In Major League Baseball, positional depth is never a bad thing. Over the course of a 162-game season, teams with exceptional benches often vault to the top while other teams decimated by injury limp to the finish line. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as too much depth–teams need to ensure that their resources are allocated efficiently across each position on the diamond.
The Boston Red Sox are one example of a team with an overabundance of depth as they head into 2015 with eight major league-caliber outfielders. It is impossible for them to accommodate them all on their big league roster, let alone get everyone playing time. How will the Red Sox resolve this problem? Well, let’s take a look at the players vying for time in the outfield at Fenway Park this season and see if we can find Boston’s best way to proceed.
Hanley Ramirez: The longtime infielder was signed this winter and the club has publicly stated that they intend to play their former top prospect in left field. Ramirez has never appeared in a major league game in the outfield and must quickly learn how to deal with the Green Monster. Barring an injury, Ramirez projects to be the go-to guy in left and a hitter in the middle of the Red Sox’ batting order.
Shane Victorino: The fan-favorite battled injuries in 2014, but he is expected to be ready to go for Spring Training. While Victorino was a key component of the Red Sox’ 2013 championship run, his role pertaining to the 2015 team is unclear. A four-time Gold Glove winner, the veteran outfielder may reclaim the everyday role in right field, but if not, he is an excellent option as a fourth outfielder because of his ability to play both center and right.
Daniel Nava: Like the club itself, Daniel Nava’s 2014 season was unsteady. The 31 year old was coming off a strong .303/.385/.445 line in 2013, but he ended up spending time at Triple-A Pawtucket last season to refine his approach at the dish. Even so, Nava was better when he returned on his way to quite respectable offensive numbers, and he should be penciled in for a roster spot in 2015. His ability to play first base in addition to the outfield will help the Red Sox find him at-bats.
Jackie Bradley: As WBZ’s Jon Miller reported, Bradley became the first member of the Boston Red Sox to report to Fort Myers when he arrived yesterday. That makes sense because he has a lot of work to do after a dismal offensive year in 2014 that saw him hit just .198 over 124 games. Bradley’s defensive has always been outstanding, but the questions surrounding his bat will lead him to start 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Brock Holt: The Texan was one of the few bright spots for Boston in 2014, bursting onto the scene and capturing the hearts of Red Sox Nation. Although a concussion slowed Holt in the second half, his .281 batting average was solid, and we’ve talked about his versatility and value to the Red Sox before. Manager John Farrell holds Holt with high regard and it is a safe bet that the 26 year old will break camp with Boston in a super-utility role.
Rusney Castillo: Signed as an international free agent in mid-summer, Castillo enjoyed a cup of coffee in the bigs in 2014, hitting .333 in 10 games. He is signed through 2020 and will earn $11.2 million in 2015. Given the financial commitment, Castillo will likely be given every opportunity to grasp the starting centerfielder role. In the event that the Red Sox feel that Castillo is not ready for a full-time gig, more seasoning in Pawtucket is not outside the realm of possibility.
Allen Craig: Possibly the most intriguing situation on this list is Allen Craig’s. The 2013 All-Star was traded from St. Louis to Boston in July and struggled to the tune of a .128 clip in Beantown following the deal. If fully healthy, Craig can be a middle-of-the-order hitter, but that may not come in Boston.
Craig’s name has flared up in trade rumors on multiple occasions this winter and he may be a hot commodity if he can prove his health in spring training. Look for the Red Sox to deal Craig if a favorable package comes along.
Mookie Betts: Much like Holt, Betts caught the attention of Sox fans in 2014 and in his case, he may have been a few years ahead of schedule. The 22 year old made the transition from top prospect to impact big leaguer as he hit to a .291/.368/.444 line with 5 homers and 7 stolen bases in 51 games with Boston last season.
If he claims a starting role, Betts represents a viable option for the Red Sox at the top of the order. Given his strong minor league track record and just how good he looked last season, it makes sense for the Red Sox to give him that chance. With a surplus of outfielders at their disposal, Boston could opt to send Betts back to Pawtucket to open the season, but all indications point to Betts heading north with the big club in 2015.
There are numerous ways that the Boston Red Sox could go about solving their problem of too many outfielders, many of which deal with minor league options and potential trades. Betts, Castillo, Craig, Holt, and Bradley Jr. all have options remaining. Plausibly, Boston could option three of the five back to Pawtucket and open the season with five outfielders on the Major League roster.
Ramirez, Holt, and Nava all appear to be locks for the Opening Day roster and two more vacant spots will be taken by the starting center and right fielders. If Boston opts to not keep a traditional backup infielder because of Holt’s versatility, another spot should open up.
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An educated guess would say that out of 25 roster spots, twelve will be taken by pitchers, two by catchers, and five by infielders (if we count David Ortiz at DH). That would leave six slots open for the outfield, and three of them seem relatively clear-cut. Ramirez will be Boston’s left fielder, Holt will back up both the infield and outfield, and Daniel Nava is likely to take a reserve outfielder/first baseman role, leaving the Red Sox with three open roster spots.
If the preconceived plan of the Red Sox is to hand starting jobs to Castillo and Betts, then two more spots are eliminated, leaving one for Victorino, whose role is still in question. Bradley Jr. is likely to be sent to the minors, but he could be flaunted as trade bait even though his value is low. That seems unlikely, though, because there is simply no place to put Craig and it is hard to picture him still being with the team come Opening Day.
Roster issues are not uncommon, but the situation facing the Boston Red Sox in their outfield is perplexing. No one, not even Ben Cherington and John Farrell, seems to have everything figured out at this point. The Red Sox plenty of work ahead of them as they hope to make the moves necessary to clear their outfield surplus by the time the season begins.