I've never been to Ben Cherington’s home. I’ve met his wife, Tyler, who is also a talented baseball executive, and both of them always seem to be affable and well-dressed, so I assume that their home is really nice.
I just have the feeling, however, that there is corner of a den that is filled with assorted incompletely built pieces of furniture from IKEA, with assorted pieces that simply didn’t fit.
If you've never been to an IKEA mega-store, I can tell that as you enter you marvel at the beautiful items in front of you and you smile at the prices, which for the most part seem like a good deal.
All is good as you make your purchase and bring home your desk, bed, shelves, or whatever. You feel so pleased that somehow you have been able to fit these neat sized boxes in your car and figure within the next hour your new prized possession will be ready for use.
Then you lay out all the pieces in front of you and shout, “#$@%&! WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO?”
Welcome to Ben Cherington’s outfield.
Last season, the Sox outfield was a mess. They used 15 different players in the outfield, the most in the AL (the Padres used 16). In the Bobby Valentine Era (also known as 2012), they used 16, the same number as in 1996, which was the most in team history; 2014 ranks third on their all-time list, tied with 1952. They didn’t finish better than third in any of the seasons named.
At first glance the 2014 numbers don’t seem that terrible:
• Last year, AL left fielders hit .258 and Sox left fielders hit .267.
• Last year, AL right fielders hit .261 and Sox right fielders hit .261.
• Last year, AL centerfielders hit .262 and Sox centerfielders hit .261.
What about power?
• Last year, AL left fielders averaged 16 homers and Sox left fielders hit nine.
• Last year, AL right fielders averaged 17 homers and Sox right fielders hit nine.
• Last year, AL centerfielders averaged 13 homers and Sox centerfielders hit eight.
What about whiffs?
• Last year, AL left fielders averaged 136 strikeouts and Sox left fielders whiffed 155 times.
• Last year, AL right fielders averaged 132 strikeouts and Sox right fielders fanned 139.
• Last year, AL centerfielders averaged 143 strikeouts and Sox centerfielders racked up 153 Ks.
Honestly, I could go on but I really think you get the sense that the Sox outfield was pretty ugly last season.
Eight outfielders played in over 40 games: Jackie Bradley Jr. (127 games), Daniel Nava (113), Brock Holt (106), Jonny Gomes (78), Mookie Betts (52), Grady Sizemore (52), Yoenis Cespedes (51), and Mike Carp (42). Gomes, Sizemore, Cespedes, and Carp are already gone for 2015.
But also returning will be Shane Victorino (30 games in 2014), Allen Craig (29), Rusney Castillo (10), and Bryce Brentz (9). Role players Kelly Johnson (10), Alex Hassan (3), and Corey Brown (3) are gone.
That comes to eight returnees plus one huge addition: Hanley Ramirez, to give the Sox nine outfielders, which is fine if they are fielding a team of outfielders, but the likelihood is that John Farrell will only use three at a time.
Which means like Ben and Tyler’s den, right now there are lots of pieces, scattered about the floor unable to fit.
Let’s take look –
From the Bill Chuck Files: Nine Red Sox outfielders to Know:
1. Hanley Ramirez: One of the two big additions for Boston this offseason (Pablo Sandoval is the other). Hanley is inked in as the 2015 starting leftfielder. Hanley has never played a game in a major league outfield. He has been primarily a shortstop and an occasional third baseman and one of the worst fielders at those positions. He has a great bat but does not hit a lot of homers (only 2.5% of all PA went for homers in 2014) and has had trouble staying healthy.
2. Rusney Castillo: The Sox won the $72.5 million auction for the Cuban outfielder last season and he got into 10 games for Boston hitting .333 with a pair of homers. Rusney this winter injured his thumb while playing in the Arizona Fall League, but has performed well in Puerto Rico winter ball since then. Is he ready to star in center or right next season in Fenway, quite frankly, we have to wait and see.
3. Mookie Betts: Mookie is the latest “prospect du jour.” Blocked as second baseman in the minors by Dustin Pedroia, Betts became an outfielder and did a very good job and is now looked at as a centerfielder/right fielder. Right now, Betts shows little power (under 15 homers in the majors and minors combined last season) but appears to be able steal bases swiping 33 in the minors last year. While Betts played just 52 games in the majors last season, he improved his BA each month. However, that does not a star make. Having said that, if Mookie is the stumbling block to acquiring Cole Hamels, he better be a star.
4. Shane Victorino: The way the Sox talked about Victorino last season you would think he was Mike Trout. He was the only Sox who lost considerable time to injury and his absence was considered critical in the terrible 2014. The Flyin’ Hawaiian is 34 and had a career year in 2013 when he had an .801 OPS. In his two seasons with the Sox he has a combined total of 152 games. He’s slated for right field and center next season.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr.: The guy is a great centerfielder. The guy is a lousy hitter. The guy will probably either be traded, be sent to the minors or be seen coming in for defensive purposes for Hanley.
6. Brock Holt: Everybody loved Brock Holt last season. I loved him because his name sounds like a TV private eye. I think that Holt might prove to be better at solving cases than solving major league pitching. On June 15, Holt was hitting .340. He also had a Ted Williamsian BABIP of .410. From that point on, Holt hit .252 with a more reasonable .328 BABIP. Holt can play everywhere and can be an adjustable wrench in assembling this collection.
7. Daniel Nava: Some day, Nava who can play the outfield and first base, will be introduced as the 2013 Championship team is being honored. There will be a little kid who will ask his mom and dad why everyone is cheering for Daniel, and the parent will be dumfounded. Nava is a nice little piece to the bigger IKEA item, but whether he is used or not used will not make a big difference.
8. Allen Craig: Craig came over with Joe Kelly from the Cardinals in the John Lackey deal. In 2013, Craig was an All-Star and one of the better players in the league. In 2014, he had 99 hits, 113 strikeouts and a .213 batting average. Those are good numbers if you are a pitcher; Craig plays right field and first base.
9. Bryce Brentz: Brentz was a first round draft pick for Boston in 2010 and is entering his prime years at age 26. He’s a left fielder who really has to impress in spring training if he hopes to stick. Then again, if he really looks good, maybe he can be included in a trade. The only outfield prospects to watch might Manuel Margot, who is only 20 and hit .340 for Salem last year and Henry Ramos who is 22 and a switch-hitter.
All in all, you have a lot of pieces and yet it doesn't seem solid. There are a number of teams that need outfielders and I hope that some deals will be made. I will not deny, my preference is that on Opening Day against the Phillies, Mookie Betts is in centerfield for the home team and Cole Hamels is on the mound for the Sox.
I expect that Boston will see a big improvement in the outfield, but with all the pieces still laying about I just have the feeling that the finished product looked a lot better in the IKEA catalog when Ben and Tyler went shopping.