The Red Sox currently sit at 33-24, good enough for first place in the American League, however the team still has a few unanswered questions. The problems many anticipated going into spring training have started to sort themselves out, now that Pablo Sandoval is on the DL and the pitching rotation is improving. Yet, despite having the best offense in all of baseball, the spotlight has shifted from the pitching staff to the outfield, specifically the position that requires taming the Green Monster: left field.
Left Field has been a revolving door of sorts for Boston since Manny Ramirez was traded and it has featured everything from one-year wonders (Jason Bay) to long contract mistakes (Carl Crawford). What lies in between the eight years of 2008 to 2016 includes, Jason Bay (’08-’09), Ryan Kalish (’10), Carl Crawford (’11), Daniel Nava (’12), Johnny Gomes (’13), Yoenis Cespedes (’14), Hanley Ramirez (’15) and finally Brock Holt (’16). That’s eight everyday outfielders over eight years, not exactly what you hope for in establishing a winning team.
That brings us to the current crop of Red Sox left fielders highlighted by $72 million dollar man, Rusney Castillo, utility wizard Brock Holt, Chris (only-useful-against-lefties) Young, and Blake Swihart who is really a catcher doing his best left field impression. But which player should be trusted to man the monster in left going forward?
Rusney Castillo would seemingly be the obvious choice, purely because of the $50 million he will be owed over the next 5 years. However, over the course of his 300 major league at-bats, he owns a measly isolated power of .118, generating almost 3 times more singles than extra-base hits. He is an above-average fielder in the outfield and with his athletic build, figures to steal between 10 and 15 bags each year, but his performance at the plate has held him back. The lack of power would be excusable if he were a high average guy, but his career average is a roughly league-average .265. Castillo was optioned to Pawtucket at the beginning of the year, but he hasn’t exactly been making his case to return to the bigs with a .245 average and ISO of .075. Unless he turns it around in a big way, Castillo will be looking towards next spring training to make a bid for the 25 man roster.
Brock Holt is a interesting case, because prior to this season he was seen as a super-utility player, the second stringer at every position except catcher. To his credit, he has actually played every position at some point with above-average defense as well. Although you would never guess it, Brock Holt was actually an all-star in 2015, receiving the honor with a slash of .292/..379/.412. An injury to Dustin Pedroia shifted Holt’s utility role to the everyday second basemen. However, it was clear in spring training that his role would again change as he was named the opening day left fielder. After struggling in the first couple months, Holt was sent to the DL with a concussion, a nagging injury that sidelined him in 2015. The big question for Holt is if he can return to his All-Star caliber play that made him so valuable to the Red Sox last year.
Chris Young was signed this offseason to a 2 year, $13 million contract, with the hope that he would be a platoon outfielder, playing predominantly against left-handed pitching. In large part, this is due to his career splits, hitting .267 off of lefties and only .224 against righties. Since coming to the Sox, Young has stayed true to this splits (however somewhat accentuated this year) slashing .231/.310/.519 vs righties and an otherworldly .414/.485/.690 vs lefties. His role has increased as of late to an everyday left-fielder due to the injury sustained to Blake Swihart, but has flourished since hitting .438 over his last 5 games. As long as Young keeps mashing lefties and is at least serviceable against righties, he looks to be the answer going forward.
Blake Swihart started the year as the opening day catcher, was sent down to Pawtucket with the return of Christian Vasquez, recalled a month later to become the team’s everyday left fielder, and now finds himself on the disabled list with an ankle injury. Quite the rollercoaster of a season for Swihart thus far. However, for better or worse, his ankle injury almost ensures that he will remain on the Red Sox for the rest of the year. The Red Sox have not one but two young franchise catchers and when it became clear they valued Vasquez over Swihart, rumors of where Swihart would be traded filled the talk shows. His value even increased as he showcased impressive defense in left field, but then injury struck and now he figures to be out for 4-6 weeks, with his return likely coinciding with the trade deadline. However teams will be hesitant to trade for Swihart without seeing how he bounces back from this ankle injury, effectively locking him with the Red Sox for the remained of the season. His ankle is the same concern Boston will have when he returns to see if he can fill the void in left field.
There’s a case to be made for each player to man left field, but with two on the disabled list the obvious choice seems to be to let Chris Young play until Holt returns than have the natural righty-lefty platoon. Barring a major change in his performance, Castillo figures to play out 2016 with Pawtucket. When Swihart returns another interesting decision will face the Red Sox brass as Holt will likely have to shift back to his super-utility role while Swihart platoons with Young. All in all, there is no need to trade for a left fielder as the Sox offense is good enough to hide their flaw in the lineup and each member will contribute in some form. Hopefully Holt and Swihart return soon so left field turns from a problematic position into an embarrassment of riches.