Over the next month, there will be several roster moves with Boston that could leave the team looking very different than it does right now. In fact, the outfield could be completely revamped. Let’s look at the pending decisions that have to be made…
The outfield will get backed up significantly in the coming weeks, what with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury nearing returns from long-term injuries. There’s also the statuses of Ryan Sweeney and Scott Posednik to consider. Given the presences of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald on the active roster, this means at least three players must find new spots. There is always the possibility the club carries two outfielders if they can clear Kevin Youkilis off the roster by the time all these decisions come to pass, but we’ll cover Youkilis fallout later on in this article. For the purposes of this discussion, assume that only one backup outfielder will be carried.
Crawford and Ellsbury are guaranteed to be put back on the major-league team, so two people need to be cleared out. Given McDonald is the only right-handed outfield bat on the bench, he likely will survive the round of cuts needed to put Crawford and Ellsbury back on the team. It just so happens that Kalish and Nava both have options remaining and are currently occupying the outfield spots that Crawford and Ellsbury would man, so it’s likely that they will head down to make room.
That still leaves Scott Podsednik and Ryan Sweeney left to contend with. It seems obvious that Podsednik would be released — even as good as he has been for the Sox and deserves a lot of credit for his production, you can’t select Scotty Pods ahead of Crawford, Ellsbury or Ross, and he hits from the wrong side of the plate to retain his gig. All that’s left is fitting Ryan Sweeney back into the club.
Sweeney does have an option left, so he could find himself squeezed out and headed to Triple-A. He hit very well prior to suffering a fracture in his big toe, but went into a tailspin when he tried to play with said fracture. It would be difficult to send him down to the farm, and may be difficult enough to warrant going with five outfielders, especially in the early going when Crawford and Ellsbury are trying to get back into the swing of playing in the bigs. (Of course, this is all pending Youkilis being traded by that point, otherwise demoting Sweeney becomes a necessity unless Middlebrooks heads down.) Alternatively, the Sox could keep Podsednik to go with five outfielders and option Sweeney, retaining their extensive outfield depth.
Assuming Youkilis is traded and Will Middlebrooks installed at third base, the Sox will have an extra roster spot to play with. Given the outfield logjam pending, it might make sense to go to five outfielders. However, the Sox could also go with an infield backup. While Nick Punto has been scorching hot in June, I’m uncomfortable with the lack of offense shoring up the infield. Dustin Pedroia has injury concerns that might linger all year long, and there’s a concerning lack of someone who can come off the bench and provide an injection of power. There are pretty much zero options in the minor leagues to provide such power from first or in the infield.
However, it might not make sense to grab another infielder currently. The extra spot might be better allocated in the outfield. Prior to the season, the thinking was that Sweeney would platoon with Ross in the outfield. It seems like Ross might move forward as the permanent right-fielder, but someone will need to replace him in the lineup when there are days off. McDonald could always play, but that’s not a very palatable option. Not to mention, there are more injury concerns with the outfield, which you don’t need me to rehash.
But where’s the first base backup? If (when) Youkilis is dealt, who will replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base when he rides the pine? A-Gon rarely takes a day off, but it does happen, and if he continues to hit poorly, he might receive less time in the lineup. They could always slot Big Papi at first base, but then you have McDonald or Punto taking up the DH spot (or playing in the field, with one of the starters taking the DH spot for a day.) This is always a possibility, but I’m not too eager go down this road.
Perhaps the best route for the team to take would be to find someone who can play first base and the outfield and provide an injection of power into the team. It doesn’t even necessarily have to come right away. The Sox have made a practice of picking up these type of players later in the season to add power to the postseason chase. The answer to this question could come with the Youkilis trade.
The return for Youkilis
What should the Red Sox get back in exchange for Youkilis? The Fire Brand poll that just concluded says that Youkilis should be traded for prospects 2-3 years away. I’m going to go ahead and disagree with that, because the Red Sox are still in a position to win now and in the next few years, especially as minor-league reinforcements arrive. GM Ben Cherington seems to agree, given that rumors broke recently of Boston requesting Gerardo Parra from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Youkilis.
Parra is an excellent defender with a so-so offensive game that seems to be improving. He plays the outfield and is under team control through 2015. This is the type of player the Sox should be seeking — someone who can contribute now and in the coming years. But maybe the team should also be looking for that hybrid first baseman-outfielder that can fill the bench role we previously discussed. Maybe it’s as the prime piece in return for Youkilis, or maybe we find that player in a smaller deal for, say, a reliever. Perhaps even trading Podsednik for someone who can fill this role would be enough.
But what I think the Sox really need is a starter. They really need that solid No. 3 piece that can lengthen the rotation. I highly doubt that Cherington and Co. believe Daisuke Matsuzaka is the long-term answer. It might be possible to package Youkilis, Matsuzaka and a quality bullpen piece for that starter, although it would take a virtually perfect fit from another team to pull that off — and the Sox would have to eat a sizeable chunk of Youkilis’ and Dice-K’s salary, most likely. Regardless, the Sox have the ability to pull off such a trade if it falls in their lap.
There are so many ifs here, it’s tough to keep it all straight. What is clear, however, is by the time the trade deadline rolls around, this team will have undergone once again a notable change simply because of necessity. The injured outfielders are coming back, and Youkilis is being squeezed out of a spot. It’s inevitable.