It hasn't been an ideal start for the Red Sox thus far, with the defending world champions at just a 4-6 record through their first 10 games. The main culprit has been the lineup, who have extremely frustrating both at the plate and, to a certain extend, in the field. Fortunately, Shane Victorino is likely to return from the disabled list relatively soon, giving the team an all-around boost. However, his return also puts them back in a quandary they found themselves in as spring training came to a close, one Victorino's hamstring allowed them to put off answering: How do they align their bench and their outfield?
Once again, they are in a spot with one too many players for their roster. This time around, popular opinion seems to be shifting towards a Grady Sizemore, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Victorino starting outfield. To make this work, either Daniel Nava would be sent down or dealt, or Mike Carp would be traded. (Jonny Gomes could be traded too, I guess, but that wouldn't make much sense since he's the only righty.) It sounds intriguing, but it wouldn't be the right move for the Red Sox.
The main reason I'm wary of this strategy is the downgrade it would be offensively. We've already seen the lineup struggle this year, and putting this starting lineup wouldn't help much. Essentially, they'd be swapping Bradley in for the Nava/Gomes platoon. The former has been on a tear of late, while Nava has struggled to start the year, but of course we're dealing with a tiny sample size for both. This is what amazes me with Bradley's short professional career to this point. Small samples have been thrown out the window with him. First, his hot spring training last year made everyone demand he play in the majors. Then, he struggled for parts of the regular season and in this spring training and people were unsure if he'd ever be a major-league caliber hitter. Now, after 26 plate appearances, some are ready to put him in the leadoff spot to maximize his playing time. It's not that I think Bradley is a bad hitter. I love his approach and think he'll be a productive player for many years. I just don't want to get too worked up over a .364/.462/.455 line fueled by a .533 batting average on balls in play in 26 plate appearances, just like getting worked up over a poor spring made no sense.
I also don't want to forget about just how good the Nava/Gomes platoon can be. Last season, they combined to be the third best offensive left field unit in the game by wRC+, and the sixth best overall by fWAR. To throw away that potential production after ten games seems a little silly. It's not as if these guys were total flukes, either. Nava has always been a highly disciplined, high-OBP player, and Gomes has a long track record of killing left-handed pitching and hitting for power. There may be a little regression in store this season for the pair, but nothing too substantial.
Of course, the big reason people are in favor of the Sizemore, Bradley, Victorino alignment would be the defense. And it's impossible to deny that the defense would be much better with this group. The question is, would it outweigh the loss in the offense? I'm not convinced it would. For one thing, despite what the numbers said, Gomes and Nava looked at worst passable in left field, and the latter had started to master the wall towards the end of the year. Neither of them are going to win Gold Gloves, but they aren't really black holes out there either. The other thing is, it's left field. We're not talking about a premium defensive position here. Losing a little defense for more offense at this position isn't the worst thing in the world.
In my mind, there are two roads down which the Red Sox can travel to sort out their outfield situation. First, they can stick to their original plan and send Bradley back down to Pawtucket upon Victorino's return. It's not ideal, but I'm not sure ten games should be enough to change the original plan so drastically. This way, the team can keep all of its depth. The only other way to do so is by sending down Nava, who still has options, but it's probably not the best idea to demote an established player after a couple weeks of games. The other option is to trade Carp. He is a good left-handed bat to have on the bench, but really, he's somewhat redundant on this team. He's not really an outfielder, but instead a backup first base or DH type. With Mike Napoli's hip and David Ortiz's limping this season, it may be tough to trade that type of depth away.
Really, it depends on how you feel about the minor-league depth like Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, and Ryan Lavarnway. If you're confident about using them in a pinch, then trading Carp is fine. If not, it'd be tough to move a more proven bat like his. Like at the end of spring training, it's a complicated issue with no easy answer. If anything, it's been made more difficult with Bradley's performance. To me, though, these still remain the two most sensible options.
While I understand the appeal of a Sizemore, Bradley, Victorino outfield, it just strikes me as giving up on Daniel Nava. Whether it means sending him down or trading him, it's unfair to a player who has proven to be a productive offensive player, and has obviously worked extremely hard to get here. In an ideal world, a team like the Pirates would bring an enticing package to the table for Mike Carp, and the Red Sox could deploy a rotation of sorts in right and center field, with Bradley, Sizemore and Victorino each playing in approximately two of every three games. This way, The latter two stay healthy while the former gets consistent at bats. If that doesn't happen, though, the Red Sox once again have a dilemma on their hands. I just hope it doesn't end up costing Daniel Nava a spot as a regular contributor.