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Despite the large amount of success the Red Sox have had in 2011, the team is still dealing with many questions as the second half of the season looms large. From the injured starting rotation to the lack of production from Carl Crawford and the future of closer Jonathan Papelbon, the team has plenty to deal with over the next few months. Yet despite all this, a glaring need for the team appears to be the ability to produce an offensive threat in right field.
Going on five painful seasons, the 2011 season marks the final year of J.D. Drew’s controversial five-year, $70 million contract with Boston. It seems that given his constant injuries and highly critiqued offensive production, the end of the era will cause a collective exhale throughout Red Sox Nation. This year has been particularly lackluster for right fielders in Boston, as Drew has combined with Darnell McDonald and now-Florida Marlin Mike Cameron to bat under .200, which is extremely low especially given Drew only has 11 extra base hits all year. The Red Sox must decide whether or not to make a move to fix this position of weakness.
The trade market could be the place to look with many teams already finding themselves out of position to compete for a playoff run this year. Also the financial problems of both the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers could have them dealing their expensive players off their respective payrolls. Each of those specific teams offer potential stars to displace J.D. Drew, with Carlos Beltran having a bounce back year in New York and Andre Ethier in the middle of another stellar year out west. Beltran is in the final year of his contract and Ethier will be arbitration-eligible, making the teams more inclined to make a deal if re-signing them is not an option.
Ethier’s friendship with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been long viewed as a possible incentive for Ethier to at least look at playing in Boston. On the other hand, the switch-hitting Beltran could be a better fit in the Red Sox lineup than Ethier, who would become the third middle of the order left-handed hitter to go along with Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. Either way, both players are possibilities Theo Epstein should at least consider and explore.
The other option is to look internally at the position instead of wheeling and dealing. Outfielder Josh Reddick has played extremely well this season, batting .379 and doubling his career slugging percentage prior to this season to a whopping .682 in 25 games (before Sunday). Reddick has made up for the lack of Carl Crawford and would be looking for at bats and playing time when Crawford returns from the disabled list. Although he has only started 12 games in his big league career in right field, he could at least be looked at as a short-term part time solution to accommodate the weak position. Another internal source of production in the future can be Ryan Kalish, who is recovering from a torn labrum in his left shoulder and should be able to return for the 2012 season. So while he might not fix the problem now, he is a potentially reliable option next season instead of a high priced free agent.
While the allure of that big name free agent might appeal to Boston sports fans, the price may end up being too high considering the Sox have thrown a lot of money over the last few years at a number of players, so it might be smarter and more realistic for them to look into a player who won’t cost them a big prospect and who can split time in right field with J.D. Drew instead of replacing his bat for the rest of the season. The best option on the market in my opinion is San Diego Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick, a right handed bat who can be a presence in the middle of the order and can fill in at either corner outfield spot. Also the good relationship between Padres general manager Jed Hoyer and the Red Sox could be a great starting point for a deal. I think that if the Red Sox think they need to bolster the position, a player like Ludwick is a smarter low risk option than someone like Carlos Beltran or Andre Ethier, but at the end of the day the team is good enough to compete in October the way the roster is now anyways.