It feels like I’ve started off every post for the last couple of months with some variation of “The Red Sox need pitching!” but, well, the Red Sox need pitching. And as we’ve discussed this offseason, the majority of the focus has been on potential upgrades they can make on the pitching staff, whether it be Corey Kluber or José Quintana or Blake Snell or Tomoyuki Sugano or whoever else.
We also know, however, that pitching isn’t the only thing they need. At minimum, they need another outfielder, whether it be Jackie Bradley Jr. or a replacement for the longtime Red Sox center fielder. They could probably use a second baseman, though there is at least a scenario in which they don’t pursue that. I would also argue they should be looking for a left-handed first base option for the bench, too. But the point is, they need a handful of position players, too, if they truly want a respectable roster.
And so with a presumably limited budget — they should spend more than last year, but I’m not expecting a spending spree — that’s suddenly a whole lot of players needed, and I haven’t even mentioned the bullpen. The easiest way to mitigate that kind of problem is to find someone who can fill multiple roles and be a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. Boston already has one player like that in Yairo Muñoz. Another is available in free agency, and they should be taking a look at him as well. If you didn’t skip the headline, you already know I’m talking about Jurickson Profar.
Profar is a name that has been on the radar of baseball fans for the better part of a decade at this point, as he was at one point the number one prospect in all of baseball. Coming into the league with such high expectations, he’s been considered a bust at that point, but not in the traditional sense in that he flamed out. Instead, Profar has simply turned into a really solid player rather than the best player in baseball many had seen the potential for. And to be fair to Profar, injuries played a big role in his inability to reach that standing.
But if we take away the prospect pedigree that is now so far away, we can look at Profar for who he has been and see a guy who is a good major-league player that fits well with this Red Sox team. Consider, first, that he is still only going to be 28 when next season begins, which would make him one of the older hitters in Boston’s lineup but still puts him in the same age range as key players like Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. We’ll get to potential contract terms in a bit, but Profar is at an age where a breakout is still well within the realm of possibility and could be seen as a potential longer-term piece.
And speaking of a breakout, he also is coming off the best season of his career to date. Spending 2020 with the Padres, Profar was essentially an everyday player for San Diego, appearing in 56 games and getting 202 plate appearances. In that time, he hit .278/.343/.428 for a 111 wRC+, which would have put him somewhere between Rafael Devers and Christian Vázquez in terms of overall offensive performance last year.
And while Profar’s career numbers are still underwhelming with a career 90 wRC+, much of that comes from his first few years in the majors when he was both hurt and struggling to adjust to major-league pitching. Over the last three seasons, the first three seasons he has spent as an everyday player, he has been much better, coming in at an essentially average 101 wRC+.
Obviously that is not the sexiest of profile, but it is better than what the Red Sox can expect in-house at second base, which would presumably be Profar’s primary position. I’ve mentioned this before, but in this supposed breakout we saw from Christian Arroyo in a tiny sample he still only finished with a 95 wRC+. Meanwhile, Profar has room for another step forward in his offensive game. Again, he is not an age where a breakout would be ridiculous, and his prospect pedigree certainly suggests the talent is there.
If you want to dig a little deeper, Profar has long shown an ability to draw walks at a better-than-average rate while keeping his strikeouts at a well below-average rate. The issue has been quality of contact, and although it’s much easier said than done improving that aspect of offense the Red Sox have the kind of players (i.e. J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts) to help get more out of teammates offensively. And if you want to keep pulling on that relationship cord, there is an existing one between Profar and Bogaerts, who are the same age and came up together for Team Netherlands.
As far as the role with the Red Sox, as I mentioned the primary position to start the year would presumably be second base. This is where Profar has spent the majority of his time in the majors, and while he hasn’t graded out great by most metrics he’s certainly been good enough to start there. Profar’s big value comes in his ability to move all around the diamond, though. He can fill in if there are injuries elsewhere on the infield, and has played a fair amount of outfield as well. In fact, in 2020 he spent more time in the outfield than the infield, and specifically left field. If the Red Sox find themselves in a position where Andrew Benintendi has to play center field in 2020 — I don’t like it either, but it’s a possibility — Profar could then slide into left.
The name of the game in modern baseball is versatility. The more options a manager has to get through a long season to keep everyone fresh and healthy, the better, and the more versatility a GM (or Chief of Baseball Operations or whatever we’re calling it today) has on the roster the more can be done on the peripheries. In the Red Sox case, it’d be a lot easier to fit an insurance policy behind Bobby Dalbec if they had a bunch of other players who could provide depth at multiple positions.
Profar would do just that while also immediately coming in as their best second base option to go with room for growth given his age and natural talent. The only question left would be price. And with Profar, it wouldn’t be expected that they would have to break the bank. While these predictions aren’t ironclad, they provide a good baseline, and MLB Trade Rumors predicts a one-year deal worth $7 million while FanGraphs readers predict a two-year deal worth $15 million. So, the average annual value is roughly the same, with just a year difference between the two.
And for the Red Sox, either of these I think could make sense. Obviously a team would prefer the one-year deal because why wouldn’t they, but even if you think Jeter Downs would be ready for the second base job in 2022 (a big assumption, but not wholly unreasonable) a two-year deal is still defensible given Profar’s versatility. So while pitching is the priority, the Red Sox need help on the other side of the ball as well and someone like Profar could be a good start to that end.