Late August into September was the month (plus) of Bryce Brentz. It was a strange footnote in recent Red Sox history as a former marginal top prospect who hasn’t panned out in the minors and looked to be on the outs heading into 2017 was suddenly the answer fans were looking for. Granted, it made a hell of a lot of sense to want him called up when rosters expanded given Chris Young’s struggles, the dearth of power in the lineup and his dominance in Triple-A. Instead, Boston kept Brentz off the active roster, for some reason giving Ben Taylor a few Pawtucket appearances rather than keeping him on the 60-day disabled list. It was a strange move, without a doubt.
Now, Brentz is on the 40-man roster with the team adding him shortly after the offseason began to prevent the outfielder from hitting free agency. It’s strange when contrasted with him not being added in September, but makes sense when you consider that he’d likely be worth something in a trade. However, Dave Dombrowski has indicated that Brentz is the favorite for the fourth outfielder role looking ahead to 2018, which just gets back to asking questions about how he’s good enough to have a 25-man spot in 2018 but not a 40-man spot in September of 2017. That’s in the past, though. Now, we look ahead, and I have to wonder if it’s really smart to pencil Brentz onto the Opening Day roster.
First, we’ll start with all of the reasons that Brentz is a good fit for the fourth outfielder role on this Red Sox team. The most obvious one is that the dude can mash, and when he’s right he can hit for plenty of power. In 2017, he hit 31 home runs for Pawtucket and finished the season with a .258 Isolated Power. To make matters even better, he hits from the right side. The Red Sox essentially need a right-handed counterpart to Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. Neither of those guys need to be part of a strict platoon, but both are well-served to get some days off with southpaws on the mound. Brentz doesn’t just hit from the right side, either, but he destroys lefties. In 2017, he hit .279/.380/.577 against left-handed pitching. Brentz isn’t great defensively, but that’s not a huge concern when the Red Sox employ three outstanding defensive outfielders.
Now, we get to the bad news. Really, my concerns are fairly simple. For as well as Brentz played in 2017, it’s the best we’ve seen him in a long time and it came in his fifth season in Triple-A. Some of those seasons were shortened by injury, but the fact remains that he has gotten used to that level of competition. Generally speaking, a 26-year-old who has spent five years in Triple-A while only managing 90 career major-league plate appearances should also do pretty well at that level. Obviously, each case must be taken individually and Brentz was outstanding last year, but it’s worth mentioning that he was surrounded on the wRC+ leaderboard by players like: Nick Buss, Mike Tauchman, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Travis Taijeron and Nate Orf. I’d be surprised to see many of those players taking jobs on playoff contenders to start 2018.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. At the end of the day, we’re only talking about a fourth outfielder. Is it really that big of a deal to give Brentz a chance? In a vacuum, the answer to this hypothetical question in a conversation I’m having with myself is no. We’re not in a vacuum, though. The Red Sox don’t have much outfield depth behind Brentz, meaning the risk is greater if it doesn’t work out. If they had to move on from Brentz, the next options would be Brock Holt, Rusney Castillo, Aneury Tavarez, Jeremy Barfield and/or Danny Mars. That’s...not a great group. It would be understandable if the Red Sox decided they wanted someone who was a little more proven than Brentz for the gig.
Of course, that would mean there would have to be a more desirable player available on the market. In terms of free agents, there are a few intriguing names, though they all have risks of their own, or reasons not to sign in Boston. Austin Jackson is coming off an impressive year in Cleveland, though he’s likely looking for a bigger role. The same could be said of Cameron Maybin, who isn’t coming off as impressive of a year but is more accustomed to a larger role. Peter Bourjos is a fun fourth outfielder, but that’s largely due to defense and the Red Sox are in a position to look for an offense-first player. Franklin Gutierrez has shown he’s an incredibly talented player, but he has an extensive injury history. Melvin Upton Jr. is someone I personally am intrigued by and would take a look at, though he didn’t play at all in 2017. Howie Kendrick is probably the best option of this mid-to-low tier group since he could also fill in at second base while Dustin Pedroia is out. He’s also on the back nine of his career. Regardless, there is risk where ever you look, though some of it is more proven than Brentz.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this one. If the Red Sox went into the season with Brentz as their fourth outfielder, it would be understandable given his skill set and its fit with Boston’s roster. It would also leave me scared because of his track record and the lack of depth behind him. I believe Dombrowski will keep his mind open towards all options, because that’s literally his job. Of course, we all know the easiest answer to this question. Sign J.D. Martinez, slot him in as the DH and give them a fifth outfielder on the roster. Now we got a stew goin’.