NEW YORK — Most of the story lines for the remainder of the 2014 season are about 2015 and whether the Red Sox can pull off another last-to-first season.
The task after the 2012 Dodgers-Red Sox trade seemed simpler, however. The Red Sox had a veteran pitching staff that had to get better and what they needed to do was rebuild a lineup.
We wonder what the future is for a few players currently on the team. There appear to be logjams at certain positions, and really no defined game plan for where anyone will play and what their role is.
Maybe the Red Sox have it all mapped out. Maybe they have every scenario covered. But trying to figure where certain players fit in seems nearly impossible at this juncture.
Let’s take a look at seven such players.
1. Daniel Nava — He is playing a lot, and his offense has vastly improved since his early-season struggles. When you look at this roster as currently constituted, where does Nava fit?
If your starting outfield is Allen Craig, Rusney Castillo, and Yoenis Cespedes and the extra outfielders include Nava, Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts, does Nava hang around as that fifth outfielder?
One thing we do know: Teams wanted Nava both at the trading deadline and in the waiver period in August. Detroit and Kansas City, in particular, inquired. The Royals, according to one of their scouts, were told he was not going to be traded.
One thing in Nava’s favor is that he can hit lefthanded. And right now, only David Ortiz and Brock Holt do that. Aside from a couple of hiccups, Nava has been a good corner outfielder, and is capable of playing first base.
2. Will Middlebrooks — The Red Sox are still burdened by his power potential, and now the low value that he would bring in trade. A real sticking point is going to be his refusal to play winter baseball. For someone who has struggled at bat and with injuries, Middlebrooks needs to show the organization that he is committed.
The Red Sox don’t ask too much of their prospects if they follow protocol. Middlebrooks is almost 26 years old. The organization has given him opportunity to come out of his funk and recover from his injuries. They brought him up again after they were out of the race to give him one good shot to prove he belonged as the starting third baseman.
He hasn’t passed the test, not yet.
3. David Ross — It would appear the Red Sox want Ross back to continue as Christian Vazquez’s mentor. But one issue that will crop up sooner rather than later is Blake Swihart.
Would the Red Sox go with two young rookie catchers? And if Swihart gets off to another good start at Pawtucket and is adept from both sides of the plate, don’t the Red Sox need his bat in the lineup?
Ross has battled injuries the past couple of years. He still hasn’t heard from the Red Sox about a commitment for 2015. There are teams watching this closely that would love to have Ross as their backup.
4. Shane Victorino — Victorino doesn’t see himself as blocked out even though the Red Sox seem to have three starting outfielders.
You can’t blame the Red Sox for making plans without Victorino. He played in only 30 games this season because of assorted injuries and now faces a long rehab after back surgery. And who knows about his status for spring training and beyond?
Victorino’s absence and Jacoby Ellsbury’s departure were certainly big reasons for Boston’s offensive demise. If things stay status quo, would Victorino be the fourth outfielder, playing center and right? And if that’s the case, does he accept that role in the final season of his contract?
5. Allen Craig — He’s having a Stephen Drew-like start to his Red Sox career (.111) and had four strikeouts Wednesday night vs. the Yankees, dominated by off-speed stuff that he kept biting on.
What has happened to Craig, who since he entered the majors in 2010 has the highest batting average with runners in scoring position (.362) in baseball?
Craig did go on the 15-day disabled list very early in his Red Sox tenure with a Lisfranc injury. He says the foot/ankle is not an issue. If not, is Craig a sure thing in the Sox starting lineup for 2015? Given that they went to great lengths to acquire him, one would think yes.
But Craig will have to get back to his 2013 level to make that happen. If not, there may indeed be an opening for Victorino.
I asked Tony La Russa, his former manager in St. Louis, about Craig the hitter and his answer was telling: “Outstanding when healthy.” Which leads me to believe he’s not healthy.
6. Mookie Betts — He’s 21, so he could go back to Pawtucket for more seasoning. The Red Sox have been guilty of rushing their guys to the big leagues. In retrospect, Bradley and Xander Bogaerts probably should have spent more time in Triple A. Maybe this is a lesson learned.
Betts has not had his struggle phase. Maybe he’ll be one of the few players immune to it.
But the Red Sox are hesitant to tinker with his position. General manager Ben Cherington said Betts will be an outfielder for the remainder of the season. And then in the offseason, there might be a conversation about returning to the infield, maybe third base.
Nobody wants to say what seems to be obvious. With Castillo around, third base seems to be the only vacancy.
7. Allen Webster — Plenty of chances. Big sample size. The Red Sox set out to find whether Webster, who has great stuff, could pitch at the major league level. And it appears the answer is no.
He’ll get more chances the rest of the way, but clearly Anthony Ranaudo has gone past him even though Ranaudo doesn’t flash any great pitch.