With the signing of Cuban Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox added even more talent to their outfield corps.
Already bursting at the seams, it seems inevitable that Boston will have to clear some of its outfield assets in the offseason in order to make all the pieces work.
Currently, the team's outfield consists of Allen Craig, Mookie Betts and Yoenis Cespedes. Boston also has Daniel Nava, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Shane Victorino in the mix for outfield time, and all have strong cases to start.
We already know that Castillo is essentially guaranteed a starting spot in the outfield in 2015. After all, why would the club have signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the 27-year-old if the end goal wasn't to have Castillo patrolling center field for Boston?
Past that, how free agency plays out and what trades the Red Sox make will go a long way toward dictating who opens 2015 alongside Castillo in left and right field...and that includes Yoenis Cespedes, Boston's high-profile acquisition at the trade deadline. It's entirely possible the team could turn around and swap the former Athletic in the winter.
Before discussing Cespedes, let's run through his competitors for other outfield spots:
Betts is Boston's top prospect, according to SoxProspects.com. However, Betts is just 21 years old and his exposure to the majors in the early going shows that he might benefit from more minors seasoning. While Betts' .254/.338/.365 line through 20 games is nothing to sneeze at, he hasn't shown definitively that he belongs in Boston. Further, given the struggles of fellow 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox might elect to be more cautious with Betts.
Additionally, Betts was moved to the outfield this season to address what was at the time a shortage in outfielders. That's no longer the case, so Betts could move back to the infield and feasibly compete for the third-base job. Finally, if the Red Sox pull off a blockbuster deal for a pitcher in the winter, such as for Cole Hamels, Betts could be part of the trade package.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley spent much of 2014 as the starting center fielder but just could not get his offense in gear and is considered the most disappointing prospect in the game, according to a poll conducted by Grantland's Ben Lindbergh. He was recently demoted to Triple-A after putting together a .216/.288/.290 line, and his role in 2015 is a big question.
Bradley is an elite center fielder, notching 14 defensive runs saved (definition per FanGraphs), which places second in the major leagues. His defense is meaningless without a quality bat, and he has done enough damage to his stock that chances are the 24-year-old is ticketed for Triple-A in 2015 or as no more than a backup outfielder with the major league squad.
Cecchini is a third baseman who has been seeing time in left field as well in 2014. The move to left was in part to help Boston give playing time to other infielders in the minors, but also as a result of Cecchini's own struggles defensively. He may not be a third baseman long-term, and Red Sox manager John Farrell has already said that Cecchini's poor play at third has factored into his continued stay in Triple-A, per Tim Britton of The Providence Journal.
Given the depth in the outfield and his unexciting bat—which has led him to a .257/.336/.367 line in Triple-A—he's not a serious candidate for playing time in the outfield. More than likely, he'll compete for the third-base job or return to Triple-A in 2015.
Craig is struggling through a career-worst season, but he was the cleanup hitter on the 2013 NL champion St. Louis Cardinals. While Craig could be flipped in the winter via trade, it's hard to imagine Boston giving up John Lackey to get Craig (along with starting pitcher Joe Kelly) only to turn around and trade Craig coming off a poor season. Kelly plus a discounted return on Craig in exchange for Lackey doesn't make sense. The club could also shift Craig to first base and deal Mike Napoli.
While Holt took the league by storm and has given the Red Sox tremendous flexibility with his ability to play multiple positions, the bloom has come off the rose somewhat for the 26-year-old. Holt entered the All-Star Break hitting .327/.371/.463, which translates to am .834 OPS. However, that OPS has fallen significantly since the All-Star Break. Holt's line post-break is .224/.291/.266, which gives him a .557 OPS and puts him on the level of Jackie Bradley Jr. as far as offensive futility.
Prior to his breakout in the first half, Holt was considered a backup player, and that remains his most likely outcome. Holt should nonetheless be considered the favorite to play third base next season in a competition that's shaping up to include Will Middlebrooks, Betts and Cecchini.
While Nava was extraordinarily valuable to Boston in 2013 as a platoon bat that faced off against right-handers, he seems to have lost his cachet with the club this season. A year after hitting .303/.385/.445, he started off the season in a slump and was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket for his troubles. Stuck down there in part because of a game of numbers, Nava has hit .297/.370/.359 since his return.
While he's been getting at-bats regularly since the trade deadline, his participation in Red Sox games will drop now that Craig is off the disabled list, freezing him out of regular time in the outfield. It's even possible the 31-year-old is moved before September, as The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo linked the Tigers and Pirates to Nava's services.
The Flyin' Hawaiian is out for the season after requiring back surgery. He appeared in just 30 games all season. Victorino is under contract for 2015, but it's difficult to see him playing ahead of Craig, Castillo or Cespedes, making him a high-priced backup player unless Craig or someone else is traded.
After covering all these players, we can safely eliminate Bradley, Cecchini, Holt and Nava from consideration for 2015 starting spots. Given the outfield's abundance of quality depth, these players will struggle for playing time. That leaves Betts, Craig and Victorino competing with Cespedes for the right to fill the outfield around Castillo.
Out of all these players, Cespedes is the biggest certainty to man an outfield spot for Boston in 2015.
Why would the Red Sox have asked for Yoenis Cespedes in return for Jon Lester if they were going to flip Cespedes in the winter? The Red Sox would have been better off chasing a different return for Lester over acquiring Cespedes, who has won the past two Home Run Derbies.
Cespedes gives the Red Sox a well-proven power supply, whereas no one knows what type of thump Castillo will contribute. Castillo reportedly wowed scouts with his increased power as he was putting on showcases for major league teams in advance of his signing, as Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Will that translate to more than 20 home runs with the Red Sox? No one knows.
Just like no one knows whether Craig can bounce back from his poor season and rediscover his power. Betts, meanwhile, could be included in a blockbuster deal, moved to third base or sent back to Triple-A. In short, there's no reason why Betts should play over Cespedes.
The Red Sox need power. That was the whole motivation behind trading for Cespedes to shore up an outfield devoid of sluggers. Prior to the arrival of Cespedes, Red Sox outfielders had combined for 14 home runs on the season, while Cespedes had 17 himself.
While Castillo and Cespedes will co-exist nicely in 2015, it's the year after that's the real question as Cespedes will be a free agent.
What is Cespedes' long-term future in Boston?
While Castillo can play center, he spent most of his career in Cuba in right field. Given that the Red Sox always seek to have two center fielders on the team, as GM Ben Cherington tells The Boston Globe, it's possible that the Red Sox view Castillo as a right-fielder long-term if Bradley can rebound with the bat or Betts finds his permanent home in center field.
Right now, the splash that the Red Sox made signing Castillo won't affect Cespedes at all, as the two should anchor the outfield in 2015. Beyond that, having Castillo under contract may make it easier for Boston to let Cespedes, who will be 30 for the 2016 season, depart and sign a big-money deal elsewhere.