Red Sox Need Outfield Help

The end of the 2011 season does not seem to have ended the Red Sox spell of misfortune as two-thirds of their projected everyday lineup outfield is now out with injury. It was reported earlier this offseason that rightfielder Ryan Kalish would be out until at least June as he recovers from shoulder surgery. This week came that Carl Crawford will likely miss the start of the regular season due to wrist surgery. Crawford is not expected to miss a lot of playing time, but wrist injuries can linger and sap a player’s bat control for an extended period of time. That leaves the Red Sox with exactly 3 outfielders who (a) are on the 40-man roster, (b) have played an inning in MLB, and (c) project to be healthy on opening day.

Jacoby Ellsbury is a coming off a season where he posted a 9.4 WAR and is arguably the best all-around centerfielder in baseball. Newly acquired Ryan Sweeney can play in either outfield corner and Darnell McDonald is an adequate fourth outfielder. You do not need advanced statistics to see that the other outfielder on the 40-man roster — Che-Hsuan Lin — does not appear to be ready after hitting .235/.325/.293 in almost 400 plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket last year. Kevin Youkilis and Mike Aviles have both played in the outfield before, but neither has logged more than 25 career innings in the outfield. Youkilis is coming off an injury filled season and the Red Sox are unlikely to expose him to outfield play. Aviles is playing the outfield in winter ball, but neither right nor left field at Fenway Park is a good place for on-the-job training in outfield play. In addition, both Sweeney and McDonald have significant platoon splits. For his career, Sweeney has a .332 wOBA against righties, but only a .272 wOBA against southpaws. McDonald is almost the mirror image with a career .350 wOBA against lefties combined with a .272 against right handed pitchers. Together they make an acceptable platoon pair, but the thought of starting the season with McDonald and Sweeney manning the outfield corners is enough to keep the Fenway faithful awake at night.

What outside options do the Red Sox have? Unfortunately, at this point in the offseason the free agent market does not have a lot of great options. Incumbent right fielder J.D. Drew is still available and has considerable experience playing right field at Fenway, but there have been no rumblings that Red Sox intend to re-sign him. Cody Ross would be a good fit, but he seems to be holding out for a long term contract, which is not something the Red Sox are apt to do given that they fully anticipate Crawford and Kalish coming back during the 2012 season. A Johnny Damon reunion would be interesting, but given his defensive liabilities it is hard to see him getting much playing time after Crawford returns. As Eno Sarris pointed out earlier, there is a large grab bag of guys available. One or more of these guys would likely prove to be a good option, but predicting which one will not be easy.

The most obvious solution would be a trade for the Cubs’ Marlon Byrd. Byrd can play all three outfield positions, does not have a significant platoon split, and is in the last year of his contract. The Cubs are seemingly in rebuilding mode and may be willing to part with Byrd. In fact, many have speculated that Byrd would be a reasonable solution to the ongoing Theo Epstein compensation dispute between the Red Sox and the Cubs. Whether as part of compensation for Epstein or not, Ben Cherington should be seeking to acquire Byrd ASAP.

Byrd’s wOBA of .315 last year was his worst since 2006 and came on the heels of two consecutive years in .340 range. However, his peripherals in 2011 were not out of line with his established norms. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and BABIP were consistent with the previous two seasons, but he did miss six weeks last season after being hit in the face with a pitch. His month-by-month numbers are consistent with someone who simply wore down over the course of the season, as his wOBA was .291 in April, .401 in May, .379 in July (after the injury), .284 in August, and .238 in September. His power and BABIP also collapsed in the summer months as he slugged .286 in September with a ridiculously low .185 BABIP. It is plausible that the long layoff due to injury undermined his conditioning as Byrd noted being forced to take a three-week break from running after his surgery. Given a full offseason of conditioning his late season struggles should not be a concern moving forward.

Byrd is not an elite player, but he would help the Red Sox survive their early season injury stack, serve as a nice insurance policy if one of the Red Sox outfielders is out longer than expected, or be an excellent fourth outfielder and occasional DH against left-handed starters.




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I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.


41 Responses to “Red Sox Need Outfield Help”

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  1. Ian says:

    That first sentence should probably say “two-thirds of their projected everyday outfield is now out with injury.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      yea, as an avid east cost corridor hater, I was hoping 6 of their starting lineup was hurt. Sad to say it was only 2 outfielders who weren’t really contributers last year.

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  2. Nick says:

    I would like to see the Cubs move both Byrd and Soriano to get Brett Jackson into the lineup, but Byrd is far easier to move. Reports are also out that Byrd has trimmed 40! pounds this offseason by way of a new martial arts workout and drastic diet changes. He might have more suitors if he adds a little speed and can cover more ground in center.


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    • Kinc says:

      Reminds me of all those sluggers who attributed their massive off-season weight losses to incredible new workout regimens. Not that Byrd was using steroids — I don’t mean to imply that — but whenever I hear about offseason weight losses in baseball, I think disingenuous Jason Giambi.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      he’s lost 40 pounds since October…is he sick? losing 40 pounds in 3 months can’t possibly be good for an athlete. That’s about 3 pounds per week. 2 pounds is considered the maximum that’s healthy. I hope the Cubs trade old declining and apparently sickly Byrd and Soriano (decent DH maybe?) to the BoSox.

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  3. LuckyStrikes says:

    It is stupid to even ask if Lavarnway is athletic enough to play RF in Fenway? Looks like the bat will certainly play but he’s blocked for the time being…

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    • KyleL says:

      It’s not stupid to ask, but the answer is no.

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      • PaddyG says:

        I like that the Fangraphs has a polite community, rather than sinking to the d-bag status enjoyed by most forums.

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    • PaddyG says:

      I would think once Lavarnway shows he has the defensive chops, there’s little reason to allow Saltalamacchia or Shoppach block him. Thus, it’s a greater priority to make sure he gets his catching innings in at Pawtucket rather than get two weeks of offense for Boston.

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      • rbt says:

        I don’t think it’s a matter of “once he shows he has the defensive chops,” it’s more “if he ever shows he has defensive chops at all.”

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      As an avid Sox prospect follower, I can tell you that anyone who’s ever suggested that has gotten laughed at.

      But what’s interesting about exploring what other positions he could handle is that the Sox have been so insistent that he can stick at catcher that they’ve never tried him anywhere else, not even 1B.

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  4. Welp, if there’s a deal to be had, surely two parties as familiar with one another as Theo & Jed and Ben Cherington can strike it. I agree that Byrd to Boston makes a lot of sense for both teams. I’d be curious as to what a reasonable return for Marlon might be, however.

    And, regarding compensation, I believe it’s been established that the player going to the Red Sox for Theo won’t be a major league one. Of course, now that Bud Selig is officially involved, anything is possible.

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  5. tdotsports says:

    Couldn’t this be written for a good majority of teams?

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  6. Kevin says:

    what about alfonso soriano instead of marlon byrd, and have them eat some money? that would be interesting, i think.

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    • I can say with some confidence that most of my fellow Cubs fans would love to send Soriano to Boston. But, presumably, the Red Sox don’t plan on having these outfield woes for the next THREE seasons — the amount of time remaining on Soriano’s deal. Byrd is under contract for only one more season and, as the article points out, offers much more positional flexibility. He’s younger, too.

      All that said, I see that Carl Crawford has pretty severe career splits against LHPs. Meanwhile, one of Soriano’s few remaining marketable skills is hitting LHPs. What say you, Boston Red Sox? Want to set up the most expensive left field platoon in big league history?

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  7. KyleL says:

    I’m still not ruling out Lin. His BABIP in AAA was lower than his norm, and if it had been where it usually is he would have had a .350ish OBP, which would be plenty good enough to fill in in RF considering his outstanding defense.

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    • BigNachos says:

      He wouldn’t maintain that walk rate in the majors with a sub-.300 slugging percentage.

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      • KyleL says:

        If pitchers were currently pitching him carefully I could see that being a significant factor, but in AAA they are going to challenge a guy with a lack of power just like they are in the majors. He gets his walks by being extremely selective and by being very good at fouling off pitch after pitch until he gets a good pitch, or ball four. Even if they were to challenge him more in the majors because of his lack of power that would just mean he gets more pitches to hit and would likely cause his average to rise.

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  8. wily mo says:

    “neither right nor left field at Fenway Park is a good place for on-the-job training in outfield play” seems like a weak reason to rule out aviles as an option here. fenway is the park they have. they’ve got aviles playing OF in winter ball for a reason, and he was doing that even before the crawford news came down. they traded for him and the front office is on record as liking his bat and wanting to get him in the lineup. he probably won’t be full-time out there by any stretch but he’s going to be in the mix.

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  9. Mario Mendoza of posters says:

    Why? They only need 3 OF in half their games. In their home games they can put Crawford in RF and leave LF unmanned.

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    • Yeah, really…just have the shortstop play extra deep.

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    • Obviously a Baseball Genius says:

      Y not just have a bullpen guy play outfield, then u have guy warm for coming in gmae.

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    • pft says:

      Crawfords noodle arm in RF would go over great. Only 1 assist in LF all last year despite Fenway being an assist haven for LF’ers, and that 1 assist was on a cut-off. Manny played a better LF than Crawford (who is afraid of walls and never dives, only slides), but CC is no RF’er.

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  10. Mario Mendoza of posters says:

    Sign Vlad to play LF.

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  11. JD says:

    I wonder if there’s something they could trade for Kyle Blanks — *if* he comes around, he’d make a passable fill-in in a corner this year and an Ortiz replacement for 2013…

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  12. pft says:

    Kalish was not projected to start in the OF come opening day, Plan was to give him some time in Triple A after last years lost season.

    Also, 2/3 of the starting OF, not lineup. Geesh, looks like he is trying to play the pity card for the Red Sox.

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  13. pft says:

    Red Sox can not afford Oswalt for 8 million, why would they pay Byrd 6.5 million, especially as Crawford is not expected to miss much time. Unless they get Byrd as part of Theos compensation with Cubs paying most of the salary I do not see it happening unless the Red Sox have more money to spend than they are saying.

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  14. bill says:

    This Clarington guy has messed up terribly or the top management….The moves thus far have been NOT GOOD,,,,Starting pitching is still nothing done but patchwork…Now lost the Right fielder for a 1 inning pitcher out of 3 days…probably will sign a aging DH to 14 Mil a year knowing that is all he can do is dh….And when they released Theo from his contract before they had the compensation does not use good business sense….So therefore go Sox …4th place is waiting

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    • CK says:

      Ummm…..

      First, it’s Ben Cherington. If you’re going to rip the guy, at least get his name right. Doesn’t lend much credibility to your argument if you don’t know the guy’s name.

      Second, the RF you refer to – Josh Reddick – that was a stellar deal to Oakland. He’s no more than a platoon OF, and getting an All-Star caliber closer in return is a pretty good haul. Of course, there’s injury risk with Bailey, but the upside is certainly there.

      Third, the DH – I know a lot of teams use the DH spot for flexibility, but if you’ve got a guy like Ortiz that puts some pop in your lineup, why not re-sign him? I think this will be his last contract in Boston anyway. Lavarnway will step in admirably at DH and catch a few games in the upcoming years.

      I do though agree on the compensation piece. Bad move allowing Theo to go without getting that settled from the start.

      Finally, 4th place? Get real.

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      • Dick Almighty says:

        Weak. Who cares about his name; address substance. Reddick deal was at best an even swap (not “stellar”) given risk, salaries, and team needs. “Get real?” Seriously? That’s not a point.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        “all star caliber closer”? Based on….saves? Closers, for the most part, are mediocre starting pitchers who are given 1 inning to throw max effort and keep the league. Derek Lowe would be a great closer, would you still consider that a “great trade”?

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  15. everdiso says:

    is this the first article in a series on what every team is missing going into the season?

    or is there something notable about the red sox that makes their holes worth writing an entire article based on speculation on how to address them?

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  16. Mr Punch says:

    I don’t think Cherington is the problem – I think he took over an almost impossible situation. Unless the ownership is willing in effect to write off $200 million for Crawford’s contract and the luxury tax impact, the Sox have very limited flexibility now and perhaps for the next six years. The good players they do have are in their prime years, but the upper minors have been stripped by trades and health issues, and the Lackey and Crawford contracts are millstones. They might be good enough to win the NL Central or West, easily; in the AL East, and with the wild card play-in in the offing, remaining competitive will be a challenge.

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    • Matt says:

      Actually the Red Sox have a 3B (Will MIddlebrooks), SS (Jose Iglesias), C/DH (Ryan Lavarnway) and RF (Ryan Kalish), who all project as future majot league starters, in AAA. For a team with their resources in acquiring major league talent, that isn’t that bad.

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      • bpdelia says:

        Ill bite. I think the sod are right there like always but that Aaa list is uninspiring. Iglesias is looking less and less like a ml starter by the day. Maybe on an awful team but as of now hes looking rey ordonez cloneish. Middlebrooks is no sure thing. Scouts remain highly mixed and his bb rate is extremely disturbing. Lavarnway is almost certainly not a c. And kalish looks like a safe bet to be a good platoon outfielder of or possible second division starter. The sod are good but the system is extremely weak on upper level impact players

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      • Tom says:

        Agree with bpdelia… I think Kalish might be OK but Iglesias/Middlebrooks/Lavarnway are marginal for a contender and seem to be talked up a lot (Lars Anderson?).

        If Lavarnway can stick at catcher that would change the situation but like Montero last year, if he could wouldn’t he be in the majors by now? He’s entering his age 25 season.

        Middlebrooks strikes out in the high 20′s, and walks in the 5-7% range save for one season of middle A ball. He has 1 season over high A ball and I wonder if a bat with that sort of K rate and walk rate would be exposed in the big leagues.

        Iglesias? He needs to get his OPS over .600 in AAA first (which means a 40-50point improvement over last year!). He doesn’t need to hit well to be viable, but he needs to hit a little to be a starter

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        So funny when Red Sox and Yankees fans start talking prospects. If you have 4 “guys projected as Major league starters”, like 50% of them are going to pan out. Maybe 1 plays well his first year.

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  17. hadman says:

    It’s hard to blame Cherington, as he has been put in an extremly difficult position by Luchino and the rest of the Sox brass. I won’t argue that the Theo compensation package was terribly botched. But now Cherington is being forced to work within the constraints of the luxury tax. I had no problem w/ the Crawford/Lackey signings @ the time; I felt they were overpaying, but they were the best available FAs @ their respective positions, and that’s how it goes. Had I known, however, that resetting the tax rate for ’13 would be such an urgent priority, I’d have viewed those signings in a different light. He has inherited a huge mess and almost zero flexability.

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