The Boston Red Sox outfield went through some big changes during the offseason. Both corner spots will be filled by new arrivals. Both Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino have been effective throughout their careers, but there are reasons for concern moving forward. Even with those worries, Jacoby Ellsbury might be the riskiest player in Boston’s outfield. The center fielder was one of the best hitters in baseball in 2011, but will need to prove he’s capable of those numbers again. On top of that, he’s received the dreaded “injury prone” tag. There’s value here, but only if you can get past some red flags.
Jonny Gomes is a fantastic hitter against left-handed pitching, with a career .385 wOBA against southpaws. Against right-handers, he’s far less impressive, with a .318 wOBA over his career. That’s a significant split, given the majority of pitchers in the majors are righties. Gomes should be platooned at this point in his career, which could be an option depending on what lineup the Red Sox want to employ. His ability against lefties makes him an interesting platoon option for fantasy teams provided you have the patience to double-check projected lineups each day. There are better options against right-handers.
Gomes’ limitations means Daniel Nava could see some starts in left field. He’s a much better hitter against righties, but a .343 wOBA without much power or speed won’t do much in fantasy leagues. His career .352 OBP is pretty strong, but it will come with a poor average. He’s not a useful player in mixed leagues, and would only have value in AL-only leagues if it’s clear he’ll play against righties.
Mike Carp produced some solid, yet unspectacular, numbers in 2011. Injuries ruined his production last season, causing Carp to hit .213/.312/.341 in 189 plate appearances. He’ll likely be limited to a backup role in the outfield, though he could see more time at first if Mike Napoli‘s hip acts up. He would struggle to produce enough at either spot to make him useful in most leagues.
Jacoby Ellsbury remains one of the most difficult players to project, based on his wide range of outcomes. None of the systems on the site — Bill James, ZiPS, etc. — see him replicating his 2011 power numbers. If healthy, it would be wise to expect between 12-15 home runs. With that type of power, he’s a solid mid-round outfielder. Ellsbury has struggled with significant injuries in two of the past three seasons, and can’t be relied on to stay healthy for an entire season. Even if you think he’ll perform at 2011 numbers, the uncertainties with his health make him a huge risk. Expect decent production with a lot of steals, and pray he doesn’t get hurt again.
In December, Matt Klaassen wrote an excellent article detailing Shane Victorino’s platoon issues. Basically, he’s so much better against lefties, that things tend to average themselves out over the course of the season. Though, it should be noted, Victorino would be more exposed in late-game situations, when a manager can shut him down with a strong right-handed reliever. At age-32, there’s some worry about age-related decline setting in. He might produce decent numbers, but it’s not going to be a pretty ride this season.
Outfield prospect Jackie Bradley deserves to be mentioned as a player who might contribute this season. Bradley, 23, reached Double-A last season, and has performed well in spring training. Bradley hasn’t hit for a ton of power in his brief career, but he’s shown excellent patience and stole 24 bases last season. He could move quickly if the team has injuries, but he’ll need to perform well early in the season.
The Red Sox offer some decent offensive players with legitimate flaws. Ellsbury has the highest upside of the group, but there’s considerable reason to doubt whether he’s capable of ever becoming an elite hitter again. Gomes and Victorino will have some value, but you’ll have to be careful with how you use them. In all cases, the risks could outweigh the rewards unless these players fall below their average draft positions.