Baseball is currently at a standstill with the league and players not appearing even close to a new CBA and the owners locking out the players, which in turn has left us in a transaction freeze. Just prior to that going into effect, the Boston Red Sox did swing a very interesting trade, though, sending Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a few prospects.
Typically we’d be looking for any subsequent domino to fall in short order, but now we have a whole lot of time to sit on it and think about what should come next, and which scenarios make the most sense. That’s the focus of our staff roundtable this week, in which staff members are tasked with figuring out which move makes sense in the outfield, whether that means signing someone else or maybe even staying pat.
I believe that Seiya Suzuki is the best fit in the outfield after Hunter Renfroe’s departure. Suzuki has plenty of power and is known for having a strong arm. I would hope that this move would not affect their ability to sign Kyle Schwarber but if it comes down to it, I’d rather have the better defender. I fully expect Chaim Bloom to go over the luxury tax (which is in limbo anyway) so signing Suzuki should not inhibit the Red Sox from bringing back Schwarber. That said, they need someone with upside offensively and defensively. Jackie Bradley Jr. has proven his inability to produce offensively, and Schwarber is not exactly a gold glove defender. The most important factor for me is that they do not plan to play Jackie Bradley Jr. regularly. In a perfect world, Bradley is a fourth outfielder until Jarren Duran forces his way onto the roster.
In the wake of trading Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. (and two prospects), the Red Sox should next turn their attention to Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki. One of the more coveted free agents in this winter’s class, Suzuki possesses power from the right side of the plate and is a five-time recipient of the Mitsui Golden Glove Award.
As a right-handed hitter, Suzuki could fill the void left by Renfroe while also allowing the Red Sox to keep Alex Verdugo in left field and Enrique Hernandez in center field. It’s no sure thing that Suzuki will sign with Boston once this transaction freeze ends, but the 27-year-old has recently been linked to the club and would seemingly be a good fit for Fenway Park.
I believe that the outfield should not stand as-is. Bradley is a face that many fans will be happy to see back in Boston, but his (offensive) production is not near the levels of what Hunter Renfroe provided last year, and Renfroe’s absence will be felt if Bradley Jr. is in the starting lineup on opening day. Someone around the level of Tommy Pham or even Andrew McCutchen that could provide approximately 1 WAR and give a platoon option to Bradley Jr.— if they really want to force him into the lineup that badly— and/or Alex Verdugo, who is coming off of a rough season himself.
All in all, the most guaranteed option is obviously re-signing Kyle Schwarber— which could present its own issue in creating a lefty-heavy lineup, but he would no doubt have the possibility to provide the most value to Boston. Either of these options seem palatable to me, and I could see Chaim Bloom going down either path once the lockdown subsides and free agent activity may begin once again.
What I like about the Bradley/Renfroe trade is the amount of flexibility it gives the team. The Red Sox could either focus on upgrading the middle infield and have Enrique Hernández/Bradley/Verdugo patrol the outfield, with Duran waiting in the wings, or sign a big time bat to play left field with Hernández moving to 2B. If I had to choose I’d love to see the Red Sox sign Nick Castellanos to play left field and shift over to DH once J.D. Martinez leaves.
Adding a left fielder is the move that makes the most sense to me, and the name that makes the most sense to me Kyle Schwarber. He’s proven he’s a great fit and can play in Boston. He’s also willing to at least try to be flexible with his defensive positioning which Cora likes. Whether or not he should be used outside of LF or DH is another matter, but he was also a huge fan favorite as well.
He’s obviously not long for the outfield, but the follow-up to to trading Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. is, logically, Kyle Schwarber. In 2022 he’s part of a mix in left field, first base, and DH (sharing two of those positions with J.D. Martinez), and in 2023 he takes over as DH. With a full year of first base experience under his belt Schwarber might even be able to chip in there going forward allowing other guys to get a half day rest at DH without losing a big bat. Is this probably the most expensive solution? Yes. Is it the most reasonable over the long term of four or five years that Schwarber will require? Also yes.
It has to be to add more offense. Having Jackie Bradley Jr. back is fantastic, especially for all he’ll bring on the defensive side of the game, but he took a major step back offensively last season and he’s essentially taking the spot of Hunter Renfroe, who hit 31 home runs and was 14 percent better than league average offensively in 2021, according to FanGraphs. In comparison, Bradley was 65 percent worse than average.
There are some big names out there who can play outfield (albeit not as well as Bradley Jr.), including Seiya Suzuki, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos and some dude named Kyle Schwarber. Adding someone like that (Schwarber would be my pick) seems like the impact move to make. If they want to go a little less expensive, maybe Jorge Soler or Tommy Pham or someone like that could work, although they present a bit more risk. Either way the Red Sox go, getting some more offense for the outfield has to be the move.
The Red Sox should make a serious push for Seiya Suzuki, if for no other reason than that if you don’t sign him, the Yankees or Blue Jays will torment you for 19 games a year. But more importantly, the Red Sox are in need of a third outfielder and a power bat in the middle of the order after trading away Hunter Renfroe. Alex Cora could have Suzuki playing right field and batting sixth by day one. Resigning Kyle Schwarber is also a make-or-break part of this offseason in my eyes, but I see him as a better fit at first base than in Fenway’s right field.
So I say swing for the fences with Suzuki. MLBTradeRumors.com projected that he will earn a five year, $55 million contract this winter, which would be more than worth it for the Red Sox who have a lot of offensive production to make up for after their latest offseason move.
The Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley plus prospects trade was curious on the surface but I think it hints at an underlying issue that the Red Sox want to address. Their defense across the board was not up to par last year. The opponents’ batting average on balls in play was historically bad and look no further than Nate Eovaldi’s and Eduardo Rodriguez’s metrics to see how unlucky they both were last year. Rodriguez even asked manager Al Avila for a gold glove shortstop when signing in Detroit. While Renfroe’s arm gave the illusion of an elite right fielder, unleashing 16 assists, the rest of his defense was subpar, with both his Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved finishing 2021 in the negative. With Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers having various defensive restrictions but seemingly going nowhere, the team will need to tighten it up elsewhere and that has started with reacquiring Bradley, presumably as a fourth outfielder. Bradley will be able to fill-in at both center and right field and knows Fenway Park as well as anyone.
The next step will be signing or trading for a right fielder to start the majority of the time. With the focus on defense, I think we can rule out names like Nick Castellanos, Tommy Pham, Joc Pederson, and others who grade out poorly on the defensive end. The only reason I don’t rule out Kyle Schwarber is that he could be a fit in the part-time 1B and most-time DH role if J.D. Martinez is traded if/when the DH is universal. Eddie Rosario is someone with an above average bit, playoff experience, and solid defensive metrics.
If they go the trade route, Max Kepler in Minnesota is a name that I have had my eyes on. He graded out as a +8 OAA and +4 DRS in 2021. While he’s hit only .216 over the 2020-2021 seasons, he could pop 25-30 home runs and with two years and $15.25M remaining on his deal could be someone that doesn’t break the bank and would likely not require top level prospects to deal for.