Boston Red Sox Starting Right Fielder for 2012: Who Is in the Running?

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIDecember 29, 2011

Boston Red Sox Starting Right Fielder for 2012: Who Is in the Running?

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    Well the whole, " what are the Sox going to do about their bullpen??" mess has been rectified. 

    Red Sox fans were beginning to panic, after all there were less than two months until spring training and just over three months until opening day and the Red Sox had Mark Melancon as their potential closer??

    New general manager Ben Cherington corrected that problem ( if it was in fact a problem) yesterday by acquiring Oakland A's closer Andrew Bailey in exchange for two low level minor league prospects and potential starting outfielder Josh Reddick.

    The departure of Josh Reddick throws the already open-to-debate starting right field position into an even more nebulous place. To be clear the Red Sox now have several possible right fielders on their roster. None of them are slam dunks to be solid everyday players though. 

    In addition there are still some possible free agents on the market who could enter the mix. Let's take a look at the options for Boston moving forward:

Ryan Kalish

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    If you asked 100 Red Sox fans who they'd most like to see manning right field on opening day there would be a good percentage who would utter the name " Ryan Kalish". 

    Kalish who will be 24 on March 28th is an intriguing player for both the fans as well as the Red Sox management. He may in fact be the starting right fielder in Boston. It seems unlikely that he'll have that role locked down by Opening Day 2012 though.

    Coming off an injury plagued 2011 season Kalish recently underwent an additional surgical procedure. The procedure was to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, his throwing shoulder. The rehabilitation is expected to extend into the 2012 regular season. It's an additional setback for a player who's athletic ability has peaked Sox fans' interest since his 2010 stint in the majors.  

    Kalish's athleticism is not up for debate. At 6'0 and 215 pounds he possesses speed as well as some power. He displayed both of those traits at various times during the 53 games he spent with the Red Sox in the summer of 2010. He wasn't really supposed to be in Boston but due to what seemed like a never ending string of injuries that season his services became needed and he responded quite well. 

    He only hit .252 but he clubbed four home runs and swiped 10 bases. He also played very respectable center field. Kalish also spent some time in left and even played two games in right field as well. He looked comfortable in all three spots.

    The problem for Kalish is experience. Entering this coming season Kalish has only played in 59 games at triple A. 

    That means between the majors and the highest level of the minors Kalish has amassed about two thirds of a full season. His career minor league numbers seem to suggest that his ability to consistently hit could be a problem and as of now his body of work at the highest levels of professional baseball likely aren't large enough to compel the Red Sox to hand him a starting position.

    Ryan Kalish might be the right fielder of the future but that future seems unlikely to be in 2012. 

Ryan Sweeney

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    Andrew Bailey was unquestionably the centerpiece of yesterday's trade with the Oakland A's. 

    Ryan Sweeney wasn't an afterthought though. 

    Ben Cherington isn't just trying to improve the Red Sox, he's trying to do it without exposing his team to too much risk. 

    When he dealt utility infielder Jed Lowrie to Houston earlier in the month to acquire pitcher Mark Melancon to strengthen the bullpen it took less than 24 hours for the Red Sox to sign utility man Nick Punto to fill the whole vacated by Lowrie. 

    So when the Red Sox jettisoned Reddick to Oakland to get Bailey they got back an outfielder in the deal as well.

    Sweeney who was originally a second round draft pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 2003 Amateur draft was dealt to Oakland in 2006 along with two other prospects (Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos) for Nick Swisher.

    He's a physically imposing left handed hitter at 6'4 225 pounds but that size has never translated into power production. Sweeney has been given some chances in Oakland but he was never able to take advantage of them. He's also been slowed by injuries over the years as well.

    He'll be 27 years old on opening day 2012 and seems like he's better suited for a back-up role than a starting one. Then again playing in Oakland isn't a great place to unlock one's power production. Sweeney's strong points are a fairly high batting average and a decent on-base percentage. Those stats play well in Boston and could turn Sweeney into a better all around hitter.  

Mike Aviles

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    Traditionally Mike Aviles has spent most of his time patrolling various infield positions. Second base, shortstop, and third base are all positions he's spent considerable time at. 

    Aviles hasn't played much outfield and the odds of him being a starting right fielder are very slim. The odds of him seeing some time out there are not. 

    Aviles did play five games in the outfield for Boston in 2011 and four of them were in right. 

    At 31 years old, Aviles isn't going to be all that much more than a versatile utility man for Boston next season but most good teams tend to have guys like that on their roster; they don't usually start though. 

Darnell McDonald

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    At 33 years old, the odds of Darnell McDonald assuming the starting right field position for the 2012 Boston Red Sox are fairly slim. 

    In 2010 the Red Sox and their fans got a glimpse of McDonald and for the most part they liked what they saw. He hit .270 with nine home runs and nine stolen bases and displayed a good glove after he was pressed into service due to extensive injuries on the Red Sox. 

    In 2011 Red Sox fans got another glimpse at McDonald and the results weren't as encouraging. His batting average dropped to .236 and his on base percentage dropped from .336 to .303. 

    McDonald's odds of starting in 2012 are pretty low barring injury to whoever is eventually anointed the starter. 

The Free Agent Field

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    There are really two guys on the market who would fit into the Red Sox right field picture. Neither would be too pricey, both come with some flaws in their games and both are past their primes. 

    Ryan Ludwick and Andruw Jones are both out there and could start for the Red Sox for a year or two until either Kalish is ready to move into the role or the Red Sox acquire via free agency or trade a better long term solution for the position. 

    Jones has a better history having been at one time one of baseball's best outfielders. Those days are in the past but he did hit 13 home runs in only 222 at bats last season for the Yankees. That means he's already familiar with the American League East. 

    Ludwick by contrast is coming off one of his worst seasons but he's hit for a higher average than Jones has over the last few seasons. In addition while both men are right handed Jones has been used almost exclusively against left handed pitchers the last few seasons. Last year Jones batted a meager .172 in his few match-ups against right handed pitchers. 

    Ludwick has slightly better splits which suggest he'd be a more versatile player to add to the roster. He hasn't played in the American League since 2005 in Cleveland but he may find playing in Fenway surrounded by solid hitters a nice switch from playing in the offensively challenged lineups of San Diego and Pittsburgh as he did last season. 

Some Conclusions

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    It's unlikely the man who will spend most of his time playing right field for the Red Sox is on the current roster. 

    Kalish will probably start the season in triple A. If he were to tear it up there then he could emerge at some point during the 2012 season. 

    The other three guys, McDonald, Sweeney, and Aviles won't start. Aviles will in all likelihood make the team but not to play the outfield. Instead he'll be used more in the infield. 

    McDonald and Sweeney could be competing for a roster spot but Sweeney could also still hold some trade value and if the Red Sox were to make another trade before the season starts Sweeney could be a chip used in that deal. 

    The Red Sox will probably dip into the lower end of the free agent market and sign either Jones or Ludwick. Ludwick seems more like the kind of guy the Red Sox would take a chance on. He's not as restricted by his right handed bat and he's a little younger and less injury prone than Jones. Jones may also be pursued by the Yankees who have expressed interest in bringing him back and that could drive his price up a bit as well. 

    Clearly the Red Sox offseason is far from over. The transactions that are yet to be completed won't be of the headline grabbing sort that the conclusion of the Prince Fielder free agent derby will be but they'll still play big roles on the outcome of the 2012 Red Sox season.