Adrian Gonzalez Takes High Road in Playing Right Field, But Veteran Star Should Be Repaid for Sacrifice


Good luck getting veterans, superstars or $20 million men not to be cranky if their team-issued socks don't show up perfectly folded. Forget trying to get them to play a different position.

But that's what's happening with Adrian Gonzalez. And in helping out the injury-marred Red Sox, the elite first baseman is showing himself to be not only a baller but also a consummate teammate.

Gonzalez makes his first start in right field at Fenway Park on Saturday night, an appearance that developed from his accepting manager Bobby Valentine's request that he take the outfield for some National League games (to get slugger David Ortiz in the lineup) all the way to the recent week, where Gonzalez took a head count and volunteered for the role.

With Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross gone from the outfield and both Will Middlebrooks and Kevin Youkilis hitting well, the Sox had an extra infielder and the need for an outfielder, and Gonzalez opted to be the odd man out.

But, while the move is admirable, it's also a bit of a head-scratcher for a guy like Gonzalez. The veteran is a leader on the team, even beyond the de facto status that comes with his salary, star power and cachet. His willingness to slide into the right field spot may only be because Valentine first shifted him there. Gonzalez was taking the high road by volunteering for the job, but it's not a foregone conclusion that he needs to play there for the Red Sox to survive this injury binge.

The Red Sox brass has been against moving rookie phenom Middlebrooks into the outfield, with most explanations being that, as a great young player and probably the Red Sox' future at third base, Middlebrooks shouldn't have to deal with the psychological toll of being yo-yoed around position-wise.

But the Red Sox are in dire straits right now. They need help from all corners, and moving Middlebrooks to the outfield for a handful of games isn't saying he'll never go back to third.

Youkilis is also getting a good deal in this move. Although general manager Ben Cherington said his spot at third was safe when he returned from injury, there would have been no shame in the Red Sox riding the hot bat of Middlebrooks for a bit longer. Moving Youkilis to first, though, kept his production and also let the team show respect for the veteran. And Youkilis has paid back management by hitting well since coming off the disabled list.

But, while Youkilis' veteran status with the team and Middlebrooks' production both have to be accounted for, can either be given preeminence over Gonzalez? Although Gonzalez has had his tough points this season, he's still playing well, and part of what made him such a great addition to the team in the first place was that he was a dual threat — a great bat and a Gold Glove defender. That Gold Glove has now been marooned in the shark-infested waters of Fenway's right field.

(There's also been discussion of when Daniel Nava could shift over from less-tricky left field and take care of right instead. That's also a valid question, as Gonzalez — being the veteran and the one giving up his usual spot — could use at least a little bit of a break taking on the different job. Left field has its potential for mishaps, too, though, so that swap may not really be as much of a boon as some think.)

Valentine was fine with the situation and said Gonzalez would do fine. And really, any mistakes Gonzalez may make playing out of position should be negated by the issues the shakeup solves by having Gonzalez, Youkilis and Middlebrooks providing at-bats. But the bigger issue here is the intangible, of what an out-of-place play could do for Gonzalez' confidence or his status in the eyes of fans.

Worse yet, it's a poor message to send to a great player or his teammates when someone makes a selfless sacrifice but has to eat the worst part of the deal.

Gonzalez has only made a few starts in right, and only one at Fenway, so this is clearly a stopgap measure. For now, he should be commended. But it could get tricky pretty fast if the injury bug continues to circulate in ways that cause these strange scenarios to happen.

Gonzalez gets a tip of the cap for taking right field, but as management continues to move the lineup pieces, he should also get some kind of payback for being a great team player.

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