FORT MYERS, Fla. — Shane Victorino still isn’t completely healthy and the jury is still out on how effective Grady Sizemore can be after being away from baseball for two seasons.
Those two things alone justify the plethora of outfielders in Red Sox camp. But if Sizemore makes it and Victorino is OK, the Red Sox are going to have an outfielder to deal or send back to the minors before all is said and done.
The Sox likely will break camp with five outfielders — Jonny Gomes, Victorino, and Daniel Nava and then two between Jackie Bradley Jr., Sizemore, and Mike Carp.
Most of the trade speculation centers around Carp, who doubles as a first baseman and triples as a third baseman. There’s always speculation about Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, teams that might want to upgrade at first base.
Lately, the talk among scouts is that the Tigers have had some interest because Andy Dirks had back surgery and will be out three months at least, leaving the left field job mainly to Rajai Davis, a righthanded hitter, with Don Kelly also in the mix.
One of the problems the Sox have with the Sizemore situation is that it may not be resolved until the very end of camp or even into the season. Is Sizemore an every-day player, or is he an extra outfielder?
If he can play regularly, who would replace him in center field if he needs a few days off now and then? Would Bradley be kept on the roster as an extra? Or is Bradley better off playing every day in Pawtucket?
If Bradley returned to Pawtucket would Victorino, a four-time Gold Glove winner (three of them in center), have to be the center field fill-in?
Sizemore, who started in center and went 1 for 4 batting leadoff in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Phillies, has thrust himself into the competition, manager John Farrell said Saturday.
“We came into camp with Jackie as the guy to start in center field and I don’t think anything has radically changed that thought,” Farrell said. “But we can’t deny the fact that Grady Sizemore has looked very well in camp. We’re still trying to get our arms around his durability. We’re starting to get a little more of that test and answers to some of those questions.”
Farrell was asked whether he would keep both Bradley and Sizemore on the roster.
“I can’t say we wouldn’t do that, but there are also limits to the roster,” Farrell said. “We’ve said it many times that the one thing we’ve benefited by is a deep and talented roster. Early in the season you want as many of those players as you can. You try, one way or another, to keep as many good players as you have. That’s something we’ll arrive at before we break here.”
Asked when he realized that Sizemore would be a factor, Farrell said, “As camp has unfolded and Grady has shown well.” Farrell said the team has not spoken to Sizemore on whether March 31 will be the hard and fast date on his future (he could go to Pawtucket to start the season).
“We haven’t gotten to that point,” Farrell said. “We wanted to take a look at spring training itself and we didn’t know how he was going to respond to the day-to-day and so far it’s been favorable. His timing at the plate has looked very good. It doesn’t look like he’s missed two years.”
Then there’s the added value of right fielder Bryce Brentz and center fielder Corey Brown having had very good camps. Brentz has stroked three homers and Brown (hitting .385) has shown he’s a strong lefthanded bat who can play center, and whose body type is similar to Sizemore.
Last season, the left field platoon of Nava and Gomes was one of the more productive in the league, producing 105 RBIs. It doesn’t appear the Sox want to disrupt that, though the market for Nava would be very good and Gomes’s dramatic play and clubhouse presence also would be attractive to another team.
“I’ve been told I’m pretty much in the same role barring injuries,” Nava said. “You never know, but they’ve been up front with me about it. I play some first [base] so maybe I get time there, too. But that’s where we stand.”
Victorino, who was in the lineup batting second vs. his old team (the Phillies) and went 0 for 3, is still recovering from thumb surgery and had to be held out of Friday’s scheduled appearance against the Blue Jays. He’s still batting exclusively righthanded even though he won’t admit to scrapping switch-hitting.
Victorino is also a candidate to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot, so he’s become an important outfielder.
Brentz, who accidentally shot himself in the leg before camp last season, eliminating his chance to be in the major league camp, made the most of his first camp.
He’s also showed a strong arm in right field and his righthanded power is undeniable. He appears to be heading back to Pawtucket, but the Sox have to feel good knowing if they traded some of their veteran depth, Brentz could do a decent job.
Brown, 28, was buried in Washington’s outfield mix but hit 58 home runs the last three years at Triple A Syracuse. A 59th overall pick of the Oakland A’s in the 2007 draft out of Oklahoma State, Brown has shown to be a good center fielder with a strong arm. He’s been one of those players perpetually lost in the shuffle — wrong team, wrong time.
Then there’s the issue of replacing Ellsbury, a uniquely skilled player in center field and the leadoff man. The Red Sox feel Bradley can replace Ellsbury the outfielder, but maybe not the hitter and certainly not the base stealer.
Excess is obviously a good problem to have, but it can be tricky, too. The Red Sox would like to keep all of their outfielders, and they’ll have to find a creative way to do that in about two weeks.