Since the beginning on August, the Red Sox have gone 20-15, giving them a .571 winning percentage over that span. Even for a team that has realistically been out of the playoff race for quite some time, this is a very encouraging run that has been a blast to watch. The face — or faces — of this run reside in the outfield.
Mookie Betts has simply done what he has done for the majority of the season, putting up solid all-around numbers that combine to form an extremely valuable player. Jackie Bradley has been an elite hitter in the second half, and that’s no exaggeration. Among every major-league player with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star break, only Joey Votto and Josh Donaldson have a higher wRC+. Rusney Castillo has been the worst of the trio, and he has an .832 OPS since August 1.
Even with all of those numbers, and the fact that all three of these guys look great, I still worry a bit about putting all three in the outfield for the 2016 season. That’s not to say it can’t work, or that the Red Sox would be dumb to run with another outfield. I just feel it’s a mistake to look at it as the only option. We’re still looking at small-sample successes for both Bradley and Castillo.
Having two-thirds of your outfield come in with that kind of uncertainty is scary. On top of that, there’s a difference between performing in a lost season versus performing when the team is expected to contend. There’s no guarantee Bradley and Castillo will play with the same ease in a tenser situation. Again, that’s not to say they can’t take the chance, but I think it’s worth it to check out their other options. So, let’s do that.
Options: Hanley Ramirez, Allen Craig, Bryce Brentz
Let’s start with the simple alternatives. If you have to fill a hole on your roster, using in-house options is clearly the easiest for the front office. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it is not a realistic one in this case. Ramirez would make the most sense out of this group, which tells you all you need to know about this group. I was one of the last to jump off the Ramirez-in-left-field bandwagon, but there’s just no way you can roll with him back there in 2016. He’ll either be playing first base or be wearing a new uniform. It should probably go without saying if the Red Sox are afraid of the uncertainty around Castillo and Badley, Craig and Brentz aren’t really options.
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Major Free Agents
Options: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon*
This is the most intriguing option, although it is obviously a very expensive one. These guys are all going to cost a ton of money, and the Red Sox will likely already need to spend a ton of money in free agency. With that being said, they’re on the hook for about $112 million in 2016, per Cots Contracts, before arbitration players are factored in. If they want to stick below the luxury tax threshold (which is no guarantee), they’ll likely have somewhere between $50-$60 million to spend this winter. The guys listed above will probably be looking at $20 million in average annual value. In the end, it will likely come down to their strategy in the rotation. If they grab their major pitching piece via trade, they’ll have money to spend on one of these guys. Each of them come with vastly different skill sets, but each would clearly be a major upgrade over Bradley and/or Castillo, at least in the short term.
*Gordon has a player option that he once insisted he’d exercise, but I’ll believe that when I see it. He stands to make a ton of money if he hits free agency right now.
Mid-Tier Free Agents
Options: Gerardo Parra, Dexter Fowler, Will Venable
This may be the most realistic option. If they decide they want to hang on to all three but would like to bring in another body to compete for a spot, these three guys could be brought in on relatively cheap, relatively short deals. All three of the names listed above would likely make enough to give them a starting spot to begin the year, but I can’t imagine they’d command a contract that would make it difficult to bench them if Bradley or Castillo earned a spot above them. This option is more of an insurance policy than an outright replacement.
Options: Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, probably a lot of others!
The thing about the offseason trade market is that it’s unpredictable. These guys could very well be available, but there are probably a few others that aren’t on the radar right now that could change teams this winter. Either way, if the Red Sox decide to fix their rotation with money in the free agent market, they could use their prospect stock to add a bit more certainty to their outfield. A little more pop in Boston’s lineup certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and that’s something all of those names bring to the table. Of course, this all depends on prospect price, but the Red Sox should have the pieces to get this kind of trade done.
*The Stanton mention was a joke. I know you all love when people bring him up.
Dave Dombrowski has one hell of an offseason ahead of him. While the rotation and bullpen will be the biggest focal points for the new front office, the outfield situation will be the most fascinating area to watch in this writer’s opinion. There are valid reasons to stick with the Betts, Bradley, Castillo group, but it’s not at all necessary. There are plenty of options from outside of the organization, and ones that could be acquired in a number of different ways.