In all likelihood, Rusney Castillo will join the Red Sox later today. With the offense struggling, John Farrell has almost admitted as much, only saying they might try to get Castillo "a game" in Pawtucket to ease him back in after a short paternity leave. Well, he's had that game now, and the Red Sox start a series against the Angels tonight. It's time for Castillo to play in Fenway.
The only question is: where in Fenway does he play? Who does he replace?
The obvious answer for a long time was right field. The Red Sox have seen miserable production in right, with five players contributing to an American League worst 69 wRC+. And for a long time there wasn't even so much as hope out there. But Shane Victorino has returned from injury on fire and, believe it or not, leads all Red Sox players with a .369 OBP. There's no telling if that will hold up, especially as Victorino has to face more right-handed pitchers, but at the moment the Red Sox can't afford to pull one of their only productive bats from the lineup.
Next on the list is, sadly, first base, where Mike Napoli looks more or less finished. He's a streaky player who has endured slumps before, but even for him this one is pushing new limits, particularly when you consider that it really started towards the end of 2014. If right has been bad, first has been worse, with Napoli producing the lion's share of a 62 wRC+ and coming in with a stunningly bad -0.7 fWAR.
But there's a good reason for the Red Sox to stick with Mike Napoli for another couple of weeks. And it has very little to do with the man himself. Instead, it's all about the guy out in left field, Hanley Ramirez, and why he shouldn't be there anymore, in both the short and long term.
In the short term, it's about injury. Hanley Ramirez crashed into a wall on May 4th, and hasn't been the same since. Following a short layoff, Ramirez has hit .216/.231/.275 in 52 trips to the plate. There have been some hard-hit balls that haven't fallen in, yes. That was particularly obvious a couple of days ago in Boston's first loss to the Rangers. But the fact of the matter is that BABIP shouldn't really have much sway over Hanley Ramirez. This is a guy who hit 10 home runs in April. Regardless of whether or not that pace was sustainable, going from double digits in one month to zero in the next is a pretty big red flag.
It's not like any of us can act surprised, either. When Hanley went down that day, a trip to the disabled list seemed inevitable, with many fearing it would be the 60-day variety. It looked bad, and while it's great that he managed to get right back on the field, it seems like he may have been pushing himself too fast. We've seen the wonders some rest seems to have done for Shane Victorino. Let's kill two birds with one stone here: replace an unproductive bat in the lineup, and hopefully ensure the return of April Hanley for June and beyond.
Which aspects of Sox offense can be fixed easily?
There's been a lot that's gone wrong with Boston's lineup lately. Which issues have easy solutions, and which do the team need to let sort themselves out?
What's more, that doesn't lock the Red Sox in for Mike Napoli. At least not in the long term. It does put a pretty obvious clock on him, though. When Hanley Ramirez comes back, there's no doubt he'll be in the starting lineup day in and day out. If Rusney is hitting, and Napoli isn't, then it's going to be an easy choice to get Hanley's miserable glove out of the outfield and into the infield, where if first base is foreign, it's at least not so foreign to the former shortstop as left field. And probably not nearly as likely to end in injury disaster.
If by some miracle Napoli and Castillo are both hitting? You make it work. This is not really a scenario to be concerned about given that right now the Red Sox couldn't score three runs in a game of tee-ball.
It's tempting to just pull the trigger on Mike Napoli right now and hope Hanley Ramirez just forces his way through this slump. But the higher upside move on both sides of the coin is a DL trip for Hanley and one last two-week window for Napoli to wake up. The Sox need to start winning now, yes, but it's more important that they have ttwo productive bats from those two positions for the rest of the season after those two weeks are done, and this is the plan that gives them the best chance at that.