Commentary

View from Sox outfield? Crowded

Who'll feel the squeeze when Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellbury return?

Updated: July 1, 2012, 9:01 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

Ryan KalishAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

BOSTON -- Carl Crawford is playing left field in Gulf Coast League games in Fort Myers, and on Friday is scheduled to be joined in the Fort by Jacoby Ellsbury, whose first appearance is supposed to be as designated hitter. Scott Podsednik, placed on the DL with a groin strain that was an issue for only a few days, is scheduled to play this weekend in a rehab assignment in Pawtucket. Ryan Sweeney has been fitted with a new orthotic device to protect his inflamed big toe and is expected back sooner than later.

The Boston Red Sox, who have played short-handed all season in the outfield, will soon be faced with a glut of outfield talent, assuming Crawford and Ellsbury prove healthy. That development has not gone unnoticed; other clubs already have been sending scouts, anticipating that Sox GM Ben Cherington will be open to moving an outfielder (or two) before the July 31 trading deadline.

What will the Sox outfield look like after July 31? Health will dictate a great deal, but here's the most plausible scenario:

Retained: Crawford, Ellsbury, Cody Ross, Daniel Nava (platoon in right), Brent Lillibridge.

Most likely to be moved: Sweeney, Podsednik and Darnell McDonald.

Most likely to be sent back to Pawtucket: Ryan Kalish.

Most likely to attract the greatest trade interest: Kalish.

Kalish is already attracting attention, will continue to draw the most interest and probably would bring the most back in a deal. He has started 7 of 10 games since his promotion from Pawtucket on June 17, all in center field.

Kalish acknowledges the possibility that he could be moved.

"I want to play for this team," he said, "but if it so happens, I'll go somewhere else."

Some teams are hopeful that the Sox would move Kalish because he has had a couple of significant injuries and Boston might decide he's injury-prone because of the all-out way he plays.

"And he has to play that way," one scout said, "or he's not the same player."

[+] EnlargeDaniel Nava
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaDaniel Nava and Ryan Kalish have been playing great baseball, but could soon find themselves out of the Red Sox's outfield picture.

Here's what makes a trade of Kalish unlikely: He is young, cheap and still highly regarded. The Sox already moved one young outfielder, Josh Reddick, and he has 17 home runs and an .843 OPS for Oakland. Sweeney, who came back from the Athletics in the Reddick deal, does not have a home run. Closer Andrew Bailey, the centerpiece of the deal, has yet to pitch. The Sox baseball operations department has invested a great deal in Kalish, he has worked hard to get back, and while he is by no means an untouchable, he figures to remain.

He has options, though, and with Nava (who also has options) playing as remarkably as he has -- his .444 on-base percentage is fourth-highest in the AL for June entering Thursday night's game in Seattle -- the Red Sox figure to stay with the hot hand and keep Nava to come off the bench. If Nava should cool off in the next month, that could change things, but for now, playing Kalish every day in Pawtucket is probably the way to go.

How much trade value does Nava have? Very limited, according to two scouts who were in Boston this week. "He has played so well, but there's still a feeling it's just a two- to three-month thing," one scout said about Nava, who was not even on the Sox roster when the season began.

If Nava is the fourth outfielder -- Ross's right-handed bat and ability to hit mistake pitches a long way gives him the edge in playing time -- Lillibridge would appear to have the inside track for the fifth job. Lillibridge, who came from the White Sox in the Kevin Youkilis trade, is five years younger than McDonald, can play all three outfield positions (he already has made one start for Boston in center) and the infield, and while he hasn't hit left-handers this season (2-for-27, .074), the Sox are hoping that last season (.287/.346/.585/.931) is more representative of what he can do.

The Youkilis trade, by the way, is getting better reviews within the industry than among the Boston fan base.

"The Red Sox think they have something in Zach Stewart (who allowed just a run in 5 2/3 innings while walking none and whiffing four in winning his first start for Pawtucket)," one scout said, "they got a useful piece off the bench in Lillibridge, and some financial relief for a guy they had to move. Not a great deal, by any means, but a good deal."

Assuming the Sox keep those five and return Kalish to Pawtucket, Sweeney probably becomes the most attractive outfielder who could be traded by Boston, especially for a small-market team. He is still making low money ($1.75 million), still has a year left of arbitration eligibility, is a good corner outfielder who can play center field, and has played pretty well for the Sox (.292 /.330 /.404 /.733) though the lack of power will limit the number of suitors.

Podsednik, who didn't play at all in the big leagues in 2011, has shown enough in his return to the Red Sox to pique the interest of another club, especially a team needing someone with speed, since Podsednik showed he can still run. McDonald (9-for-42, .214 vs. lefties this season) has the least value of the group.

Ellsbury and Crawford are expected back right after the All-Star break. The Sox aren't likely to do anything until they are satisfied that the two stars are healthy.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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