Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, And Boston's Crowded Outfield

Has Daniel Nava hit his way into a permanent outfield job with the Red Sox? (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE)

The Red Sox outfield has been a mess all season long. The Opening Day outfield consisted of Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross, and Ryan Sweeney, when Carl Crawford should have been in the mix if not for off-season wrist surgery. Sweeney, who has little power, is known for his glove, and can't hit lefties, is a useful piece with obvious weaknesses, and wasn't meant to be a starter in Boston at any point -- he was part of a platoon or one of the bench outfielders from the start, albeit a highly-capable bench outfielder.

Things went downhill from there, though, with Ellsbury injuring himself just seven games in to the year, in turn giving Jason Repko a 40-man roster spot and starts in center until he damaged his own shoulder. The Repko injury led to acquiring Marlon Byrd. Losing Ross to a broken foot, Sweeney to a concussion, and McDonald to an oblique injury meant even more Byrd, but also a cameo by Che-Hsuan Lin, and a surprisingly-productive visit from Scott Podsednik. Adrian Gonzalez has played 18 games and 127 innings in right field in 2012, far mor than the interleague schedule suggested he would need to. Ryan Kalish ended his rehab assignment and development at Pawtucket once more to join an injury-depleted Boston for the second time in his career. Daniel Nava unexpectedly made his way back to the majors in the middle of this disorder as well, and, in an even more stunning turn of events, likely has played his way into sticking around from here on out.

That last bit is part of what merits discussion about this Red Sox outfield. Ellsbury and Crawford are both at Double-A Portland on rehab assignments that will end in mid-July. Both will need to be added to the 40-man roster, and both will start daily in what is now a crowded Red Sox outfield. McDonald was already designated for assignment (and subsequently claimed by the Yankees) in anticipation of the combination roster crunch and plethora of options for the outfield, but once the long absent pair return, that still leaves the Red Sox with far too many outfielders for one roster.

The Red Sox 40-man roster currently has this assortment of eight outfielders:

  • Lars Anderson (Pawtucket)
  • Carl Crawford (Boston; DL)
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston; DL)
  • Ryan Kalish (Boston)
  • Che-Hsuan Lin (Pawtucket)
  • Daniel Nava (Boston)
  • Scott Podsednik (Boston; DL)
  • Cody Ross (Boston)
  • Ryan Sweeney (Boston; DL)

This depth has been a savior for Boston, but it's impossible to keep all of it that's currently in the majors, well, in the majors. Some of that is easily solved. Kalish isn't hitting, and is all of 24 and an unfinished product, but has an option and can head back to Pawtucket to continue playing daily there. Nava, if it comes to it, also has an option, and can be moved to Pawtucket once more as well. Should Nava be demoted, though, when he's hit .286/.401/.448, improved his defense enough where he isn't actively harmful in left, and could be a useful piece as one of Boston's two bench outfielders?

That seems a bit unfair, both to Nava, and to Boston, who has seen Nava post an OPS+ the equal of Will Middlebrooks' own, and in a similar number of games and plate appearances. Granted, expecting Nava to hit this well forever will leave you disappointed, but there's no denying he is able to get on base often enough to justify a major-league job, and even appearances as a leadoff option when necessary. If the Red Sox want to keep Scott Podsednik around for a bench role, though, then Nava would have to head back to Rhode Island.

As it stands, there's no real indication that's what the Sox want, especially since Podsednik, after hitting .387/.409/.484 in his 19-game return to the bigs, could easily draw trade interest from clubs with a dream in a less bountiful outfield situation than Boston's own. He might not bring back anything of real value, but the Sox just used cash and a roster spot they have open to bring him aboard, anyway: whatever they receive in return would be the proverbial icing on the Podsednik-shaped cake. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo has already speculated that the Marlins and Nationals might be interested in Podsednik, and as the Red Sox are forced closer to making a roster decision involving him, more teams are likely to come out of the woodwork for an inexpensive depth piece.

Given Nava is 29 years old, and likely well past the point of developing any further in the minors, this is the best-case scenario for all involved, since Podsednik would get to go somewhere where he would, theoretically, play, Nava would get to collect a big-league paycheck for his big-league at-bats, and Boston would have more legitimate offensive options off of the bench, all without burning Nava's last of three options, as well.

Is there a trade market for Ryan Sweeney? He hasn't been much different with the Sox than he has been elsewhere, providing quality defense with more DL-stints than homers. The better question might be, should the Red Sox explore a trade market for Sweeney? There are a few reasons this idea doesn't thrill me:

  1. Sweeney might not be starter material, but he is excellent as a piece of depth in the outfield, especially with his ability to play all three outfield positions. The Red Sox lack that until Ryan Kalish finally is ready for a permanent stay in the majors.
  2. Did we already forget how important depth was over the course of a 162-game season? Depth in the outfield that stretched well into the double-digits is the only reason Boston sits where they do this late in the game.
  3. Sweeney has one year of team control left, and given he cost just $1.75 million this year, will likely only pull in $2.4 million or so in 2013. He's not a drag on the roster, and will be able to produce more value than that even in a part-time role. Plus, at that cost, there might be more to gain by dealing him in the off-season as part of a larger deal, kind of like how the Athletics did that just this past winter, bringing him to Boston in the first place.
Crawford in left, Ellsbury in center, Ross in right, with Sweeney and Nava on the bench. That's an excellent outfield, top to bottom, and one that should be able to handle righties or lefties with the various configurations allowed by it. (It's also worth noting that utility man Brent Lillibridge can suit up for outfield duty if necessary, as part of his all-purpose versatility.) Assuming Podsednik is dealt, since Boston can't send him to the minors once his rehab is over, the Sox would still have Lars Anderson, Che-Hsuan Lin, and Ryan Kalish at Pawtucket, awaiting the moment when they're needed once more. Eight outfielders on hand on the 40-man roster isn't bad at all, especially with a top five as strong as what the Sox have.

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