It doesn't matter which way you slice it at this point, because the Boston Red Sox bench -- as it's looking right now -- is uglier than Hank Steinbrenner at a toga party.
With an assumed seven relief pitchers, this is what I think the bench will look like if there are no changes before Opening Day:
|Van Every, Jonathan||OF||29|
You might have beefs with this list, but I think it's the best thing the Sox could put out there without a change between now and April 6. Julio Lugo is a lock if Jed Lowrie earns the shortstop job. George Kottaras, most likely, will be the backup as of today because Josh Bard is slated to be the Sox's No. 1 catcher (scary thought, isn't it?). Jeff Bailey would be a good option for first base and perhaps relieve in the corner outfield positions and Jonathan Van Every is the 4th outfielder as we speak.
Pretty ugly, isn't it?
Other alternatives for the bench: Chris Carter, Dusty Brown, Nick Green or Gil Velazquez, just to name a few. I told you it doesn't get any better.
I'm fine going into the season with Lugo and Kottaras as backups (but not necessarily Bard as the starting catcher). Lugo is an above-average backup and could play some outfield while I'd like to see Kottaras get a good chunk of time in the bigs. The real issue is the slots that Bailey and Van Every consume. With those two guys on the 25-man roster, it just screams "NO DEPTH!"
So let's look at what purposes Bailey and Van Every would serve. Bailey is a backup first baseman with an average glove; a little worse in the corner outfield positions. Bailey actually has a pretty strong bat and is one of the best in the Sox system in terms of getting on base. As a bat off the bench, Bailey isn't that bad. As a defender off the bench, the Sox could improve over Bailey.
Van Every would be the fourth outfielder. He can play any outfield position, but would be especially be a suitable backup center fielder. He played 119 games there for Pawtucket in 2008. Van Every is a very solid defender off the bench, but the Sox shouldn't expect much out of his bat. Like Bailey, Van Every is solid at getting on base and has a little bit of power (26 HR in 380 for Pawtucket in 2008) but probably isn't anything more than a .250 hitter in the bigs.
If we want to replace Bailey and/or Van Every, let's look at who's available on the free agent market. Here are some intriguing names, according to MLBTradeRumors' list of current free agents, for primarily the outfield:
|Hairston Jr., Jerry||33|
There are a couple of familiar names on the above list. Mark Kotsay is still an option for the Red Sox's bench. He's versatile and played a very good first base last last season and in the playoffs. Eric Hinske was a Ray for a season, but he'd fit the mold of a corner outfielder and backup corner infielder for the Sox. Gabe Kapler may never be a Sox again, but he was always loved when he was here. He had a strong season as a Brewer and would fit a corner outfielder role. Jerry Hairston Jr. is a very versatile player who could provide the Sox with wheels off the bench. The most popular name has been Rocco Balddeli. The New England native may not be able to play every day, but he's probably the best player of the bunch.
For the infield, here are a couple intriguing names:
More familiar names. Okay, you probably think I'm crazy for putting Nomar up there, but why not? Sure, he was a jerk when he left Boston but he could play both first and third base for the Sox. And let's just admit it: you'd like to see No. 5 back on the field in Fenway. You know it. Kevin Millar -- yup, that guy -- would be a pretty good power bat defensively at first base. Doug Mientkiewicz is still a very good defensive first baseman, but wouldn't deliver much in terms of the bat. Joe Crede can play third base (not well, though) and also provide good pop off the bench. The last name is Willie Bloomquist, a guy that can play anywhere and has nice speed.
There are no easy solutions for the Sox's bench, but if I was Theo Epstein I'd try and nab a couple of guys on these lists. Baldelli's name has obviously been thrown around a lot, but I would also like to see the Sox grab Bloomquist. He can play both the infield and outfield pretty well and his speed would give the Sox some options late in games. Finding a decent backup third baseman would be nice considering the uncertainty of Mike Lowell's health. Crede anyone? The defense wouldn't be that great but he's got some power.
I like Bailey and Van Every, but the Sox need better options off the bench. Without a doubt, this is the biggest hole on the Sox's team -- yes, even more so than behind the plate. If this isn't fixed, the Sox could have a long season ahead.
[Note by Randy Booth, 01/07/09 11:28 AM EST ] Jerry Hairston Jr. signed with the Reds last night. He will be the starting shortstop at the beginning of the year.