Suffice to say that replacing Jacoby Ellsbury is virtually impossible.
Ellsbury, a free agent who fled Boston for the Yankees, inking a seven-year, $153 million deal, stole 52 bases, leading all of Major League Baseball. The Red Sox don’t have anyone with that type of base-running acumen, surely not Jackie Bradley Jr., who, for now, is Ellsbury’s replacement.
Bradley stole the show in spring training last season, and his extraordinary February and March were rewarded with a short-lived spot on the 25-man roster when David Ortiz had to start the season on the disabled list. Bradley made three trips to Boston and wound up hitting .189 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 95 at-bats in the big leagues .
Bradley is no different from any other rookie who first comes up. Ask Dustin Pedroia about those struggles. But Bradley’s skill set suggests he will be a good major league player.
“He’s not Ellsbury,” said one American League talent evaluator. “I saw him a lot in Pawtucket this year, and if you want to give up on him, there’ll be 29 other teams waiting with bated breath to scoop him up. He’s going to be a very good hitter, and I’ll bet his power emerges as he gets older and stronger. I know he’s gone from this exciting kid to a kid that’s created some doubts in some people’s minds. I think that’s misguided. He’s still special to me.”
If the Red Sox stick with Bradley, he’ll be under a microscope. For now, he will likely be the No. 8 or No. 9 hitter, just to take the pressure off him. Bradley had a modest season at Pawtucket, where he hit .275 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 320 at-bats . He had a respectable .842 OPS, and his on-base percentage was .374, all good numbers.
He went 7 for 14 in stolen base attempts at Pawtucket.
Bradley said later in the year when asked about comparisons with Ellsbury: “We’re different players. Jacoby is the best base stealer in baseball. That’s one area I want to get better at.”
Bradley surely has a better arm than Ellsbury. He’s a good outfielder, but it remains to be seen if he’s as good at tracking down the ball and with his overall hitting.
The Red Sox have explored options in center field this offseason, but none of them has come to fruition. The team considered acquiring veteran Matt Kemp, a great talent, but he has endured major injuries the past two seasons.
The Red Sox and the Dodgers are still unsure how well Kemp will come back from ankle surgery.
The logical conclusion is production in center field will be down in 2014.
As for left and right field, the Red Sox will likely stick to what worked really well for them in 2013. They employed a platoon in left, mostly with Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava (and some Mike Carp). The platoon produced a .278 average with 18 homers, 101 RBIs, and a .790 OPS. The Red Sox will take that again.
Gomes played 98 of his 116 games in left, while Nava played 63 of his 134 games in left and 69 in right.
Nava is a very good outfielder with an above-average arm, while Gomes, never known for his defense, did make some very good circus-like catches throughout the year.
Shane Victorino was so good in right field he won a Gold Glove, the fourth of his career. The other three came as a center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. Victorino suffered through one nagging injury after another, forcing him to hit predominantly righthanded.
Victorino, who appeared in 122 regular-season games and played 110 in right field and 15 in center field, hit .294 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs as Boston’s No. 2 hitter. He had an .801 OPS, a .351 OBP, with 21 steals and only three times being caught, which makes him a strong candidate to replace Ellsbury as the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter in 2014.
Victorino has said he will go back to being a switch-hitter in 2014.
The Red Sox don’t have a lot of room for an extra outfielder with Carp protecting them in the outfield and at first base. There had been some thought to acquiring a righthanded-hitting center fielder, but that would take Carp out of the equation and the Red Sox need him to spell Mike Napoli at first and to play some left field.
As for depth, the Red Sox will have right fielder Bryce Brentz ready to go in Pawtucket. Brentz, who turns 25 Dec. 30, is a righthanded power hitter with 17 homers in 326 at-bats at Pawtucket. He’s also hit 30 homers in the minors before.
Brentz, who will be in major league camp, had an unfortunate injury last winter after accidentally shooting himself in the leg, which cost him a chance to attend last year. Still 24, Brentz could be a power threat in the future.