There’s an old expression commonly heard in sports as it pertains to having too much talent at a given position or simply too many bodies.
Those things tend to work themselves out.
Talking with a colleague on Thursday about the Red Sox’ health – or lack thereof – early in 2014, the conversation shifted to the outfield.
Shane Victorino is eligible (and that word should be stressed, since hamstring injuries are somewhat unpredictable) to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, which begs the logical question:
Who will be shipped out to make room for the veteran to rejoin the active roster?
Call it a hunch, but I’m going to say the answer is nobody.
I know; you can’t have a 26-man roster. An outfielder seemingly has to go.
Suddenly, the DeLorean takes us back to spring training, where Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, Grady Sizemore, and Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t all possibly make the team out of Fort Myers. And, for a few minutes, they didn’t. Bradley was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, but was recalled before playing in a minor league game on account of Victorino’s trip to the DL.
For a couple of weeks, problem solved. As it turned out, all of that energy, air-time, and written space taken up for weeks in March were wasted. Sizemore and Bradley could in fact occupy the same roster.
Here’s the problem, a word used extremely loosely. Both have produced.
To this point, the Sizemore experiment is working and – very early on – general manager Ben Cherington looks like a genius. Sure, the veteran has had his minor gaffes in the field, doesn’t cover as much ground as he once did, and he hasn’t been the perfect leadoff hitter in limited chances, but he’s appeared in eight of Boston’s 10 games (he’s healthy!) with a .308 average and .879 OPS.
Bradley? So much for that .158 average and .476 OPS in the spring. In nine games, the soon-to-be 24-year-old is hitting .364 and paces Boston with a .462 on-base percentage and .917 OPS. He’s driven in a run every 4.4 at-bats on average, scores just as frequently, has two doubles, and has shown great patience at the plate. The youngster’s also been an absolute stud defensively.
Sizemore, if healthy, will be here and playing as often as doctors deem him fit. Bradley, if contributing, isn’t going anywhere either.
Many have started to fantasize about a lineup featuring Sizemore in left (though Thursday’s game in the Bronx marked the first time he’s ever played the position in nine big league seasons), Bradley in center, and Victorino in right. Defensively, the club has no better option.
If that happens in a week or so, what happens to the other half of the equation?
Gomes is a lock to stay. Say what you want about his intangibles, which manager John Farrell and the organization certainly value, but his presence comes down to a few factors greater than being the “just press play” guy. He’s a righthander who has hit lefties well in his career (.276/.377/.500), he’s a decent career pinch-hitter (.286/.500/1.405 with four home runs in 2013), and he has a knack for coming up with a key hit.
That leads most to debate Nava against Carp, and they’re largely redundant. Both play the outfield and can serve as backup at first base, and neither does either particularly well. What separates them, really, is that Nava is a switch-hitter with a better track record of getting on base, and Carp has more power, is a few years younger, and could probably fetch more on the trade market.
If Cherington had to make a decision, it’s a safe bet he’d pick Nava because the franchise values his career OBP (.364 in the majors and .415 in the minors). He also happened to post a .303/.385/.445 slash line over 536 plate appearances in his only full major league season a year ago. In some ways, it’s comical he isn’t an automatic starter, rather than a perceived platoon player at best, though his struggles this year (.139/.205/.250) have contributed to that distinction.
Carp, however, was terrific in his own right in his first season in Boston, hitting .296 with nine homers and 43 RBI in just 86 games.
The Red Sox appreciate their depth, and they’ve already been victimized by a lack of it on the left side of the infield when Will Middlebrooks was sidelined by a calf strain. That’s when the second-half of the “Who needs Stephen Drew” question was completed by, “when you have Ryan Roberts.” It’s hard to boast depth when an external fix is required.
The point being Cherington and Co. won’t make a move any time soon that would further hamper their ability to fill out a competitive 25-man roster.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely Victorino will finish the year without some sort of setback once he returns. Sizemore hasn’t been back nearly long enough to feel confident his health will hold up, though we’re all hoping for the best.
Less than one week ago, on Apr. 5, the rarely used Carp was scratched from a game against the Brewers because of lower back tightness. He eventually entered the game as a defensive replacement, and he’s seen one at-bat since.
Could a trip to the DL be in his future, either out of necessity or mild creativity?
Again, those things tend to work themselves out.
There are still questions to be answered before Victorino’s return, whether driven by the health or production of those currently playing. Until then, the potential for the Sox to keep their six-man outfield unit intact is awfully attractive to consider – in whatever rotation they can manage.
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