The Red Sox had three major-league outfielders on their roster before they signed free agent Chris Young on Monday. Well, that's being generous, really: Mookie Betts is a major-league outfielder who had success -- with flashes of more to come -- in his first 197 big-league games. Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo have shown flashes, too, but they've also failed to produce for a meaningful length of time, so the question of their major-league credentials remains an open one.
That, right there, is why Chris Young is now signed to a two-year, $13 million deal in Boston. He's not a starting outfielder, not anymore, but he can hit lefties -- .263/.362/.474 for his career -- and play quality defense at all three outfield spots. He's a bench outfielder, and that's not something the Red Sox had around already: Brock Holt can't be the backup for everything on every night, you know.
Young is also a player who can log 300-400 plate appearance in a season without ruining it. He's the kind of outfielder who can fill in for a few weeks mid-summer while you search for a more permanent solution. And, in an outfield with one proven commodity and two potentially debilitating question marks, that matters.
What Young is not is the harbinger of a trade. The Red Sox outfield is not overcrowded: in fact, they still need to acquire another outfielder, unless Holt is set to be the fifth in his role as a utility man. And that's probably not the case, given Dustin Pedroia's history of injuries and the questions about Pablo Sandoval's and Hanley Ramirez's viability.
Young is the fourth outfielder and will play more if necessary, if Castillo goes down or Bradley makes his tremendous August a distant memory by May or June. If the Sox are going to make a trade, it won't be because of Young: it will be because they are going to invest in another starting outfielder rather than one of Castillo or Bradley. It will be because they got serious about Alex Gordon talks, or made a trade for someone more established -- it will not be because they signed a nifty bench outfielder.
The Red Sox need to add another outfielder, and possibly two depending on how they feel about starting the year with both Castillo and Bradley. Young was signed to a bench salary, and his platoon splits make him the short side of any pairing. Any word that the Red Sox need to make a move because things are crowded or because Andrew Benintendi is beloved by the front office is pure speculation.
Young is insurance -- he's not the sign that the Sox are going to push their 2015 first-round draft pick up to the majors by Opening Day or even by the summer. Benintendi is likely to begin the year in High-A, and if Boston is aggressive with him and his bat continues to impress, he'll finish it in Triple-A. Maybe, maybe Benintendi pushes someone out of a 2017 role, but acting as if it's a present-day possibility is the kind of talk that makes people believe all Sox prospects are hype and nothing else.
Likewise, the Sox aren't going to give up Bradley just because they acquired a major-league talent. They'll trade him if the return is right, if he could help them get a more established outfielder in a trade or the starting pitcher they need, and so on. For all his faults, he still has real potential: if he could just balance out his highs and lows while his defense remains tremendous, he'll be a useful, first-division center fielder. Castillo isn't going anywhere, not when anyone in the league could have signed him just two Augusts ago and he hasn't done anything to pay off Boston's faith in him yet.
It's December 1, and the offseason has been pretty boring so far league-wide. Creating excitement and intrigue where there is none is an understandable reaction to that. The winter meetings are just a week away, though, so that should all change soon. Just remember that Chris Young's signing is unlikely to have any impact on what the Red Sox spend their time on in Nashville.