Going into 2011, there appears to be a logjam in the Red Sox' outfield. With Ryan Kalish seemingly approaching Major League ready status, and both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron on the way back from injury, there are four potential starters for three spots.
Now, this is all potentially solved by simply sticking Ryan Kalish in Triple-A until someone gets injured or doesn't perform. The Sox would have no problem with keeping his service clock low. But the real point of all this is to draw attention to the fact that the Red Sox have plenty of options for those three spot.
So why could there be one more added during the offseason? It all comes down to risk.
Two of the biggest free agents on the market this offseason are Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. Both of them outfielders, and with each likely to be signed for big money into their mid-30s, both of them big risks. At first glance, it makes no sense for the Red Sox to be involved in the bidding for either. They already have the position filled. They already even have their backup. Why pay big for someone you don't have a space for?
The thing is that there's another risk for the Red Sox. Right now, their future outfield is relying on prospects-a dangerous game. Of immediate importance are the aforementioned Ryan Kalish, as well as big-time slugger Josh Reddick. A little further off there's the possibility that Che-Hsuan Lin, and then things get murky for the immediate future.
If prospects were sure things, all would be well and good. Kalish would take over for Cameron, and Reddick for Drew after 2011. Maybe we'd deal off Jacoby to make way for Che-Hsuan Lin at some point. Unfortunately, that's not even close to being a reality. And with Reddick still not really hitting Major League pitching, and Che-Hsuan Lin not showing even the slightest modicum of power, it's hard to factor either into the Sox' plans. Even if one of them does pan out, there's no guaranteeing that the surest one of the three, Ryan Kalish, manages anything.
So what could our outfield look like in 2012?
Ellsbury, Reddick, Kalish
See what I mean?
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the free agency stars have not aligned. Unless Jose Bautista repeats his huge year, the Sox could be heading into 2012 with a one man outfield, and a crop of free agents headed by...Hell, I don't know who would head this group once you take out the obvious team options. It's a pretty sad looking bunch, especially when you consider that Drew isn't necessarily looking to play past his current contract.
At this point, the Sox have to start considering how much they're willing to bet on their less-than-certain prospects. Is their faith in Josh Reddick and/or Che-Hsuan Lin enough to take that risk, or do they bite the bullet, and likely overpay one of the big name mercenaries?
This last offseason, the Sox showed that, by God, if they had money to spend they were going to spend it. John Lackey, a declining, older pitcher does not exactly fit into the typical big-signing free agent profile. But they had cash, and Lackey made them a better team. And in that situation, the Red Sox' chances to find a decent fifth starter in the coming years seemed a lot better than their likelihood of finding a decent outfielder does in the near future.
I have never been a big proponent of either Crawford or Werth, but as I look at the situation, I become more-and-more resigned to the idea of it happening. Kalish will start the year in Pawtucket, Cameron will platoon with Drew, and either Werth or, at least in my opinion, more likely Crawford (given the sudden price bump on Werth's contract) will be filling in the final full-time spot. When 2012 comes along, they can just write it off as being the replacement to Drew's contract.
In the meantime, it might be time to stop hoping they don't sign Crawford, and time to start hoping he can keep his production up when they inevitably do.