Even though Lyle Overbay was signed on Thursday, Red Sox manager John Farrell has already discussed what he envisions as the plan for him on the roster. Overbay was signed to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training, so he still has to earn his way on to the actual roster, but if he looks the part in the spring, it stands to reason he'll be added by Opening Day.
Farrell "insinuated", in Rob Bradford's words, that Overbay would exist on the roster not just as insurance against an injury to Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, but also to allow that pair a few more days off during the year. Ortiz will be 37 years old in 2013, and just missed around 70 games to injury the previous season, and Napoli has the now well-known hip condition as well as a career-high in games played of just 140 thanks to all of the time he has spent in his career as a catcher.
Having Overbay for that role means no longer having to take Jarrod Saltalamacchia out from behind the plate in order to have a backup designated hitter, which in turn means catcher-hopeful Ryan Lavarnway can stick in the minors until he shows he belongs elsewhere. It also means the Sox will have an extra left-handed bat on the bench, and a better defensive player for first base than Napoli. On the days Ortiz sits -- as few as those might end up being -- Napoli could slot in as DH in order to get Overbay's glove in the game.
Offensively, though, how does Overbay fit in? In his career, he's a .323/.395/.500 hitter at Fenway over 177 plate appearances. Expecting that from him is setting yourself up for disappointment, but, given that he hits a lot of balls up the middle, and Fenway Park benefits lefties or righties who do so, he should be able to improve on last year's line of .259/.331/.397.
He's a patient hitter with a decent glove, and while he's not likely to hit in a way that makes him a long-term option should Ortiz or Napoli go down with a significant injury, he's more than viable as a bench bat who could enter games in the late innings for defensive purposes. That's not sexy, but the back-end of the roster is about utility, and Overbay should be able to bring that to this group.
In order to make room for a backup first baseman on the roster, though, the Red Sox are likely going to need to carry just four outfielders. Well, four legitimate outfielders: Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes. Victorino is the backup center fielder, one of Nava or Gomes will be on the bench at all times, with Nava being able to slot in to right in a short-term pinch should Victorino need to slide to center. The real depth in the organization for right will have to come from the minors, possibly by adding someone like Bryce Brentz to the 40-man and then bringing him to the majors if he's shown himself capable of the promotion, or by bringing up Ryan Sweeney, should he choose to stick around after spring training rather than opt out of his minor-league deal.
At the big-league level, though, the only other "outfielder" on the roster will be Pedro Ciriaco, whom the Red Sox seem determined to make into even more of a utility player. If he can be reliable in the late innings defensively when necessary, then he's at least justifying his place on the 25-man roster more, and solves the problem -- well, not elegantly, but still, solved -- of how to fit enough outfielders on the roster along with a backup first baseman and a stacked bullpen.