Friday, November 4, 2011

Hello New Friend: Right Field

NOTE: The views expressed in this post are almost entirely my own opinion and are not based on any rumors or reports of the team's actual intent. Enjoy.

2012 marks the sad likely departure of fan favorite J.D. Drew. After 5 magical seasons, the Drewster is probably headed toward the happy hunting grounds (literally). From day one, J Dizzle endeared himself to Red Sox nation with his steely demeanor, keen batting eye, self preservation, and effortless grace in the outfield. Best of all, J to the motha fuckin D put to rest the horrible memory of his predecessor Trot "I am a crook" Nixon. The next player to man Pesky's Pole will have some massive shoes to fill on the field and in the hearts' of Red Sox nation.

Soooo, about the only thing true in that opener is that J.D. is on the way out. I know he was never a fan favorite, but I have shown before that he was actually pretty valuable to this team until 2011 both on offense and defense. His personality may never have been a fit for this town, but the J.D. Drew of 2007-10 will be hard to replace. Today, I'll look at these potential replacements compared to Right Fielders of Red Sox past. This is actually a fairly strong field of players in this year's weak market.

The Dewey Evans Group (Superstars)

Carlos Beltran, Free Agent; Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Beltran is not a "superstar" any more, but he is far and away the best free agent outfielder this year. He had a resurgence this year after an injury ravaged 2010. He's no longer the Gold Glove center fielder or all-time great base runner he used to be due to his injured knees. But he is a switch hitter with some decent power and a good eye and I have to think he can handle playing right field, if not for a full season, then for 130 games or so. If he would accept a 2 year deal with a third year option this could be a good fit. My guess is he wouldn't, though.

Kemp may win the MVP in the NL this year. If you believe in Wins Above Replacement, he was the best in baseball this year by 1.5 wins according to Baseball-Reference. He played center for the Dodgers this year, but his defense there isn't great (despite his Gold Glove win) and would be better suited for a corner. Unfortunately, to get him to the Sox would take a lot of traded talent and the line would form behind Jacoby Ellsbury or Clay Buchholz, or both. If the team gives up Ellsbury for Kemp, Kemp slides in at center. If the team gives up Buchholz for Kemp, it won't really matter who plays right field because 3 of the 5 starting pitchers will be putting balls into places where no fielder could get to them. I only include Kemp here because I've heard him suggested as an option, but I want to assure you that it is more likely that I spontaneously grow a third nipple than Matt Kemp coming to Boston in a trade.

The Tom Brunansky Group (All Star level players acquired around their prime)

Corey Hart, Brewers; Carlos Quentin, White Sox; Andre Ethier, Dodgers

Each player has made 2 All Star teams (Bruno made 1) and each player is pushing 30 (like Bruno). Each also has flaws, but that could make each available. Hart is the best fielder of the group, and really the only one who should play right (again, Ethier won a Gold Glove this year, but it was very much undeserved). Quentin has the best power stroke, though Etheir and Hart have both hit 30+ homers within the last 3 seasons. Ethier has the best batting eye and is friends with Dustin Pedroia, so, uh, good chemistry?

Personally, I would choose Hart from this group (solid defense, right handed bat, improving batting eye, good pop, uncanny resemblance to one of my favorite wrestlers Edge, and think of the jokes the first time he loses a ball in the right field sun). My guess is if the Sox get any of these guys, which they might, it would be Ethier because of his batting eye and because it seems like he wants to be here, which would be a change from some recent acquisitions (Crawford), although they may be reluctant to acquire another left handed bat.

The Trot Nixon Group (the fan favorites)

Coco Crisp, Free Agent; Michael Cuddyer, Free Agent; Grady Sizemore, Free Agent; Jeff Francouer, Royals (Mutual Option)

All of these players make the fans swoon (I am a former Grady's Lady myself). Coco and his afro. Cuddyer and his versatility. Grady and his unabashed sex appeal. Francouer and his rocket arm and affability.

Besides their marketability, they do have some playing ability as well. Crisp is still a very good defender and would give the Red Sox a shut down outfield (though his weak arm would definitely not work in right field). Unfortunately, Crisp can't really hit anymore and I don't think he'd want to come back to the place he was cast out of a number of years ago.

Cuddyer is a solid hitter and does have the aforementioned versatility and his right handed bat would be a good fit. However, even though he is a "solid" hitter, I don't think he quite hits enough to man a corner position for the Red Sox and even though he is "versatile," that means he can handle a few positions, but not necessarily play them well.

Sizemore was one of the best young players in baseball for a handful of years until the injuries started piling up in 2009. The last two years, his on base percentage has topped out at .285 (really bad) and he is losing his speed and range. Still, this is the type of lottery ticket player that can put a team over the top on an incentive-heavy contract.

Francouer is one of the stat community's favorite whipping boys. He would rather take an enema filled with moonshine than take a walk. He always talks about changing his approach but never does. He is a favorite of old scout types. I would never want this guy to face a right handed, but he does hit lefties really well and he does have that cannon for an arm.

I wouldn't want any of these guys as the full time right fielder, but I could see some of them working out in a platoon situation. Unfortunately, I don't know if the Sox will go after any of them. Crisp probably does not want to come back. Cuddyer will probably be overvalued and too expensive and not looking for a time share. Francouer seems to want to stay in Kansas City, probably because he knows there is playing time available. And I have no idea what Sizemore will choose to do, but my guess is the Sox probably want to avoid injury plagued players for at least a year.

The J.D. Drew Group (The platoon options)

Andruw Jones, Free Agent; Matt Murton, Free Agent; Cody Ross, Free Agent; Ryan Doumit, Free Agent; Chris Heisey, Reds; and yes, J.D. Drew, Free Agent

This is a group that would warm the cockles of Earl Weaver's heart. Weaver frequently employed platoons back in the 70s with the Orioles when teams still had 10 man pitching staffs and could afford some extra bench players. They weren't just right/left either as he would have offense/defense platoons as well. Even with a likely 12 man pitching staff, I think the versatility of the likely Red Sox infield could allow the team to carry 5 outfielders.

Jones, Murton, Ross and Heisey could all be the right handed bats in a platoon we will get to later. Jones would be my choice out of this group because he posted a .923 OPS against lefties last year, could handle the position defensively, the Sox would be stealing him from the Yankees, and it's fun to watch fatter versions of your once favorite players. It would be cool to see Chris Heisey too because **NAME DROP ALERT** I know him (although since probably none of you have ever heard of him, I don't know how good a name drop that was).

Ryan Doumit is a switch hitter who can handle lefties and righties fairly equally. He plays catcher mostly, but has played outfield and first base as well. He has injury issues and isn't especially great defensively, but I envision him as part of an offense/defense platoon. He could start on days when the Red Sox have ground ball or strike out pitchers on the mound, and sit for the fly ball pitchers. On the days he starts, he could be removed in the late innings for defense and on the days he sits he could be used as a pinch hitter. Plus, in the event they let Varitek leave, he could always switch to back up catcher if Ryan Lavarnway doesn't work out.

Finally, we get to Mr. Wonderful (Drew). I think there is about 0.1 % chance he comes back to Boston, but as the left handed half of a strict platoon it would be a smart move. This would keep him healthier, keep him more effective, and keep around a player who does actually have useful skills.

The Phil Plantier Group (Homegrown youngsters)

Josh Reddick, Red Sox; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox

Finally, the in house options. Reddick is older by a year and has about 300 more plate appearances in the Majors than Kalish. Reddick is the bigger power threat of the two and has the strong arm typical of right fielders. He was pretty solid in a half season with Boston (buoyed by a bananas first 2 months) so I would guess he has the jump on Kalish. He does have some serious flaws that will probably always hold him back from being a full time major league outfielder. He has a terrible batting eye and strikes out too much so he isn't the typical Boston player. He also seems to not have the best baseball sense, reflected in his poor base stealing and occasional misadventures in the field. But he is super talented so he deserves another look.

Kalish is younger and has a better pedigree than Reddick. He was drafted higher (9th round vs 17th round) and was always more highly regarded on prospect lists. He played in 53 games in 2010 in Boston and was a bit of a mixed bag. His success at the plate was below average, but he showed strong defense at every outfield position and good base running (10 for 11 in steals). He is a far more disciplined hitter than Reddick, but his power is probably similar to Ellsbury's pre-2011. Unfortunately, he was injured for most of last season so he didn't get a chance to improve upon his 2010. My guess is he starts the year at Pawtuckett to get some more seasoning and prove he can bounce back from his injury. He is also a potential replacement for Ellsbury if he is traded or leaves as a free agent in a couple years. He can handle center much better than Reddick from what I have heard.

What to do, what to do?

If I were running this team, I would go Tom Beringer on this position (Platoon). I would give Reddick the first crack at the left handed piece of the puzzle with Kalish at the ready. If Reddick establishes himself (or Kalish tears it up in AAA and vaults past Reddick), I would trade Kalish at the deadline if possible. For the right handed piece, I would try to bring in Andruw Jones on a one year deal for about $4 or $5 million, maybe with a team option. I think his right handed power would be great for the monster and despite his heft, I think he can still handle right, especially with speedsters in center and left. Reddick posted a .787 OPS against righties last year and Jones a .923 OPS against lefties. I expect Reddick's to go up some and Jones's to go down some, but that gives you a right fielder with an OPS in the low .800s. That's a top 10 right fielder last year, right about the level of performance of Hart, Quentin and Ethier. A little creativity at this position will save the team from trading more top prospects for a position that is not a top need.

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