One of the most interesting changes Dave Dombrowski has made with the Red Sox during his short tenure so far as president of baseball operations has been his candor. During the Ben Cherington administration, it was hard to take anything the front office said at face value. Last year at the winter meetings, Cherington said that the team would not be making any moves. A few hours later, the team acquired Wade Miley from Arizona.
But Dombrowski has been different so far. At the beginning of the offseason, Dombrowski laid down a plan in which the Red Sox would acquire a frontline starting pitcher, acquire a fourth outfielder and shore up the back of the bullpen. Dombrowski promptly acquired David Price, Chris Young, Carson Smith and Craig Kimbrel, all before most of the action in the offseason got started.
So when Dombrowski says something, it's worth taking at face value, at least for now. In regards to the outfield situation, he mentioned this on WEEI's Hot Stove Show. "I think you talk about Mookie Betts is a little differently because he was with the club all season long," Dombrowski said. "He has, to me, established himself as a really good young player in all phases of the game. Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo are in a spot where they showed a lot of good things and there's no question they'll go into the season as our starting group.
"I think they have the ability," Dombrowski said, "to be a real dynamic group together."
In Betts, the Red Sox have a young star whose bWAR suggests a Top-20 position player in baseball last year. At 22 years old, Betts is still developing and has a chance at the Andrew McCutchen comparisons that some came up with in spring training seem not too crazy.
Things get more testy when looking at Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo. Bradley basically put together his first successful month in the big leagues when he hit .354/.429/.734 with five home runs, 23 RBI, nine doubles and three triples. Castillo, on the other hand, struggled to break the big leagues for an extended period of time while struggling with injuries, before finishing the season hitting .253/.288/.359 in 80 games with the Red Sox.
It seems pretty certain that the Red Sox will head into spring training with this group of players as the starters in the outfield, but whether or not Dombrowski should be trying to pursue other options is certainly debatable. The big ticket in the outfield was Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year deal for $184 million with two opt-outs with Theo Epstein's Chicago Cubs. So with Heyward off the market, a small trade market and the demand for free agents such as Alex Gordon and Justin Upton will begin to grow.
The Red Sox aren't giving up Betts unless Mike Trout suddenly becomes available on the trade market. Between Bradley and Castillo, the former presents the more valuable trade asset. While Castillo certainly holds the higher offensive potential and is a solid defender with a rocket arm, Bradley's defense is a game changer. Despite his inability to string together consistent months at the plate, Bradley's glove alone makes him a valuable player, and the fact that he's still just 25 years old suggests that there might be room for improvement. Castillo, on the other hand, is bogged down by five years and $60 million left on his contract. The contract paired with the fact that Castillo has yet to put together a full season at the major leagues makes him a difficult player to deal.
The most malleable piece of the outfield group, as a result, appears to be Bradley and there appears to be few scenarios in which a trade would make much sense. The first would be if the team wanted to deal Bradley for another piece, whether that be as part of a package for a starting pitcher or another outfielder. Among the players on the trade market include Carlos Gonzalez, who would require a significant haul, Charlie Blackmon, who would be a marginal improvement offensively for a drop off defensively, Corey Dickerson, who put together a strong 2014 campaign before injuries hampered him in 2015, or Jay Bruce, who has struggled mightily over the last few seasons despite calling Great American Ballpark, one of the most hitter-friendly places in baseball, home.
Sox tell Royals, Cubs that Bradley not available
The Royals and Cubs were interested in picking up Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox weren't interested in selling.
Among the players in that group that would even make sense for the Red Sox are Gonzalez and Dickerson. If Dombrowski wants to trade for Gonzalez, the team would need to give up several of its top-tier prospects as part of a big package. Gonzalez is an excellent hitter but has struggled with injuries in recent years. Dickerson, on the other hand, could be an interesting buy low-type player who has displayed the potential to be a strong hitter in the past and would require a significantly smaller trade package.
The two free agent options, Gordon and Upton, don't necessarily make a ton of sense for the Red Sox as well, given the team's current circumstance. Both will require significant contracts and have a large group of potential suitors, which will subsequently drive up the price for either player. It's a situation that the Red Sox would probably be prudent to avoid.
So unless Dombrowski has a fascination for Gonzalez or Dickerson, not much on the market would really make sense for the Red Sox to go out of their way to make a move. While going into the season with Bradley as the starter in center field might not necessarily be the most ideal situation given his inconsistent track record at the plate, Young provides relatively solid insurance behind him as a less-Patriotic, more offensively gifted Jonny Gomes. For Castillo, the Red Sox will need to see stronger performance at the plate, or the team will need to either eat a lot of money or deal with another albatross contract. And well with Mookie, more of the same would be satisfactory.