With the free agent market wrapping up, there remains plenty of intrigue left in the offseason. In addition to extensions, several trade situations still seem worth watching over the spring.
One of those is the glut of outfielders in Boston. Even after dealing Yoenis Cespedes, the Red Sox have an arguably-untenable bunching of players lined up for outfield reps. Spring Training could go a long way toward sorting through the apparent bunching, to be sure, but good health and solid performances could force a deal.
Let’s take a look at the club’s candidates for the roster and/or trade block. (Note: I am not saying that all of these players are realistic trade candidates!) It’s one of the most interesting compilations of outfielders we are likely ever to see heading into spring.
Mookie Betts — He’d be the starting second baseman for many teams, but with the Red Sox he could theoretically slot in anywhere. Betts is an extremely flexible piece with plenty of long-term value, and there is no way he will be dealt in anything other than a blockbuster.
Jackie Bradley Jr. — Something of a forgotten man, Bradley remains a high-floor player with his top-end glove and would surely draw plenty of interest in trade. If he no longer has a firm place in the team’s long-term plans, Bradley would be perhaps the most obvious chip to be used to make a late run at adding another starter. He could still be stashed in Triple-A, of course, though fitting him on the big league roster appears to be difficult at this point.
Rusney Castillo – Boston will be anxious to see how Castillo’s skills transfer in a full big league season after his impressive, but short-lived, debut late last year. He is highly unlikely to be traded.
Allen Craig — On most clubs, Craig would probably spend most of his time at first or DH. But with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli on board, he lands in an awkward spot for the Red Sox. With a terrible 2014 and still-spendy contract weighing down his value, Craig’s spring will likely determine his fate.
Brock Holt — Last year’s emergent hero looks like a solid bet to function as a super-utility player for the club next year, though a sub-par spring could certainly change that. Though he figures in the outfield mix as well, Holt is probably best viewed primarily as a utility infielder and therefore may not really be a part of this roster crunch.
Daniel Nava — Though his production dipped somewhat last year after a strong 2013, Nava still showed a league-average bat and actually posted much-improved defensive metrics. He would figure to draw a good deal of interest: though he is out of options, Nava is owed a reasonable $1.85MM and is controllable for two more years.
Hanley Ramirez — Not even eligible to be dealt at this point, Ramirez is unquestionably going to break camp with the team barring injury. But whether he transitions well to the outfield will have a major role in the team’s plans.
Shane Victorino — His contract looked like a steal after 2013, but a tough 2014 campaign makes the $13MM left to go seem a bit high. A healthy Victorino could force his way into the starting mix, or could make himself attractive in a trade — particularly if a contending club were to suffer an injury during camp.
And that’s all before mentioning Bryce Brentz, another viable outfield candidate who got his first taste of the bigs last year. Even if Boston carries six of the above players on its Opening Day roster — with a view to using Holt, Betts, and even Ramirez as part-time infield options as well — that leaves two players that will need to end up somewhere other than the MLB roster. While Bradley could easily start off in the minors, it would be much more difficult to justify such a move for Betts.
It is not impossible that the team will enter the season with control over all of these names, especially if a DL stint or two intervenes to delay the inevitable, but the backlog makes a trade rather likely. I would look for the club to take a close look at its options early in the spring and maintain an opportunistic outlook in trade talks.
With several of the more likely trade candidates needing to show their health and/or productivity this spring, it could be a drawn-out process with many hypothetically viable trade permutations. Also, with the enticing but low-probability possibility of going after a top-end starter, carrying this deep group will allow GM Ben Cherington to explore all such avenues without fear of exposing a lack of depth.
All said, the Boston outfield situation is one of the most interesting in the game. It should provide plenty for fans to digest and debate over the coming months.