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Chris Young could be an important piece in 2017

The outfield shouldn’t need Chris Young, but he’s there and capable if the need arises.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

After packing all of their big acquisitions into one day, the Red Sox are done with the heavy lifting this offseason. There may be some other trades and minor-league signings on the way, but I wouldn’t expect much else to be added to the major-league roster. The big trades they made on December 6 — specifically the Chris Sale deal, of course — cost the team mightily in prospects. Yet, Dave Dombrowski was mostly able to leave the big league roster intact.* There are a lot of players that could have been included in the Sale deal that weren’t, with Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez and Blake Swihart being a few. The biggest benefactor on the field, though, is the Red Sox outfield.

* I say mostly because I believed Yoan Moncada was the best chance the team had as a successful everyday third baseman, though that likely wouldn’t have started until a couple months into the season.

Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi make up what’s arguably the most exciting position group on the team when considering youth, upside and baseline talent. We didn’t see all of them together for a super long time in 2016, but we saw enough to be enthralled with the trio. Looking ahead to 2017, the expectations for Boston’s outfield are high. Defensively, the group should be a force as all three can play center field without blinking an eye. Offensively, there is real talent from each bat that we saw more than just a flash from in 2016.

Unfortunately, as we all know too well, things don’t always go as expected and young players don’t always progress linearly. Betts is likely immune from any kind of major downfall, or as immune as any player can be. The other two, though, could take a big step back without it being too much of a shock. I’m not saying I’m expecting it, because I’m certainly not, but it’s within the realm of possibility. We’ve seen Jackie Bradley struggle against major-league pitching, and had some serious rough patches in an overall positive 2016 season. Benintendi looked good in his first taste of big league pitching, but the league now has a more complete book on him and we’ve seen enough sophomore slumps to brace ourselves for it. This is where Chris Young comes in.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Young’s time in Boston hasn’t been long, but he already seems to be consistently under-appreciated. When he was brought in last winter, he was instantly overshadowed by the acquisitions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel. Then, during the season, his positive contributions were outdone by the sheer brilliance of the lineup as a whole.

As we try to figure out the roles everyone will play in 2017, Young’s role is once again not one that begs for the spotlight. He’ll still be in the lineup against lefties, although the addition of Mitch Moreland may mean those at bats could come at DH rather than in one of the outfield spots. He could spell Benintendi and/or Bradley in some games against lefties, but right now DH will be where he plays the most. Of course, he should do exceedingly well in this role. Last season he hit .329/.410/.589 against southpaws, and he’s slashed .267/.365/.481 in his career. The dude mashes lefties.

That won’t be his only role with the team, though, in all likeliness. With the possible underperformance in the outfield that I mentioned above, the depth in that area comes into greater focus. Unfortunately, Young is just about the only viable depth the team has beyond Brock Holt, who may be relegated to third base depending on how the Pablo Sandoval situation works out. After those two, it is bleak. The Pawtucket outfield will be made up of Bryce Brentz, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Junior Lake. Which, you know.

Whether by underperformance or a possible injury — something less predictable and maybe as likely as one of Benintendi or Bradley playing themselves out of everyday action — there’s a good chance Young will have to play against right-handed pitching. That is not an ideal scenario, as he’s best utilized as a platoon bat. However, he was thrown into that position last year, and it worked out. It wasn’t the same level of performance as he had against southpaws, but he did hit .246/.319/.446 against righties. That is an above-average mark, coming in at a 106 OPS+.

In an ideal world, Benintendi and Bradley will both perform as we expect and stay healthy all year. Sandoval will perform well enough, giving Holt a chance to join Young as outfield depth. Things don’t go as planned, of course, and might very well set Young up for an unexpectedly big role. Such a scenario would likely still leave him under-appreciated, but Young has shown the ability to perform regardless of how much of the spotlight he’s claimed.