2013 Red Sox Preview: Infield

The infield for the Sox is, surprise, in a bit of flux.

Dustin Pedroia is clearly one of the cornerstones of the team, both because he consistently produces, and because he’s a vocal mouthpiece. It works because he plays his balls off and produces, and it works because he runs his mouth like nobody’s business.

None of the other spots in the infield are really stable.

Mike Napoli was supposed to provide some stability at a position where the organization doesn’t have a lot of depth but the hip condition pretty much killed that. The impression I get is that he can go along without symptoms for a long time, but someday his hip is simply going to degrade too much, too quickly, for the Sox to make him a long term commitment. If he’s still the Sox first baseman in 2015, it is likely he is on a third one year contract.

That makes finding depth at the position one of the organizations priorities for 2013. The folks in the minors aren’t terribly exciting. If you look at Baseball Americas top 30, you don’t find a first baseman until you get to #23 Travis Shaw who played a month at AA Portland with results that were uninspiring. If either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts own the position, perhaps Garin Cecchini moves over to first, but he hasn’t played above Hi-A Salem and that’s a long ways away.

Xander Bogaerts is really the one driving the action. If he projects to stick at short for several years–and at this point the consensus seems to be that he does–then he’s going to own that position. That leaves Jose Iglesias without a position, almost entirely. It would be incredibly difficult for someone with Iglesias’ hitting history to develop enough ability in that area to make up for the gulf between him and Bogaerts in terms of total package. I rather suspect that Iglesias would make a phenomenal utility infielder. He clearly has the defensive chops at short, and the transition to second probably wouldn’t be particularly difficult. In addition, he seems to have enough speed and base stealing chops to be used in that role off the bench.

Still, for this year, it will be Will Middlebrooks at third, coming off a 2012 where his slugging surged and he cemented his spot on the big club in the short term, he is also coming off a hand injury. Hand injuries tend to linger so my expectations for him are rather tepid. Still, there are not a lot of immediately available options and he’ll likely be his own best replacement.

At short, Stephen Drew is here on a one year make-good contract, and I don’t think there is a person in baseball who thinks he’s here longer than that. He’s trying to make good from two relatively sub par seasons that his supporters will suggest is due to injury. If they’re right, he’s going to be more than adequate. If they’re wrong, it just hastens the day when we’ll see Iglesias or Bogaerts.

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2013 Red Sox Preview: Outfield

The Red Sox are a team in transition and I don’t think there is any portion of the team that is more emblematic of that fact than the outfield.

The Red Sox have six outfielders on the 40-man roster, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Alex Hassan, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino.

It’s not even hard to imagine a scenario where none of them are on the 40-man this time next year. It’s unlikely, just because it requires both Gomes and Victorino to be traded in the middle of contracts, but they’re the kind of guys who come and go. Hassan and Nava are just guys. They have their strengths and weaknesses but their strengths include the fact that they’re cheap, so you don’t have to worry about getting too much from them. Kalish has one option left, and he’s going to miss much of the season, so he’s going to enter next offseason as a guy with no option, and, seemingly, no ability to stay healthy.

And Ellsbury, of course, is expected to leave as a free agent.

That said, I think the Sox have done a decent job at maximizing their options for the 2013 season.

It starts with Jacoby Ellsbury. Two of his last three seasons have been absolute disasters and in the third, he finished second in the MVP voting. I have no idea what the Sox are going to get from him in 2013. If he’s healthy, he will likely be a player who has a lot of value at the trade deadline. Of course, that also means he’ll have a lot of value on the field at the trade deadline and the team will have to make a decision.

The Sox can make that decision on the merits of the season and whatever trade offers there might be, because Shane Victorino can play center just fine, especially when you consider that if the Sox are playing him there, Ellsbury is playing elsewhere, and the Sox chances of being competitive are significantly lower.

And, the Sox can make the decision on the merits because Jackie Bradley, Jr. looks like he could handle the major leagues now on defense, and isn’t that far away at the plate. Everyone’s expectation is that Ellsbury leaves as a free agent and Bradley takes over in 2014. Again, the presence of Victorino means they wouldn’t have to rush Bradley if he’s not ready at the start of 2014.

I’m convinced that this flexibility was a huge factor in the Sox signing Victorino in the first place.

For now, at least, Shane Victorino is the right fielder and he’ll probably do just fine. The lowest his OPS+ has been in his career is 91 and it looks like a hand injury is the only reason it hasn’t been over 100 for five straight years. He says it isn’t a problem, and if he is correct, I would expect him to be a solid contributor. That said, hand injuries can sometimes linger.

As it stands now, left field will be patrolled by some combination of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava. Neither of them is anything special, but in a straight platoon, they could be very effective, as Nava sported a .797 OPS (OBP heavy) against right handed pitchers in 2012, while Gomes has an .894 OPS and .382 OPB against lefties in his career. For a team that struggled so much to simply get on base last season, a high OBP platoon from left, while not ideal, is a pretty decent plan C.

The bench will presumably include the off side of the platoon plus Ryan Sweeney, who isn’t much offensively, but can play a decent center.

The prospects for the future are intriguing.

It starts, of course, with Jackie Bradley, Jr. about whom, I have yet to see a report that doesn’t leave me drooling to see him in CF as soon as possible. What I read suggests that he is going to be an excellent all around defender with a strong arm and a bat that profiles as a leadoff hitter.

I don’t know what to think about Ryan Kalish. He has talent, but he can’t seem to stay on the field long enough to let it show. He’s going to miss most of 2013 so there is simply no way the Sox can go into 2014 with any expectation that he’ll be more than a part time contributor. Since he’s out of options after 2013, he’ll have to either make the roster or be exposed to other teams. I rather suspect that if he doesn’t make the roster, exposing him to other teams won’t be a worry.

Bryce Brentz is a guy who never seems to rank all that high as a prospect, based on the fact that he has some work to do at the plate, especially in regards to discipline. And yet, no matter where he goes, he seems to perform pretty well. Not excellently, mind you, but pretty well. If he has another .800+ OPS season, this time at AAA, it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t come to camp in 2014 with a decent chance to make the big league team.

In an ideal world, Brentz would make some improvement at the plate, Kalish would finish 2013 strong, Bradley would continue to impress, and the Sox would come into 2014 looking for a way to fit them all onto the roster with Shane Victorino.