem
Michael Chavis has been a fascinating player since he was in the minors. A decent hitter since being drafted, he really broke out with 31 homers in 126 games in 2017, only to be subsequently hit with a PED suspension. He returned from suspension, and was very solid, but never seemed to tap into the power that he’d had in 2017 (perhaps for obvious reasons). He got called up to the show in 2019, and absolutely RAKED. In 95 games, he hit .254/.322/.444/.766 with 17 homers and 10 doubles, but that stat line hardly does him justice. In 2019, it was really two Michael Chavises—the first absolutely destroyed baseballs, the second destroyed the mental state of Red Sox fans. He hit 10 homers in his first 28 games, slashing .283/.382/585/.967. Sox fans were excited, thinking he could be an actual solid Major League starter for years to come. Over his next 67 games in 2019, however, Chavis hit .241/.293/.382/.675 with 8 homers and 95 strikeouts. He looked completely overmatched. Pitchers had discovered that, if you threw a fastball at the letters, Chavis would swing and miss something approaching 100% of the time. A middle-up fastball is a horrible hole to have in your swing. 2020 was a hugely important year for Chavis, as it would give the team and the fans insight into whether he would be able to adjust and become a Major League caliber hitter, or if he would continue to strikeout at obscene rates on pitches that other players mash.
Chavis failed in a huge way in 2020. In 42 games, he hit .212/.259/.377/.636 with 5 home runs and 5 doubles. He struck out 50 times, and only walked 8. He accrued -0.7 bWAR, and now sits at -0.1 for his career. Sox fans got extremely tired of watching this so-called professional athlete try and fail to hit fastballs right over the plate, and many fans turned on him, calling for him to be cut, traded, sent down, anything to get him off the lineup card.
And now here we are in 2021, trying to figure out where Chavis fits on this team, if he has a spot at all. Chavis can play first and second base. Heading into the offseason after 2020, those spots had yet to be filled, and Chavis seemed like a possible candidate. Of course, Bobby Dalbec mashed in his debut in 2020, and has seemingly gotten even more powerful in spring training, so first base is his to lose. To fill the hole at second, the Sox signed Enrique Hernandez from the Dodgers. The team also added Marwin Gonzalez, a capable utility player, and retained Christian Arroyo and Jonathan Araúz. Boston is absolutely flush with infielders, and with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers entrenched at shortstop and third, respectively, all of these players will seemingly compete for playing time at first and second. To top it off, the team signed Danny Santana to a minor league contract, just in case all of these players get hurt or suck. Chavis really does not seem to have chance at real playing time.
That said, Chavis has been fantastic in spring. He’s hitting .277 with 6 homers and a 1.035 OPS in 47 at bats. That’s not just adjusting and becoming capable—that’s dominating opposing pitchers. Of course, it’s Spring Training, so these stats must be taken with a MASSIVE grain of salt, but it is, at the very least, an encouraging sign. Chavis is still only 25 years old. He can play multiple positions, and has demonstrated that he has real, legitimate in-game power. If he can—or, perhaps, if he has—fixed the hole in his swing, he is absolutely a viable, even valuable major leaguer. The team is going to be left with a decision to make. Should they take up a roster spot, and allow Chavis to prove he’s truly made the necessary adjustments? Should they send him down to the minors? After all, he has options remaining. Or should they trade him, or maybe even cut him? Whatever decision the team makes, it is going to be based on whether they believe his spring training performance is for real. If the team thinks 2020 is the real Chavis, then he will almost definitely not make the Opening Day roster. If they think he’s still young enough that his improvement is real, then the team has some difficult decisions to make regarding the roster and playing time.