While, for obvious reasons, it hasn’t been officially confirmed, we all know that John Farrell’s seat is slightly warmer than most after two straight disappointing seasons. Because of this, all spring we heard about his desire to manage with more urgency this year. In fact, it seemed the entire organization was focused on getting to a hot start.
For some of us (read: me), this was passed off as manager/GM speak. Of course they want to win the early games. They also want to win the late games, and the ones in between. Well, silly me. They’ve certainly put their money where their mouth is to start the year. Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo are starting the year on the bench with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw are starting.
Now, reasonable people can, have and will have a wide range of opinions on these moves. Personally, I’m more able to get behind one of the surprising benchings than the other, but that’s not really important right now. What I’m more interested in is why people are mad about each individual move, as well as the collective side effects of the two moves combined.
Specifically, one of the criticisms I’ve seen a lot on the twitter machine and the rest of the interwebs as a whole is that the Red Sox are wasting the versatility of Holt and Shaw by putting them in the everyday lineup. I gotta say, I just don’t get it. I will grant that a significant portion of Holt’s value is built into the fact that he can play essentially every position on the diamond. Shaw isn’t nearly as versatile, but the fact that he too can play multiple positions isn’t certainly a net positive. The thing is, none of that changes by them starting on most days to start the season.
We’ll begin with Holt, because if we’re being honest with ourselves we know he’s the real focus of the versatility hand-wringing. If he weren’t heading into the season as the strong-side platoon partner in left field, he would be where he was for the majority of the last couple of years. That is to say he’d be a super utility player, appearing in roughly four of every seven games at a variety of positions.
He’s a super valuable piece to have because he can reasonably serve as the backup to Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez, whoever is playing third and all three outfield positions. The good news is he still can! Rusney Castillo is still on the team, and Chris Young is still there if they really need to play him against right-handed pitching (which, hopefully they won’t). If anyone else on the roster needs a day off, Holt can slide over to fill in if/when he’s needed with Castillo or Young taking over in left field. This is even true when he starts a game in left field and someone gets hurt.
For Shaw, the versatility was never even really an issue if we’re being honest. Sure, there was some talk of him getting some time in left field, but that never really came to fruition. That talk came around the same time the Red Sox started getting serious about the competition at third base. Shaw is really just a corner infielder. Not that being able to play both spots isn’t valuable, because it is. This is especially true when Hanley Ramirez is your first baseman. The good news: He can still play first if need be! Just like Holt, he’s not locked into any position, even if he’s going to be starting there most days. Sandoval still exists, and can slide into third base if/when Shaw needs to move across the diamond for whatever reason.
If you want to argue that Holt playing every day to start the year is asking for more second-half troubles, fine. I’d probably say that’s an oversimplification of his last two seasons, but your point is taken. If you want to say the Red Sox need to build the trade values of Castillo and Sandoval, fine. I’d probably say they could just as likely sink their value even lower, but your point is taken. If you want to say they should take the start of the season to see what they really have in these two players, fine. I’d probably agree with you! Like I said, there are plenty of valid reasons to be agains this move.
This is why it’s so weird to me that the versatility is the reason to which some people are clinging. Holt’s versatility is a hugely valuable leg up on most teams in the league, but it still exists even if he’s starting in left field. Shaw was never as versatile as some are making him out to be, but even he can still man first base if/when you need him to. Honestly, it’s to the point where I feel like I’m missing something very obvious in this case. It’s true: the bench did get less versatile by including Castillo and Sandoval. The starting lineup got more versatile, however, and more importantly, the overall roster’s versatility didn’t change much at all.