Clay Buchholz

A few down-the-road decisions facing Red Sox

Rob Bradford
July 16, 2015 - 8:21 am

There's 73 games remaining. The Red Sox sit 6 1/2 games out of first-place in the American League East. There is so, so much to fix when it comes to the here and now. But there is another layer of decisions that loom when the offseason comes around when the last 2015 pitch is thrown. Here are some things that you might not be thinking about now, but the next 2 1/2 months or so will have to help define when it comes to these Red Sox ... Picking up Clay Buchholz's option This was an absolute no-brainer a week ago. You would have gladly committed $13 million to the level of pitcher Buchholz has proven to be, even with his ups and downs. Now, however, there is this elbow thing. The Red Sox say that Buchholz will pitch again this season, but the question remains in regard to how many innings that will encompass. What if Buchholz only makes a handful of starts, not giving the medical security blanket the team was hoping for? Perhaps this remains a no-doubter even if there is some questions heading into the offseason, if no other reason but to keep the $13.5 million option for 2017 intact. What to do with the catcher position Christian Vazquez is on schedule to engage in full participation when spring training kicks off next year. And going off of the success of another catcher who is a veteran of Tommy John surgery, Matt Wieters, there's no reason to believe rust or caution will be a concern. But the elbow ligament injury was still a serious one for Vazquez, so backup plans would seem to be a good idea. The ailment would also lead one to believe that dealing the backstop isn't really an option (or a desire). So, where does that leave Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart? Hanigan is signed for $3.7 million next season, and when playing this year has proven to be worth the $3.5 million commitment this year. (He also has a $3.75 million option for '17.) But in his time with the big league team this year, signs that Swihart was readying himself to be an every day offensive and defensive threat were emerging with each passing day. Before going on the 15-day disabled list, the 23-year-old hit .317 with a .754 OPS in his last 12 games. Can Rusney Castillo be their right fielder? Has Castillo's progression gone like the Red Sox had hoped? Probably not. Hitting .230 with a .544 OPS, 15 strikeouts, three walks in 26 major league games isn't worth the $10.5 million he's getting paid this season. But it's next season -- specifically the beginning of it -- that will truly define whether or not this is headed in the right direction. The assumption is that Shane Victorino will have moved on, Mookie Betts will be entrenched in center and at least one (maybe two) outfield spots will be there for the taking. This is why Castillo has to offer some optimism in the season's final stretch (preferably at the major league level) in order to make the planned commitment to starting 2016 a comfortable one. In his 33 games with Triple-A Pawtucket this season, he's just been OK. Heading into the All-Star break the outfielder has hit .289 with three home runs, 10 stolen bases, and .757 OPS. Patience is fine. But when you're signed to be a piece of the team's foundation, and being paid as such, that can run out in a hurry. The Red Sox' right fielders currently have the second-worst OPS in all of baseball, making defining if Castillo is part of the solution or the problem a must.