The Boston Red Sox will soon face some tough roster decisions. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury currently on rehab assignments, things are about to get crowded in Boston’s outfield. Considering the team’s terrible luck with injuries, it’s crazy to think that one of the Red Sox’s weakest spots has now become a strength. And though Daniel Nava is playing out of his mind and Cody Ross is exceeding expectations, the outfield alignment could change dramatically in the next couple of weeks.
The Red Sox have dealt with a number of injuries in the outfield this year. Because of that, the team has been relying on Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Cody Ross as everyday starters. But things are going to change very soon. Scott Podsednik has already made a couple of rehab starts, and Ryan Sweeney looked great while taking batting practice a few days ago. Both players are expected to return in early July. At the same time, Ellsbury and Crawford are on rehab assignments and are expected back some time after the all-star break.
Provided they are healthy, both Ellsbury and Crawford should immediately reclaim their starting roles. Ellsbury is coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he hit .321/.376/.552 and played great defense in center field. While Crawford’s performance was unimpressive last season, he’ll get a to show the Boston fans that he was worth his seven-year, $142 million deal.
So that leaves one starting spot for five players.
Kalish is an easy bet to be sent down. He’s young — and he’s part of the team’s future — but his performance doesn’t justify keeping him on the roster this season. Podsednik is probably the next player to eliminate. He’s been great in 70 plate appearances, but he’s playing way over his head. He was acquired to be a stopgap while Crawford and Ellsbury recovered. Now that they are almost ready, Podsednik is expendable.
Sweeney’s performance has been admirable this season, but he hasn’t produced at the same level as Ross or Nava. Sweeney could stick around as the team’s fifth outfielder, but that depends on how the team plans to use Brent Lillibridge. Lillibridge can play multiple positions, and his versatility could make him a more useful option than Sweeney. At the same time, Lillibridge has hit just .157/.211/.171 this season.
That leaves Nava and Ross for the final startingspot. Both players have performed well this season, and neither deserves to be benched. The Red Sox do have an option, though. Nava has shown a rather large platoon split this season. He mashes righties to the tune of .340/.455/.530, but has been awful against lefties, hitting just .186/.308/.302. Ross, on the other hand, has been great against lefties this season and has hit .316/.403/.737. That could make for a pretty decent platoon.
In this scenario, though, Ross would get slightly penalized. While he’s been great against lefties, he’s also hit righties at a .274/.336/.500 clip. That’s good enough for a 121 wRC+. It also should be noted that Crawford isn’t a great hitter against lefties. Over his career, Crawford’s wRC+ is just 82 against left-handed pitchers.
There’s no reason easy solution here. Nava and Ross would make for an effective platoon, but at the expense of much less playing time for Ross. While that’s not entirely fair for Ross — who doesn’t have an extreme platoon split — that would be an easy way to maximize value at the position. If Crawford struggles in his return, or Nava begins to regress, the team can turn to Ross more often against right-handers. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s an enviable one. For the first time this season, the Red Sox outfield is in good shape.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.