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Red Sox face outfield dilemmas

06.27.11 at 4:58 pm ET
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It is an offensive position.

In the American League, right field is a spot where teams expect to get some thump. Players such as Jose Bautista and Carlos Quentin and Nelson Cruz have made right field one of the positions upon which teams are most reliant for run producers. The average team in the AL features a .264 average, .340 OBP, .425 slugging mark and .764 OPS from that spot on the field; only one position (first base) has yielded a higher OPS in the American League.

That, in turn, makes the Sox’ deficiency at the position all the more glaring. Among the 14 American League clubs, Sox right fielders had the worst average (.220), OBP (.304), slugging percentage (.336) and OPS (.640) of any team. It was a position where, entering the year, the Sox expected a platoon could offer them fairly strong production.

J.D. Drew was expected to deliver his usual impact against right-handed pitching, while Mike Cameron and/or Darnell McDonald were viewed as capable of offering above-average production against left-handers. But clearly, it hasn’t worked out that way.

“We need more out of that position,” a team source acknowledged.

Drew is hitting .232 with a .330 OBP, .326 slugging mark and .657 OPS. Against righties, he’s hitting .239/.344/.323/.667.

McDonald’s poor overall numbers (.109/.163/.174/.337) look little better when limited to his performance against left-handed pitchers (.107/.167/.214/.381).

Cameron, meanwhile, has done little in his first foray into part-time duty. The 38-year-old is hitting .154/.218/.275/.493 on the year, and .150/.224/.317/.541 against southpaws.

That, in turn, has the Sox approaching a pair of interesting crossroads in the coming days and weeks.

Left fielder Carl Crawford is nearing a return from the disabled list; he could be activated as soon as next weekend in Houston. When he is ready to be added to the roster, the Sox must make a decision about their corresponding roster move.

In some ways, the path of least resistance would be to send Josh Reddick to the minors, given that he has options, and Cameron and McDonald do not. Yet despite the fact that — like Crawford, Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury — Reddick is left-handed, shipping him back to Pawtucket seems unlikely given that he is hitting .414 with a .457 OBP, .690 slugging mark and 1.147 OPS in 35 plate appearances. He is showing a maturing approach at the plate, an ability to impact the baseball and he also presents a defensive player with the versatility to offer solid defense at all three outfield positions. He has shown enough that the Sox would feel comfortable keeping him on the big league roster going forward.

Indeed, Reddick is part of the reason why the Sox aren’t terribly worried about the left-handed side of a platoon going forward. Between Drew, Reddick and eventually rehabbing outfielder Ryan Kalish, the Sox feel that they should have a player (or a combination of players) capable of giving them solid production against right-handed pitchers.

The greater concern for the club lies in its ability to get right-field production against left-handers. This roadtrip was viewed as an opportunity to see whether either McDonald or Cameron could assert himself against southpaws. Thus far, McDonald is 1-for-9 and has stranded 14 base runners. Cameron is 0-for-4 (0-for-3 against lefties) with a pair of strikeouts.

In recent days, playing time would suggest that McDonald has seemingly emerged as the backup outfielder of choice, as he was the player who was inserted into Sunday’s game when Drew had to leave in the second inning due to his eye contusion. Even so, the Sox are hardly tethered to either Cameron or McDonald at this point, unless one begins to produce. And it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if either player is in danger of losing his roster spot when Crawford returns.

Naturally, the Sox would prefer an internal solution — whether improved performance from Cameron/McDonald against righties and/or Drew/Reddick against lefties. Or, perhaps one player will catch fire and assert himself as an everyday option who can be used against both righties and lefties. Drew has been that in the past; Reddick showed a strong approach against both lefties and righties in Triple-A this year, and has done the same in a small sample in the majors.

Even so, with the trade deadline now five weeks away, it is clear that the Sox hedge their bets and explore the trade market as a potential means of addressing their deficient production at a position that they expected to be a strength, but that in practice has been anything but.

Given the team’s optimism that Drew, Reddick or Kalish will at some point produce against righties (if not both), the Sox may not end up pursuing the top-tier talents at the position (such as Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran). Even so, the Sox’ interest in players who could serve as right-handed outfield/bench complements seems to be growing as their needs become more clearly defined.

Read More: carl crawford, darnell mcdonald, J.D Drew, josh reddick
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