This is the third in a series of under-the-radar options for the Red Sox to target in trade talks this offseason. We’re looking for players whose teams may be looking to unload for various reasons, and for whom the Red Sox won’t need to empty the farm system to acquire. Check out the rest of the series and all of our hot stove coverage here.
The Boston Red Sox outfield continues to be in flux. Returning next season will be 27-year-old Alex Verdugo, coming off a 1.2 fWAR campaign in 152 games (102 in left field and 52 in right). Enrique Hernandez contributed just 0.5 WAR over 93 injury-plagued games, making 80 appearances in center field. Barring a trade, both should be expected to man the outfield on Opening Day. Rob Refsnyder played 28 of his 57 games in right field, contributing a surprising 1.3 WAR, and deservedly will return in 2023, either in a platoon role or as a fourth outfielder.
And that’s it — not exactly an inspiring group. One could argue that this may have been preventable if not for a few trades that were made over the past two offseasons but I’m not here to talk about the past.
The obvious first step is to take a look at the free agent market and the head of the class is a beauty. Aaron Judge is estimated to receive a $300-315M contract, per Fangraphs, and if that’s the route the Red Sox choose to go then I’m all for it. Problem solved; the rest of this article becomes moot. Unfortunately, it’s probably not that easy. After Judge, there is a steep drop-off, almost immediately. Brandon Nimmo is a solid player, but the rumors of $100M+ for a player who struggled to stay on the field prior to 2022 seem a bit outrageous. Andrew Benintendi was already traded away by this regime, leaving Michael Conforto as the only remaining top-30 free agent outfielder. Conforto actually seems like a decent fit for a one-year deal, but he missed all of 2022 with a shoulder injury and hit .232 in 2021 with underwhelming power numbers. While shortstop and pitching help (lots, and lots of pitching help) seem attainable on the free agent market, I continue to believe that outfield help will be arriving via trade this offseason. The match that I keep coming back to is the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks' “problem” is that they have a whole bevy of exciting, young outfielders who all happen to hit left-handed. No problem, Boston will take one off your hands and would probably even send over a couple of solid prospects. As reported in the Arizona Republic, old friend Mike Hazen, general manager of the Diamondbacks, recently stated that he’s not trading them for prospects. “The prospect trade is out, he said. “You can take that off the table. It’ll have to be [an established or major league ready player] and at a caliber for us that we felt like we were equally maintaining [value.].” Though he added that he’d be “open to taking on a prospect to help balance out a deal,” he was clear that “a prospect who is years away from the majors likely won’t be the main return.”
Without the “prospect trade”, the degree of difficulty is higher, but let’s try to find the right deal. Chris Cotillo has mentioned in recent podcasts that the Red Sox may listen on Alex Verdugo, since they have a recent history of trading outfielders with two years remaining (e.g. Andrew Benintendi and Hunter Renfroe), and this seems to synch with Alex Cora’s direct comments that he needs more out of Verdugo. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him moved elsewhere, but a left-handed outfield bat is seemingly not what Arizona would look for in return. Tanner Houck, with five years of control prior to free agency, seems like one of the few assets that the Red Sox could return to Arizona.
Tier 1 - Probably Untouchable
Corbin Carroll: Carroll was called up in late August of 2022, not only as the undisputed #1 prospect in the Diamondbacks system but, in many circles, the #1 prospect in all of baseball. He hit .260 with 4 home runs and 2 steals in 104 at-bats, while somehow being 6 outs above average defensively in this limited sample. A 60-grade prospect on Fangraphs, with 80-grade speed, Carroll has not yet lost his rookie eligibility and is not going anywhere.
Return: Everyone that Boston doesn’t want to trade.
Daulton Varsho: It’s hard to find a more underrated all-around player in baseball than Varsho. The catcher-turned-outfielder popped 27 home runs with 74 RBI and 79 runs, while also stealing 16 bases in 2022. It is the defense, however, that puts Varsho over the top. Again, Varsho came up as a catcher, and yet he finished the season in the 99th percentile with 17 outs above average (OAA) in the outfield, which was sixth in all of baseball at ANY defensive position and, which he accumulated splitting nearly equal time between CF and RF. His Outfield Jump sits in the 96th percentile. Varsho did slash just .235/.302/.443, and his Statcast hitting metrics lag a bit, so if that leads to Arizona choosing him as the player to move, Boston should be prepared to make a major offer. Varsho would be capable of playing the large right field at Fenway and could potentially move over to center field if/when Enrique Hernandez’s time with the club comes to an end. He did pull 51% of his batted balls in 2022 and would likely lose a few home runs that fall short of the bullpen. Varsho enters his first of four arbitration years in 2023, with an estimated salary of $2.7 million by Spotrac in that first year. This is an ideal target for Boston, but it is likely that Arizona isn’t listening to offers on him. “While we have you on the phone…”
Return: Tanner Houck, Ceddanne Rafaela, and Nick Yorke
Tier 2: The Unlikely
Ketel Marte: Before Varsho made the position change, it was the switch-hitting Marte who spent a decent amount of time out of position in the outfield. He played 96 games in center field in 2019 (negative-3 OAA), 3 in 2020, and then 71 in 2021 (negative-5 OAA). Marte only made 3 errors combined over those seasons but did not seem like a comfortable long-term fit, and moved full-time to second base in 2022. He signed a five-year-$76M extension that begins in 2023 before last season, which would make a deal unlikely, but is it possible that the Diamondbacks would like a re-do? Marte’s 2019 season (32 HR, 92 RBI) is becoming a clear outlier from a power perspective, not having topped 14 HR or 59 RBI in any other season, before or since. He hit only .240 in 2022, thanks in part to a .276 BABIP. If the Diamondbacks are considering getting out from that contract, the Red Sox may be interested. Would this be a fit defensively? Second base is blocked by Trevor Story (unless Boston misses out on the shortstop market, in which it’s possible that Story is moved to shortstop). Even then, a Story/Marte middle infield would lead to some ugly defensive metrics. The other position for Marte could be left field, where, as mentioned in last month’s Jesse Winker trade target piece, if Manny could play left, anyone can play left. The 5/76 contract that Marte has may have seemed light after 2019 but seems pretty fair now. I don’t believe he would quite require the return that Varsho would.
Return: Tanner Houck, Ceddanne Rafaela, and Brandon Walter
Tier 3: Attainable
Jake McCarthy: After a 24-game call-up with a 32.9% K-rate in 2021, McCarthy came up and was a surprise key contributor for the Diamondbacks in 2022. Expected to be a defense and speed-first player, McCarthy re-worked his swing in the minors in 2021, resulting in a 17 HR season. After significant improvements in plate discipline in the minors early in 2022 (11.5% BB, 13.3% K in 36 games), he was promoted and put up a slash line of .283/.342/.427 in 99 games, good for a 116 wRC+. He also went 23-for-26 on stolen base attempts, hit 8 HR, drove in 43 runs, and scored 55 runs. McCarthy also cut his strikeouts down to a 21.5% clip with the big league club. His Statcast batted ball data all fell into the bottom-third of the league, but a 98 percentile sprint speed can help in a lot of ways. Defensively, McCarthy had negative-1 OAA in the outfield, falling in the 40th percentile, with the majority of his appearances occurring in right field. McCarthy entered the season as a 40-grade prospect with Fangraphs and the 15th-best prospect in the system for Baseball America, obviously outperforming all of those grades in his rookie season. It’s likely that McCarthy is the player that Arizona would be most likely to move but also would require the smallest return.
Return: Tanner Houck, Enmanuel Valdez
Alek Thomas: Thomas entered 2022 as Baseball America’s 32nd-ranked prospect overall and 3rd in the Diamondbacks system. With hit, power, and speed grades in the 50-to-60 range, Thomas graded out as a 55 Future Value on Fangraphs scale, as well. He frequently hits balls hard and generates sneaky power for his 5’11”, 175 lb. frame. Thomas had a down rookie season, slashing .231/.274/.344 with eight HR and 39 RBI, but with only an 18% strikeout rate. He particularly struggled in September, going 1-for-31 from September 10th on, which led to a demotion in the final days of the season. Thomas handled the demotion well, going 11-for-18 in four playoff games at Triple-A Reno with 5 RBI and 7 runs, leading them to a PCL title.
According to Baseball America’s scouting report, “[d]efensively, Thomas uses his plus speed to cover wide swaths of ground in center field and gets good reads off the bat to project as a plus defender. His fringe-average arm is somewhat limiting but is fine in center.” In 2022, Thomas had a +6 OAA in 112 games in center field (91st percentile), alongside a 95th percentile sprint speed, 70th percentile arm strength, and 37th percentile outfielder jump.
If there is any discount for a cost-controlled outfielder with “plus” speed and defense, an above-average hit tool, and some power, then the Red Sox should jump all over that. This trade would be my ideal outfield target for Boston this offseason, in order to spend away in free agency on all of their other needs.
Return: Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Eddinson Paulino