I don’t know about your email box, but I am flooded by emails from baseball fans near and far, driven by a press frenzy and (surprisingly) arriving from such baseball outposts as Chicago and Washington, relative to what the Red Sox ought to be doing when they rebuild.
For starters, the outfield seems over-staffed yet complicated. Jackie Bradley has been unable to hit the big league slider. He is a kid; he should be sent down to Triple A to see if he can work on his fundamentals.
This still leaves a plethora of outfielders: Cespedes who seems to be lionized even though he is hitting below .260, the newly signed Cuban Castillo (who never played a major league game until last night but landed a $72,500,000 long term contract), the allegedly much-feared Allen Craig (who is hitting around .200 and can’t seem to find his footing), last year’s star Shane Victorino (who I think has played fewer games than my grandmother this year by reason of injury, and appears to be continually fragile), and then Mookie Betts (a surprise 21 year old with attitude and skill).
Throw into the mix Daniel Nava who had a fabulous year in 2013 and this year is languishing (like many of the Sox) around the .260 mark with 4 home runs in over 300 at bats. And he can’t run. Where does he fit in?
Ellsbury is having a lousy year with the Yankees. Would he have done better here? One wonders. Then again, he is surely not worth the salary the Yankees are paying him, and he is still on the early side of his tenure with the Yankees. I love the guy, but perhaps it was a good move to let him go?
The Sox have weaknesses in pitching. Who will they have to trade to get pitching, if they don’t want to give away any of the “kids?” If you protect Betts, how much outfield playing time could you give Craig (who has no trade value)? You are not going to blow out Castillo, nor Cespedes. Betts likely has huge trade value, but for that reason do you let him go? If you let Betts go, aside from Cespedes your outfield looks like unproven Castillo, unperforming Craig and crippled Victorino, into which salad you would shake Bradley if he develops down in Pawtucket and then Nava.
Is common wisdom correct, that we need big-time starters? One of my correspondents claims that the Orioles, who have opened a huge lead in the American League race, and just clinched the Division, don’t have a “stud starter.” Could Buchholz and Kelly jointly fill a semi-stud top-of-rotation role? (Last night’s shelling of Buchholz surely cannot be reassuring.) Blend in some of the kids (Webster, Rubby, Wright)? Mujica and the rest of the committee as closers (Koji is likely toast). Is that enough? Given the price of seats, does management have the nerve to leave the pitching staff right where it is today, bearing in mind that the team is struggling to win 70 games? An interesting question.
So what is with the infield? Napoli has some power but not a lot of RBIs and has been spotty. (He has a high OBP and likely is misused hitting later in the line-up but he projects as a power hitter so he hits where the power guys hit.) Middlebrooks, whom the Sox seem to love because of his alleged power, has been a total disaster for the entire year. How much playing time do you give him at third base? Everyone keeps talking about Holt as a backup but I see him as a third baseman. Bogaerts seems coming around as a shortstop and I don’t think anyone will move his position again, nor trade him. Do you give Craig a shot at first base? Platoon him with Napoli, and use either or both of them to spell Big Papi in the DH role?
This is not the first time Big Papi has had a weak year. A weak year punctuated by 32 home runs I might add; will he come back in terms of batting average? Is this the beginning of the end for Big Papi?
Another way to slice the pie is to say that Cespedes can become the next Big Papi. He has never hit for the average that Big Papi has achieved in many years; can he be trained to be sufficiently patient at the plate to do that? Does he care to do that in any event? He becomes a free agent at the end of 2015 I think. If he continues to play the way he is playing, and doesn’t conform to Red Sox needs, maybe he doesn’t care because he goes elsewhere as a position player, without changing his act, for the big bucks.
That brings us to our little second baseman, Dustin Pedroia. In each of the last several years he has had noticeable decline. He is at this moment being operated on for a hand injury and is gone for the rest of this year, but then there isn’t much of this year left. What will he be like on his return? Sox management on today’s team web-page assures us that after surgery he and his power will return; sounds like the old joke (“Doctor doctor will I be able to play the piano after my surgery,” to which the doctor replies in the affirmative and the patient says “great, because I don’t know how to play now and I always wanted ….”). It is premature to suggest that Pedroia, everyone’s darling and the player with the attitude you wish everyone had, former Rookie of the Year, former .300 hitter, might be fading to average-ness at this early age. But he is small, he plays all out, he punishes his body in every game and in every role. How long can he last? You know the book on small ballplayers, don’t you? They burn brightly and then all of a sudden, the flame goes out.
So maybe if the Sox are married to Middlebrooks he is at third, Bogaerts at short, Pedroia at second, Craig/Napoli at first, and Holt is the floater. (We will put aside the fact that Holt has a higher batting average than all the rest of these guys, and, in fact, just about a higher batting than a couple of them combined.)
Oh, one more thought; Mookie Betts was a second baseman in Pawtucket and the Sox are now trying him out at that position. Does that mean we are now short of proven outfielders and long on proven infielders?
Back to pitching one more time. Everyone keeps telling me that Jon Lester will come back. Is there anyone out there willing to bet on that? I have $10 that says that Lester will not be back in a Sox uniform next year. Anyone want the bet? Lester’s return has become something of urban legend. But the Sox don’t give long contracts to aging players, and Lester is going to bring down a long-term fortune next year given his studly performance so far at Oakland.
I see Lester next year in pinstripes. Eat your heart out.