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The Red Sox should trade Andrew Benintendi, then sign Marcell Ozuna

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Let’s improve the offense in a big way while ridding the team of it’s biggest unknown.

National League Championship Series Game 7: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There has been much speculation over the last few weeks about Andrew Benintendi’s future in a Red Sox uniform. It remains to be seen whether or not he will be traded, but one thing that seems certain is that his trade value remains a mystery, even more than most players following the strange 2020. Once the top prospect in all of baseball, Benintendi has been mostly an average major leaguer, amassing a career wRC+ of 108. While he is just 26 years old, his career has been trending in the wrong direction culminating in an injury-riddled and ineffective 2020.

Benintendi has seen his athleticism drop since he entered the league in 2016. That year his sprint speed as measured by Statcast was in the 89th percentile. That number has fallen each year since to 80th in 2017, 68th in 2018, 54th in 2019, and finally 43rd last year. By Outs Above Average, he has been one of the worst left fielders in baseball since he entered the league. Given all of that, he simply can’t be a positive on this team without having a high functioning bat.

2019 Andrew Benintendi Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Unfortunately for Benintendi, his bat has seldom been fantastic aside from an excellent first half of 2018 in which he posted a wRC+ of 139. The odds of him all of a sudden regaining lost athleticism and making strides at the plate seem long to me, and because of this I have been a proponent of trading Benintendi.

One of the biggest reasons why I think it would be smart to trade him is that Marcell Ozuna represents an opportunity to take Boston’s offense to the next level. The veteran is currently a free agent in an extremely slow developing market, and at the start of the offseason MLB Trade Rumors predicted he would end up signing a four-year deal worth $72 million. If that’s all it ends up taking to sign him, then the Red Sox would be foolish not jump at that opportunity.

In the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Ozuna was among the best hitters in all of baseball. He ranked third in wRC+ with a mark of 179, trailing only Juan Soto (200) and Freddie Freeman (187). He also hit 18 home runs and drove in 56 RBI, good enough for third and second in the majors, respectively. His career-best slashline of .338/.431/.636 had him as fourth in batting average, third in OBP, and third in slugging. He was an absolute force.

Ozuna will play the entire 2021 season at 30 years old and a four-year deal for a hitter of his quality seems like a steal. In each of the last four seasons his exit velocity has gone up and has never dipped under the 90th percentile, peaking last season in the 96th percentile. His quality of contact has been elite in not only average exit velocity but also max exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, and xwOBA. Simply put, he is an elite hitter who seems to be getting better each year.

2020 Marcell Ozuna courtesy of Baseball Savant
2019 Marcell Ozuna courtesy of Baseball Savant

FanGraphs currently has four projections listed on their player pages, and each of them has him hitting over 35 home runs in 2021 with a slash line somewhere around .275/.350/.500.. Adding his bat to the lineup in place of Benintendi’s uncertain production would go a long way towards carrying a pitching staff that leaves a lot to be desired, to put it kindly.

In the field Ozuna is no longer the Gold Glove award winner that he was in 2017. He had shoulder surgery at the end of 2018, but even still he is far from a liability out there. Dating back to 2017, Ozuna ranks 87th in Outs Above Average among all outfielders at -9, Benintendi ranks 101st at -20. I expect that in a very small left field at Fenway Park he would be just fine. We aren’t talking about J.D. Martinez out there. Even with a substantially thicker and more muscular frame, Ozuna still posted better sprint speed than Benintendi.

Critics of a move like this might say “Why sign another bat when it’s the pitching staff that needs resources?” The reason is that the pitching market is incredibly weak. Do you really want to pay Jake Odorizzi for three years and $39 million like his MLB Trade Rumors prediction suggests? I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable giving him that, or more. The pitching market is so much more robust in the 2021-2022 offseason that I am more inclined to see what they have in Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez and either wait to add next year or via the trade market.

Ozuna, however, represents one of the best bats that will be on the market over the next two seasons and will not require the Red Sox to forfeit any draft compensation for signing him. The 2021-2022 class is rich in shortstops with Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story, but with Xander Bogaerts here already none of those players represents a massive upgrade. Bogaerts has already shown a willingness to work with management to get a long-term deal done and his leadership cannot be overstated.

The market for outfielders in the 2021-2022 class, meanwhile, is much more limited with older players like Charlie Blackmon and Starling Marte along with the talented, but potential health risk, Kris Bryant. Michel Conforto will be the big prize of that offseason at 29 years old, but I highly doubt the Mets new ownership lets him go. Signing Ozuna would likely cost less than many of the aforementioned players and would protect your offense against the potential continued decline of Martinez or the unfortunate departure of Bogaerts in free agency.

Take what you can get for Benintendi now and go out and get the sure thing in Ozuna. The future is far from guaranteed and the market for Ozuna has seemingly been very soft to this point. Even if you don’t love his defense, he has to play the field for two years or less until Martinez’s contract ends, at which point he can become the DH for the final years of his deal. We saw what Ozuna at Fenway looked like last year when he came here and swatted three home runs in a single game, albeit against the 2020 Red Sox pitching staff. Let’s bring some energy and excitement back to Fenway with the charismatic and incredibly talented Ozuna.