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The Red Sox 2009 Opening Day outfield will be very different than the one that opened 2008. Jacoby Ellsbury will be the lone holdover from the group starting both openers. Last year’s left fielder Manny Ramirez left at mid season amid the contract drama and Brandon Moss started the 2008 opener and was also a part of the Manny deal, which brought Jason Bay to Boston. Coco Crisp also got out of the time share in a deal with Kansas City this offseason.
The loss of Manny Ramirez leaves the Red Sox without an elite middle of the order hitter. David Ortiz can be a bona fide power hitter, but he has been banged up and was really off last season. Bay, Drew, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell all can hit for power and get on base, but none are feared the way Manny was.
Jason Bay proved last season that he can play in the fishbowl that Boston can be, something he was not exposed to in Pittsburgh. Also, taking over for Manny, who had worn out his welcome with most of Red Sox Nation, made him an instant fan favorite and one that the fans want to see succeed, which will help reduce the pressure on him.
In center, Jacoby Ellsbury begins this season as the full-time center fielder. He won the job late in the 2007 season and during that Championship run and opened 2008 as the starting center fielder, however, with Crisp still on the team, the time share seemed inevitable.
Ellsbury should give the Red Sox a spark from the top of the order and the ability to steal or take the extra base. He has a very high stolen base percentage, but does not run a whole lot as the Red Sox do not like to give up outs on the base paths and with the hitting prowess throughout the lineup. For this team, manufacturing runs is not a necessity.
J.D. Drew, when healthy, can carry the team as he did in the first half of the season last year. With Papi injured and Manny off to a slow start, a healthy Drew held the lineup together and kept the Red Sox in it. Unfortunately for Drew, and the Red Sox, his back or some other injury will have him on the disabled list at some point this season.
Fortunately, last season, he missed time when the team was otherwise healthy and out of any major slumps. Hopefully, when he misses games this season, the other guys are clicking and can pick up the slack.
Mark Kotsay came to Boston late last season as a reserve outfielder, first basemen, designated hitter, and pinch hitter. He looked to be the fourth outfielder this season as well, but will likely miss the first month of the season with back surgery. When he comes back, he should be a steady option to spell the regulars as well as a reliable pinch hitter late in games.
Newly acquired Rocco Baldelli is more known for his injury history than on field exploits during his Rays career. A highly touted (local) prospect, he was an All Star and looked to make the Rays early future bright, however, he always seemed to suffer a devastating injury to derail a promising season.
Last season, his career looked in doubt and his life potentially altered after being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder which left him spent after brief workouts. He battled back to the Rays at the end of the 2008 season and signed an incentive-laden deal with the Sox. Perhaps keeping him out of the starting lineup will allow him to play a complete season and be a factor off the bench.
Carter and Van Every each played a few games with the big club last season and may crack the team that leaves Florida, especially given Kotsay’s status.
The core outfield looks solid, both offensively and defensively, with Bay, Ellsbury, and Drew. They probably will not be spectacular, but should be a good unit together. The depth will be a question given that Kotsay is already going to miss some time and Baldelli could go down at any time. That could thrust Carter or Van Every into a bigger role than the team expected.