The Boston Red Sox?s outfield changed drastically over the course of 162 games.
The unit hit historic lows over the first couple of months of 2014, contributing greatly to the Red Sox?s overall lack of offensive success. To his credit, general manager Ben Cherington addressed the issue both before and after the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline.
As the Red Sox enter an interesting offseason, the outfield remains a hot topic. There are logical candidates to fill the three spots, but moves made this winter could change the landscape.
2014 at a glance
The Red Sox?s Opening Day outfield consisted of Mike Carp (left field), Grady Sizemore (center field) and Daniel Nava (right field). The bench options were Jonny Gomes and Jackie Bradley Jr. Shane Victorino was on the disabled list.
The Red Sox?s outfield on Sept. 28 — Boston?s final game of the season — consisted of Bryce Brentz (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field) and Nava (right field). Yoenis Cespedes, an outfielder by trade, served as the designated hitter. Allen Craig, also an outfielder, played first base. Mookie Betts, being groomed as an outfielder, played second base. Bradley was a bench option. Brock Holt, who saw time in the outfield, was out with a concussion. Victorino was on the disabled list.
Three conclusions can be drawn from these facts.
1. The Red Sox had a lot of turnover.
2. Boston has a whole bunch of outfielders.
3. Victorino is hurt a lot.
The Red Sox?s outfield situation quickly became a mess this season because the initial group didn?t produce. Bradley couldn?t hit a lick, Sizemore wasn?t the same player he once was with Cleveland, Carp regressed while being unhappy with his role and the Nava/Gomes platoon was a shell of its 2013 self. Before long, Holt and Betts, who earned his first major league call-up in June, saw regular time.
When it became clear the Red Sox weren?t going to make the playoffs, Cherington decided to make moves geared toward the future and, more specifically, improving the offense. The result was the trade deadline acquisitions of Cespedes and Craig. Castillo signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August.
Some players produced. More didn?t. But the overall outfield production, in its entirety, wasn?t good.
Whose job(s) to lose?
Cespedes, Castillo, Betts.
They represent hands-down the three best options currently on the roster, even though Castillo remains a relative unknown and Betts? big league sample size is small. If all three remain on the Red Sox?s roster, there?s no reason why they shouldn?t be manning the three outfield spots come Opening Day 2015.
While, in theory, almost anyone could be traded this offseason as the Red Sox look to retool, Boston?s outfielders are especially prone to a deal based on sheer volume. Cespedes, Castillo, Betts, Craig, Nava, Victorino, Holt, Bradley and Brentz all are under team control for 2015, with some obviously more engrained in the big league outfield picture than others.
Manuel Margot, 20
Margot climbed the Red Sox prospect rankings in 2014. According to SoxProspects.com, he?s now the organization?s No. 3 prospect behind catcher Blake Swihart and left-handed pitcher Henry Owens.
Margot still is a few years away from reaching the majors, but his impressive tools make him a prospect to watch. He was named the Red Sox?s Minor League Baserunner of the Year.
Alex Hassan, 26
Hassan, a local kid, made his major league debut in 2014. He?s not going to wow anyone in any particular aspect of the game, but his on-base ability has been enough to pique the Red Sox?s interest.
Hassan hit .287 with eight homers, 55 RBIs and a .378 on-base percentage in 114 games with Triple-A Pawtucket this season. He?ll give Boston organizational depth next season.
Henry Ramos, 22
Ramos will start 2015 at Double-A Portland, where he hit .326 with two homers, 23 RBIs and a .799 OPS in 48 games this season. A switch-hitter who could develop more power in time, Ramos is worth keeping an eye on as the next wave of Red Sox prospects makes its way through the upper levels.
Ramos is the organization?s No. 23 prospect, according to SoxProspects.com.
Top three free agents
Tomas, like any player who defects from Cuba, comes with a great deal of uncertainty. But like his predecessors, including Castillo and Cespedes, he brings a ton of potential.
Tomas? biggest strength is his power. The 23-year-old slugger recently hosted a workout in the Dominican Republic, and it?s believed he could land a nine-figure contract on the open market this winter.
Cruz made fools out of those who passed on him last winter. The 34-year-old launched a major league-best 40 homers during the regular season and continues to be a force in the middle of the Orioles? potent lineup as Baltimore eyes a World Series title.
The O?s reportedly are trying to extend Cruz. But there could be plenty of other suitors looking to atone for last offseason?s mistake.
Cabrera?s season ended prematurely because of finger surgery. The 30-year-old also silenced his skeptics, though, hitting .301 with 16 homers, 73 RBIs and an .808 OPS in 139 games with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Castillo, Cespedes and Betts all will be with the Red Sox come Opening Day despite Boston?s other moving parts. They?ll all start and keep their jobs as long as production permits.
The Red Sox will move at least one of their other outfielders. Victorino is the best bench option of the bunch, but there?s no guarantee he?d be willing to accept a diminished role. Either him or Craig might become expendable, with Craig being a decent bounce-back candidate in the event of a normal offseason.
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