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The Victor(ino) Goes to the Spoils

Shane Victorino should going into spring training 2015 as the favorite to start the year as the Red Sox' starting right fielder.  This is not sentimentality creeping through or a blind hope that all we need to do to overcome 2014 is to go back to 2013.

Rather, it is because every possible outcome of Shane Victorino competing for, and being favored for, the starting right field job is a positive outcome for the Sox.

If healthy, Victorino is a Gold Glove right fielder who can steal bases, hit for power, and brings a toughness to the field every day.  At his worst he's in an ice bath.

At 34 years old, having thrown his body around major league baseball fields for a decade now, there is a decent chance that he will not play much more baseball during his career.  Given how beat up he was last year, it feels like a very good chance that he's just about done.

But if he is not, he is the best right fielder we have right now.

If he goes out there, and plays well, he not only might be helping our team win, but if we wanted to trade him, he'd actually have value at that point (unlike right now).  The Phillies were able to get value for him from the Dodgers in 2012 even though he was having a pretty poor year.

So, if he plays well, then you either have a solid veteran player or you have player for whom you might get something.  Not a lot, but something.

The downside, of course, is that he would presumably be blocking another player from playing time.

The Red Sox have two young outfields for whom it is assumed they need to make room right now.  Converted infielder, 22 year old Mookie Betts has looked fantastic in his brief major league time.  Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo was signed for $72 million last year and looked very talented in his very brief stint in Beantown.

If only recent Red Sox history could teach us a lesson about relying completely on unproven hitters to leader your team's offense.  If only...

Of course this is exactly what happened last year.  The Sox went all in on Xander Bogaerts.  His talent was - and is - unquestionable and he had hit in the playoffs.  Done deal.  Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley, Jr. was our #2 prospect and was flung into a starting roll when the aforementioned Flyin' Hawaiian broke down just before Opening Day.

Bogaerts is a very strong comparison for Mookie Betts.  Their skill set is different, but they both are extremely talented, will likely play in multiple All Star games, and had success in a brief stint with the big league club.  Betts' made a longer cameo; Bogaerts did it in the World Series.

Both of these players will be stars in the Bigs and I hope it happens in Boston.    Bogaerts had 1,623 minor league plate appearances before debuting in Boston.  Betts has had 1,116.  Mookie has only played 45 games in AAA - and 52 in the majors.  I'm not even going to ask the question.  I'm just going to give the answer: it would not hurt Mookie Betts at all to play more in Pawtucket.

Rusney Castillo meanwhile was rushed through the minors so quickly that he did not even register a game played (only playoffs and exhibitions), then sent to every fall and winter league they can get him into.  He's the Red Sox' over achieving son in every club and band we can get him into.

He is a very talented player and, given the recent track record of Cuban hitters, there is reason to believe he is ready for the bigs.  But perhaps he should be asked to prove that that reason goes beyond his age (27) and his contract size (72).

This is not to put down either Betts or Castillo.  But do we want to clear room to assure that they have to play the whole season in Boston?  Victorino might get hurt anyway, rendering this moot.  But wouldn't it seem best to trade a semi-valuable Victorino because Mookie is hitting .350 in the Internal League, then dumping Victorino (somehow) to force the rookie to start in right on opening day?

The Red Sox would not be bad off if they started the year with Hanley Ramirez in left, Yoenis Cespedes in center (yes, it could happen), and Victorino in right.  In this scenerio, I'm tempted to suggest Victorino in center, but I think right field in Fenway is actually more difficult than center.  The only way I move Cespedes to right is if a) I believe he has a chance of not allowing every ball that hugs the wall to go for an inside the parker and b) if I think Victorino's leadership would help the other two more by playing in center.

As for Cespedes, we do not need to trade him.  If we want to trade him as the best way to get a #1 or #2 starter, that's fine.  But he is a valuable player.  Amidst all the grumblings about how he should be trade and might not be liked by the coaches, let's remember what happened to Oakland's offense when they traded him to us.

This also gets us into one of the greatest of Red Sox Nation's illogical mental traps: "if you do thing #A then that means you can't do letter 2!"  In this case, it's the illogical belief that if the Sox do not trade Yoenis Cespedes then they will be starting Clay Buchholz on opening day.  Not. Happening.

Here is how the Sox can - not necessarily should or will - keep Cespedes and get the two front of the rotation starters they need:
  • The Sox could trade, for example, top-prospect catcher Blake Swihart, second baseman Sean Coyle, and pitchers Matt Barnes and Allen Webster for the Phillies' Cole Hamel and his wonderfully reasonable four-year contract.  They could then sign James Shields to a 4-5 year deal.
  • The Sox could sign Jon Lester to a 5-6 year deal.  They could then trade top pitching prospect Henry Owens, shortstop Deven Merrero, and pitcher Edwin Escobar for the Nationals' Jordan Zimmerman.
There are a large number of possible combos like this.  You lose some prospects, you lose some money, but you don't have to lose any one particular thing to get what you want.

Anyway, enough about Cespedes.

Shane Victorino should be asked to start in right field for the Red Sox in 2015.  If he can do it, the Sox will increase his value, be a better team for it, and still have Betts and/or Castillo ready to jump in at any time.

The other option - the oddly popular one - seems to be that the Sox somehow release Victorino (probably still paying the last year of his deal) and trade Cespedes (people seem to miss the logical disconnect of thinking we need to get rid of him and thinking that he's worth an ace pitcher).  Then give Mookie and Castillo the starting jobs.  If they get injured or falter, we play Daniel Nava every day or maybe see if Mike Carp still needs a job.


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