The outfield situation for the Boston Red Sox has presented an interesting algorithm for manager John Farrell to figure out. With starting right fielder Shane Victorino headed to the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, Farrell has to juggle around possible combinations to utilize the best talents of the five outfielders on the active roster: Jackie Bradley Jr., Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Grady Sizemore. All five outfielders are expected to get substantial playing time during Victorino’s stint on the disabled list. With Nava and Sizemore securing spots in the starting lineup, the other three outfielders need to play well in a platoon setting throughout the first few weeks of the season.
Bradley Jr., the most expendable of the outfielders on the active roster, was supposed to start the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA) before Victorino strained his hamstring in the last Spring Training game. However, despite not getting the playing time the Red Sox feel he needs, Bradley Jr. can serve as a versatile backup in the early going of the season. Bradley Jr. has solid speed and defensive flexibility, which came in handy during Monday’s 2-1 Opening Day loss to the Baltimore Orioles. With his skills, Bradley Jr. could be a vital contributor, but the availability of options makes him the odd man out when Victorino returns.
In addition to Bradley Jr., Carp’s situation with the Red Sox might be eased due to his ability to play first base as well as the outfield. Carp did start in left field on Monday, going 1-for-4 in his first start of 2014. Carp, whose name was tossed around as trade bait during Spring Training, will need to continue demonstrating his defensive flexibility and offensive prowess if he wants to continue playing a crucial role with the Red Sox.
Gomes, the charismatic leader of the outfield corps for the last two seasons, will play in a platoon with Carp until Victorino returns. At that point he will split left field duties with Nava. Gomes, who is expected to start on Wednesday against the Orioles, has been a crucial option off the bench due to his power numbers when facing right-handed pitchers. With 13 home runs in 116 games last season, Gomes can hit for power, which could be useful in pinch-hitting and other situations involving right-handed pitchers. Essentially, Gomes’ roster spot is the most secure of the three reserves, but he will need to continue to put up strong power numbers in order for the platoon’s success.
Although Victorino’s hamstring strain will put some pressure on the Red Sox outfield during the first few weeks of the season, the three reserve outfielders (Bradley Jr., Carp, Gomes) will carry the weight in his absence. If these three outfielders can contribute in big ways, then the Red Sox’ offense can settle back into the offensive groove of 2013, hopefully propelling the team to playoff glory in 2014.