The huge outfield surplus in Red Sox camp has been one of the largest stories following the team this spring. With Rusney Castillo sidelined possibly into April and no further rumors on a trade of either Shane Victorino or Allen Craig, Boston’s outfield appears to be taking shape. However, even in the likelihood that Castillo begins the season either on the disabled list or in Triple-A, there doesn’t appear to be a clear role for Daniel Nava.
Nava’s 2014 season would widely be regarded as a disappointment as, after leading off the season in Baltimore, he found himself in Triple-A Pawtucket after a .149/.240/.269 performance in April. Nava’s season picked up after a promotion back to Boston in June, but his final numbers on the season (a .270/.346/.361 slash line and only 4 home runs) were a far cry from 2013’s impressive line of .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs.
Aside from the sheer drop in power numbers, though, Nava’s 2014 season was not nearly as bad as it looks on the surface. After all, when utilized properly (against right-handed pitchers), the switch-hitting Nava still slashed a solid .293/.372/.397, hitting all of his home runs from the left side. Plus, Nava made major strides defensively as he was above-average in right field for the first time in his career and actually posted an extremely impressive 28.2 UZR/150 (meaning that over the span of 150 games, he would have saved 28.2 runs). According to FanGraphs, those defensive improvements actually made him more valuable in 2014 (2.6 WAR) than he was in 2013 (1.8 WAR).
Nava was a reasonably valuable player last season, but there are reasons to believe that he could actually improve in 2015. In an effort to maximize his efficacy at the plate, Nava has given up switch-hitting and will hit only left-handed in the future. Throughout his career, Nava has been terrible from the right side of the plate (slashing .209/.287/.298) and even hitting lefty-on-lefty will likely improve his numbers.
Despite those projected improvements from Nava, however, he still may be left without a home come Opening Day. The presence of Craig on the roster, who also plays corner outfield and first base, makes Nava redundant. Although Craig is coming off a terrible season, he has a much higher ceiling than Nava, being one of the best hitters in the league from 2011-13.
Nava deserves a place on the Red Sox roster, but there just isn’t a clear space for him. It’s tough to see him getting much playing time with Craig in the way and he won’t even have a place on the 25-man roster once Castillo is fully healthy. In addition, Nava probably wouldn’t net a huge return in a trade aside from maybe a low-minors lottery ticket or Triple-A reliever. This Red Sox roster crunch is going to have some casualties sooner or later and Nava may be the first.