Sizing-up the Red Sox’ outfield roster


USA Today

As the Red Sox head into their final week of spring training there’s a growing certainty about 20 spots on the regular season active roster, and a growing uncertainty about the remaining five – belonging to the outfielders.

The team’s offseason announcement of Grady Sizemore’s signing was welcomed enthusiastically. Landing the three-time All Star and two-time Gold Glove winning outfielder was a coup for the Red Sox, who emerged from nowhere to snatch him away from negotiations with the Cincinnati Reds. His incentive-laden contract was also a tremendous advantage for the Sox, placing the onus on Sizemore to perform.

And perform he has.

Through eight spring training games Sizemore, 31, has slashed .360/.385/.400/.785, striking out only once. He has shown his characteristic quick bat, speed on the base paths and flashing of the leather in centerfield. In short, he has made an impressive case to be a regular in the Red Sox lineup. The only concern is whether, after missing two full seasons due to injury, he is physically ready for the grind of going all out on a daily basis beginning next week.

The chance that he is ready – or very near – has the Red Sox brass wondering how the five outfielders on the active roster can be configured for opening day.

Before the Sizemore signing, the everyday centerfield job was thought to belong to Jackie Bradley Jr. The 23-year-old Bradley was the Red Sox’ first-round draft pick in 2011, out of the baseball powerhouse University of South Carolina. He entered the consciousness of fans in a big way last spring, hitting over .400 in camp. He made the opening day roster because a spot was open due to a lingering Achilles injury to David Ortiz. Though Bradley was sterling defensively, his average dropped below .200 in the majors and he was sent to AAA Pawtucket to close some holes in his swing.

In 15 spring games this year Bradley is slashing a mere .191/.255/.319/.574, but many observe that his offensive ceiling remains much higher. Manager John Farrell puts a premium on defense, which is a huge factor in Bradley’s favor. Speculation is that, even if Sizemore makes the opening day roster, Bradley’s defensive skills will be required to spell Sizemore in centerfield.

The other outfielders likely to break camp with the Red Sox include Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino. Super-sub Mike Carp has not yet found a roster spot, but he is high coveted for his defensive versatility and reliable bat. To make the big league club however, he would have to claim one of the five outfield roster spots.

Several suggestions have been made for configuration of the five-man outfield roster group. Chief among them are returning Bradley to the farm or trading away Carp.

The Sox are hopeful that Sizemore will be able to play daily and bat leadoff. They don’t want to hurry him though, risking further injury. If he is still not ready to play – or play a complete game – every day, he’ll leave a defensive void that only Bradley is fully capable if filling. So, demoting Bradley becomes potentially problematic.

Trading Carp is a logical solution too, but sometimes a player’s value to a club is greater than what he would return in such a transaction. There has been some rumored interest in Carp, but had the Red Sox deemed any offers to be of value to them, they probably would have amounted to more than media buzz by now. It still remains an option, especially as the deadline nears.

Another idea has been to reduce the number of relief pitchers from seven to six, particularly given the fact that Craig Breslow seems unlikely to be ready for completion by March 31. Even as a short term solution, that’s not a compromise that would appeal to the former pitcher, Farrell.

Starting the season with Sizemore in extended spring training (a.k.a. disabled list) could be a possibility but even if he could contribute four or five games per week at this point, that’s of value to the team. He has benchmarks built into his contract that allows him to earn more by playing. If making the opening day roster is among them, he’ll continue to prove his worth.

Another possibility that hasn’t received as much traction would be to place Victorino on the disabled list. He had offseason surgery on his hand and has been slow to develop in spring training. He played only 122 games in 2013, largely due to injury. Giving him time to recover and improve his conditioning could prove a viable solution to start the season.

Any of these options are short-term fixes at best.

It’s been said that having too much talent is a good problem to have. The Red Sox need to employ some creativity soon to manage that talent to its best end, at least to begin the season. Once they get into their daily schedule, the situation is likely to find a solution for itself.