Shane Victorino has already been ruled out for the rest of this season following back surgery earlier this month, but he expects to be ready for Spring Training next season and ready to reclaim his spot in right field. The Boston Red Sox may not be so optimistic.
When the Red Sox traded for Yoenis Cespedes at this year's trade deadline it was assumed they would try him in right field, where his rocket arm would be more valuable than it is in Fenway Park's shallow left field. With Victorino done for the season, a spot opened for Cespedes to step in. That hasn't happened and the team seems to have switched to another plan.
John Farrell announced yesterday that Cespedes would stay in left field for the rest of this season, with Allen Craig taking over right field when he returns from the disabled list. Presumably Daniel Nava will get the majority of the starts until Craig is ready to return, with Brock Holt capable of filling in as well. Farrell's reasons for sticking with this alignment seem logical.
“The one thing through conversation with both guys is they’re comfortable with the positions that they’ve played,” Farrell told reporters in Cincinnati. “Now, we know the dimensions in our ballpark will have some bearing on our ultimate decision, but I think it’s important for us right now to make sure that they transition and maintain a lot of that comfort.”
Farrell went on to indicate that the plan was to wait until Spring Training to transition Cespedes to right field to allow him that time to adjust to Fenway's unique right field corner (JetBlue Park, where the Red Sox spend Spring Training, was built to replicate Fenway's dimensions). Craig would then move over to left field, where he could use that time to adjust to playing the ball off the Green Monster. That seems like a reasonable plan, but it leaves open one glaring question.
Where does that leave Victorino?
He's owed $13 million in the final year of his contract next season, which is quite a lot for a bench player. The veteran outfielder will be 34 next season, so moving him over to center field on an everyday basis doesn't seem ideal. Especially since he's already proven himself at Fenway as a Gold Glove right fielder. The center field job will presumably come down to a battle between Jackie Bradley, Jr. (if he learns to hit) and Mookie Betts (if he proves he can handle it defensively). Boston also will have Daniel Nava and Brock Holt back for added depth, which makes the outfield a bit crowded.
Or the Red Sox may decide that they have too many question marks to let Victorino go – between whether or not their young center field options can cut it in the big leagues or the status of Craig's ailing foot. Given how Victorino's absence for the bulk of this season has been one of the biggest factors responsible for the collapse of the team's offense, Boston may not be so eager to let him go. The plan may be to use Cespedes in right and Craig in left heading into next year, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's how it will ultimately work out. As far as insurance policies go, Victorino could potentially be a very good one.
Regardless of if he stays or if he goes, Victorino will end up being a productive outfielder for someone next season – health permitting of course.
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