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The Red Sox may have a depth problem

It’s not a major issue, but it’s something to keep an eye on

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Since Hanley Ramirez was designated for assignment on Friday, the team hasn’t suffered one bit on the field. They took two out of three from the first-place Atlanta Braves followed by the first game in series vs Toronto. All is good.

Winning or losing aside, the reaction when Ramirez was cut loose by the team was mixed amongst the fan base. There have always been two sides to this: You were a Hanley fan or you weren’t and if I had to guess I’d say there were slightly more anti-Hanley fans in Red Sox Nation. I won’t try and figure out whether or not this deal will negatively or positively affect the clubhouse going forward. I do, however, think it’s time to look at the depth the team now has at both first base and in the outfield. Blake Swihart, a longtime favorite of mine, stands to be the primary beneficiary of this move getting to stay with the team while Mitch Moreland will get everyday playing time at first base.

Part of the reason why the team moved on from Ramirez was performance based, the other part was financial. Ramirez had a .708 OPS at the time he was designated while Moreland is crushing the ball to the tune of a 1.027 OPS. If Ramirez had been the one who stayed, he would have been on the bench far more than he wanted to be considering how much better Ramirez has been with both the bat and the glove. What makes this situation a bit more complicated is that first base gets thinner from a depth standpoint while the outfield depth was already thin to begin with. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles this season, .561 OPS, have made Ramirez look like Ted Williams. Bradley had already been losing time in the outfield to J.D. Martinez, but is now forced to play nearly every day with Ramirez gone whether he’s hitting or not. What would happen to this team now if Moreland, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, or Andrew Benintendi got hurt?

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The answers aren’t great. If any outfielder or Moreland gets hurt then someone on the bench would need to step up and play in the field. The bench consists of Sandy León, Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, and Eduardo Núñez. Depth in the high-minors consists of Sam Travis and Tzu-Wei Lin with Cole Sturgeon and Tate Matheny being super long-shot options. The newly signed Adam Lind should also figure into that mix. Below is a table showing how many major-league starts the potential bench has in the outfield and first base over the last two seasons.

Depth Playing Time History Update 2017-2018 GS

Player LF CF RF 1B
Player LF CF RF 1B
Brock Holt 8 0 2 1
Blake Swihart 1 0 0 0 (7 @ R & AAA)
Eduardo Nunez 17 0 1 0
Sam Travis 0 (3 @ AAA) 0 0 17
Tzu-Wei Lin 0 0 (27 @ AA & AAA) 0 0
Adam Lind 0 0 0 30

Look good? Let’s tackle first base. If Moreland gets injured Swihart is going to have to get comfortable at first base really fast, but more likely Travis gets the call to replace him on the roster. Travis has changed his swing this season to get more loft on the ball and is currently sporting a measly .669 OPS at Triple-A Pawtucket. A time share of Swihart and Travis would be far from ideal here, to say the least. The Sox must have agreed with this assessment because in the time between writing this and publishing this they went out and signed first baseman Lind to a minor league contract. Lind is a left handed bat like Moreland and figures to be another option if Moreland was to go down, but is unlikely to play in conjunction with him.

The outfield is perhaps even more interesting since all of the Red Sox starting outfielders can play a capable center field. If any of the starters get hurt then Martinez would move from DH to an everyday role in left field. In this situation I still believe Travis would be the one to get the call since he could come up and sub in at LF/DH/1B to give players a break. This would push either Swihart, Nunez, or Holt to more regular at-bats either in the field or at DH. Offensively you would take a huge hit if an injury happened to anyone outside of JBJ. Having three center fielders makes this team less prone to depth issues in the outfield, but not immune to them. You still don’t want Martinez playing the outfield every day, due to both his subpar defense and the higher injury risk that comes playing the field.

With Alex Cora making it a point of focus to rest regulars on the team more aggressively than managers in the past, any injury that would occur would mean substantial playing time for the bench. That bench has not hit well this season aside from Holt, and I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn if you trust his current offense.

Depth Offensive Performance 2018

Player OPS wRC+
Player OPS wRC+
Brock Holt 0.877 138
Blake Swihart 0.411 16
Eduardo Nunez 0.617 61
Sam Travis (Triple-A) 0.669 89
Tzu-Wei Lin (Triple-A) 0.652 84
Adam Lind (Triple-A) 0.715 99

Any injury will result in a strong infusion of Holt. While he has been hitting effectively this season, history tells us that we do not want to see him in a full time role. Holt has never finished the season with a wRC+ of above 99—100 is league average. Having to rely on Holt every day is tempting fate and gives an opportunity for more playing time to the less desirable bench options.

No team is perfect, but with the league’s best record the Red Sox are close to it. You should not worry about the bench or injury, what you should do is enjoy the ride. However, if we are looking for potential pit falls to the team, a lack of quality bench options and impact players in the high-minors make this an area to pay attention to, and perhaps an area to address when the trade market starts to heat up.