SEATTLE, WA: James Loney #22 of the Boston Red Sox doubles against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Boston's season has hit the point where losses can be comforted with dreams of better draft position, meaning that what we want out of the games has changed dramatically. At this late stage, the hope is that established players do well and give hope for 2013, but also that newer faces, given a shot to play through injuries, roster expansion, or both, play in a way that determines their role with the Sox going forward. We'll be checking in on these players as the seasons winds down, to see how they fare in what has essentially become an early spring training.
All of the current hitters auditioning for a future role with the Sox have a contract in place for 2013, save one: James Loney. His situation is unique, in that he's currently in his final year of arbitration, and will enter free agency for the first time at the conclusion of this campaign. He needs to step it up while with the Red Sox, too, as he hit all of .254/.302/.244 with the Dodgers before coming back in the Adrian Gonzalez, etc. trade.
Loney hasn't stepped it up in the 13 games he's played with the Sox, instead hitting .273/.289/.364, even worse than he did with Los Angeles. It's a small sample, but it's not comforting to see him essentially posting the same line, but with a higher batting average. Loney is an intriguing 2013 first baseman if you think he can hit around the league (not positional) average, while providing high-quality defense at first. It wouldn't make him perfect, but it would make him a fine stopgap; right now, he's not even looking fit as organizational depth.
Boston has other non-prospects around, but the rest can be kept in the organization at year's end. Mauro Gomez and Pedro Ciriaco are getting playing time due to injuries, with Gomez filling in often for David Ortiz at designated hitter, and Ciriaco the team's primary third baseman since Will Middlebrooks broke his wrist on a hit by pitch. Gomez has been solid, but nothing particularly special, following his winning the International League MVP with a strong campaign in Pawtucket. He's hitting .299/.342/.448 in 73 plate appearances, with a pair of homers and strikeouts coming 22 percent of the time.
That's useful, as it amounts to a 108 OPS+, but it isn't exactly going to keep him around in 2013, either, at least not at the major-league level. For one, the DH spot will likely be filled by David Ortiz once more, and, though you would absolutely take a 108 OPS+ from someone with the glove of Loney, Gomez is a designated hitter who can play first if he has to. If there's no other stopgap option, then Gomez isn't the worst thing the Sox could do, but he needs to be better than he's been to be a legitimate option for a full-time gig in 2013.
As for Ciriaco, he has the defense thing down for the most part, with the lone issue seeming to be his difficulty going to his right on balls down the line. That's possibly a holdover from all of that time at second base, but it's a minor complaint for a mostly quality glove. The larger problem has been his bat. At least, in terms of how believable it is. Ciriaco is currently at .301/.316/.404, a line that's now below-average on the season. Things have been even worse since he began to fill in at third base, too, as Ciriaco is hitting all of .243/.263/.311 at the position, or, about half-as-productive as your average third baseman (54 split-adjusted OPS+ at the hot corner). That line, by the way, conveniently answers the question about what Ciriaco would do were he not hitting over .300.
We've been over what Ciriaco needs to change in order to remain a productive hitter, but it hasn't started to happen yet. He's running out of time to show he's anything more than minor-league defensive depth.
Last up, there's the trio of farmhands looking to stick in the majors for good. Jose Iglesias hasn't done it with his bat to this point, going hit-less in his first six games while failing to reach base at all during the first four of those. Boston already knows what he can do with the glove, so while it's good that he remains Jose Iglesias in the field, they would like to see some of the progress he's made in the minors translate to the majors. It might be asking for a lot, but that's where he is in his career.
Ryan Lavarnway had a much more productive minor-league season at the plate, but he's struggling to find himself in the majors as well. It's possible he's gassed, as he's played in 16 games behind the plate with the Sox, 14 of them starts, after catching 80 with Pawtucket. His previous career-high was 66, so it would be understandable if nearly 100 games caught was tiresome for Lavarnway.
He's had stretches where he can't hit a thing, and others where it looks like he's coming around. It's all part of the learning process, and as we've discussed, now is the time for players like Lavarnway and Iglesias to take their lumps.
Last up is Ryan Kalish, who isn't a prospect in the sense he's lost his rookie status, but for all intents and purposes is one, given he's in his age-24 season and trying to avoid going back to Pawtucket in 2013. He was just awful for the Red Sox earlier in the season when called to help out, but has been much more effective since his latest recall at the end of August. Kalish is hitting .385/.429/.385 in those seven games; it's not much to go on, but considering how poor he was before, just about anything is a relative positive.