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2021-2022 Offseason Preview: Center field market

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If the Red Sox look to make a move in center field, here’s where they could look.

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Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

With option decisions having been made and the five-day window after the World Series closed, we are now officially in free agency and player movement should be upon us. (The CBA situation is likely to slow down that progress, but players can change teams now.) For the coming week, every day we will look at a new position group of free agents and trade candidates, finding some who may or may not be fits for the Boston Red Sox this winter. Note that this is not a complete list of free agents and trade targets. Today we look at the center fielders available.

Where the Red Sox stand now

This has been a theme around much of the diamond, but where the Red Sox stand in center field is also up to them. For 2021 the answer was largely Enrique Hernández, who started the year in more of a utility role but ended up playing center field nearly every day. That was a big move for the defense, too, as he provided important defensive stability up the middle when it was needed in the second half.

That said, they could always decide to move him back to second base rather than turning an everyday role over to Christian Arroyo or trying to find a replacement there. If the market lends itself better to finding a center fielder at good value, it’s worth going down that road even after Hernández was so valuable in center field this past season. That said, as we’ll get into soon, in my opinion the market lends itself better to finding a second baseman than here in center field.

In addition to a potential replacement for Hernández, the Red Sox could also be on the lookout for a bench player who could fill in at center field. They did claim Tim Locastro earlier in the winter, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find an upgrade over that.

Free Agents

  • Starling Marte (MIA/OAK; 526 PA, .308/.381/.456, 133 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR)
  • Chris Taylor (LAD; 582 PA, .254/.344/.438, 113 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR)
  • Mark Canha (OAK; 625 PA, .231/.358/.387, 115 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR)
  • Brett Gardner (NYY; 461 PA, .222/.327/.362, 93 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR)
  • Odúbel Herrera (PHI; 492 PA, .260/.310/.416, 93 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR)
  • Kevin Pillar (NYM; 347 PA, .231/.277/.415, 90 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR)
  • Billy Hamilton (CHW; 135 PA, .220/.242/.378, 64 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR)
  • Brian Goodwin (CHW; 271 PA, .221/.319/.374, 94 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR)
  • Jake Marisnick (CHC/SD; 198 PA, .216/.286/.375, 78 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR)

For the most part, this is a market that looks better for the Red Sox to look to fill their backup position rather than being enough to justify moving Hernández. Marte would be the only player for whom that is not true, and he’s one of the more underrated players in the league. He was someone I was hoping the Red Sox would be able to acquire last winter, but Miami didn’t seem overly eager to make that move until this year’s deadline. But he’s an All-Star quality player who has been a consistent three-to-five win player over his career.

Beyond that, though, there isn’t a whole lot to write home about. Taylor and Canha are players I have identified as liking at other positions, but for Canha I’d prefer him in a corner and Taylor would probably be a better fit at second base with Hernández staying in center. As for the potential backups, there are some intriguing names. Pillar has experience in Boston. Hamilton is a great defensive player and baserunner, but he doesn’t make as much sense after Locastro was claimed. Goodwin would probably be my favorite out of this group.

Potential Trade Partners

  • Baltimore Orioles: Probably a longshot, but the Orioles are as willing to tear down to the studs as anyone so maybe Cedric Mullins could be available with the right package. More likely wishful thinking.
  • Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier makes enough money where he’d probably always be on the block for Tampa Bay.
  • Kansas City Royals: Michael A. Taylor probably doesn’t hit enough to start, but he would be a great defense-first bench player.
  • Milwaukee Brewers: There has been some talk about the Brewers cutting payroll, which could make Lorenzo Cain a cheap buy-low in terms of prospect cost.
  • Chicago Cubs: Rafael Ortega broke out in the second half and could be worth a look as a fourth outfielder.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Bryan Reynolds is a better fit in a corner in my opinion, but he played center in 2021 and is the kind of hitter you unload top prospects for.
  • Cincinnati Reds: Nick Senzel has long been a personal favorite of mine, and the former top prospect’s value has dropped down enough that he wouldn’t cost much for a flier as a fourth outfielder.

To be honest, this is not a group that really inspires a ton of confidence. Mullins and Reynolds are both fantastic, but I’m not really convinced they’ll be available and if they are I don’t think this is the spot where the Red Sox will move the kind of prospects it’d require. But if the Red Sox wanted to look into the trade market for fourth outfielders, there are a lot of names here I like. As I mentioned, Senzel has long been a personal favorite. He’s never found his footing in the majors, but he’ll still be in his age-27 season heading into 2022. Taylor would be another interesting name if the cost wasn’t too high.