Decisions. Decisions. And the Boston Red Sox brain-trust will soon have to make several that have potential long-term implications to the shape of the Beantown franchise for years to come. As the Sox and Yankees prepare to conclude their current three game series Sunday night on ESPN2, wheels must be turning behind front office doors for the Boston front office.
Manager John Farrell has done a commendable job in piloting Boston to a first-place perch in the A.L. East through the first third of the season. He has mixed-and-matched position players while juggling injuries and DL time, and has squeezed out surprisingly good results from a starting rotation that had more pre-season questions than answers, and has deployed a masterful touch with a highly efficient and effective bullpen.
But lingering injury questions, future long-term contracts and financial obligations, and the fabric of the team for the next decade are bubbling under the surface. Complicating Boston’s management thinking at the moment, has been the blossoming of two of the franchise’s marquee players in the minor league pipeline: shortstop-turned-third baseman Jose Iglesias and centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. And let’s not forget, that at the conclusion of the 2013 season, both Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia will be looking for costly, long-term extensions.
Consider the Red Sox current dilemma through this perspective:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury is likely gone after this season. Despite a torrid last 10 days of May, on balance, Ellsbury has been a mild disappointment in the leadoff spot. There is no questioning his defense and base-stealing ability. But until he caught fire over the Sox last 10-game stretch, he was hitting in the .240s and rolling into inning-ending and rally killing double plays. And from a historical perspective, outside of his near MVP season in 2011, Ellsbury has been a player on the verge of greatness, but hasn’t really arrived at greatness. His performance, and the Red Sox seeming reluctance to discuss his long-term future during the course of the season, leaves his future in a “wait and see” attitude from the front office. Do the Red Sox commit long-term and expensive dollars to retain his services at the expense of similar obligations to Lester and Pedroia at year’s end? Perhaps Boston’s biggest concern about dedicating big and long-term money to Ellsbury after this season, is his durability, or lack thereof. For a guy who is needed by Boston to set the table, he’s been late for dinner thanks to his fragile composition far too often to give the Red Sox lineup consistancy. Enter Jackie Bradley Jr. After a star-studded spring training which earned him a roster spot, and a flashy-but-short-lived 10 game stint on the opening day roster, Bradley was dispatched to Triple-A for daily playing time. He responded by batting .340 with a number of multiple hit games and has, at least for the time being, closed some holes in his swing which makes him more of an offensive threat than at season’s beginning. Toss in his base-stealing ability and gazelle like range in centerfield and the question becomes: “Is Bradley Jr. ready for prime time now, or should he spend the remainder of this year (with an obvious September call up at roster expansion time) or does he need more seasoning at the minor league level? Ellsbury may be healed enough from a recent groin strain to return to the lineup for Sunday night’s nationally broadcast series concluder with the Yankees, but what about beyond that? The outfield situation has, in fact, been more of a platoon situation from the start of the season for Farrell and the Sox. Shane Victorino has spent his fair share of time on the DL in his first season as a Red Sox while Daniel Nava gives the Red Sox versatitlity, some offensive pop, and a left-handed bat at either corner outfield position. Jonny Gomes has been platooned from day one and Mike Carp provides capable depth in left and serves as a back-up for Napoli at first base. So with everybody healthy by this Wednesday, who goes, who stays, and how does it impact the Red Sox on the field for the remainder of the season, and for many more to come? Based purely on numbers and the ability to manipulate activations and send-downs, a plausible answer would seem to be to send Bradley back to Pawtuckett, at least for the time being….or at least until another fragile Red Sox outfielder gets dinged up again.
2. If you thnk the outfield situation is clouded, Jose Iglesias has given Farrell and the Red Sox front office another headache—but a headache of the good kind. There has never been a question about his defensive ability. The time spent at Triple-A in the early part of this year has seemed to bolster his confidence at the plate. And, in a short-term experiment, he has added to his versatility by filling in for injured Will Middlebrooks at third. My guess is, if he can play shortstop and third, he could also fill in for Pedroia at second when the diminutive Golden Glove lawn gnome gets a rare day on the pine to recharge his batteries. Stephen Drew has been capable if offensively unspectacular (he sure is a streaky hitter) and the Red Sox do have $10-million invested in him. But, long-term, does he become trade bait for a team in need of a daily shortstop while warming up the spot for Iglesias in the interim? Middlebrooks’ return is not set in stone as of today, but when he does come back, the Red Sox are overloaded with infielders, and the most vunerable to a significant roster move at the moment would appear to be Pedro Ciriaco, likely a utility player for whatever his duration with Boston might be.
Given the relative success of the starting rotation, the apparent improvement of John Lackey and signs of improvement from Felix Doubront, the Red Sox are likely not to tamper with the starting rotation nor tinker with the bullpen, even if they were contemplating going a pitcher short to carry another position player on the 25-man roster.
With Iglesias and Bradley waiting in the wings and chomping at the bit, Boston has the kind of roster problems most teams would envy. Plenty of capable talent, talent that has contributed to the Red Sox occupation of first place in the A.L. East, but where and when to play it?
With problems like these, it’s my guess Farrell is having more peaceful nights than sleepless nights. But let’s not forget how sudden rashes of injuries have derailed Boston’s last two seasons, and remember the oldest axiom in all of major league baseball. “You can never have enough pitching.” Which brings to mind one of my favored fractured quotes from lovable Yankee catcher Yogi Berra when asked what he thought of a new and very popular Big Apple restaurant.
Said Yogi: “Nobody goes there anymore cause it’s always too crowded.”
- Red Sox Call Up Jackie Bradley Jr. (boston.cbslocal.com)
- Big Weekend, Critical June Looms for Red Sox (baseballtrashtalkin.org)