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The Red Sox Outfield

Headed into the season, the Red Sox outfield looked like a strength. Sure, Carl Crawford wasn’t going to be ready at the start of the season, but once he was, him Jacoby Ellsbury, and then a combo of Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney until Ryan Kalish got healthy — that sounded like a nice plan. Then the doctor came and gave the team the bad news. Their outfield had died.

But just because most of the Red Sox outfield has gotten bad news from the doctor doesn’t mean that you should just wash your hands of the unit and move on. After all, the Red Sox still score runs like an elite team, and even a one-category wonder like Sweeney can start to move the needle in runs and RBI thanks to their teammates. Let’s take a look at who’s playing now and where they should be owned.

Marlon Byrd is an old version of Ryan Sweeney. Well, that’s not fair — Byrd did hit 20 homers and steal eight bags in 2009, so he has a little more upside in the other categories — but he’s a guy you mostly want to own for a decent batting average and a little pop. Right now, he’s showing the worst plate discipline of his career, and the worst power. He is 34, but he could still show league-average power with a league-average batting average (plus the Boston Boost to runs and RBI). Hey, he’s starting every day and sees Brian Matusz tonight. Maybe the platoon advantage will get him going. He’s a deep leaguer at best though. Ellsbury is due back in late June, and there is the chance that Sweeney takes centerfield against lefties at the very least.

Sweeney himself is needed in right field for now, and he makes the better batting average pickup… maybe. His BABIP is at .392 though. With regression, it’s just more likely that he’s the .280-.290 hitter going forward, and he just doesn’t have home run power, or stolen base speed. It also looks like he mostly sits against lefties (his .227/.297/.283 line against them is craptacular, even if it comes in fewer than 500 plate appearances). That makes Sweeney a deep leaguer, allbeit one with better present value (and perhaps worse upside) than Byrd. Cody Ross, his ideal-world platoon partner, just broke a bone in his foot and will be out for weeks, leaving 1/4 of the playing time in right field open for business.

The three candidates to play in left field and take up that 1/4 of remaining right field time are Che-Hsuan Lin and Daniel Nava — already with the team — and Scott Podsednik, who will arrive with Kevin Youkilis on Tuesday.

Lin’s minor league line suggests that he has no power, but makes up for it with speed and ability to make contact. Strange that his batting averages have not been better — they ranged from .235 to .275 in his four stops in the high minors — considering he doesn’t strike out a lot and stole some bases along the way. Overall, since he’s likely to put up a bad batting average with okay speed at best, it doesn’t look like he’s a great fantasy option. The 23-year-old might end up being the platoon caddy for Sweeney in the meantime.

Nava’s been in this position before. He burst onto the scene in 2010 before fizzling to a .242/.351/.360 line that showed patience and little else. Since then, he’s spent a full year-plus-a-month in Triple-A and he’s improved his contact rate. If it sticks, he could hit better than .250 and with league-average power — both things Lin cannot boast. He’ll steal a few bags, too, so the switch-hitter is probably going to take most of the playing time in left field.

Scott Podsednik? Total wild card. He didn’t make it to the majors last year, but he has made enough contact over his career and has enough speed to hit .270ish with 30-ish stolen base speed in his sleep. Will the Red Sox be the kind of team that gives a bad defender with little power and below-average patience a full-time corner outfield job? Seems doubtful.

Carl Crawford is doing baseball activities and wants to pick up the pace in his rehab and return before the All-Star break. The talk is that Will Middlebrooks will return to the minors to get time in the outfield, or Adrian Gonzalez will try the outfield. On second thought, there probably isn’t a diamond in the rough among Nava, Lin, and Podsednik.