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OTM Mailbag 1/24: What about the outfield?

Do they really need a center fielder? And more.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It has been a busy few days for the Red Sox as they have added both Enrique Hernández and Garrett Richards to the mix. Those are still not marquee signings, of course, but they are certainly an improvement over what they had been doing to this point in the offseason. We take a little break from looking at those moves for this week’s mailbag, which focuses on the outfield as well as a few more potential targets.

nc2knt via email asks

My question is: Why are the Red Sox looking for a center fielder? If you go to Baseball-Reference and look up the fielding statistics for Verdugo you will find that in seven major and minor seasons Verdugo has played 430 games in centerfield and 203 games in right field. So why do we need to try to resign Bradley or any other center fielder? We could use the money we would save by not signing Bradley or any other center fielder and use it on a closer, which we sorely need.

With Hernández and Richards in tow, it seems that much of the focus for Red Sox fans has now shifted over to the outfield, both in center field and regarding the Andrew Benintendi trade rumors. This is not an unfair question here, and I do indeed believe Verdugo can handle center field without much issue. I don’t think he’d be on par with Jackie Bradley Jr., of course, but not many are.

The issue with Verdugo in center field doesn’t really have to do with Verdugo’s ability to play in center, which I realize sounds a little silly. But Fenway is obviously one of the stranger parks in baseball and right field is a monster, especially for players who have never played here. The Red Sox have traditionally liked to have “two center fielders” to handle center and right field at Fenway, which was why Mookie Betts’s defense was all the more valuable here in Boston. So Verdugo sliding over to center field is fine. Like I said, I think they could more than live with his production with the glove there. The issue is who then slides into right field.

That’s not to say it’s not possible. They could probably finagle a way to make it work if they really wanted. Hunter Renfroe hasn’t been consistently great as an outfielder, but he’s always been at least average and I would be fine defensively putting him out in right field next to Verdugo. I wouldn’t be fine having him as an everyday bat in this lineup, though. And as we’ve said so many times over the winter to this point, the value in the outfield market is really with guys you would only want playing left field at Fenway.

Really, I think the best argument for the Red Sox not signing a new center fielder would be with Enrique Hernández. The utility man has played center field in the past and could play in the outfield (center or right, with Verdugo handling the other one) on a regular basis with Renfroe taking some time there as well. That just leaves you back at square one with second base, though, and I think it’s notable that all of the national reporters were referring to Hernández as a second baseman. Usually that stuff doesn’t happen by accident.

Ultimately, I think you need to just find a center fielder. Bradley would be ideal, but I’m pessimistic on that front and think the Mets ultimately make that one happen for them. At that point I think it’s just easiest if you spend a couple million bucks on Kevin Pillar and call it a day in the outfield (outside of a potential Andrew Benintendi trade). You can make it work now, but particularly for a pitching staff that needs all the help it can get, upgrading that outfield defense is worth maybe going down a half-tier in the closer market.

Washington Nationals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

mahkymayhem via Twitter asks

Would it have been better for the Sox to sign Kevin Pillar before Renfroe? Pillar would give them insurance/leverage in negotiations for other CF upgrades. Renfroe might have been able to be signed later once CF market is decided.

Well, I think this is a little easier said than done and presents its own issues. The biggest one to me is that Pillar is pretty clearly not Plan A in center field. The degree to how serious they are with Jackie Bradley Jr. is up for debate. I don’t think they see it as him or bust or anything, and they’ll set a limit for how high they’re willing to go. But I do believe that Bradley is the top option, so signing Pillar early takes that option off the board.

It seems like you’re implying they could have singed Pillar and then signed another center fielder, perhaps Bradley, and had leverage in those negotiations. I don’t think that works for multiple reasons. One, I can’t see the Red Sox signing two center fielders to major-league deals. They had too many holes to fill this winter and we’re already starting to see them run up against some 40-man issues. Using two on center fielders would have been over indulgent. And two, say we’re talking about Bradley. The Red Sox having leverage doesn’t really matter. There are other teams that want him and if the Red Sox come to Bradley with any sort of leverage argument he can just say “Okay see ya I’ll go talk to the other teams that need a center fielder in a weak market.” It just doesn’t work this year. There are too few options.

As for the Renfroe piece, I think you have to grab a player when you can. I’m not particularly excited about Renfroe, but he fills a role and if the Red Sox saw something in his swing or anything else that made him intriguing, they were right to sign him when they did. You never know how players approach free agency. Plenty are willing to wait it out for the biggest deal, but others will want to sign early, especially fringier options like Renfroe whose consequences for waiting could be a minor-league deal.

The_Surfing_Guy via Twitter asks

Is Jon Lester a Hall of Famer?

No. Lester will be remembered for a long time by two fan bases and was one of the most consistent and durable pitchers of his generation. He’s extremely Hall of Very Good material, but the Hall of Fame is a stretch. I’m not a huge Hall of Fame guy, but I’m pretty confident in this one. There’s not a lot of black ink on his B-Ref page, he made only six All-Star games and finished in the top five of Cy voting twice. He had an outstanding career, but he just wasn’t Hall of Fame level.

That said, I’m mildly annoyed that the Red Sox didn’t bring him back this winter, and didn’t even seem interested in the possibility. Lester was not expensive, signing essentially the same deal as Martín Pérez. The latter is younger and probably a bit better at this point, but I don’t think the difference is huge. And I don’t see either as a long-term piece, so if Lester was interested in coming back (he may not have been, to be fair) it’s a mistake on the team’s part not to make it happen.

Angel Rondon on Twitter asks

Brad hand at 2/22?

I’m all over this, but I don’t think the Red Sox are. I’m honestly very confused by the Brad Hand market, because it sure seems like every team in baseball misread it back in November when he was available for any team to claim off waivers for a one-year deal worth $10 million. He is apparently looking for a multi-year deal, so it will be interesting to see if he eclipses the $10 million AAV mark. To me, he is the best reliever available right now, but it doesn’t seem like the Red Sox have been among the teams interested. There are other options who I’ll be happy with so I’m not overly upset about this, though I to answer the original question yes I would do this.

Ivan El Apex on Twitter asks

Gilberto Jimenez and Thad Ward for Sonny Gray who says no?

The Reds. I am big fans of both Jimenez and Ward, but this is an absolute no-brainer for the Red Sox and a nonstarter for the Reds. Gray has been one of the better starters in baseball for a couple years running and has three more years of team control at a team-friendly cost. Gray is owed just over $10 million each for the next two seasons plus a team option for $12 million in 2023. There’s really no way they are going to trade him for two prospects with neither being a top-100 name, or really even close to that level. (For what it’s worth I do think Jimenez can get to that status by the end of the year, though that’s a different conversation for a different day.)

Thanks again for all of your questions. And again, if I didn’t get to yours look out for it in a future edition of the mailbag or on the podcast. We always appreciate more questions, so please if you have any you can either ask me on Twitter @OverTheMonster, you can leave a comment on our Facebook page, you can drop a comment down below on this post, or you can send it via email to