Left Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
Center Field: Mike Cameron
Right Field: J.D. Drew
Reserve Outfield: Darnell McDonald
With unchanging salaries due Cameron and Drew and only modest raises expected for Ellsbury and McDonald, the 2011 outfield will require roughly the same financial commitment as did the 2010 version.
Jacoby Ellsbury may or may not have abandoned the Red Sox for the sunny Southwest after fracturing his ribs to start 2010, but he definitely openly expressed his frustration with the Red Sox medical staff and hit only .192 in limited plate appearances.
While a healthy, productive 2010 might have earned him a sizeable raise in arbitration, Ellsbury now looks toward only a modest pay increase, thus enhancing his value to the 2011 Sox and rendering a trade less likely.
Although he struggled somewhat defensively in center field, Ellsbury’s defense remains well above the league average for left fielders.
The Red Sox will not sign Carl Crawford this winter. The Yankees have loudly announced their infatuation with Tampa’s left fielder, and a bidding war for the 29-year-old speedster isn’t exactly in the Sox’ financial cards.
Besides, why pay one speedy outfielder more than $20 million per season when you already have one near the MLB minimum?
Under contract through 2011 at an unchanging salary of $7.25 millionn, Mike Cameron is a lock to start in center field next season. The 37-year-old has been injured for most of 2010, but over 48 games he hit .259, slightly above his career mark.
Should he recover well from surgery to heal an abdominal tear, Cameron could bring to the 2011 Sox the kind of upgraded defense he was expected to provide in 2010.
The real question for the Red Sox is who will take over when Cameron walks next year?
While that’s really beyond the pervue of this article, Ryan Kalish seems the best bet given his exceptional glove and improving offense. Kalish has a 46.3 UZR/150 in center field so far in 2010, and he has hit at essentially the same clip as Cameron.
J.D. Drew’s $14 million yearly salary may seem excessive to many casual baseball and Red Sox fans, but Drew is actually paid appropriately for what he produces.
The real problem with Drew is that he seems always to do only what he must. He’s the kid that does just enough to get a solid B but never seems interested in actually doing his best, actually fulfilling his potential.
Whether that problem is perceived or real, Drew’s statistical value unquestionably supports the theory. During the life of his five-year, $70 million contract with the Red Sox, Drew has so far produced $58 million in sabermetric value and has been paid $56 million.
J.D. Drew is neither an under achiever nor an exceptional contributor. Drew is “exactly what we thought he was,” to hijack a phrase.
Defensively, Drew is still one of the best right fielders in the game, so his spot in right is all but assured. Only a possible trade for Andre Ethier could shake up Drew’s positioning, but that’s another article.
Allowing that this is Drew’s walk year as much as it is Cameron’s, the real question for the Sox is who will roam right when Drew inconspicuously fades from Fenway?
Daniel Nava v. Ryan Kalish v. Darnell McDonald
Disregarding recent wild speculation that the Red Sox might sign a Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth and relegate Mike Cameron to the fourth outfielder spot, this is realistically a three-horse race.
Daniel Nava may have solidified himself as a fan favorite with his underdog story and first-pitch grand slam, but that homer was Nava's only one in 188 plate appearances this year. In the ensuing months, Nava managed a pedestrian .242 average and a 711 OPS. What's more, Nava's glove left much to be desired. Over 380 innings in left field, Nava posted a -18.8 UZR/150. There are better options within the organization, but Nava should continue to garner interest and support at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Ryan Kalish could be the next big thing in the Boston outfield, particularly given his developing defensive prowess and speed on the basepaths. In 179 plate appearances this season, Kalish hit for a .252 average and a 710 OPS.
Unfortunately or fortunately, those numbers were essentially equivalent to those of Mike Cameron, whose defense brought him to Boston. Having demonstrated above-average defense, particularly at the corner outfield positions, Kalish would make an appropriate replacement for Cameron at the end of 2011, but not before. Kalish needs more seasoning, particularly with the bat. Another year at Triple-A Pawtucket should reveal much.
Former flashy draft pick and Oriole Darnell McDonald should be Boston's fourth outfielder in 2011. In 2011, McDonald hit .270 with a 766 OPS. Yes, he's weak defensively in center and right field, but McDonald ranks well above average in left, and he doesn't need to play all well to be the reserve. Unless multiple outfielders go down to injury, Darnell should prove more than adequate defensively.