Around the Horn: Outfielders

Around the Horn: Outfielders

The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each week until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.

BOSTON -- It seems there is just one certainty when it comes to the Red Sox's starting outfield for 2008, and that is that Manny Ramirez will rake. Ramirez always rakes. That is the truest definition of Manny being Manny.

But move to center field and you have the exciting youngster (Jacoby Ellsbury) trying to overtake the recently underachieving veteran (Coco Crisp).

Then, there is the right fielder (J.D. Drew) who performed well below expectations in his first season in Boston.

As flighty as Ramirez can be, he is the rock of Boston's outfield. This will be his eighth season as the team's starting left fielder. It is also the end of the eight-year, $160 million deal that former general manager Dan Duquette signed him to.

But that doesn't necessarily mean this is the end of the road for Ramirez in Boston. The club holds $20 million options on him for 2009 and '10.

At one point, it might have seemed a reach that the Red Sox would even consider picking up the options. However, the market has spiked in recent years. If Ramirez can regroup from a less-than-spectacular 2007 season and get back to his .300-35-100 norm, the option seasons might look pretty appealing to the Red Sox.

For whatever reason, Ramirez couldn't get into a sustained groove during the regular season. But when the clock turned to October, he regained his vintage form, hitting .348 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

Though Ramirez is prone to a few blooper-reel plays a year on defense, he is a better left fielder than people think. In particular, Ramirez has become a master at handling the Green Monster. And he also has a quick release and an accurate arm.

As for center field, could the Red Sox have an actual position battle on their hands this spring? In past years, the lineup has mostly been set entering Spring Training.

But if Crisp isn't traded, there could indeed be a fierce competition. Sure, Ellsbury won everyone over with the way he performed last September and October. Does that guarantee he is ready to do it for a full season?

Crisp's bat has been a disappointment in his two years in Boston, but his defense was phenomenal in 2007.

Boston Red Sox
Catchers: In Varitek we trust
Corner IF: Sox spoiled by success
Middle IF: Second season for combo
Outfielders: Talent all around
Starters: Beckett leads elite staff
Bullpen: Papelbon the captain
DH/Bench: Ortiz simply the best

"We're in a good position to have two quality center-field options on the roster, and we'll see what comes of it," Sox general manager Theo Epstein said earlier in the winter. "We certainly wouldn't be opposed to having both guys in camp. It takes more than three outfielders to get through the season. Maybe it will develop into a competition."

Should Crisp win his job back, it will be because he regains his ability to jump on fastballs.

If Ellsbury emerges as the starter, he offers the Red Sox a speedy gap-to-gap hitter. Offensively, the biggest question mark surrounding him is power.

Defensively, Ellsbury isn't quite Crisp, but he's not far off. Ellsbury has well-above-average range, but is still learning the opposing hitters. His instincts, already solid, will only improve through time.

The most positive thing about Drew entering this year is the way he finished last year. His grand slam in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was as big as any hit the Sox had in the entire postseason.

After hitting .270 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 2007, Drew can only improve this year. Perhaps it was the adjustment of playing in Boston, and in the American League, that made it such a tough year for him.

One thing Drew does extremely well is play defense. In essence, he is a center fielder playing right field.

Bobby Kielty, who hit a crucial home run in Game 4 of the World Series, is still in limbo. The free agent is still monitoring the Crisp situation before deciding if he will return. If Crisp is traded, Kielty would find more than enough at-bats to make him happy.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.