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Checking the Market: Corner Outfield

This could be an important group for the Red Sox.

League Championship - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Five Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The offseason is officially upon us, and the Red Sox should be active. Coming off one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise (the length of which notwithstanding), they have plenty of needs all over the roster. To get us ready for all of the possible moves that could be made over the next few months, we’re going to spent the next week looking at every portion of the roster and the available players that could be targeted both in free agency and via trade. Today, we’ll look at the corner outfield market.

Where the Red Sox Stand

Ostensibly, this should not be a market in which the Red Sox are heavily involved. Alex Verdugo appears to be a long-term piece out in right field. There are more questions about Andrew Benintendi, but as of now he slots into left field and there is still hope for him being there for a while. Even looking at depth, J.D. Martinez is more of a DH but can play in the corner when needed. There’s an argument to be made this should be the safest portion of the roster for the Red Sox.

And yet, I would argue there’s a good chance this is going to be a key to Boston’s offseason. This mostly regards the uncertainty around Benintendi, in terms of his performance as well as his standing on the roster and even where he’ll play. If he’s here, he will start, though they may want to have some more insurance than they’ve carried in years past. He’s also likely to be part of some trade rumors this winter. Whether or not the market will be robust enough for him remains to be seen, but there’s a real possibility they’ll need to replace him at some point. And then finally, there’s the chance he moves over to center field to fill that hole. Personally, I’d rather see Verdugo move over, but then you need to find a good right fielder to take his spot, which is its own can of worms.

All of this is to say that while the depth chart shows the team being pretty fairly well set in the corner outfield spots as of right now, that is subject to change, and possibly to do so quickly.

Top Free Agent

Marcell Ozuna

Ozuna is probably the top free agent on the market this winter at any position who will not come with a qualifying offer attached. He has already gone through that last winter and a player can no longer have an offer tied to him twice. That makes him an incredibly enticing free agent. The Red Sox saw first hand how great he is with the bat this summer when he absolutely annihilated their pitching staff at Fenway. The park certainly played to his swing extremely well, though it has to be mentioned that he wouldn’t be facing the 2020 Red Sox pitching staff if he were to sign in Boston.

If one of the scenarios above plays out that results in an opening in left field, I suspect Boston would at least check in on Ozuna’s market. Ultimately, though, they may need a Martinez trade to make it work as Ozuna is also not someone you ideally want in the outfield every day. You can certainly live with it, but for the money he’s likely to get I’m not sure the Red Sox would want both that contract and Martinez’s when both are best suited to be a DH.

League Championship - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Seven Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Other Free Agents

Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Ryan Braun, Yasiel Puig, Josh Reddick, Nick Markakis, Robbie Grossman, Matt Joyce, Brett Gardner, Domingo Santana, Adam Eaton

There are a lot of solid options even beyond Ozuna in this market, and they sort of run the gamut in terms of quality of player. Brantley certainly tops this position group, and after not receiving the qualifying offer from Houston I suspect he’ll be a popular player on the market. That he’s getting a bit older may cause some fear about his defense, but the bat is as steady as they come.

After that, there is a really interesting middle tier that includes Pederson, Braun and Puig. Pederson has huge power but has been a bit buried on a loaded Dodgers depth chart at times. Braun has some baggage from his steroid test that will be hard to sell to fans (rightfully so, to be fair) and it’s hard to imagine him not returning to Milwaukee. Puig might be the biggest wildcard on the entire market after not playing in 2020. He was a wildcard even before that, but while there is clear risk he will likely take a cheap, one-year deal and could provide a huge payoff for the team willing to take that leap.

Then, there’s a huge market of solid players who shouldn’t cost all that much. Old friend Josh Reddick could make some sense for the Red Sox, particularly if they want to move Verdugo to center field. Markakis is, frankly, a boring hitter but he’s also consistently solid. Grossman was quietly really good with a 126 wRC+ this past summer. Eaton is past his prime but could be a solid buy-low candidate. Gardner is almost certainly going back to New York, while Joyce and Santana would be better served coming off a bench rather than starting. Of the two, Santana makes more sense given the Red Sox’s current roster construction since he hits from the right side.

Best Fit: All of this is obviously hinging on price, but if the Red Sox are to go after a left fielder (or right fielder, I suppose) rather than looking at center field, I think they should be aggressive. And along those lines, I’d go with Michael Brantley. I would’ve been hesitant to give up a draft pick for him, but without that attached a two- or three-year deal for a consistent 125-135 wRC+ hitter is a no-brainer to me.

Potential Trade Partners

Royals, Angels, Twins, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Pirates, Padres

It’s hard to really tie down the trade market this year because of trying to figure out what teams will try to do with competing and their payroll. There are a couple of really interesting rentals from contenders that stick out to me, though. The first is Eddie Rosario of the Twins, who has long been a personal favorite. The Twins are obviously contenders, but they also have a full outfield with top prospect Alex Krilloff making his debut this past year and another top prospect in Trevor Larnach coming up quickly behind him. That could allow them to potentially get Rosario’s salary off the books before he becomes a free agent. Similarly, the Athletics are always trying to shed salary where possible. There’s not as clear of a replacement here, but Mark Canha has quietly been one of the better hitters in the game the last couple seasons and is a free agent after the season.

Beyond those two, I would look at the Diamondbacks as being clear sellers. They have a rental of their own in David Peralta as well as Kole Calhoun, who has a team option for 2022 as well. In that same division, the Rockies could look to start blowing things up, which could make Charlie Blackmon available. More realistic, though, would be Ian Desmond, who has the added benefit of being able to provide some insurance for Bobby Dalbec as well. Mentioning Wil Myers of the Padres seems obligatory, too.

Over in the NL Central, the Reds have approximately 6000 outfielders ready to play in the majors, so a trade for one of them could make sense. Most likely to be dealt would probably be Aristides Aquino, though Nick Castellanos could be available if they’re looking to shed salary. I have no idea what the Cubs plans are, but it seems like a yearly tradition to float Kyle Schwarber as a trade candidate to American League teams.

Finally, I’d look at a possible buy-low for Gregory Polanco in Pittsburgh. He’s never turned into the player many hoped he’d be, but he also wouldn’t be the first to breakout after getting away from the Pirates. Justin Upton could be an interesting pickup in the form of salary absorbtion, potentially with a prospect coming back as well. The Royals have a few potential targets in Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler. And because the Marlins are always unpredictable, Corey Dickerson is an underrated bat against righties.

Best Fit: Rosario would be my favorite of these targets, but that is admittedly a longshot. So looking for more of a realistic target, I think I’d prefer David Peralta. He’s certainly not a superstar, but he’s been a steady, above-average bat for years now and likely wouldn’t cost a ton in terms of prospects since he’s a free agent following next season.

Parting Thoughts

I suspect this will be the group of position players the Red Sox most aggressively target this winter. While I would disagree with this strategy, my gut feeling is they roll with Benintendi in center field rather than targeting that shallow market. I don’t love that fit, but I do think this portion of the market is a really interesting one with a ton of options at just about every tier.