Never forget the first three months of the 2014 season.
As the Boston Red Sox prepare to deal with a perceived logjam in the outfield, one must remember that it’s a good problem to have. Just ask general manager Ben Cherington, who signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract despite already acquiring Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline.
The most intriguing question regarding the Red Sox’s 2015 outfield revolves around center field. Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen acknowledged Thursday that Boston’s roster includes redundancies, and nowhere is that more apparent than in center, where Castillo is expected to take the reins and rookie Mookie Betts has thrived. Jackie Bradley Jr. also remains in the conversation, though he’s clearly been surpassed on the organizational depth chart because of his continued offensive struggles.
“We believe we’re better off having more than one good major league center fielder, and hopefully we have, in the long run, in terms of long-term control, hopefully we have three at the upper levels now,” Cherington told reporters in New York on Wednesday. “We’ll figure out a way to incorporate all of them, hopefully.”
The Red Sox obviously face an interesting situation, albeit one they’ll gladly accept given the historic lows their outfield reached throughout the early part of 2014. In a world where Castillo is expected to become a core player and Betts keeps showing he’s major league ready, is there room for both in Boston?
“Look, we understand next April there’s nine spots in the lineup, so nine people will be in the lineup and we’ll figure out who those nine guys are and how it all winds up,” Cherington said. “I think we want as many good players as we can and we’re happy that we think we have a number of guys that could play center field in the major leagues. And in our particular ballpark, we like having more than one center fielder in the lineup at any time anyway because of the dimensions, and hopefully this gives us a chance to do that.”
Cespedes figures to hold down left field in 2015. The Red Sox could deploy Castillo and Betts in center field and right field — each player’s exact position to be determined — and boast an extremely dynamic outfield. The Red Sox saw firsthand in 2013 — with Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Shane Victorino in right — just how beneficial it can be to have two rangy outfielders, never mind three.
What then comes of Craig, Bradley, Victorino, Daniel Nava and Brock Holt for 2015 if the Red Sox proceed with an outfield comprised of Cespedes, Castillo and Betts?
Well, the simplest solution would be for the Red Sox to leverage their newfound wealth in order to fill other needs. The Red Sox’s starting rotation essentially is being built from scratch, the bullpen might need to be revamped and a glaring need exists at third base, where Will Middlebrooks hasn’t taken the next step. It’s important, however, that the Red Sox remain cognizant that their perceived depth also comes with questions, as Craig, Victorino and Bradley are far from slam dunks.
Saying, “Oh, we’ll figure it out,” is the easy answer for now. It’s also very acceptable, as the Red Sox’s roster could change drastically by the time spring training rolls around. Nevertheless, Boston suddenly finds itself in an enviable position after enduring a stretch earlier this year in which finding three guys to patrol the outfield was a challenge in and of itself.
Flexibility is something that should be cherished. And the Red Sox have plenty of it going into the offseason.