After enduring a season with the worst-hitting outfield in baseball, the Red Sox have an embarrassment of riches: Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. All seven are bonafide starting Major Leaguers, but only two are guaranteed left-hand hitters: Nava and Bradley. Victorino has resumed hitting from the left side, but his jury is still out.
Given that Bradley has not proven he can hit Major League pitching, Daniel Nava has virtue as a back-up outfielder. Nava has shown some of the flair he wielded at the plate in 2013, and he is stronger from the left side of the plate. The fickle hand of fate points to Nava.
Allen Craig and Shane Victorino pose the most delicate of dilemmas. What to do with two once-been All-Stars who can not keep their bodies intact for half a season at a time? “Clutch” comes to mind when we think of both of these journeymen. Late innings and the fireballing reliever comes in to polish off the bottom of the line-up: who do you call? Craig from right and Victorino from the left. They manufacture hits against the worst odds and revive the sagging hopes of Red Sox fans. Would Nava or Bradley rise to that occasion? Doubt it.
Ultimately one of these players will be expendable because another team wants them, a team with an extra third or fourth slot starting pitcher. Package a minor league pitcher with one outfielder and you could have another arm in the rotation, someone to pick up if Joe Kelly or Clay Bucholz go down with arm problems. This is an unkind fate for a veteran like Craig or Victorino, but fate favors the young in baseball.
Fate also favors the left-hand bat, because the Red Sox are set from the right side. The projected starting line-up has two from the left side–Ortiz and Sandoval. Not enough to face the likes of Masahiro Tanaka and Corey Kluber. This favors Nava, Bradley, and Victorino as the reserve outfielder. One of these is guaranteed a spot on the Beantown squad.
In the next two weeks fate will gather up two of these brilliant candidates and toss them into oblivion or even a starting role on another stage. The Red Sox have seen this coming. Maybe their best move is yet to happen.