Monday, January 2, 2012

Solving Right Field

Just last week, one of the biggest questions fans were asking about the 2012 Red Sox was who would play right field. It seemed as if the team was going to rely on a platoon with two young outfielders, Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish. However, after trading Reddick along with two prospects, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara to Oakland in return for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney. This trade answered some questions about the right field situation next year, but also opened up another series of questions that must now be answered.

The team got some bad news a few days ago when it was revealed that Kalish underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, and he will miss the first several weeks of the season. He is an interesting plaayer who hasn't gotten much of a chance at the big league level yet, but is seen to have more upside than the departed Reddick. Kalish played in 53 games with the Sox in 2010 and showed flashes of promise, but also flashes of being a rookie. In the minors, he has shown the ability to draw walks and struck out at about an average rate. He also showed some nice power and his total package seems to be a guy who can play right field regularly for this team for many years to come. However, in the short term, he is going to need a platoon partner to spell him over the grind of the season once he returns from injury.

Enter Ryan Sweeney. The outfielder who was secondary in the Bailey trade is, in short, nothing special. He, like Kalish, hits from the left side of the plate. While his defense used to be something that brought him tremendous value, UZR has not been a fan of his the past couple of years and the big right field in Fenway may cause him problems. On offense, Sweeney has average-to-slightly below average walk rates, while striking out less than the league average. He has a career triple-slash line of .283/.342/.378, although those numbers are somewhat inflated by the career year he had in 2009. He also possesses virtually no power, just once finishing with an ISO above .100 since first receiving substantial playing time in 2008. While I like the Sweeney pick up, he should not be the primary right fielder while the team waits out Kalish's injury. 

The best decision the Red Sox could make would be to find a cheap, stopgap solution who hits from the right side of the plate. Luckily, there are two such players who should be able to fill that role that are sitting in free agency right now. First, there is Cody Ross. You may remember him from his tremendous playoff run in 2010 when he helped the Giants en route to their championship. He is now on the market and should be had for a short, cheap deal. He has been an above average hitter three of the last four years (according to wRC+), and will provide a power-upgrade over Sweeney. His defense isn't great, but it's not going to be any worse than the other options available. The other guy in free agency who should be looked at is Ryan Ludwick. He had been rumored to be traded to Boston during last season, and the need is still there for the team. He would provide a power bat from the right side of the plate at the bottom of the lineup, while playing average-ish defense and providing above-replacement level value. 

None of these options may be the sexy strategy fans always tend to look for, but they are frugal options that could save the team money it needs to bolster its starting rotation. (Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt are still out there, Ben). The Red Sox lineup is still its biggest strength, and league-average production from right field would be an upgrade over last year's performance at the position. As long as the team finds a right handed bat who can take over most daily duties from Sweeney while the team awaits Kalish's return, I would view the move as a win.

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