FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox announced Thursday that outfielders Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where both players will see time in center field and right field, manager John Farrell said.
These were not ordinary demotions, though neither came as a surprise. Castillo, 27, was signed last August by the Red Sox to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal, a record for a Cuban professional player. Bradley, who turns 25 on April 19, is a former No. 1 sandwich pick in 2011 who broke camp with the Sox in each of the past two seasons and played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.
But Castillo, who strained his left oblique muscle in camp and missed two weeks, and Bradley were eclipsed in the competition for starting outfield positions by converted second baseman Mookie Betts, who seized the center-field job with a spectacular spring after last summer's auspicious debut, and by Shane Victorino, the 34-year-old incumbent who is being given the chance to prove he is sufficiently recovered from back surgery eight months ago to play right field.
"Those were tough conversations, yeah, when you have guys that are good players who you believe in and making decisions to start the year the way we're starting, those were tough decisions and tough conversations," general manager Ben Cherington said. "But it's a good thing for us to have that kind of depth and that kind of talent. We know over the course of the season, more than likely we're going to need all those guys.''
Castillo, who batted .310 this spring, was given a crash course in the Sox organization after signing last August. He played in 11 postseason games in the minor leagues, from the rookie-league level to Triple-A Pawtucket, then made his big league debut on Sept. 17. He played 10 games for the Sox, batting .333 (12-for-36) with two home runs and three stolen bases while showing off his defensive skills in center field, where he started all 10 games.
A thumb injury limited him to eight games in the Arizona Fall League, but he batted .405 (15-for-37) with a .955 OPS for Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League, where he earned raves from former Sox infielder Alex Cora, the Caguas general manager who pronounced him major league-ready.
The Sox have decided otherwise, electing to give Victorino the chance to reclaim the position that was his until hamstring issues and back problems culminating in surgery on Aug. 5 limited him to 30 games.
"One of the things we told [Castillo] in our conversation is that from the day he signed to now he's done everything we asked him to do," Cherington said. "He's done everything within his control and only confirmed for us why we signed him in the first place. This is a long-term investment, a long-term proposition, and we expect it to work out well, for him and the Red Sox. We certainly see him as a major league player. It's just not going to be on Opening Day, 2015.''
Cherington was asked how confident he is that Victorino can be the type of impact player he was in 2013, when he was an integral part of a World Series championship team.
"He's done it before," Cherington said. "He's saying to us that he feels physically ready. In 2013, the numbers in spring training weren't good and he got three hits on Opening Day and went from there. This guy, he knows how to play the game. He knows what he needs to do to get ready and he's about as competitive as I've ever been around and plays the game about as hard as anyone I've ever seen.
"And our team's different. We've got different guys on the team and hopefully that gives John (Farrell) the opportunity to create matchups here and there and use the whole roster to everyone's benefit.''
Bradley, who hit .198 last season, was demoted to Pawtucket in August and was just 1 for his last 38 upon his return, had a good spring offensively, batting .378. That wasn't sufficient, however, to win a job.
"He took it," Farrell said of Bradley's reaction to being informed of his demotion. "I wouldn't expect any player to like it or totally agree with it. I think what has clearly happened is our roster has changed dramatically from a year ago. I thought Jackie's done a good job of making adjustments at the plate. He put up a number of quality at-bats, there's a swing that he's gotten back to that I think is a swing he has used for most of his career. That's a line-drive approach, he's used the whole field. I think he's closed up some of the holes that were present a year ago and he had a strong spring but he's going to continue in Pawtucket.''
With Castillo and Bradley demoted, veterans Daniel Nava and Allen Craig earned spots on the club as backup outfielders. Both can also play first base, with Farrell saying Craig has the edge in the infield. Nava, who was asked by the club to give up switch-hitting to bat strictly from the left side, was out of options. Craig, who had the worst season of his career in 2014 after starring for the Cardinals for three seasons before sustaining a serious foot injury at the end of the '13 season, has options left but was never a candidate to be sent down.
"They're two very good players," Farrell said of Nava and Craig. "They give us a lot of flexibility to rotate guys to various positions, whether that's Daniel in right. In ballparks other than Fenway, Allen certainly has the capability to play right field, as well. They're role players at this point. They're aware of their situations, but it speaks to the overall depth and talent and group of quality players on this club.''
• The Red Sox made additional roster moves Thursday. They reassigned right-handed pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, shortstop Deven Marrero and catcher Matt Spring to minor league camp, and optioned catcher Humberto Quintero and pitcher Dana Eveland to Pawtucket.