The Red Sox have too many outfielders for one major-league roster. All of this depth is great, and it will surely be tested and useful in-season, but on Opening Day, only five of these many options are going to be on the big-league roster, meaning the rest either need to be traded or sent to Triple-A Pawtucket. With that in mind, let's look at the various outfield scenarios that could exist for Opening Day, to gauge the benefits and likelihood of them occurring.
The outfielders in question, in no particular order: free agent acquisition Hanley Ramirez, incumbent Shane Victorino, rookie Rusney Castillo, the fresh out of prospectdom Mookie Betts, the out of options Daniel Nava, the pushed out Jackie Bradley Jr., and maybe if things pan out future piece Allen Craig. Each outfielder has obvious upsides and downsides, as well as some less apparent bullet points in each, and the Red Sox need to figure out a way to make them all fit within the organization in the next few weeks.
Allen Craig is traded
If the Red Sox trade Allen Craig before Opening Day, it guarantees a spot on the 25-man roster for all three of Betts, Castillo, and Victorino. Nava remains the primary backup first baseman on the roster as well as the team's fifth outfielder, and only Bradley is forced to renew his lease on a Rhode Island apartment.
This move has immediate implications for the roster, as it forces manager John Farrell to get creative with the playing time for Shanf, Mookie, and Rusney: Victorino is the starter in right in this scenario, but that might mostly mean he's the one starting 3-4 games per week at the position while Castillo and Betts split time between center and right. Nava's playing time is impacted the most negatively, but that was expected to occur once the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez to play left. Nava is useful and can certainly cut it as a primary left fielder for someone, mostly making his benching a good problem to have for Boston, whose outfielders are not without risk.
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The downside to this move is that the Red Sox wouldn't just be trading Craig's 2015 away, but three guaranteed seasons and an option for a fourth. Craig's luxury tax hit on his five-year, $31 million contract is just $6.2 million per season, and he best fits on the roster as a first baseman or designated hitter. David Ortiz could stop hitting at any time or the 39-year-old could simply get hurt, and Mike Napoli is a free agent after 2015, so dealing away Craig is moving an inexpensive (for luxury tax purposes) piece of insurance who has shown in the past his bat can play at premium offensive positions. It's a risk the Red Sox can afford to take, but it's absolutely a risk.
Shane Victorino is traded
If Victorino is dealt, then there is room for Craig on the roster as a backup outfielder, first baseman, and designated hitter. It also creates room for Castillo and Betts to both start in the outfield, and while that's a good thing, there are also some serious downsides to this course of action. Betts has real potential, maybe even as an all-star caliber player, but he hasn't proven that's who he is just yet. Castillo missed some time this spring with an oblique injury, and while that's not a long-term concern, it is a reminder that we haven't seen how his body will hold up over the course of a 162-game season: Cuba's Serie Nacional has a 90-game regular season, and Castillo hasn't played that many since 2011.
Moving Victorino would mean the Red Sox had to rely on Bradley being able to hit a bit should either Betts or Castillo go down with an injury: Allen Craig or Daniel Nava in right field at Fenway is for emergencies only. That's not the worst scenario, especially not with Bradley's tremendous defense in center, but it's not as appealing as a Betts, Castillo, Victorino timeshare that sees all three balance each others potential downsides.
It's also worth pointing out that a healthy Victorino might be Boston's best outfielder, so they shouldn't be in a rush to move him. Yes, Betts and Castillo have a whole lot of promise, but they're going to be here in the long run: squeezing one last excellent campaign out of Shanf before he's a free agent is an admirable goal. His .294/.351/.451 line and plus defense in right produced around a six-win season en route to a Red Sox World Series -- 2013 wasn't so long ago that another summer like that is out of the question.
Daniel Nava is traded
This plan isn't talked about very much, but it's a plan all the same. Nava is out of options, and also has a 112 OPS+ and .278/.364/.403 line over the last three years -- the power is lacking, but that on-base percentage goes a long way. His glove is a better fit for left field, but he can play right in short bursts if he has to, and he's added a first base glove to his toolbox as well. Nava is also only making $1.85 million this season in his first year of arbitration, and won't be eligible for free agency until 2018. These are all reasons to keep Nava around, but considering Victorino's upside on a win-now team and Craig's potential if he's healthy and right once more, they are also reasons why he could be moved in a hurry if the Sox wanted it.
Ranking the 'ace' potential in the Sox rotation
The Red Sox are probably going into the season with their current rotation, so which pitcher has the best chance to fill their "ace" void.
This is how the Sox would keep Victorino, Betts, Castillo, Hanley, and Craig all on one roster. Nava won't bring back very much in a trade, however, and there is a very good chance he is a better and less expensive player than Craig over what remains of their two contracts. There is also something to be said about keeping both of them around, as they could form a lovely little first base platoon starting in 2016, or an offense-first platoon in left should Ramirez go down with an injury, as he has been known to do. Nava is a career .293/.385/.428 hitter against right-handers, while Craig has batted .285/.323/.514 against southpaws.
It's not the most significant concern, especially since a platoon takes up two roster spots, but it's something to consider both now and in the future, given both players are locked in for the next three seasons.
Send Castillo or Betts to Triple-A
We'll be upfront: it probably wouldn't be Betts. The Red Sox won't trade Betts to get five years of ace starter Cole Hamels, which should tell you how much they think of the 22-year-old. That leaves Castillo to go to Pawtucket and continue to ramp up baseball activities after a missed season of Serie Nacional and a late-summer and winter of mostly minor-league competition. Castillo has already said he's fine with being sent to the minors, as he is under contract for another six years with a guaranteed payday coming -- it's not as if going to the minors would keep him from making his money, as it would for Betts or any other player on a minor-league deal.
Would it be disappointing to Castillo? Of course. But he has job security through 2020, and his future with the Red Sox is unquestioned. He might just have to wait for an injury or trade or his own dominance to kickstart that future for him. If the Red Sox can't get a fair return for Craig or Victorino, and the allure of having Craig and Nava for the next three years is too much to resist, then starting Castillo out in the minors until the inevitable spot opens up for him makes the most sense. Whether that's the direction the Sox go remains to be seen -- and whether that's actually the best decision is another discussion entirely -- but it's the one with the fewest downsides for the Sox both now and in the future.