A big reason why the Boston Red Sox were able to capture the World Series title in 2013 was the team’s depth. If one guy went down or needed a night off, another guy was waiting and ready to fill in. However, that may soon become a problem as Boston will have too much depth once right fielder Shane Victorino returns from the disabled list sometime next week. Victorino is rehabbing a minor hamstring strain, and once he comes back he will give Boston six outfielders, so someone will have to be the odd man out.
This is definitely a scenario where too much of a good thing is a bad thing. There are many different views to take regarding this subject, but the big wrench thrown into the plan has been the play of rookie center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley was supposed to assume the job in center after Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees, but the Red Sox brought in some competition in spring training in the form of Grady Sizemore, who has rebounded from two years away from the game and played about as well as one might expect. Bradley hit poorly in the spring and was sent down to the minors, while Sizemore wrestled the starter’s job away from him. Bradley was not away for long, as Victorino’s injury resulted in him being on the roster on opening day anyway.
Bradley’s bat has cooled off some in the past week, but he has still shown off an excellent eye at the plate as well as a knack for delivering with runners on base. On top of that, he has played a flawless center field and displayed an extraordinary throwing arm that has definitely surprised some people. He was supposed to be a two-week stopgap until Victorino got healthy, but management is not prepared to send him back to Pawtucket. He has forced general manager Ben Cherington’s hand and does not look prepared to give up the center field job again.
Sizemore has exceeded expectations and done a great job both offensively and defensively. In recent games, manager John Farrell has tested him in left field and right field, two unfamiliar spots for him. He has looked comfortable in those spots, and his presence there in the first place is a testament to how well Bradley has patrolled center. Fans and management alike have already begun to fantasize about a holy trinity in the outfield of Sizemore, Bradley and Victorino. Those three together would be arguably the best and speediest outfield in the majors.
The caveat is that Boston has three other very productive guys in Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. Nava and Gomes mostly platooned in left last season due to their drastic splits against lefties and righties. None of the three have started off well with the bat, which has left Nava and Carp as candidates for the chopping block. Nava still has minor league options left, so he can be sent down if the Red Sox choose to do so, but Carp does not. Nava has also learned how to play first base, so Carp does not have that advantage over him anymore either.
The grand spectrum indicates that Carp is the odd man out. The other five players seemingly rotate in and out well, especially since Sizemore is being eased into action and sees regular days off, especially against lefties. Victorino is no sure bet to stay healthy, and having Nava and now Sizemore now capable of playing right field, he too can be spelled on occasion. Carp now projects as the sixth outfielder, and it doesn’t help his case that Bradley and Sizemore are both left-handed, while Nava is a significantly better hitter from the left side as well. Should Farrell be able to keep all these players and choose to build a lefty-heavy lineup, Carp still would find himself on the bench. The only two feasible options are to either attempt a Carp trade, or to bite the bullet and send Bradley back down, which seems unlikely given the fact that Sizemore is not prepared to play every day, and Boston has no other option in center field.
The Red Sox are in desperate need of a jolt on offense, and Victorino is more than equipped to provide that. He is the team’s best outfielder and most prolific base stealer, and his inhuman performance manning the spacious right field in Fenway Park last season is sorely missed. Things are about to get interesting, and Boston has a very difficult decision on its hands.
Commentary by Justin Hussong
Guardian Liberty Voice sportswriter covering the Boston Red Sox.