Boston’s Fourth Outfielder Spot Is Jeremy Hermida’s to Lose

Boston's Fourth Outfielder Spot Is Jeremy Hermida's to Lose It's better to have too many options than not enough. That seems to be the credo by which the Red Sox front office lives.

But in 2010, the excess of options extends beyond the starting rotation. General manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona will have some decisions to make in the outfield.

Jacoby Ellsbury is moving to left field to replace Jason Bay, new addition Mike Cameron is taking over in center and J.D. Drew still has dibs on right for another two seasons (provided he doesn't spend 35 days on the DL this season for shoulder issues), leaving Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick and Bill Hall to spend spring training dueling for the fourth outfielder spot.

The favorite, obviously, is Hermida — assuming that the Red Sox didn't trade for him in November and then agree to pay him $3.345 million to hang out in Triple-A all year. Given his age (26), his flexibility and his major league experience, he seems to be the perfect fit to earn the spot on Boston's roster.

Hermida was acquired in November from the Marlins via trade after hitting .259 with 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and a career-high 56 walks in 129 games in 2009. His season was cut short after he suffered an intercostal strain on Aug. 31, after which he only appeared in three games.

In 2007 and 2008, Hermida played in 123 and 143 games, respectively, spending all of his time in right field. In fact, prior to 2009, Hermida spent just 13 games anywhere except right field. But last season, he played 71 games in left and 51 in right.

Defensively, Hermida has been solid, posting fielding percentages of .982 and .995 in the past two seasons. Last season, he made just one error (and it was in left field).

Hall's case is an intriguing one. Until recently, he was used primarily as a utility infielder, spending no time in the outfield until 2006. In 2007, though, as a member of the Brewers, he was used exclusively as an outfielder, posting a .977 fielding percentage and hitting .254 in 136 games. In 2008, he played exclusively in the infield again, and in 2009 — split between the Brewers and Mariners — he did a little bit of everything.

Yes, he's versatile, but at 30, he's the oldest out of the three candidates and his defensive numbers (and offense, to some extent) don't stack up well against Hermida's. He still has a shot at a roster spot if he outplays Jed Lowrie in spring training, but if it comes down to him and Hermida, expect the Red Sox to go for the latter.

The biggest problem with Hermida seems to be that he's 26 and, over the course of four-plus seasons, he has yet to show he can be a reliable threat at the plate. His best season came in 2007 when he hit .296 with 18 homers and 63 RBIs in 123 games. But since then, he's failed to eclipse the .259 mark.

Is this a case of untapped potential or simply an overrated former first-round pick?

The Red Sox seem to believe the former.

"We still think there's a good hitter in there," Epstein told earlier this year. "Jeremy is a player who hasn't fulfilled his potential yet. We were able to acquire him at a reasonable cost to see if he can fulfill that potential with us."

Unless Hermida gets hurt during spring training and flops miserably — or unless Reddick or Hall comes out and hits 1.000 — then this will be a competition. Until then, it's Hermida's job to lose.

*** will be answering one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.

Monday, Feb. 15: Who will be Boston's glue guy ?

Wednesday, Feb. 17: Can outfielder J.D. Drew stay healthy?

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