Perhaps the most impressive part of the pre-All-Star break run made by the Red Sox was that they went through much of it without Dustin Pedroia. Their veteran second baseman should be rejoining this rejuvenated lineup Friday night. In his absence, Brock Holt has taken most of the reps at second base, and has held down the job admirably. In fact, Pedroia’s absence helped ease a small playing time quandary, giving space in the lineup to both Holt and Alejandro De Aza, two of the team’s hottest hitters. They were able to both play while the Red Sox could also give Mike Napoli ample opportunities to bounce back. Now, they have some interesting decisions to make. A lot of players could be affected by Pedroia’s return. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Let’s start with the obvious one. Holt is fresh off his improbable trip to the All-Star Game, and clearly isn’t going to be sitting on the bench. With that being said, it’s going to be a lot harder to find a consistent spot for him, though that may not be a bad thing. As we know, Holt’s value comes from being able to play all over the diamond while still playing on something close to an everyday basis. That’s easier said than done, though, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him spend the majority of his time at a single position. First base is the favorite for that, but it’s dependent on Napoli’s start to the second half. More on that in a second. The other strong possibility is right field. Boston has gotten surprisingly solid contributions from the Alejandro De Aza/Shane Victorino platoon, but it wouldn’t shock anyone if that duo slows down and the team prefers Holt’s consistency.
Final Result: Mostly first base, with some right field and super utility work mixed in.
As mentioned above, the start to the second half is huge for Napoli’s spot on this team. The fact that they’ve gone this long with him is sort of amazing in it’s own way, but one has to imagine his leash is running short. They’ve already experimented with pulling David Ortiz out of his DH role to play some first, and now they have a natural replacement in Holt being freed up. The hope by most has been that Napoli would eventually start hitting well enough to build up some trade value, but eventually they need to give up on that hope. He’s already a one-year sunk cost, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him designated for assignment if he doesn’t pick it up by the end of the month.
Final Result: Eventually DFA’d, clearing space for Brock Holt
Alejandro De Aza
There hasn’t been a bigger surprise during this recent flirtation with contention than De Aza, who was brought in merely as depth but instead is coming off one of the best Junes of any player in baseball. Now, none of us expect that production to keep up, but he still deserves to be playing until he proves he shouldn’t any more, especially against right-handed pitching. Once Napoli’s time in Boston ends, Holt will shift over to first base and stop cutting into De Aza’s playing time. The latter, in the mean time, can serve as a pinch runner/hitter and defensive replacement, especially in left field. He can also man left field on nights John Farrell opts to put Hanley Ramirez in as his designated hitter. Then, there’s the possibility of a trade, though the Red Sox would have to fall completely out of it, because De Aza isn’t the kind of chip that must be cashed in. Teams know who he is, and won’t give up a ton just because he had a good month.
Final Result: Backup outfield, eventually taking over right field when Napoli leaves
This is where we get to the outskirts of changes. As sat as it may be, Victorino is merely a part-time player now, and his role may not change too much with Pedroia’s return. He may see slightly less playing time against right-handed pitching, since the Red Sox can now turn to both Holt and De Aza in that situation, but that’s not a huge change.
Final Result: Not much changes, still the short-end of a right field platoon
Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz
These last two names are more about speculation than what I anticipate being actual change. Many people will be calling for at least one of these guys to take over first base if/when Napoli is gone, with the other slotting in as the DH. To their credit, there is some strong rationale behind the idea. The move would open up an extra outfield spot to play both Holt and De Aza, and could open up a spot for Rusney Castillo and/or Jackie Bradley later in the year. However, it’s not a practical change. Ortiz can’t handle playing in the field on an everyday basis at his age, no matter how much you may want him to. Ramirez, meanwhile, likely wouldn’t be able to transition to first base as easily as some make it seem. It’s a legitimate consideration for next year, but it’s not a smart move to make the change in the middle of the current season.
Final Result: Keep the status quo
Pedroia’s return to the lineup is clearly a net positive for this team, but they’ll have some decision to makes as the second half begins. Players who had been playing every day will see their playing time drop, their position change, and some may even lose their job entirely. There are a lot of different roads John Farrell can go down, and there’s a chance the decision he makes could be the difference between contention and another lost year. In turn, that could be the difference between him staying on as manager next year and him looking for another job.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images