How Boston improves its outfield
The situation looks pretty bad, but there are ways to make it better
In 2012, absolutely nothing went right for an injury-riddled Boston Red Sox team, which lost 93 games and finished in last place in the AL East. In 2013, absolutely everything went right -- rebound seasons, unexpected health -- as they won their third World Series title in a decade. With most of the championship roster returning in 2014 (minus a key contributor or two), plus a full season from top prospect Xander Bogaerts and the exciting potential of a Grady Sizemore comeback, the Red Sox seemed positioned to contend again.
Instead? Through 50 games, the 2014 squad was actually five games behind the pace of the 2012 disaster. Through Thursday, the Red Sox were in fourth place, eight games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Maybe this won't be their year, but there's no indication that the Red Sox are ready to pack it in, as evidenced by last week's move to bring back Stephen Drew. Unlike what's happening in Texas, this isn't an injury-fueled disaster that can't be overcome, and despite how impressive the Jays have been, the AL East looks to be as weak as it has been in years.
If the Red Sox can merely get some of their bats to bounce back to long-established career norms, and possibly figure out what's ailing Clay Buchholz (easier said than done, of course), this is still a talented team that can contend.
Well, except for the outfield, which absolutely cannot go on as it is. Sizemore has been healthy but unproductive; Shane Victorino has missed time with two hamstring injuries in two months; Jackie Bradley Jr. is on his way to showing for the second year in a row that he isn't ready to be in the big leagues. We could merely say the Red Sox outfield has been horrible, but it's probably more educational to show by just how much, using wRC+:
If the Red Sox are to turn their season around, they are going to need to fix that outfield. But what can they do? Fortunately, they have options.
The "Where Does Anyone Go When They Need an Outfielder" option
Need an outfielder? Look to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have so many that they can't even get top prospect Joc Pederson and his .340/.448/.629 line out of Triple-A. Yasiel Puig isn't going anywhere, no one wants a return engagement in Boston for Carl Crawford, and Matt Kemp's injuries and contract probably make him untradeable. That leaves Andre Ethier.
Not that this is a new idea, of course; Ethier's friendship with college teammate Dustin Pedroia and occasionally testy relationship with Dodger management have put him squarely in Red Sox trade rumors for most of the past five years or so. While Ethier has recently taken over center field from Kemp, the presence of Pederson behind him hardly means that he's irreplaceable, though his contract -- $53.5M guaranteed from 2015 to 2017, plus the remainder of this year's $15.5M -- and his absolute inability to hit lefty pitching lower his value considerably.
To read the rest of Mike Petriello's analysis of the Red Sox's outfield, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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Giving James Shields a long-term contract for big money wouldn't be a good idea.