CHICAGO — Was the big pow-wow between general manager Ben Cherington and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the dugout runway Tuesday a sign that Bradley may be going back to Pawtucket when Shane Victorino returns, or was it simply an attaboy for the fine defense the rookie has played and an indication the team was committing to him?
We’ll likely find out for sure this weekend after Victorino has completed his rehab assignment for Pawtucket.
This is a fairly big decision for the Red Sox.
When Victorino returns from a right hamstring strain the Red Sox will have an inventory issue. They will be back to a six-players-for-five-spots scenario.
Out of spring training, they sent Bradley back to Pawtucket before immediately bringing him back. Now the question is, with Bradley playing so well defensively, will they make a different call?
When manager John Farrell was asked about the situation, he paused before coming up with the only answer he can give at this juncture. It was basically, “We’ll see.”
It could come down to Bradley or Mike Carp. Daniel Nava has minor league options, but it’s hard to imagine he would be sent down. Carp has no options remaining.
The Red Sox easily could send Bradley back to Pawtucket, knowing they have a Gold Glover in Victorino returning. They also could attempt to deal Carp, or designate him for assignment and then try to deal him.
The team also recently moved Grady Sizemore to left field, a sign it doesn’t believe his skills are suited for center any more.
What the Red Sox don’t want is for Carp to land with the Yankees.
Yankees players were impressed with Carp’s batting practice at Yankee Stadium over the weekend. They talked about his lefthanded power, knowing their team has had a few problems filling in at first base for the injured Mark Teixeira.
Carp likely would be in some demand, so one would think the Red Sox could steer him to someplace other than New York.
The Red Sox have been big on protecting inventory, though. Carp is a proven commodity off the bench. He was part of that winning recipe in 2013.
Do they want to shed their team of yet another piece from last year’s squad, a growing list that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Ryan Dempster?
Carp is not the best defensive player. He does play first base fairly well, but after coming in cold on a miserable night in Chicago Tuesday night, he couldn’t handle Xander Bogaerts’s poor one-hop throw in the ninth inning and the Red Sox lost, 2-1.
The Red Sox won with pitching and defense last season. There were few times when they beat themselves because they had airtight infield defense, particularly when they had Jose Iglesias at third, Drew at shortstop, Dustin Pedroia at second base, and Mike Napoli at first. Not much got by those four.
In the outfield, they had the dynamic of Ellsbury and Victorino in center and right. Not many balls got into those gaps.
So far this season, that infield/outfield dynamic has been nonexistent. Sizemore has misjudged balls both in center and left field.
Do the Red Sox want to try to recreate last season’s dynamic in center and right with Bradley and Victorino? Is that worth letting some of their “inventory” go?
Management has great faith in Bradley, whom it considers a plus defender. And defense is important, which is why the Red Sox signed Victorino and put him in right — so they’d have two “center fielders” roaming the large expanse of Fenway and similar ballparks.
While agent Scott Boras and Cherington had a phone conversation Tuesday even before the error by Bogaerts to lose the game, it still doesn’t appear that Drew will be walking through the Red Sox clubhouse doors anytime soon, as much as players and some coaches want him to.
The feeling among some players is that ownership doesn’t want to spend the money to bring Drew back. And some have been concerned about the team not stepping up on a contract for lefthander Jon Lester.
One player who stays in touch with Drew believes the Red Sox still have a window to win another championship this season. The player cited the loss of Ellsbury as “huge” and noted that Victorino’s re-entry to the lineup should not only bring an energy that’s been missing but, “he’s someone who can run and make something happen. We don’t have that in the lineup right now.”
Everyone loves Bogaerts. His teammates appreciate his work ethic and approach. They know they are watching a future superstar. But the feeling is you can’t have enough good, winning players. Drew, according to the player we asked, “was a great fit here. He smoothed everything out in our infield.”
Even as Bogaerts starts at shortstop, there’s still no definitive answer as to whether he is a shortstop or a third baseman in the long run.
It’s great to integrate top young players such as Bogaerts and Bradley into the mix and create something for the future. But with a veteran pitching staff, the present is also important. Do the Red Sox sacrifice trying to win it all again to accommodate younger players now?
By no means are the Red Sox out of anything. All five teams in the division have problems now and in the future.
“We haven’t played our best baseball yet,” the player said. “For some reason it hasn’t clicked. We’re missing people from last year and they’re big losses, but we should have enough here to make up for that. I think the feeling is that our pitching is still really solid — starters and bullpen — so we have get back to playing that great defense and the timely hitting we had last year. That’s what’s missing so far.”
The Red Sox’ average with runners in scoring position was at .194 entering Wednesday night’s game. They were hitting .245 overall with a .315 on-base percentage. They had stolen four bases and been caught four times.
With a 5-9 record, the Red Sox had a few things they needed to straighten out, and important decisions upcoming that could impact them the rest of the way.
The veteran players want this team to win it again. They feel they can with the right help.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.