Rightfield is a big question mark for the Boston Red Sox as they try and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The problems date back to last season when it became apparent that the J.D. Drew’s bat finally couldn’t compensate for the frequency with which he got hurt, and the organization lacked the patience to stick with Josh Reddick. The latter was traded to Oakland and now the job is in the hands of Cody Ross.
Ross was once a good young power hitter with the Florida Marlins, hitting 20-plus home runs in 2007-08. He lost that stroke, found it briefly with the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series when he went on a roll that helped the Giants upset the Philadelphia Phillies and netted Ross NLCS MVP honors. Then Ross disappeared again last season.
Now he has a chance in Fenway, but his track record suggests he has to hit home runs—as in at least 20-25 of them—to be an asset. His on-base percentages have never been very good, so his signing is either a departure from the Theo Epstein “Moneyball” philosophy. Or, more likely, it’s a case of Ross just being seen as the best of less-than-ideal options. I have my Ross that can change as a hitter at the age of 31, but if the rest of the offense functions as it should, then the Red Sox only need Ross to provide some occasional pop in bottom third of the order.
Here’s a look at what the rest of the AL East is trotting out in right field…
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista—With 97 home runs over the last two years and a sharply improved batting average—a 40-point gain in 2011 made him a .300 hitter—Bautista had a case as the American League’s best everyday player, at least until Albert Pujols crossed leagues this winter.
New York Yankees: Nick Swisher—He churns out OBPs in the high .300s, hits 20-plus home runs each year and is the kind of flaky character that can be good for a clubhouse, especially one with as much external pressure as the Yankees’.
Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis—In 2007-08 he looked like someone who would be an All-Star rightfielder. Markakis is still a good player, hitting for average, producing good OBP’s and generally being a good influence in a baseball culture in desperate need of change, but the power has fallen off badly the past three seasons.
Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Joyce—In 2010, Joyce played part time and had a .360 OBP and .477 slugging. The Rays upgraded him to full-time in 2011 and the numbers were almost as shiny.
To bring this back to Cody Ross and the Red Sox, it’s disturbing when you consider Ross’ inconsistency and how long it’s been since he’s had a good year. When you look at the AL East and realize that Ross is not only the fifth-best rightfielder in the division, he’s really not even within shouting distance of fourth, and the whole landscape can become positively depressing.