What’s the right role for Shane Victorino?
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A few notes, quotes, and observations after hanging around JetBlue Park the last two weeks:
■ John Farrell hasn’t had to navigate many controversies in his two years as manager of the Red Sox. The 2013 season was a start-to-finish joyride outside of a few goofy Alfredo Aceves moments. Then last season was a start-to-finish mess. Even A.J. Pierzynski, an irritant with other teams, wasn’t much of a problem before he was released. Once the trade deadline passed, the Sox quietly marked time until the season was over.
Spring training could change that given all the potential alignments of the outfield and the personalities involved.
The Red Sox will start Hanley Ramirez in left field, that much we know. It also stands to reason that Rusney Castillo will start in center field. Presumably the Red Sox didn’t give him a $72.5 million deal to come off the bench.
That leaves right field and finding playing time for Mookie Betts and Shane Victorino.
Betts arrived at camp last week and Victorino checked in on Tuesday afternoon. Victorino told reporters he could not remember having come to spring training so early before.
But then, this is not a typical year for him. Victorino is 34, in the final year of his contract, and coming off back surgery. He also doesn’t have a position waiting for him given the quick ascent of Betts, who at this time last season didn’t merit an invitation to major league spring training.
Farrell has said several times in recent months that he envisions Betts batting leadoff. But Victorino, if capable of playing 125 games, is a compelling and valuable player.
He won a Gold Glove in 2013 and that defense could be even more valuable with the untested Castillo in center. At the plate, Victorino gave the Red Sox an .801 OPS in 2013 along with 21 steals.
How many times in 2013 was Victorino credited with giving the Red Sox a needed burst of energy? His play in the postseason was crucial, too.
Victorino stopped switch-hitting near the end of ‘13 and that decision hurts his cause a bit now. The predominantly righthanded hitting Red Sox could use some more lefty bats, but Victorino is now exclusively righthanded.
For Farrell, this is tricky ground. Betts has a chance to be a very good player, but he doesn’t have the resume of Victorino. It would be hard to tell a two-time All-Star with two World Series rings and four Gold Gloves that he’s not good enough to start.
Victorino is not the type to be disrespectful of his manager. But he is proud, opinionated, talkative, and full of energy that will have to go somewhere.
A motivated, out-to-prove something Victorino could well be a positive development for the Sox. But it also could make sense to use him off the bench. Victorino could play all three positions and the decreased playing time could keep him healthier.
It’s easy to suggest the Sox can just trade Victorino, but that’s complicated. He is owed $13 million and barely played last season. A few decent at-bats in spring training won’t raise his value that much.
Plus the Sox would be wise to maintain their depth. Ramirez has averaged only 116 games the last four seasons and Castillo is still more potential than certainty.
How Farrell solves this problem will be an ongoing story. The good news for him is that Betts will certainly play it smart and not say anything to exacerbate the situation. One way or another, Mookie knows he’s going to get on the field.
■ Breaking news from JetBlue Park: Pablo Sandoval is hefty. Who knew?
Oh, right, everybody knew. Sandoval is the same size he was during the World Series when he had an .888 OPS for the Giants. But somehow this became news the other day when he put a t-shirt on and took some grounders.
The Red Sox signed Sandoval knowing exactly what kind of body he has. He’s not classically athletic but he plays third base well and is a productive hitter. Anybody cracking on his weight now hasn’t followed his career very closely.
■ In case you missed it, the Cubs hired Kevin Youkilis as a special assistant. He joins Darnell McDonald and Ryan Dempster among those in that role.
The Cubs also have former Red Sox players Daniel Bard, Drake Britton, Felix Doubront, Jonathan Herrera, Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, David Ross, and Ryan Sweeney on their spring training roster.
So if you’re connected to the Sox and didn’t get a job from Theo Epstein, you’re not trying very hard. But it makes sense for Theo. Building a winning culture starts with having people who know how to win.
■ The Twins, who play 5.4 miles away from the Red Sox in Fort Myers, are nearly finished with the refurbishment of Hammond Stadium. The facility now includes a 54-room dormitory for younger prospects. There’s a cafeteria, a game room, and other amenities for up to 108 players.
The stadium also has a new team store and concourses. If you travel to Florida for spring training, go take in a Twins game if the Sox are on the road.
■ Every young pitcher wants to be a starter. But Brandon Workman isn’t complaining about going back to the bullpen. “I want to be in the majors,” he said. “You feel terrible when you get sent back to Triple A and this is where I want to be. I’m not worried about anything else.”
■ In Alexi Ogando, Robbie Ross, and Koji Uehara, the Red Sox have three of the top six relievers (in terms of appearances) from the 93-win Texas Rangers of 2012. Their catcher that season was Mike Napoli.
■ Ramirez is built like an NFL outside linebacker. He’s up to 240 pounds and it all seems to be in his shoulders. He’s put on a show in batting practice.
■ Will Middlebrooks is learning what life with a different organization is like. The Padres gave him a $500 raise from the $540,000 he made with the Red Sox last season. For 40-man roster players with 0-3 years of service time, salaries are largely contingent on major-league playing time and Middlebrooks got in 63 games last season. He’d have gotten more from the Red Sox.
■ Not sure if it will be with the Red Sox, but Garin Cecchini will have a good major league career. A scout who watched Pawtucket often last summer told me Cecchini is not overwhelming physically in terms of power, speed or arm strength, but knows how to play.
“He’s the kind of guy who finds a place to play,” the scout said. “He’ll help you win games.”
■ ESPN isn’t doing the Red Sox any favors. It picked up the April 12 game in New York against the Yankees. So that game will start at 8:05 p.m., 19 hours before the home opener the next day.
■ Castillo has a modified Mohawk haircut with parts dyed gold. He looks a little like Wesley Snipes in “Demolition Man.”
■ David Ortiz must be in an underground bunker enjoying his final days of the offseason. Ramirez and Sandoval claim they have not heard from Big Papi in recent days, not even a text. Nobody seems to know when he will arrive in camp.
■ The Nationals and Astros are building a shared facility in West Palm Beach, which is good news for the Mets, Cardinals, and Marlins, who are also on that side of the state. The Red Sox and Twins would welcome a third team in the Fort Myers or Naples area. The Blue Jays, who need a new park, are the only remaining candidate.
■ If you visit Fort Myers, stop by the Farmer’s Market at JetBlue Park on Mondays from noon to 4 p.m. It runs through March 9. Picked up some strawberries and blueberries last week. There are plenty of lunch options, too.