The biggest of the many ripple effects of this past trade deadline was the sudden glut in the outfield. A position that previously looked like a possible area of need in the coming offseason was suddenly filled up. Things only got more complicated when Rusney Castillo was signed to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract. As of this moment, their roster has the following players who could realistically play outfield: Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Allen Craig and Jackie Bradley, Jr. You don’t have to be an expert in roster construction to realize that’s too many men. Because of this predicament, the overwhelming thought has been that the Red Sox will trade at least one of the names listed above, with Cespedes seemingly being the favorite in the clubhouse. It obviously makes sense. Take an area of strength and use it to address an area of weakness, right? Well, what if no other teams are willing to offer a fair package for any of these guys. Is there a way to make this work with all of these guys still in the organization next year?
We’ll start with the two easy decisions that would need to be made to make this work. For one thing Cespedes is in the lineup every day in this scenario, most likely in left field. The Red Sox traded their ace to get him, and if he can’t be flipped this winter for real value, he’s going to be a starter and join David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order. The other easy decision is sending Bradley, Jr. to Pawtucket to start the year. Obviously, his defense is elite, but he has options remaining, and he has plenty of work to do with his bat. He could be used as a fourth outfielder right now in the right situation, but this is not that situation.
After these two, the picture starts to get a bit more murky. Nava has shown himself to be a solid player, but he may not be the type of guy you keep around with so many other bodies. However, he is out of options, so if the Red Sox hold onto everyone he’d have to stay. On top of that, he kills right-handed pitching, which is currently a big hole with this lineup. Victorino is also not someone you can send down to Pawtucket, since he’s going to be 34 years old and make $13 million. Still, when healthy he’s proven he can be a competent player who plays stellar defense in Fenway’s difficult right field. Because of this he’d slot in as a starter, towards the bottom of the lineup.
That leads us to Craig. Like Victorino, he’s making too much money for the team to start him in Pawtucket. With that being said, it’s a crowded roster, so there isn’t a lot of room for playing time, either. Luckily, he can also play at first base, so he would be able to provide depth there and in left field. In the same vein, Holt can play just about anywhere. Although opposing pitchers started to expose him after he got regular playing time, he can still be a very productive utility player, and will likely serve that role regardless of what the team does with all of the outfielders.
That just leaves us with two more players fighting for one spot: starting center fielder. This is by far the toughest call of this hypothetical. In one corner, you have Betts. On the one hand, he is just 22-years-old and has just 211 plate appearances at AAA. On the other, he showed that he can handle major-league pitching, putting up a .291/.368/.444 line in 213 MLB plate appearances. In the other corner is Castillo. He got just 40 plate appearances at the highest level, but impressed in that tiny sample with a .333/.400/.528 line. Given the amount of money he makes, and the fact that he is more of a natural center fielder, one would think he’d have the edge in taking the job to start the year. This leaves Betts with the short stick, forcing him to start the year in Pawtucket if everyone is healthy, giving the Red Sox the following group of position players.
Now, this is obviously not an ideal situation. There are a whole lot of outfielders on that roster, and none of them are Betts. However, the caveat at the end of the last paragraph is hugely important. "If everyone is healthy." How often does a team go without injury during spring training? This becomes especially true when you have guys like Victorino and Craig on the roster. These things, as they say, tend to sort themselves out. You also have to consider the possibility of other teams suffering early-season injuries, becoming desperate for some outside help. This could boost the value of someone like Cespedes or Victorino to a level they could not have reached in the offseason.
Of course, the purpose of this post was not to say that the Red Sox should not go out and trade an outfielder. If someone is willing to give up market value - or at least something close to it - for one of Boston’s expendable pieces, Ben Cherington should be all over that. We see above that there are some tough decisions to be made without a move. The decisions aren't impossible, though. There are ways to make this work without making a deal, especially considering that the expectation of everyone staying healthy for most of the season is a fool’s errand. If the trade market dries up earlier than expected, or the interest for these outfielders isn’t what was expected, Cherington should hold on to these guys, as they can still field a roster without making a trade.