Not long ago the Red Sox outfield was the envy of league. With Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, the club had a talented group of young, homegrown stars who could conceivably have patrolled the Fenway Park grass for the better part of a decade.
Three years later, those days seem like a distant dream.
The Red Sox outfield is a mess, and after a dismal showing in 2022 the club has to make bringing the group up to par a top priority. Boston’s outfielders collectively ranked third to last in baseball with a -4.3 wins above average mark, ahead of only the Miami Marlins (-6.0) and Oakland Athletics (-6.4). The club also ranked near the bottom in all three outfield positions individually as well, with left field ranking 23rd (-1.5), center field 26th (-1.4) and right field 23rd as well (-1.4).
Some of that can be chalked up to bad luck. Kiké Hernández spent two months on the injured list with core and hip injuries that rendered him ineffective throughout the spring. But while he’ll be back and presumably much better after signing a one-year extension, the Red Sox need to upgrade their overall talent around him.
Unlike at their other positions of need, the Red Sox do not have any obvious internal fixes on the horizon like Triston Casas at first base or Brayan Bello in the starting rotation. Jarren Duran was supposed to represent a potential long-term building block, but he’s now struggled in both of his call-ups the last two seasons, and top outfield prospect Ceddanne Rafaela likely needs at least another year of development before he’s ready for primetime.
So what can be done?
This offseason’s free agent market for outfielders is, unfortunately for Boston, extremely top heavy. New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge will be among the biggest stars to ever hit free agency and would be a massive difference maker if the Red Sox could sign him, but he’ll also command a historic contract and will be highly sought after by clubs across the sport.
If the Red Sox can’t land Judge, their free agent options become more limited. Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo, Astros right fielder Trey Mancini, Giants left fielder Joc Pederson and former Red Sox standout Benintendi are the next best players on the board, and the club could take a flier on injured standouts Michael Brantley or Michael Conforto. The Red Sox could also bring back Tommy Pham and hope he gets his on-base percentage and strikeout numbers back closer to his usual standards.
As for possible trade candidates, the Red Sox could conceivably land any number of standouts if they’re aggressive and ambitious enough. Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds would be a high-end option who’d likely require a sizable prospect haul given his All-Star production, affordable price and three years of team control. Cubs left fielder Ian Happ might be a more obtainable alternative, he’s coming off an All-Star appearance but will be a free agent after 2023.
Lastly, the Red Sox could take a gamble on Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger. The 2019 National League MVP has fallen off the map the last two seasons and will almost certainly be non-tendered this offseason, but he’s also still only 27 and could be a low-cost, high-reward option for the club. Best case scenario, he rediscovers his old form and remerges as a dominant force. If not, the Red Sox could designate him for assignment with little fuss.
Regardless of which avenues they choose, standing pat isn’t an option. Every Red Sox team worth remembering has always had at least one great outfielder, and if the club hopes to get back into contention then it needs to shake things up heading into 2023.