On each weekday until baseball’s GM meetings Nov. 7, we will spotlight one key decision the Red Sox need to make this offseason that will help determine the success or failure of the 2013 team.
Today’s topic: Who will play LF and RF for the Red Sox in 2013?
The Red Sox need to shore up the left field position for next season and beyond. It’s a position GM Ben Cherington and new manager John Farrell will focus on this offseason. But who ends up in left field could have a lot to do with who plays right field.
Defining the decision: LF was a constant concern for the Red Sox in 2012.
A total of nine players -- Crawford, Cody Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Scott Podsednik, Nate Spears and Lars Anderson -- roamed the landscape in left field. Nava played the most with 76 games and hit .243 with six homers and 33 RBIs. A recurring wrist injury limited his ability to produce. Combined, Sox left fielders hit .267 with 14 homers and 72 RBIs on the season.
The Red Sox won’t solely focus on left field. In fact, the club has a few options available in hopes of stabilizing all three outfield positions. The key could be to find interchangeable parts with players that can play more than one outfield position.
Now that the free-agency period has opened with the conclusion of the World Series, the Red Sox will increase their talks with Ross. If the sides are able to come to an agreement and Ross re-signs with Boston, Cherington’s challenge to stabilize left field becomes more interesting.
If Kalish can remain healthy and produce the way he did during his rookie season in 2010, his ability to play both corner outfield positions will help. If the Red Sox want Kalish to play right, Ross could easily play left field. The problem is, Kalish can't stay healthy. After missing the majority of 2011 with neck and shoulder injuries, he spent the first half of 2012 recovering from surgeries on both. He was shut down in the final weeks of this season in order to help jumpstart his offseason rest period because it was such a long and arduous year of rehab for him.
Boston’s new bench coach, Torey Lovullo, managed Kalish at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2010 and witnessed first-hand what the outfielder can achieve when healthy.
“When Ryan Kalish is healthy, he’s as capable as any young player that the Red Sox have,” Lovullo said. “We got a little snapshot of that in 2010 when he had a great run. Unfortunately, these injuries have kind of sidetracked him.”
When center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was limited to 18 games in 2010 due to three separate rib injuries, Kalish emerged as a potential long-term option in the outfield. He hit .252 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 53 games as a 22-year-old that season.
Option A: Stay with current personnel
If Ross re-signs, the Red Sox don’t trade Ellsbury and Kalish is healthy, that threesome could be the starting outfield for Boston from left to right. Nava, a switch-hitter, proved he could be reliable. Ryan Sweeney, who played only 63 games due to injury in his first season in Boston, is arbitration eligible and also could be in the mix.
Option B: Go outside
Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher is a free agent and his ability to play right field and first base could be a major asset to the Red Sox. Despite his tenure with the Yankees, Red Sox fans would certainly be drawn to a player like Swisher for his personality. He’ll be looking for another big payday, but it’s possible the 31-year-old will have to settle for a mid-level deal instead.
Another interesting addition could be veteran All-Star Torii Hunter. He’s close friends with David Ortiz and would fit well in the Red Sox clubhouse. A center fielder by trade, Hunter could play right and allow Ross or Kalish to play left.
Adding either Swisher or Hunter could allow the Sox to move Ross to left field.
Long shot: Josh Hamilton
The Red Sox went out of their way to shed more than $200 million in salaries after trading Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers last August. Even though Hamilton is the most intriguing free agent this offseason, Cherington and the Red Sox would be taking a risk given the club’s recent history with high-priced free agents.
Only Delmon Young swung at a higher percentage of pitches this past season. No one missed on a higher percentage of his swings or chased a higher percentage of pitches outside the zone.
Hamilton is a hugely productive hitter right now, but it's pretty easy to envision a time when age catches up to him. Few power hitters have survived into old age without plate discipline. Notable exceptions include Andre Dawson and Joe Carter.
For a 31-year-old about to enjoy a huge payday, that's a troubling thought.
Hamilton would infuse the Red Sox with star power, but a risky signing seems counterproductive for a team seeking fiscal responsibility.
Your turn: What's the best option for the Red Sox?
We’ve outlined the possibilities, now tell us what you would do if you were in Ben’s shoes. Vote in the poll above and leave your more detailed thoughts in the comments section.
Information from ESPN Stats & Information's Jeremy Lundblad was used in this report.