As CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reports, the Red Sox are intent on signing three hitters: Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. Yeah, those are the three wise men I made an awful pun of in the headline. I’m awesome.
All three fit within the Red Sox’s plan of dabbling in the short-year, short-money market, eschewing the millions of dollars and eons of years players like Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton are seeking. This allows Boston salary flexibility while not blocking their minor leagues, although Bryce Brentz would certainly have his prospects dimmed of being a big part of the squad over the next year or two.
The question here is, how exactly can the Red Sox fill all three positions, especially given the presences of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate? How about the already-signed players in David Ross and Jonny Gomes — how do they fit in?
Let’s break it down simply into the positions that the three wise men (yes, I’m going to beat it to death) and the already-signed players play, plus any incumbents that could factor in. This is in order of what the current depth chart would likely look like:
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross, Mike Napoli, Ryan Lavarnway
1B: Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher, Jerry Sands
LF: Nick Swisher, Jonny Gomes, Cody Ross, Jerry Sands, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Ryan Sweeney
RF: Cody Ross, Nick Swisher, Jerry Sands, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Sweeney
That outfield looks a little messy, doesn’t it? But let’s make some assumptions here to try to understand how GM Ben Cherington is viewing this team if he’s somehow able to get all three of these players in the fold. For starters, Kalish and Sands have options for Pawtucket, so they’re immediately out. Before we move on, let’s understand the reality of what the 2013 squad would entail as far as outfielders. You need at least three starters in the outfield. If we presume that’s Swisher, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ross with Gomes on the bench, it’s absolutely necessary to have a backup center fielder. There’s no way around it. That means Ryan Sweeney has a spot on the team, because Nava certainly can’t play center. So we’re going to go ahead and assume Nava is optioned to the minors, if not waived off the 40-man to make room for all the new bodies. One thing to consider is that Boston could elect to non-tender Sweeney at the deadline on Friday and go with Kalish as the backup center fielder. That would free up another 40-man spot, and Kalish really needs to play in the majors even if injuries have held him back, but whether it’s Kalish or Sweeney, the major-league squad breakdown isn’t really affected by it.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown again.
All of a sudden, we look like we’re doing great. We have Salty starting and Ross backing up with Lavarnway heading to Triple-A. Napoli is the first baseman, Ross mans right field and Swisher left. (Don’t worry about who plays left or right — Ross and Swisher are both strong defenders and could play either position, hence their appearance on both the LF and RF breakdowns.)
But here’s a problem. Napoli wants to catch. That much is clear, as he’s stated his desire to do so. In addition, Heyman notes that Swisher could play first base on the days Napoli catches. Well, that’s not possible with the way the catcher’s depth chart is currently lined up, now is it? We need to address that wrinkle and assume that Napoli will receive some catching time. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Napoli has to catch. If he signs a contract with the Red Sox, knowing in advance he will be the first baseman and not catch, well, that solves that part of the problem. But there’s also another problem. Did the Red Sox really just sign Jonny Gomes to a two-year, $10 million deal just to ride the pine as a straight bench player?
I’m going to guess no. His power and his time as a part- and full-time player in his recent history suggest he will play an ample amount of time, and especially so against left-handers, which he eats for breakfast. So we need to account for Gomes playing frequently against left-handers. If Gomes is getting in the lineup against lefties, that means one of Ross or Swisher is pushed to the bench — or are they? Why sign these two players just to make them platoon players — especially Ross, who hits left-handers better than right-handers?
Doesn’t make sense to me. The only way to keep Swisher and Ross in the lineup when Gomes plays is to have Swisher move to first base. But wait, Napoli is there. Unless you make him the catcher, with David Ross fulfilling his stated role of being a backup catcher who plays more than a backup, but not as much as a starter.
That leaves one option, and only one option. Trading Salty and demoting Ryan Lavarnway to the minors. Suddenly, now you’re looking at a depth chart of:
C: David Ross (catches against RHP), Mike Napoli (catches against LHP)
1B: Mike Napoli (plays against RHP), Nick Swisher (plays against LHP)
LF: Nick Swisher/Cody Ross (plays against RHP) , Jonny Gomes (plays against LHP)
RF: Cody Ross/Nick Swisher (plays against RHP and LHP), Ryan Sweeney (backup only)
What I find interesting about this alignment, which is the only one that makes sense to me if all three players are signed and Gomes plays against left-handers, is that David Ross is essentially the starting catcher. He would play a lot more than a normal backup and yes, while he would sit against left-handers, the fact is that he would be looking at about 100 games started, and north of 300 at-bats. Of course, Napoli could also catch more with Gomes getting some starts in left field against right-handers, which is likely exactly what would happen as Gomes could take advantage of the Green Monster and might be in store for a bounce-back season ala Cody Ross last year. But in essence, you would see Ross behind the plate fairly frequently.
This arrangement would likely hold for two years, given the presence of David Ortiz at DH. What does that mean for Lavarnway? That’s debatable. Can he really stay in the minors for the next two years? That’s how long Ortiz, Gomes and David Ross are under contract for. Could Lavarnway be traded? Possible, but unlikely, as Napoli’s future position is likely as a first baseman or a DH.
At least for 2013, though, that appears to be the logical plan Cherington has if he can sign the three wise men (last time, I promise) and how he would fit them into the squad.