The Red Sox outfield has a whole lot of potential. Mookie Betts is a piece a team can build around even at 23, his age in 2016. Rusney Castillo has the tools at the plate, on the bases, and with the glove to hold down a big-league job. Jackie Bradley Jr. might be the best defensive center fielder in the game, and his bat finally seems to have come along for the ride. With all that said, the trio also has their downsides, and relying on them as the starting outfield has its problems.
Castillo hasn't stayed healthy since the Red Sox signed him in August of 2014, and he's yet to turn those impressive tools into reliable production in the majors or minors. Bradley broke out in 2015, batting .249/.335/.498 in 74 games, but he still hasn't proven he's capable of the constant adjustment that is necessary to survive in the bigs: Bradley has had problems counteracting the tweaks pitchers make in their approach to him in the past, and fear that it will happen again is justified considering the limited success he's had.
Betts is less worrisome than these two, but as with any young player, there is always the concern that they won't manage to repeat their success -- and the Sox need Betts to repeat his success even if the other two outfielders thrive.
The Red Sox have a couple of options here. They could sign someone like Chris Young, an outfielder who will fit on the bench both offensively and defensively while also being capable of starting should the need arise: Young, or someone with a similar profile, is a perfect fit as someone who could take over for Bradley or Castillo until Boston can find someone better, or over a lengthy DL stint. They could also go big, and lock down a veteran complement to Betts' youth and promise, making it so only one of Castillo or Bradley has to thrive for the Sox to have the outfield they should.
There are a few options out there -- Justin Upton, Jason Heyward -- but the most attractive for the Sox might be Alex Gordon. The Red Sox have a tendency to spend more money than most teams, but they rarely put all that money into one or two huge contracts. Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million deal is still the Boston record. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford both had massive contracts at the same time they signed, but the Sox hit reset on that plan to get their payroll flexibility back.
They spent all that money the Dodgers bailed them out of, but they spent it on far more than just a couple of players, getting Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, and more with the savings.
Gordon is better than those players, and will cost more, too, but he will also cost less than Heyward or Upton. Heyward will be just 26 years old in 2016, and is likely in line for a seven- or eight-year deal because of it. Upton is a little older, but he'll still only be 28 in 2016, so he's also likely to get a seven- or maybe even eight-year deal. Gordon, though, will be 32, so it's far more likely he is going to get a four- or five-year contract.
The average annual value will be high, with Gordon probably getting something like four years and $90 million or five for $100 million, but whoever signs him will be banking on greatness for fewer years and for fewer overall dollars than if they went with Heyward or Upton.
That's not to say that Upton or Heyward are bad investments waiting to happen: the Red Sox would be a better team in 2016 with both of them, and in 2017 and beyond. Gordon, though, in addition to the lower cost, is a contact hitter who tends to thrive thanks to high batting averages on balls in play -- Fenway is a high-BABIP park, and just last year had a .321 mark compared to the league's .299.
He's an amazing glove in left field to the point where, if there were a need, he could probably play in Fenway's spacious right field, but the Sox would certainly settle for someone capable of figuring out left field's angles after 2015's Hanley-shaped disaster. Gordon averaged six wins per year from 2011 through 2014, and while his 2015 was down, that looks far more like a blip in the advanced defensive metrics (combined with missing 58 games) than any actual concern or decline.
Sox 'reach out' to free agent outfielder Young
The Sox need some outfield depth, and Young could provide it.
He makes perfect sense for the Red Sox in terms of bringing more stability to the lineup as well. Gordon isn't the Royals' hitter anyone is referring to when they talk about their aggressiveness at the plate and issues with taking walks. He's produced a 121 OPS+ over the last five seasons, and a 120 mark in 2015.
Having Gordon in left would not only make it so only one of Bradley or Castillo needed to succeed for the Sox to do well, but it would also take pressure off of the rebounds of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and off the sophomore campaign of catcher Blake Swihart. Having A lineup that starts with Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, David Ortiz, and Alex Gordon would go a long way towards making sure the Sox score runs even if the rest of the bunch can't all put it together.
Gordon will cost the Red Sox their first-overall pick, as he was given the qualifying offer by the Royals, but he's one of the free agents for which that isn't a problem considering his talent level. The Sox are also in a position where they can get away with missing out on a first-round selection thanks to all the talented youth in both the minors and the majors -- it's not a habit you want Boston getting into, but when you can get a player as good as Gordon to help you win now, it's more than worth considering.
And yes, he'll be less effective as he gets deeper into his mid-30s, but by then, Boston's kids will have grown and improved, and some new, younger faces like Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi could be there to complement them.
The Sox don't have to get into the bidding for a major outfielder like Gordon, of course. They could risk it with the lineup and invest in the bullpen and rotation instead, but as mentioned above, there are plenty of reasons to avoid ignoring a lineup upgrade -- and it's not like the Sox lack the resources to improve in all three areas this winter between their wallets and the farm. If the Sox want to add a hitter this winter, there might not be one that makes more sense for this lineup and this park than Alex Gordon.