Boston Red Sox: 5 Players with Something Important to Play for Down the Stretch

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIISeptember 19, 2012

Boston Red Sox: 5 Players with Something Important to Play for Down the Stretch

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    The Boston Red Sox as a team might not be playing for much as the regular season dwindles down, but there are some players on the roster who should keep their feet on the gas pedal.

    Boston is about as far out of the playoff race as any team in baseball this season for a variety of reasons. The team has not gelled by any means, and they’ve struggled to win games.

    As individuals, some players have stood out more than others, and those who have played well deserve all the credit in the world. It can’t be easy playing for one of the worst teams in baseball when you’re hot and everyone else is not. But that’s the way the game is, and eventually the Red Sox will return to glory.

    For now, the focus should be put on those battling for new contracts, jobs for 2013 and beyond, and starting roles. Here are five Red Sox who truly have something to play for down the stretch. 

Jose Iglesias: Starting Shortstop Role

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    Who the starting shortstop will be on April 1 at Yankee Stadium is one of the biggest questions going into next season.

    Jose Iglesias is obviously one of the top candidates to win the job in spring training.

    Iglesias is a defensive mastermind. There is no better shortstop and arguably no better player defensively in the organization than him. He makes incredible plays that Mike Aviles, Pedro Ciriaco or anyone else who’s played shortstop this season couldn't make. His defense is what makes him a great candidate.

    Of course, then there’s his offensive game, which couldn’t be any more painful to watch. He just looks lost at the plate, and I’ve always been one to question whether he’d be able to hit in the major leagues no matter how hot he was in Triple-A Pawtucket.

    He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities at the plate, but rarely will you see him having a great, or even good at-bat.

    Iglesias has to hit if he’s going to be an everyday shortstop in this league. If it doesn’t happen soon, he may get the boot and Boston will give the job to somebody who can.  

Jacoby Ellsbury: Contract Extension

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    Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the biggest names you’ll hear about in Boston this offseason, and he’s already on the roster.

    Ellsbury’s current contract expires after the 2013 season, and there’s reason to believe that he will sign a new deal once that happens.

    There’s also reason to believe that the Red Sox will shop, and possibly trade their star outfielder before he hits the free-agent market.

    Regardless of where he finishes next season, Ellsbury should be looking to finish 2012 strong and bargain for as much money as possible. We all know that Scott Boras will definitely drive a tough bargain for any team interested, and there likely won’t be a home-team discount, either. Ellsbury’s 2011 campaign will really hurt the Red Sox if they plan on re-signing him since Boras can bring up that he has that type of potential.

    Ending this season on a high note would really help both sides of the party. The Red Sox could get higher value for him should they decide to trade him in the offseason, and it  would give Ellsbury a reason to ask for more money.

Alfredo Aceves: Starting Rotation Spot

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    If Alfredo Aceves ever pitches this season again, which is up in the air since he hasn’t pitched in about a week, he’ll be pitching for a spot in the 2013 starting rotation.

    Aceves was a candidate to start during spring training, but he ultimately lost that opportunity to the successful Daniel Bard. Only not really, since Bard couldn’t have been any worse, but we’ll never know what Aceves was capable of. That is, until next season, when he gets the opportunity again.

    Aceves has shown this season, even as a closer, that he can throw multiple innings and stay durable. He should go into spring training under the mentality that he’s a starting pitcher and not a reliever.

    Andrew Bailey is going to be the closer next season, so he needs to get that out of his head. There should be an opening in the rotation, and he needs to aim for that instead.

    The Red Sox need to seriously take a look at him—should they even bring him back—in the starting rotation in the spring. 

Mike Aviles: Starting Shortstop Role

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    Mike Aviles has done a great job this season as the primary starting shortstop.

    The question is if he can outperform his competitors down the stretch to be the Opening Day shortstop as well.

    No one could’ve predicted what Aviles would do this season on both sides of the ball. He’s showed a lot more range than I thought he would and also showed that he’s capable of driving the ball.

    He may not have the highest OPS on the team, but 13 home runs is about seven more than I thought he’d hit this season. Keeping him around for the next would not be a crazy idea.

    That, however, can only happen if the Red Sox decide to stray away from the idea that Jose Iglesias is the future shortstop of this team. Boston could sign Aviles to a two-year deal and hope that Xander Bogaerts is major league ready by then to take over. That’s probably the best-case scenario in Boston’s eyes.

    Aviles has to produce now more than ever, though. Iglesias is playing right beside him, and everyone is getting a comparable look at the duo. They’re also getting to see Pedro Ciriaco in the mix, who could take the starting role, too. Aviles has to outplay them if he wants the starting role or even a spot on the roster in 2013.

James Loney: Contract Extension

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    The starting first baseman role is just as up in the air as the shortstop position.

    Boston currently employs James Loney at first, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Luckily for Loney, Boston doesn’t really have a short-term or long-term replacement who would take his job. That doesn’t mean he can cruise to the finish line, though.

    Boston does have Mauro Gomez, who could be an intriguing option, but the guy is a horrific defender. Loney isn’t the greatest hitter and doesn’t have a left-handed Fenway Park swing, but he is great defensively. If Loney can come up with some solid hits as the season comes to an end, he’ll set himself up for at least a one-year deal.

    The Red Sox could easily give Loney a multi-year deal if they wanted to, since he should come cheap, but he has to improve his hitting. A two-year deal would let the free-agent market build up with potential replacements and then the Red Sox could send Loney on his way.

    Loney has hit in the heart of the lineup since coming to Boston, which is a little interesting since he’s shown no reason why he should be hitting there. He could make Bobby Valentine look like a genius if he starts to get hot. That would be the best-case scenario for Loney and for Boston going forward.