Our Big Papi Problem
I really don’t want to think about a Boston Red Sox season where our lineup isn’t anchored by Big Papi. I am currently not going to, because I think the best interpretation of what we know if that this isn’t the biggest problem ever. The current shut down, as reported, is not either a major new injury or a failed recovery of the same major injury – it looks like an injury cascade where the Achilles pain led Ortiz to change his stride, which then in turn led to heel problem. This isn’t a re-presentation of the same Achilles problem. So once that inflammation goes down, in theory he should be able to get back up to baseball speed.
But that isn’t a guarantee, and even if Ortiz is ready by the end of April, that’s quite a few Ortiz-less games to plan for. A plan is needed, and I figure there are three basic options.
1) Same plan, more AAAA sluggers. Left field was already ticketed to a R/L semi-platoon arrangement between Gomes and Carp. Now you add Mauro Gomez into the mix, work out some sort of job sharing (maybe Gomez and Carp platoon in the lineup while Gomes moves between LF ad DH). You could also do this with Daniel Nava, if you wanted, though the job sharing would have to look a little different.
2) Jackie Bradley, Jr. He’s been playing excellent ball in spring. His current projections really aren’t bad (ZiPS 330/370, for instance). If Bradley has made some qualitative improvements to his game, which is entirely normal for a kid his age, then he might be the best left field option for the Red Sox regardless of Papi’s injury. With the injury to Papi, all Bradley needs is for his combination of CF-quality glove and not-incompetent bat to beat out the combination of Gomes/Carp’s gloves and Mauro Gomez’s bat. ZiPS thinks Bradley’s already an equivalent hitter to Gomes and Nava. Dan projects Bradley to a 308 wOBA, compared to 310 and 307 for the DH competitors. Then you upgrade LF defense from bad to excellent. Even if Fenway significantly cuts into the value of a left fielder’s glove, that’s still worthwhile.
The one argument against Bradley has to do with his development. The Red Sox had a plan for Bradley. Will it be better long-term to stick to the plan? In one month, the difference between a 4-WAR player and a 1-WAR player is just five runs. With Bradley compared to the LF/DH flotsam, we’re probably not talking about more than two or three runs of expectation. Even if he’s the best choice, he’s not the best by so much that other considerations might hold more weight. Unless of course Ortiz is seriously injured, but if Bradley is the better choice for a longer-term problem, he can be called up in May.
3) A new acquisition. Maybe a Jim Thome. Unless Ortiz’s injury is more significant that what’s been reported – yeah ,yeah, I know – a one-month rental of a guy who’s going to expect more playing time when that month is over seems like a poor addition to the clubhouse. Even if he’s a small upgrade, a month just isn’t long enough to make the cost in talent or money worth it, especially if it adds a clubhouse problem on top of that.
My preference is for Bradley, but I can understand why the Sox might prefer the AAAA slugger plan. So long as Papi comes back in a reasonable time frame, it should not matter too much. But Bradley would be way more fun.