Although the Red Sox’ season didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, it’s hard to deny that the future is looking up for this organization. With all of the youth up and down the roster, October should be in play for the foreseeable future. Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s not work to do in the offseason. There are a few areas of the roster that could use work, but the number one job for the front office is replacing David Ortiz’s lost production. If you could place a bet on which spot the team will spend the most money, DH is probably your best option.
Regardless of how much they are willing to spend, though, it will be almost impossible to replace all of that production with just one move. It’s hard to overstate just how much this offense lost with the legend’s departure. He won the damn Hank Aaron award! Even if they do bring in someone like Edwin Encarnacion, they’ll need to make up some of the slack in some other areas on the roster. Luckily for them, there are internal roster spots that figure to help out there. Specifically, the team should see a boost in production from a full-season of this outfield alignment.
It’s easy to forget now, but 2016 started with some serious question marks at left field. Rusney Castillo failed to take over the job in spring training, leaving Brock Holt and later Blake Swihart to handle the long end of the platoon. The production from the position didn’t end up being horrible over a full season — they were ranked 13th in baseball by wRC+ — but it’s clear that those two were not long-term options at the position. For an offense that is designed to be one of the best at every position in the league besides maybe catcher, there is a lot of room to improve at what’s traditionally one of the most potent positions in a lineup.
Luckily, 2017 should represent the first full major-league season in Andrew Benintendi’s career, barring any injuries. Just last week, I looked at what can be expected from the rookie next season, and the projections figure to be kind. At the very least, he should be a better and more consistent performer than Holt and Swihart.
The ripple effects of his presence in the lineup will be noticeable, too. For one thing, Holt will once again (hopefully) be allowed to man his utility role, spelling any player who needs rest. This should provide boosts for every position and help limit any fatigue-related DL stints. Swihart, meanwhile, will (hopefully) be allowed to focus on catching again. We know his defense isn’t a finished product, but his offense would be a much-needed addition behind the plate given Christian Vazquez’s deficiencies with the bat and Sandy Leon’s likely regression.
Beyond Benintendi, the team should get a full season of Chris Young in the role he is made for. The 33-year-old was quietly fantastic in his first year in Boston, though he was extended a bit more than anyone would like. Because of the aforementioned shakiness in left field, he was forced to play against right-handed pitching more than anyone would like. Ideally, he is taking 90 percent of his plate appearances against lefties, and the team is currently constructed for him to do so. Think of the Jonny Gomes role in 2013, except with more consistency at the plate and about 100 times the skill with the glove.
Although Benintendi being around should make it easier to keep Young to a strict platoon, it likely won’t be those two alternating starts, though. Jackie Bradley came through with an importantly strong season at the plate in 2016, but most of that production came against right-handed pitching. He struggled against lefties, putting up a .244/.313/.360 line (77 wRC+) in 182 plate appearances. Finding an improvement upon that would be huge.
Obviously, Young would be expected to be better than that. The other side of that coin is, of course, Benintendi. On the one hand, he also struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers, albeit in a small sample size. In particular, he struck out more than a third of the time, which is a rate that can’t be sustained if he’s to have success. On the other hand, he never showed platoon splits in the minors and it’s easy to imagine more success for him as he continues to adjust to life in the majors.
As I said before, Ortiz’s production likely won’t be fully replaced. However, a full season of Benintendi and Young should be a huge development for this offense. Having Young hitting only against lefties will be a big step forward, and he could put up monsterous numbers on a rate basis. That coinciding with Bradley not having to hit against every lefty will have a doubly huge effect.
The defensive downgrade from Bradley to Benintendi in center field will be real, but the outfield as a whole should still be a plus. Against righties, Benintendi and Bradley have the potential to blow away Bradley and whoever happened to be playing left on any given day. By wRC+, the Red Sox had the most potent outfield in the league and with the way things are shaping up for next year, they have the potential to be ever better.