Answers to Red Sox outfield woes have to come from within


May 13, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino (18) in the dugout at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Traditionally, offense has rarely been a problem for the Boston Red Sox. So far in the 2014 season, the Red Sox offense has been inconsistent to say the least. A big part of this inconsistency comes down to the performance of the outfield.

The current outfield is on pace to be historically bad in terms of offensive production. Some cite the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury as a primary culprit. While Ellsbury was indeed a big contributor to a productive Boston outfield in 2013, his current OPS is below his final line in 2013 (surprising given how his new home usually enhances the numbers for left-handed hitters). Instead of looking at who left, we need to look at who’s still here.

Shane Victorino
has struggled to stay healthy this season, and probably won’t be back anytime soon. Daniel Nava was never comfortable in the leadoff spot. Grady Sizemore clearly isn’t the player he once was. Jonny Gomes can’t hit right-handed pitching. Though he’s been better lately, Jackie Bradley is struggling to establish himself as a consistent offensive contributor. The injuries have also reached the point that Alex Hassan has been at the plate in a key situation.

While Boston has the depth to make any trade they want, there currently isn’t anything worthwhile on the trade market. There may not be anybody of significance available at the deadline either. A Giancarlo Stanton deal isn’t going to happen this season with the Marlins playing well. Guys like Matt Kemp and Carlos Quentin are damaged goods. Andre Ethier is owed too much money and is very ineffective against left-handed pitching.

Two outfielders who might be available and worth considering: Carlos Gonzalez and Alex Gordon. But there are red flags for pursuing either player.

In the case of pursuing Carlos Gonzalez: while he’s an excellent defender and has a career .877 OPS, CarGo is struggling so far this season with a .756 OPS (not terrible, but well below his norm). This drop off is quite alarming given he plays his home games at Coors Field. He’s also owed a total of $53 million for the next three seasons. In a perfect world, Gonzalez would be a “buy low” acquisition. The Sox could absorb the rest of the contract but for a lower cost in prospects. But it’s very unlikely the Rox would want to sell low on Gonzalez. They’ll either deal him for a premium return, or hold onto him.

There’s already a detailed article by Rick McNair that’s been written about a potential Gordon deal, so I’ll keep this brief. While Gordon would be a great fit for the Sox, it seems unlikely the two sides would find common ground on a deal. The Royals are likely to want a premium return for Gordon, who is the face of their franchise. The Red Sox will likely view such a price as too steep for a player who’s good, but has only played in one All Star Game in his seven year big league career.

The immediate, and possibly long-term, solutions to the Red Sox outfield woes are likely to come from within. There are two steps that can be taken.

Step One: Ride It Out With The Incumbents

Keep Bradley in CF, Sizemore in RF, Nava in LF vs RHP, and Gomes in LF vs LHP. How long this assembly lasts really depends on how long Brock Holt continues his hot streak. With Mike Napoli due to return on Sunday, Holt could find himself getting some playing time in the outfield. But until then, the Sox need to evaluate who they’ll have playing these next two days.

Is Jackie Bradley’s defense enough to justify his spot in the lineup, or should he be sent back down to Triple A Pawtucket to make adjustments to his approach? Should the Grady Sizemore experiment continue or should he be relegated to a bench role or designated for assignment? Can Daniel Nava return to being the player he was in 2013, or was he just a flash in the pan?

Other options could emerge with the return of other players. Hopefully Shane Victorino can return to being the player he was last season once he comes off the DL. Another possibility (albeit unlikely) scenario: Will Middlebrooks returns and earns his way back into the lineup after good showings in Pawtucket or off the Boston bench. Maybe such a scenario could lead to Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts to the outfield.

If the Sox are still left with more questions than answers after these scenarios unfold, they can move on to the next step.

Step Two: Get A Spark From The Farm System

While the Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in baseball, they technically are thin in Major League-ready outfielders. Bryce Brentz is the most immediate option, but he’s currently on the disabled list. If the Sox are still searching for answers once he returns, Brentz should get his chance. His power from the right side could give this outfield a boost.

Top prospect Mookie Betts just recently got promoted to Triple A. A second baseman for most of his ascent, Betts has recently played some games in center field. Betts could also see time at both corner outfield spots as well. There’s a very good chance he gets promoted to Boston later this season, but it’s likely a couple months out.

With Brentz still on the DL and Betts needing a little more time, there’s one other out of the box move the Red Sox should consider: move Garin Cecchini to the outfield.

Feb 23, 2014; Ft Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Garin Cecchini poses during photo day at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Though he’s slumped recently at Pawtucket, Cecchini has the approach and success against RHP that could help this team now. It was very evident last weekend when he collected his first major league hit (a double off the Green Monster) and helped the Red Sox extend their winning streak.

It makes sense for Cecchini to get some reps in the outfield. Aside from the possibility of Will Middlebrooks being sent back down once healthy, another prospect could be in Triple A very soon. Sean Coyle has picked up where he left off in Double A and a promotion is likely in the near future. Once he’s up, he’ll see time at both second base and third base. Having Coyle and Middlebrooks on the Pawtucket roster will require both Betts and Cecchini to see time at different positions. Cecchini does have the athleticism to play both corner outfield spots.

Given his skill set is somewhat similar to Alex Gordon’s, it’s fitting that Cecchini go on the similar path and make a move from third base to the outfield.

There are a lot of questions regarding the Red Sox outfield situation. But the answers to these questions are not likely to come from outside the organization. They’re instead likely to come from within.