The return of Ortiz's bat to the middle of Boston's lineup will be a welcome sight.
The Boston Red Sox have started their 2013 season off in an impressive fashion, taking three out of four games on the road against the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. They will soon get even stronger, as the impending returns of injured players Stephen Drew and David Ortiz will shake up the roster.
Drew, a shortstop, began the season on the seven-day disabled list because of a concussion. He is now in the midst of a brief rehab stint with Double-A Portland and could be activated within the next week.
Ortiz is the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox but has played in just one major league game since last July 16 because of an Achilles injury. Having missed all of spring training, the designated hitter has just resumed full baseball activities. After a minor league rehab stint he is expected to be back in Boston in about three weeks.
The return of these two veterans will necessitate a roster shakeup to accommodate their activation from the disabled list.
Drew was signed to a one-year, $9.5 million contract this past offseason. Once he is healthy, he will play if for no other reason than he is being paid to be the starter.
Young Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias has played well filling in for Drew, collecting seven hits in 12 at-bats, while displaying stellar defense. It’s hard not to find that encouraging in light of the 23-year-old having his prospect stock slip because of his inconsistent bat.
Despite his strong start, he should be returned to the minors once his counterpart is activated.
WEEI’s Alex Speier wrote that Iglesias’ hot start won’t create a controversy when Drew is ready to return. Boston manager John Farrell explained, “We’re certainly not going to take away from what Jose’s done, but we signed a premium guy in the offseason to be our starting shortstop and we’re not going to look at an injury to cause him to lose his job.”
In order to reach his fullest potential, Iglesias needs to play every day. That won’t be possible in Boston once Drew returns.
The Red Sox can’t be blinded by Iglesias’ hot start because it is such a small sample size and he lacks a proven track record.
If he continues his torrid play in the minors, there will eventually be a place for him in Boston. Just not this year. He knows he has to play aggressively, telling The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, “I have my confidence back and that’s a good thing.”
The displacement caused by Ortiz’s return is a bit more complicated. Since the 37-year-old slugger exclusively plays designated hitter, a position player will have to be sacrificed to balance the roster.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has the least experience of any player on the team, but the Red Sox would do well to keep him in Boston.
The prized 23-year-old prospect was a last-minute addition to the 25-man roster to start the year after hitting .419 during spring training and enduring a lengthy debate about whether he was ready for the majors.
If he spends 20 consecutive days in the minor leagues at any point in 2013, his free agency clock will be delayed an extra year until 2019. Despite that temptation, Boston already rolled the dice to bypass that and putting their best players on the field to start the year.
Bradley is simply too valuable an asset to ship out when Ortiz returns.
He has played well in the early going, producing three hits, four walks, three RBI, a stolen base and four runs scored in his first four games, all while playing excellent defense in left field.
In addition to his play, he has also created a spark amongst Red Sox fans. His ability to put butts in the seats and have people talking about a team coming off a 93-loss season in 2012 cannot be overstated.
The most obvious choice to be sent down when Ortiz is healthy is outfielder Daniel Nava. While the switch-hitter learned to play first base this spring, he has limited upside, plays the same positions as fellow benchmate Mike Carp and still has a minor league option.
The gritty, 30-year-old Nava is a nice story because he went undrafted and made his way to the majors after starting his professional career in the independent leagues. But his modest skill set and lack of marketing appeal make him the appropriate choice.
Regardless of who is demoted, the Red Sox will certainly welcome back two veteran players like Drew and Ortiz with open arms. With 23 combined major league seasons and 478 home runs between them, they could make a huge impact over the remainder of the season. That would make the upcoming roster shuffle more than worth it.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference