As a self-professed big fan of Zooey Deschanel ("Queen of the Hipsters" as my friend Mike likes to call her), I was on the boat with FOX's sitcom New Girl from the beginning. If you watched the pilot of the show, you probably noticed the impeccable camaraderie between the cast from the beginning. One character who made a lasting impression happened to be "Coach," a personal trainer with anger issues played by Damon Wayans Jr. Critics lauded the character and as someone who always cheers for sitcom pilots with any resemblance of promise, I was excited to see the development of all the characters, Coach included.
But as the second episode of the show began to roll, Coach was gone, replaced by Winston, a former pro-basketball player in Latvia who returned to America to live with his old friends played by Lamorne Morris. As it turned out, Wayans had to leave New Girl after his other show, Happy Endings, was surprisingly renewed.
So for almost a season and a half, New Girl's audience wondered what the show would have been like had Wayans not left the show. Winston struggled to find his place on the show and was often the odd-man out in plot lines.
All of a sudden, Winston found his place. Wacky and irrational, Winston quickly became the strongest comic relief character when the show found a slightly more serious tone. At the same time, ABC cancelled Happy Endings. Suddenly, Wayans was available to return to New Girl as Coach, the character everyone wanted back.
So when Wayans returned to the show, things got weird. The electric dynamic of the cast was off and Wayans' Coach felt out of place. It was just awkward.
It's a similar feeling to how I feel about the upcoming outfield predicament facing the Red Sox when Shane Victorino is ready to come off the disabled list. Jackie Bradley Jr. plays the role of Winston, the outfielder who came into replace Victorino during his absence. At the beginning, he felt slightly out of place, but found eventually his place. Although we're only 16 games into the season, Bradley Jr. has been the most productive member of the Red Sox outfield with a .346 OBP, three doubles, seven RBI and 0.2 WAR (which is somewhat useless this early in the season, although he is 0.2 WAR higher than the second most productive Red Sox outfielder, Grady Sizemore, who sports a -0.1 WAR).
Victorino plays the role of Coach, the outfielder who made a really great impression during his first season with the Red Sox. The Wailuku, H.I. native will undoubtedly take over the right field when he returns from the disabled list.
In Victorino's absence, the Red Sox have started Bradley Jr. in center, Sizemore in left field and a platoon of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes in right field. Out of Spring Training, the decision was simple for the Red Sox when Victorino returned: send down Bradley Jr. However, Bradley Jr.'s strong outfield play and his strong approach at the plate has complicated the decision. Here are the options that the Red Sox have when Victorino returns:
Send Down Bradley Jr.
This would be the most seamless transition among the potential choices. Bradley Jr. still has options left and the decision to send the Prince George, V.A. native down to Pawtucket would allow the Red Sox to move Sizemore back to centerfield, put the Nava/Gomes platoon in right field and Victorino in right.
The issue with this option is that Bradley has been playing really well. Bradley Jr. has started to drive the inside fastball to left field, something he did not do during his time in the majors last year, and has sprayed the balls to all fields. His approach at the plate is top notch and fits perfectly into the Red Sox philosophy. In addition, his off-the-charts instincts while playing outfield have proven to be game-changing, as seen a couple of times during the Rangers series at Fenway. Bradley Jr. can win a Gold Glove this year, and that is not an exaggeration.
It would send a poor message to send down Bradley Jr. when he has been the most productive outfielder so far this year.
Send Down Daniel Nava
To my surprise, Daniel Nava actually has an option remaining on his contract, meaning that the Red Sox can send him down to Pawtucket without exposing him to waivers. After a career year where he hit .303 with a .385 OBP in 134 games, Nava has stumbled out of the gate this year. The 31-year-old is hitting .130 with a .242 OBP, two home runs, three RBI and a .501 OPS. In the last week, Nava is hitting .111 with three runs and a home run. An encouraging sign, however, is that Nava has drawn five walks in 23 plate appearances, amounting to a .304 OBP.
Nava's OBP in the last week is incredibly encouraging in that it's a sign that he is beginning to find his approach again at the plate. During the first nine games of the season, Nava was not getting hits AND not drawing walks. Nava's propensity to draw walks in the last five games suggests that Nava's is starting to settle down at the plate and finding his incredibly patient approach at the plate. With more at-bats, one could expect to see Nava's hit total go up as he continues to draw walks.
Considering Nava's slow start, it could make sense to some to send Nava down to Pawtucket, but a look at the trend in his recent stats suggest that giving Nava more at-bats in the majors will help him find his approach at the plate.
Trade Mike Carp or Daniel Nava
This option likely pertains more to the former than the latter. There were rumors during Spring Training that the Red Sox were open to trading the second best Mike with a fish last name in baseball to any interested team (Pirates and Brewers among the interested parties). Carp has shown the ability to be a strong hitter off the bench in two separate seasons, 2011 and 2013. In addition, his versatility allows him to play outfield and first base. Carp has also been spotted taking ground balls at third base with Brian Butterfield, likely an attempt to expand his versatility for more playing time.
The inconsistent playing time has been hard on Carp, as he told Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com.
"I'd like to say I’ve proved myself to play on this team," Carp said. "Obviously it comes down to getting that playing time. Unfortunately, I’m not getting very many opportunities here early on. With the roster crunch coming back it’s going to make it more and more difficult. I’m anxious to see what’s going to happen. I try to stay ready as best I can and work my tail off to be ready if the time does come."
As Mastrodonato suggests, the Red Sox most likely option may be to designate the 27-year-old for assignment. Carp likely would not fetch a big return, likely a back of the bullpen arm or a AAA player. Letting go of Carp would not completely rid of outfield depth. Gomes would still be on the roster and third baseman Ryan Roberts has experience in the corner outfield spots. Outfield prospect Alex Hassan seems to be ready for a call-ups at some point this year. Hassan hit .321 with a .431 OBP in 55 games last year and is currently hitting .275 with a .373 OBP this year.
On New Girl, Wayans eventually started to gel with the cast again. All of the characters seemed to find their role on the show while sparking the chemistry in the cast again. The Red Sox overcrowded outfield issues likely won't end in the same harmony. At the moment, the most likely move appears to be Mike Carp, whether it is a trade or DFA, but until the situation forces General Manager Ben Cherington to make a move, the awkwardness of the impending issue will continue to exist.