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There’s certainly never too much of a good thing, but the Boston Red Sox seem to face a dilemma in the coming weeks as they sort through an incredible amount of outfielders. Each has both positive and negative aspects of being a part of the 25-man roster, making it difficult for manager Bobby Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington to choose which outfielders belong on the roster as star players like Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return from injury.
On the active Red Sox roster, there are 12 pitchers and 13 position players, including four outfielders. It can be assumed that even with the return of Crawford and Ellsbury around the All-Star Break, the team will hold at most five outfielders. So who amongst the current rotation of six will stick around? Here’s a look at all eight individual outfielders and who belongs on the roster:
Status: 60-day DL
(age 30, signed to 7-year, $142 million contract through 2017)
Crawford was a large disappointment in his first year with the Red Sox in 2011, batting .255 and playing in just 130 games. He was largely scrutinized for his inability to perform offensively, highlighted by both the low batting average and only 18 stolen bases for the speedster. Despite the desire of fans to trade the outfielder, his large contract makes it close to impossible to move him to another team. If he’s healthy, Crawford is absolutely the everyday starting left fielder for Boston.
Status: 60-day DL (age 28, arbitration eligible)
Ellsbury finished second in the American League MVP race last season due to his dynamic offensive explosion atop the Boston batting order. He not only batted .321 with 39 stolen bases, but he stayed healthy all year and went deep 32 times, driving in over 100 runs. He played in just seven games this season before suffering a subluxation of his right shoulder. Like Crawford, when he returns to the team, Ellsbury will be relied on as the everyday center fielder as the roster takes shape.
Status: Active Roster (age 24, pre-arbitration eligible)
Kalish is seen by many as a potential starting outfielder of the future and may have the tools to succeed at the major league level today. His recklessness on the field led to a couple of surgeries that cost him the 2011 season after playing pretty well in 53 games the year before. With the Sox in just a few recent games this season, he’s been solid at the plate, but hot and cold patrolling the outfield. He has the ability to play primarily center and right.
Status: Active Roster (age 33, pre-arbitration eligible)
McDonald showed up out of nowhere in 2010 for the Red Sox and ended up making a big impact by playing over 100 games. After batting .270 that year, his numbers have fallen off progressively in nearly every offensive category. He’s a solid outfielder defensively and has played all three positions in his career with the Red Sox.
Status: Active Roster (age 29, pre-arbitration eligible)
Nava also seemed to appear out of thin air in 2010 for Boston, delivering a classic first-pitch grand slam in his first major league at bat. The outfielder has been a great contributor and spark plug at the top of the batting order at times this season, hitting over .300 in limited playing time. He has been limited to playing left field in his big league career with the Red Sox. He would normally be an easy option to send to the minor leagues with a large outfield, but he has essentially been playing too well lately for a demotion.
Status: 15-day DL (age 36, free agent in 2013)
A great story for the Sox this season, the journeyman outfielder made his way into the Sox minor league system, and with the array of injuries to the outfield was called up, becoming a major league player again for the first time since 2010. Podsednik looked like the player he was in his prime with the White Sox in the mid-2000s, hitting .387 in 19 games with the Red Sox until landing on the disabled list himself. In limited time, he played both left and center field for Boston.
Status: Active Roster (age 31, free agent in 2013)
Ross was signed on to at least be the fourth outfielder on the Sox this season, if not the everyday right fielder and he’s delivered offensively despite some time on the disabled list. Signed to a one-year deal with Boston for $3 million, he has been a power threat with nine home runs this season in 40 games. He has playoff experience, leading the San Francisco Giants to their 2010 championship with five postseason home runs and a .350 average in the NLCS.
Status: 15-day DL (age 27, arbitration eligible)
Sweeney is a big right fielder who looks like a dangerous power hitter but instead has shown off a .292 average this year with zero home runs. Coming from the Oakland Athletics as the second player in the trade that brought closer Andrew Bailey to town, Sweeney has impressed by earning the everyday right field spot while he’s been healthy this season. He has also played some center field this season, but has slowed down lately at the plate and has been battling injuries.
If five of these players make the cut on the 25-man roster when all are healthy, Crawford, Ellsbury, and Ross are the guaranteed locks for the team. Ross is a strong backup option for Crawford, and Sweeney can be added to the mix as a platoon right fielder and potential backup center field option. From there I believe the final spot belongs to either Kalish or Nava, and right now Nava is more deserving of the title.
I don’t think we’ve seen enough quite yet from either Podsednik or Kalish, but I do foresee Kalish as the everyday right fielder for the Sox in 2013 and beyond so he certainly should get at bats at the major league level at some point in this season if an outfielder goes down again. McDonald and Podsednik might be better suited on a different team if the Sox are making moves around the deadline.
Mind you that this is assuming that all eight outfielders are actually capable of playing at the same time. Given the seemingly endless array of injuries the outfield has dealt with this season, it’s likely that when Ellsbury and Crawford are ready to return the decision for the team will be easier because of another injury. In addition, the performances of both Nava and Podsednik can be expected to fall sooner than later. The Red Sox have a lot of outfield depth, and right now that is far from a problem.