The Red Sox outfield is set, in the sense that there are three starting outfielders and a bench outfielder and also a bench everything in Brock Holt already around. There are legitimate questions to be answered by two of the three starters, though, as Rusney Castillo has not yet proven he can be both healthy and effective, and Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn't proven that his 2015 breakout was anything but a one-month blip -- especially since he struggled to close out the year.
We know that the Sox aren't actively shopping for outfielders, that they entered the offseason under the assumption that Castillo, Bradley, and Mookie Betts were their starting trio for 2016. However, thanks to Brian MacPherson, we also know that the Sox have been monitoring the outfield market, just in case. That "just in case" could very well apply to Yoenis Cespedes, who is still a free agent as of this writing, even though we're less than a month from spring training.
Should the Red Sox stage a reunion with Cespedes, who is currently torn between a return to the Mets on a lesser contract than he deserves and the larger (but still manageable) five-year, $100 million offer with their rivals, the Nationals? It's not quite a yes or no question, so let's sort things out.
Based on a pure talent standpoint, in terms of trying to put the most competitive team on the field from the start, adding Cespedes makes all kinds of sense for the Red Sox. There is a very good chance that one of Castillo or Bradley falters in 2016, meaning Boston will be in need of at least one different starting outfielder. Beginning the year with Bradley in center, Betts in right, and Cespedes in left would be both a great fit for the Sox and Cespedes, who is stretched as a center fielder and might have to play there if he signs elsewhere.
That way, if Castillo thrives in the minors and Bradley struggles in the majors, the Sox are in a position to upgrade in-season, and they weren't overly punished for their decision to start an unknown quantity. And if both struggle, well, then they only need to plug one hole.
Cespedes would also help strengthen a lineup that has far too many question marks remaining in it. Castillo and Bradley are two of them who could be reduced to one by signing Cespedes, who has his ups and downs but is always an above-average hitter even during those downs, and a star during his ups. In addition to those two, though, there is also Hanley Ramirez, who suffered through a career-worst 2015 on both sides of the ball -- moving to first base should solve his defensive issues, but as for his bat, that's up in the air.
Pablo Sandoval is the other major question, and while he's reportedly already lost 20 pounds or more this winter, stories of offseason improvement are nothing new for him -- like with Hanley, we'll know if Panda is effective or not once he shows it on the field.
There is also second-year catcher Blake Swihart, who at the least should hit enough behind the plate to justify his being there, but he's still a risk that, on top of these other four, is worrisome. And let's not even get into what happens if the unthinkable occurs and David Ortiz turns into a pumpkin like almost everyone else in baseball history has at 40.
Cespedes could be, at the least, a stabilizing force in the middle of the lineup. At best, he could be a major player, one who can hit upwards of 30 homers or maybe even more and help propel the Red Sox back to the top of the division. He'd reduce the number of question marks in the lineup, and while his defense tends to come and go as far as range is concerned, his arm is always there, and the idea would be to flank him with the ridiculous range of Bradley, anyway. He would be a huge get for the Red Sox, and there is little question of that.
Can Boston afford him, though? In the sense that John Henry has more money than he will ever need, sure, but baseball teams have budgets, and Cespedes might not fit into theirs. David Price's massive deal was setup so as to not stop future Red Sox spending, but with an emphasis on the "future" portion of that -- think 2019 and beyond, more so than the immediate future. So, the Red Sox can only afford the $20-25 million per year that Cespedes will cost if they decide that they don't mind destroying the luxury tax limits over the next few seasons.
Jackie Bradley is still a risk for the Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. finally showed some life with the bat in 2015, but his strikeout issues threaten to derail that progress on offense.
It would likely keep them from having any in-season flexibility, which could be a problem if all of Bradley, Ramirez, and Sandoval falter -- that's without even getting into what happens if there is a major injury or if something goes awry in the rotation that plugging Henry Owens in can't fix. Remember the problems of 2011 and 2012? Those would be real fears again, though, at least the Sox have more prospects to plug in this time around.
Could it still be worth it to get Cespedes, even with those budgetary risks? Of course, but even though this is the organization that traded for Cespedes and then eventually dealt him to the man who is now in charge of the Red Sox, they might be wary of destroying their ability to make moves in the short-term. Especially when it is possible that both Castillo and Bradley are quality major-league players, which would negate the need for Cespedes in the first place.
So, yes: the Red Sox probably should swoop in and sign Cespedes, because there are a number of things he could help them out with in their goal to get back to competing in both the AL East and the AL as a whole. It's difficult to fault them for standing on the sidelines, though, as Cespedes won't be cheap, and they would be entering a bidding war at a time when their budget is already used up for the next couple of seasons. Signing Cespedes would answer some questions, only to see new ones asked.
If this were Justin Upton instead of Cespedes as the last man on the market, things might be different. Upton is more consistent, he's durable, he's younger, and like with Price, the chances of him using an opt-out are high. Cespedes has serious peaks in his production, but he also has valleys, and whoever gets him will be paying for the peaks. The Sox have enough questions already, and if they want to add another outfielder to the mix, they might be better off seeing what someone like Dexter Fowler ends up going for, or making a trade for depth with one of the teams desperate to unload before the season.
Cespedes is great, and he's capable of being even better than that, but the Red Sox should probably find out what they already have given the roster is already well past the luxury tax threshold. Plus, if Cespedes signs with the Mets and opts out a year from now, the Sox will have a better idea of just how much they need him around.