Who's the odd man out upon Victorino's return?

Who's the odd man out upon Victorino's return?
April 16, 2014, 12:15 pm
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CHICAGO -- Shane Victorino's rehab assignment is being delayed some by the unseasonably cold and wet weather being experienced in New England.
That's bad news for the Red Sox, who could dearly use Victorino's assured defensive play right now, to say nothing of his energy and enthusiasm.
For the time being, however, the delay is good news for one Red Sox outfielder who will likely be out of a job when Victorino gets in a few games.
But that day is coming. It may not be Friday, when the Sox return home for a week-long homestand, but it won't be long -- Sunday by the latest, it now seems.
Weeks ago, when the season opened without Victorino, it seemed a virtual certainty that the same person who benefited from Victorino's early-season absence would be the one caught in the numbers game when Victorino returned.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was badly outplayed by Grady Sizemore during spring competition for the center-field spot and it was agreed that Bradley needed additional developmental time at Pawtucket before he could crack the major league roster.
But just as Bradley underperformed at the start of last season, he has surpassed expectations this year. He's been, without question, the team's best defensive outfielder, playing with a confidence that he didn't show a year ago.
On Sunday night alone, he three times flashed a terrific throwing arm from center field, showing a skill that precious few outfielders -- rookie or veteran -- possess.
Beyond his defensive play, Bradley had handled himself better with the bat, too, no longer tied up by pitches on the inner half of the plate.
His play has been so superior in center that it's impossible to imagine him not playing center on a regular -- if not everyday -- basis. He's shown himself to be a considerably better defender in center than Sizemore, the player who soundly beat him out at the position in spring training.
Having seen a couple of games get away from them in the early going, the Sox have since placed an emphasis on outfield defense and Bradley provides some stability in the middle of the field. It's hard to imagine him not being a part of the regular outfield alignment.
Whether Sizemore has lost a step, or just needs more time to acclimate himself in center again is unknown. Meanwhile, Sizemore can certainly handle left -- his misplay of a second inning flyball Tuesday night notwithstanding -- and contribute offensively.
That leaves the three other outfielders, one of whom must vacate a spot for Victorino soon.
JOHNNY GOMES: Gomes is averaging just a tick over two at-bats per game so far, but that's a nod to the team's struggles in the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season.
With Bradley and Sizemore safe, Gomes is the only one of the other three outfielders on the bubble who hits exclusively right-handed. In that way, he profiles as the perfect platoon partner for Sizemore, who will continue to need periodic rest.
And while of the advanced metrics crowd are loathe to hear it, Gomes's intangibles count for something. He provides energy and power and it's hard to imagine giving up on such an integral piece.
DANIEL NAVA: Nava has begun slowly, hitting just .152, though there have been signs of life lately with two homers in the last five games.
Nava is far from a perfect player. Though improved, he's still weaker from the right side of the plate and defensively, is little more than adequate at either first or the outfield spots.
But Nava, despite his early season issues, knows how to get on base and has a track record of being a good, complementary player at the big league level. He may not be an everyday fixture, but he remains valuable.
MIKE CARP: Carp may well be the odd man out here, a victim of the team's need to prioritize outfield defense.
Gomes and Nava may not be Gold Glove candidates, but they're clearly superior to Carp, who had difficulty in the home opener playing left field and failed to scoop a relatively easy throw out of the dirt in the ninth inning of Tuesday's loss.
Carp is a nice option to have coming off the bench, as he proved time and again in 2013. But he's almost exclusively an offensive weapon and given the challenges the Sox are currently experiencing, carrying him on the roster would seem a luxury the Sox might not be able to afford.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Carp designated for assignment when Victorino returns, giving them 10 days to shop him around and attmept to get something -- some additional experienced infield depth? -- in return.