Daniel Nava (Kelly O’Conner — www.sittingstill.net)

With Opening Day a mere 5 weeks away I thought it would be as good a time as any to take a look at the potential 2013 Opening Day Boston Red Sox offensive roster. This is, of course, taken with a grain of salt, as we all know that health with not remain perfect throughout the year since Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Jacoby Ellsbury are about as sturdy as a chandelier. That is, if we are speaking candidly, a multi million dollar chandelier.

Let’s pretend for the moment that the rotation of 13 Red Sox position players will remain healthy for a good portion of the year. Optimism! If they can remain on the field, I think that we will see John Farrell regularly trot out a couple of lineups to utilize his players’ strengths and mask their weaknesses.

Thus, let’s take a look at who I think will be on the offensive side of the 25-man roster. More than likely, the offense will be given 13 spots, while the pitching staff will have 12. Thus, let’s narrow down the offense into three categories: Locks, Bubble, and Out. Take a look:

Locks (10):

C (2): Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross

IF (4): Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks

OF (3): Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino

DH (1): David Ortiz

Bubble (8):

C: None

1B: Mike Carp, Lyle Overbay, Daniel Nava

UTIL: Pedro Ciricao, Brock Holt, Jose Iglesias

OF: Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish

Out (4):

C: Ryan Lavarnway (barring injury to Ortiz, Salty, or Ross)

1B: Mauro Gomez

UTIL: None

OF: Alex Hassan, Ryan Kalish

Pedro Ciriaco (Kelly O’Conner — www.sittingstill.com)

After looking through the bubble players I think we can safely say Jose Iglesias is due for another MiLB stint before coming up to the Big Leagues. In addition, I do not foresee Brock Holt (never played above AA) or Lyle Overbay (tail end of career) beating out their contemporaries. Thus, for now, Ciriaco is the infield utility man, and I am fine with that. He proved last year that he is a respectable contact hitter and has good speed.

That leaves 2 spots for our final 3 guys: one in the OF, one at 1B.

Mike Carp (Keith Allison -- flickr)

Mike Carp (Keith Allison — flickr)

1B: Mike Carp vs. Daniel Nava

If you have not been following along with the Sox this spring, Nava has been taking regular reps at first base. Why? Well, before the acquisition of Carp the Red Sox did not want to be stuck with Overbay as their only option to back up Napoli. The decision between Nava and Carp is the quintessential tossup. The switch-hitting Nava will be 30 this season, while left-handed Carp will be 27. Both have played more than 58 games only twice. Both guys’ MiLB career OBP is close to 100 points better than their BA, which is very good I might add. Hmm, pretty similar players.

The only significant difference between the two is the HR potential. In 9 MiLB seasons Carp has hit 136 HR’s to Nava’s 51 in 6 seasons. In the Majors, Nava has hit 7 to Carp’s 18. Small samples, yes, but their minor league numbers are more telling: Carp has power potential whereas Nava does not.

A backup of Napoli will need to be someone who can reasonably fill the power void that will be gone along with Nap. The Sox signed Nap to hit the ball over the Monster so his replacement will need to do that as well. Thus, advantage Carp.

OF: Ryan Sweeney vs. Daniel Nava

Although he has been taking reps at 1B, I think it is safe to assume that Nava’s rightful place is in the Sox OF. However, now Nava has to take on potentially stiffer competition than Carp in Ryan Sweeney.

Edit Note: Last winter, I can remember texting my cousin Patrick and telling him how excited I was for acquiring Ryan Sweeney. He was a former top prospect in the White Sox organization and a guy who could play all 3 OF positions. Since the wall punching incident back in July of 2012 I had forgotten how much I liked him as a player until I wrote the following just now.

For 2 ½ months of the 2012 regular season Sweeney was a regular in the Sox OF: playing games in both CF and RF. Prior to

Ryan Sweeney (Kelly O’Conner — www.sittingstill.com)

suffering a concussion on June 16, Sweeney had played in 52 of the 65 games. Certainly the injury to Jacoby Ellsbury played a role in Sweeney’s increased playing time, but he was also deserving of the time as he was hitting .292 through those 52 games. Sure, the finished product was a below average .260, but prior to the concussion Sweeney was playing very well.

The constant knock on Sweeney is that he can’t hit for power (14 career HR). The fact that he can’t is fairly illogical considering he is 6’4” 225 lbs. And evidenced by his offseason work this winter, Sweeney certainly recognizes this is his inevitable downfall as a baseball player.

This winter Sweeney sought the advice of the most famous Panamanian baseball player (not saying much), Hall of Famer Rod Carew (certainly saying a lot). With Carew’s help, Sweeney said he has completely changed his swing to utilize his core and lower half with more regularity. Last spring, even Bobby V (God help us) recognized Sweeney’s mechanical problems: “Bad mechanics. Doesn’t know himself as a hitter.” Well now, that was informative! Thanks, Bobby. I hope you enjoy Sacred Heart.

Despite Sweeney’s HR flaw, he is a career .280 hitter who will hit gap-to-gap and produce an above average amount of doubles. In short, he is a reliable hitter in the MLB. To further that argument, Sweeney’s career BABIP is .328 since 2008 when he became an everyday player. That is good for 42nd overall in the MLB from 2008-2012. .328 is better than the following players: Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and many more. I would say that is better than solid. Note: I guess you could make the Jack Cust argument here too as he is 34th on the list. But he strikes out 31.3% of his PA’s. So, there’s that.

In the end, Sweeney’s experience, proven track record, physical build, age (27), potential, and versatility will beat out Nava. Perhaps Nava’s career .415 MiLB OBP could sway the Sox in a Bill Jamesian sort of way to keep him over Sweeney, but I do not see it happening.

Nava is the odd man out. The odd man out, that is, until Ellsbury or Victorino gets wounded. Knock on wood that they don’t!