Five questions the Red Sox need to answer

Five questions the Red Sox need to answer
August 1, 2014, 1:15 pm
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BOSTON -- Now that the dust has settled following Thursday's roster makeover, there are as many questions remaining as answers provided.

The final third of the season isn't important in terms of the standings, but the Red Sox will be using that time to evaluate and make some decisions about 2015 and beyond.

Accordingly, here are five questions that must be answered:

1) What becomes of Brock Holt?

Holt was one of the few bright spots over the first two-thirds of the season, proving to be ridiculously versatile -- starting at seven different positions -- along with answering the team's need for a leadoff hitter.

But Thursday's acquisitions seem to have edged Holt out of any regular playing time. The Sox now have four outfielders who deserve to play every day: newcomers Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr. And that doesn't include Daniel Nava, who has had a respectable .783 OPS since June 4.

The infield doesn't offer many options either, not with Xander Bogaerts heading back to shortstop and Will Middlebrooks being promoted from Pawtucket to play third base.

Sure, he can get the occasional start at third against a tough righty and spell Bogaerts once in a while at short. And, occasionally, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him start in center against a lefty.

But that notion of moving Holt around and getting him into the lineup five or six times a week now seems moot.

And while we're at it: If Holt isn't in the lineup much, who hits leadoff?

2) Which young pitchers are worthy of holding down spots in the 2015 rotation?

Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are locks, based on their experience and track records. Assuming that the Red Sox will obtain at least one other established starter this offseason -- either through trade or free agency -- means that two spots are open for competition.

Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo are the four in the mix. Workman has been disappointing of late and needs to pitch the way he did in spot starts last year and earlier this season. De La Rosa has been inconsistent, which is to expected with unproven young pitchers.

Webster must still get over command issues (five walks in 5 1/3 innings in his last start). Ranaudo will make his major-league debut Friday night.

Beyond determining which pitchers will be part of the rotation in the near future, the Red Sox will be showcasing some of these young arms to package this offseason in order to fill other needs.

The competition is on.

3) What will Xander Bogaerts look like back at short?

Other than a period of a few weeks in May, it's been something of a lost season for the Red Sox most highly-regarded position-player prospect. As much as he struggled at times at short, he looked more lost at third, committing 10 errors in 44 games there.

General manager Ben Cherington said Thursday that Bogaerts appeared as though he was just getting comfortable at short in late May and early June when Stephen Drew's return forced him to shift to third. Can Bogaerts go back to short and play with more confidence, knowing that the position is his -- at least for the rest of the season?

Can he play the position well enough to convince the team that he can be their starting shortstop next year and into the future? Or do the Red Sox have to start thinking about yet another position shift and plan for Deven Marrero as their 2014 shortstop?

Just as critically, can Bogaerts find his game at the plate again? He currently looks nothing like the poised, confident hitter who opened eyes in the 2013 postseason. Perhaps the end of the musical chairs in the infield will allow him to regain his stroke.

It would be a shame if this year of development was wasted for a talent as big as Bogaerts.

4) Is Will Middlebrooks for real?

The Red Sox have been understandably reluctant to give up on Middlebrooks, considering the power potential he has. In 190 big-league games, Middlebrooks has 34 homers. If that doesn't impress you, consider that in that same time span, Cespedes, reknowned for his power, has 32.

But for all his promise and potential, it's time for Middlebrooks to prove that he deserves a shot to be the Red Sox' everyday third baseman. He'll turn 26 before the end of the season and while that's not old, it's not young anymore, either.

As much as anything, Middlebrooks has to show that he can stay on the field. Injuries have played major interruptions to all three of his major league seasons and he needs to demonstrate that he's durable enough to be trusted.

The Sox need to know by the end of the season whether Middlebrooks is part of their future. Only he can answer that question, starting now.

5) How does the outfield play out?

If it's possible, the Sox' outfield picture is even more muddled than it was 24 hours ago. True, they moved Jonny Gomes out of the picture, but that still leaves them with Nava, Cespedes, Craig, Bradley, Victorino and Mike Carp.

Are the Sox still committed to Bradley as their center fielder? If so, how do the Sox work in Craig, Cespedes and Victorino to two spots?

In the short-term, Victorino's back flareup -- and possible DL stint -- will help them avoid overcrowding. But eventually, they need to sort the situation out.

The Sox didn't obtain Craig and Cespedes to be platoon players. And they're on the hook for another $13 million for Victorino in 2015.

It would be a shame if the strides Bradley has made offensively in the last six weeks were wasted. His defensive capability is obvious to anyone who has watched and it's too soon to give up on him offensively.

In short, despite the upgrade in offense that Cespedes and Craig bring, there's a lot of sorting out remaining.