It's no secret that the Red Sox have more outfielders than they have room for. Just for fun, let's go down the list:
- Rusney Castillo
- Mookie Betts
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Daniel Nava
- Hanley Ramirez
- Shane Victorino
- Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Allen Craig
- Brock Holt
That's a lot of bodies! And even if we're giving, say, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Brock Holt credit for being infielders, the Red Sox would still have to cut two of them and another one of the outfielders assuming they're not planning to run a five-man bullpen.
In a normal year where the Red Sox were contending with the Collective Bargaining Tax threshold, the writing would be on the wall for Shane Victorino. If indeed the Red Sox plan to continue to add free agent talent, they project to blow right past the $189 million figure, and would certainly have to find someone to help them with Victorino's $13 million salary.
This year, however, seems to be different. John Henry has publicly stated that staying under the CBT threshold year-in and year-out is not the priority it might once have been. That being the case, could the Red Sox actually afford to keep Victorino around as one of the game's most expensive fourth outfielders? And why should they even want to indulge in such a luxury?
The important thing to understand when it comes to actually affording Victorino is that, should the Red Sox jump above the threshold in 2015, it's just not that big of a deal how much they exceed it by. The difference between a $190 million payroll and a $210 million payroll in terms of tax is less than $4 million in tax. Certainly a massive figure to most fans, but not all that significant to John Henry and co. in the greater scheme of things.
It's only when we start getting into multiple years over the limit that the Tax starts to get truly punishing. And with Victorino's contract set to expire after 2015, keeping him on for this season shouldn't have any effect on their ability to get back under the limit in seasons to come.
So what's the advantage? Well, if Victorino struggled to stay healthy in 2014, we're not that far removed from that whole year where he was one of the best players on a World Series winning team. This kind of dramatic swing in quality is pretty par for the course for Victorino to boot, making it very easy to imagine him returning to form in 2015.
So, it's May 2015 and down goes one of Boston's outfielders. Let's make this really interesting and say the Sox have traded Yoenis Cespedes, as seems likely, and it's one of Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts (our presumed starters in this scenario) taking the hit. Boston's bench consists of Brock Holt and Daniel Nava, kept on for their ability to hit right-handed pitchers and, in Holt's case, defensive versatility. There's space for one more, however. Who do you want taking over in center and/or right field for 80% of the games?
In a more perfect world, the answer would be Jackie Bradley Jr., but after a full season without any real improvement at the plate, the living, breathing highlight reel just doesn't provide a complete enough package to earn regular playing time, at least not on a team with Boston's options.
The other possible response is Brock Holt -- the Red Sox really can't afford to have either Daniel Nava or Hanley Ramirez in Fenway's massive right field--but using Holt provides other issues. First off, Holt as he was in the second half of the seasons just isn't a reliable starter (he hit to a .548 OPS after the All-Star break). Beyond that, though, Holt will almost certainly be expected to provide day-to-day coverage for the infield as well as the outfield. His versatility might well be the glue that holds this Red Sox bench together, making it hard for the Red Sox to replace him should he be called upon to start for a while.
But what if it's Shane Victorino? Granted, if it's 2014's Shane Victorino, that's not great, but how many teams can claim to have a player who received MVP votes just one year ago as their fourth outfielder? He'll easily be able to handle the defensive duties, and there's the chance for the Red Sox to get one heck of a bat out of the deal as well.
Aside from that most practical of outlooks, the simple fact is that Victorino is a popular player. Victorino was one of the first names Pablo Sandoval mentioned playing alongside yesterday. He signed over his health in 2013 to help this team win a World Series, sprinting down balls in the outfield before limping back to his spot in right. It would seem almost disloyal to send him off now. Not exactly in keeping with this new "softer side of the Sox" that the organization seems to be pushing in recent years.
This is, of course, assuming that Victorino is comfortable with a support role, however much it's likely to result in plenty of plate appearances when all is said and done. If he wants to go to a team that will have him in the starting lineup on Opening Day, the Red Sox shouldn't be upsetting one of their more popular players at the price of $13 million. Still, this seems like a pretty good situation for him to be in. A backup role could help him avoid the injuries that have held him back recently, and in Boston he's still the man whose grand slam won the ALCS. Even if it turns out that he spent a total of one full year actively playing in Fenway, he'll always have a home here.
There's going to be a lot of players leaving the team over the coming months as the Red Sox make the cuts necessary to get their roster down to size, and Shane Victorino seems like one of the most obvious trade candidates behind Yoenis Cespedes. But if the Red Sox are headed north of the CBT threshold regardless of Victorino's presence, and if he's willing to stick with the team in a backup role, the $13 million shouldn't stand between the Red Sox and having one of the best backup plans imaginable in the outfield. If the team is forgetting their self-imposed salary cap for one season, after all, it makes no sense to cut corners and spare any expense that won't effect them in 2016 and beyond.