2012 Positional Recap
Collectively, the Red Sox outfield last year a disaster. Over 162 games, the three outfield positions posted a combined 4.3 WAR. Only the Indians, Mets and Astros saw less production from the three outfield positions than the Sox did. They were third to last in wOBA (.308), third to last in slugging, second to last in home runs (39)…and the list goes on.
Obviously injuries played a huge role in the disaster that was the 2012 Red Sox outfield, but for the team to see more success next season, many issues in the outfield must first be addressed and fixed.
While only collectively accounting for about 1/4th of the outfield playing time, Ryan Kalish, Marlon Byrd, Nate Spears, Brent Lillibridge, Jason Repko, Lars Anderson and Che-Hsuan Lin all had a negative WAR last season. Cody Ross was the only Red Sox outfielder to play in over 90 games last season (he played 130). Daniel Nava logged the second most games played with 88, Jacoby Ellsbury missed exactly 88 games, and Ryan Sweeney and Scott Podsednik were the only others to play in over 60 games. The Carl Crawford experiment came to an abrupt end after only playing 31 games for the Red Sox this season and posting a 0.4 WAR. Darnell McDonald was also relied upon for major innings this season, and continued to play as poorly as he seemingly always has.
(I’m omitting McDonald, Anderson, Lin, Repko, Lillibridge, Spears and Byrd. All of them either won’t be back next year or didn’t play a significant amount of games last season. More importantly, they were all awful, and you don’t need to see a few statistics to see that)
Looking Forward to the 2013 Roster
I’m not certain that a single assumption can be made about the 2013 Red Sox outfield. The safest assumption would seem to be that Jacoby Ellsbury will be patrolling center field. However, there is a significant case to be made that the Red Sox should look to move him. We wrote back in July why the Red Sox should look to trade Ellsbury at the deadline, and much of the same reasoning keeps the notion worthwhile now in the offseason. Ellsbury does have more value than almost everyone else on this roster and is set to reach free agency and a huge payday after the 2013 season. The Red Sox team salary kerfuffle — which many felt was a reason Theo Epstein bolted in the first place — isn’t as convoluted as it once with after the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. Perhaps keeping Ellsbury is more contractually viable with Carl Crawford gone.
I’m not going to state my case as to what I think the Red Sox should do with Ellsbury, but I think there are some clear pros and cons to each argument. If he his dangled by the Red Sox brass it would be reasonable to expect plenty of teams expressing interest. The Rangers could be interested especially with the uncertain returns of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and the impending free agency for players like Nelson Cruz and Michael Young (both enter free agency after 2013). He could be a nice long-term option for the Rangers, and the Rangers have shown little aversion to spending. The Braves could be interested if Michael Bourn bolts. Perhaps the Reds, who get little to nothing from the lead off spot, would make a play for him. Maybe a team like Seattle, Philadelphia or Washington make a play. There assuredly is a market for Ellsbury, and it will be up to the front office to properly gauge that.
Internal options: Internally there are plenty of options, granted few with tremendous amounts of long-term appeal. Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and Che-Hsuan Lin all will be in play, but as I stated earlier none of them took a solid advantage of their significant playing time this year. Cody Ross was one of the biggest bargains in baseball last season and very well could be lured back, for a sizable pay raise of course. Top outfield prospect Jackie Bradley could be ready for the majors later on in the 2013 season. The same could be said for Bryce Brentz.
An improvement in terms of health could make a world of difference for the outfield corps, but it’s hard to imagine a huge upgrade in production unless the Red Sox look externally. There is plenty of depth internally for the Red Sox, but no real top level talent after Ellsbury. It is very possible that the team starts next season with an outfield of Sweeney/Ellsbury/Ross with some combination of Nava/Lin/Kalish on the bench, but how much of an improvement would that lead to? Probably not much.
Free agent options: There is a decent amount of outfield talent hitting the free agent market this offseason; the most talented of them all being Josh Hamilton. Hamilton would provide the star power, but the cost of which doing so probably isn’t it worth it, especially for a team that is suddenly trying to be a bit more responsible fiscally. There are question marks with Hamilton, and he isn’t exactly young any more. The notion of signing him seems counterintuitive to me.
Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and BJ Upton would all provide tangible upgrades to the corner outfield positions, but much like Hamilton, none of them seem to be a great fit. Bourn had a sensational year, and much of his value comes from his defense in center field. So long as Ellsbury is around, it would make little sense to splurge on Bourn. Bourn would be a solid replacement if Ellsbury were traded, but his payday will be in the same range as what Ellsbury’s will be, and if the point is to be fiscally responsible and cautious, signing him again would again seem counterintuitive. Upton’s youth and potential (can it still be called that after 7 seasons in the majors?) are likely intriguing, but the reality is he has not played elite baseball in quite some time now. Some team will surely offer him a long and massive contract, and it should not be the Red Sox. Swisher seems like a more ideal fit (he can play in the outfield, first base and DH), but he again will command a long contract with a high AAV.
After that trio there are the likes of Melky Cabrera, Shane Victorino, Torii Hunter, Ryan Ludwick, Jonny Gomes, Delmon Young, Scott Hairston, Juan Rivera, Grady Sizemore, Angel Pagan and so on.
Trade possibility: Perhaps the Red Sox look to make a trade. Shin-Soo Choo and Justin Upton were both supposedly being actively shopped last season.
The Red Sox clearly have the depth to stand pat this offseason in the outfield, but doing so might not be the best move. There are plenty of avenues the team could go down, and if the front office decides it wants to continue spending, outfield seems to be the logical place where that can happen. Whether or not they should look to throw around money is an entirely different question…
So, Red Sox Nation, who do you hope and expect to see starting in the outfield next season?
All stats are from fangraphs.com, including WAR, unless stated otherwise.