The Red Sox is outfield about to get very crowded

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Jacoby Ellsbury homered in his rehab game Monday, Carl Crawford is moving his rehab up to Double-A Portland with an eye towards returning right after the All-Star break and Scott Podsednik is rehabbing at Triple-A just awaiting his activation. Ryan Sweeney (toe) will probably be back before the end of the month, too.

In the meantime, the Red Sox have the following guys playing outfield right now:

Cody Ross – .287/.358/.575 in 181 AB
Daniel Nava – .294/.411/.462 in 143 AB
Ryan Kalish – .250/.286/.300 in 40 AB

Obviously, something is going to have to give. Kalish’s demotion is inevitable, but even so, that’d only free up one spot for four players. The Red Sox are going to have a difficult time squeezing either Podsednik or Sweeney back on the roster, at least once Ellsbury and Crawford are ready to go. Here’s what those two have done this year:

Scott Podsednik – .387/.409/.484 in 62 AB
Ryan Sweeney – .292/.330/.404 in 171 AB

Nava has options and can be sent down, but the Red Sox would be crazy to do that while he’s hitting like this. Not only has he been outstanding offensively — he’s scored 26 runs and driven in 26 runs in just 143 at-bats — but he’s also vastly improved defensively from a couple of years ago.

The truth is that the Red Sox really won’t have any business playing Crawford until either Ross or Nava hits a rough patch. It will be interesting to see if they do it anyway. It’s not that Crawford is incapable of bouncing back; it’s just that his replacements are performing so well.

As for Podsednik and Sweeney, they may turn into waiver bait. The Red Sox could keep one of those two in addition to Ellsbury, Crawford, Ross and Nava, but that would mean jettisoning the newly acquired Brent Lillibridge, someone who offers much more versatility with his ability to play the infield.

My guess: Podsednik replaces Kalish sometime this week, then gets designated for assignment when Ellsbury and Crawford return after the break (the Red Sox are at 13 pitchers right now, which should change next week).  When Sweeney returns in late July, Lillibridge will likely be dumped, provided he’s still struggling offensively. If Lillibridge starts hitting, the Red Sox could try to slide Sweeney through waivers and send him to Triple-A.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.