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Who should play in the Red Sox outfield?

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The Red Sox have some decisions to make with a couple of injured outfielders coming back soon.

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Think back to the major story lines heading into the 2015 season. Besides the concern (or lack thereof) regarding the rotation, the biggest talking point was what the team would do with all of their outfielders. There was almost too much talent there, you see. How could they fit Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley and Allen Craig onto one roster, not to mention Brock Holt? Boy, that seems like a long time ago.

Fast-forward to today, and we’re looking at a much different situation. Between injuries and underperformance, the outfield has been so bad that the team has brought in multiple replacement level players on waivers. Boston has given out 34 starts in the outfield to Holt, Alejandro De Aza and Carlos Peguero. What started out as huge logjam turned into a position of need faster than you can say "Mike Napoli has lost all trade value."

Now, it looks like it may be turning back into a logjam, though not in the same kind of talent-laden way. Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava are working their way back from the disabled list, and both figure to be ready to return before or around the All Star break. As long as there aren’t more injuries in the near future, the Red Sox have some serious decisions to make when the outfielders do come back. How do they make room on the roster for Victorino and Nava, and how do they divvy up the playing time?

We’ll start with the two outfielders who most certainly aren’t going anywhere. Mookie Betts is the center fielder of the future. He’s playing every day, and that’s not going to change. End of though. Hanley Ramirez is the left fielder for at least the rest of the season. I suppose there’s a slight chance they’ll unload him at the deadline, but that seems unlikely. Provided he is still with the organization, he is not leaving this roster. This is obvious stuff, but needs to be said in order to move forward.

Now, we get into the more interesting scenarios. While Brock Holt fits with Betts and Ramirez in that he’s not going to be taken off the roster, he doesn’t fit in that he can be removed from the outfield situation, at least a little bit. For now, while Dustin Pedroia is on the disabled list, he can fill in every day at second base. It becomes a bit more complicated when Pedroia comes back, but if the Red Sox are committed to getting the other outfielders their playing time, Holt will have to go back to the super utility role. He can still play four or five times a week, but many of those appearances will have to come in the form of giving infielders a day of rest.

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That leaves Jackie Bradley and Alejandro De Aza as the most realistic options to go. There is actually a way to keep both on the roster when Victorino and Nava come back. The easy move is to option Deven Marrero. While it’s not ideal to have Brock Holt as the only backup infielder on the roster, it’s been done before and can work. The other move would be to get rid of one of the catchers. Whether that means designating Sandy Leon for assignment or optioning Blake Swihart, there’s a (good) argument to be made that they shouldn’t be carrying three catchers. However, even if they do go that route, it’ll be a short-term solution, as Pedroia will be back soon as well. Eventually, one of the current outfielders has to go.

The decision they come to between Bradley and De Aza will say a lot about where they see themselves in the playoff race. If they decide to keep De Aza around, it’ll tell me they still think they can compete. As good as he’s been, he does not represent any part of this team’s future. With that being said, he likely gives them more value in 2015 than Bradley could, even with the latter’s defensive chops. On top of that, if De Aza continues to produce and the team does get to a point where they decide to sell off their spare parts, he could likely be flipped for something of note at the deadline.

On the other hand, if they concede that this is probably a lost season, keeping Bradley around could make more sense. It’s the tiniest of samples, but he has looked much better with the bat this time around in the majors. He could only have one more chance to stick with the Red Sox, so it would only be fair to give it to him while he's hitting well. If anything, a strong finish to the season could make him an intriguing second or third piece in an offseason trade.

The other option could be to designated Daniel Nava for assignment and hope that he clears waivers. Given how poorly he’s played this season and him missing a chunk of time, there’s a chance teams would pass on him for now. However, I find that unlikely as he has a track record of being a very solid fourth or fifth outfield option who can also fill in at first base if need be. As unfair as it may be to Bradley, the move is probably to keep De Aza and Nava around for now. It gives them a chance to hold out hope for a miraculous playoff run while also building up a more immediate trade chip(s).

After choosing who to keep, there comes the issue of how to dole out playing time. Does Holt sit more often, despite the fact that there’s been significant stretches of this season in which he’s been the best player on the team? Does VIctorino sit despite the possibility that a strong month of July could make a trade possible, even if it’s just for a low-level lottery ticket? It’s a tough situation, and one that likely relies on platoons and playing match ups. It becomes even more complicated given John Farrell’s job security — or lack thereof. He likely will (and has every right to) play for 2015 rather than the future, as his involvement in the future is uncertain at best. In the end, I would expect the veterans to get the majority of the playing time as the front office hopes to build up what little trade value they can over the next month.

I’ve now gone more than 1,000 words without even bringing up Rusney Castillo, which is kind of amazing. It’s a sign of how far his stock has fallen. However, there’s just no place for him right now. His best bet is to hope guys like Victorino, De Aza, Napoli and Nava could be traded at the deadline to open up space for him. He’ll likely be riding busses with Pawtucket for at least the next month.

The Red Sox have a tough situation brewing with their roster right now. Two outfielders are coming back, and someone is going to eventually have to be let go even if they don’t deserve it. Right now, it looks like Bradley will be the unlucky man once again. However, trades at the end of the month should make it possible for him to get his job back for the final couple months of the year. The outfield will have to be addressed in the offseason, but in the short-term, the Red Sox are looking at yet another logjam out there. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly as much optimism with this one as there was in March.