Seventh in a series
Red Sox outfielders hit 39 home runs last season, fifth fewest in the major leagues. Their 16 stolen bases were dead last and defensive metrics rated the Sox among the worst groups, in the bottom 15 percent.
Other than that …
The team has taken steps to improve its outfield play, signing Japanese star Masataka Yoshida to a five-year contract to play left field and adding free agent Adam Duvall to the mix.
Yoshida, 29, hit .327 with a robust .960 OPS over seven seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League.
Scouts generally agree that Yoshida has a good approach at the plate and consistently makes solid contact. Where they differ is whether he will be as effective against better pitching in the major leagues and be able to hit for power. All sides agree he’s a below-average defender.
The Sox bet $90 million on their scouting reports being right. Their offer was so beyond what other teams bid that agent Scott Boras accepted it the first day Yoshida was available.
“We spent a lot of time on [Yoshida] and believe in our evaluation,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said.
If the Red Sox are correct, Yoshida will be a bargain. If he’s overmatched, jobs will be on the line. The Sox also have penciled Yoshida in as their leadoff hitter, something Orix never tried.
Duvall, who agreed to a one-year, $7 million contract last week, also arrives with a few qualifiers.
He is a swing-for-the-fences hitter with high strikeout rates and few walks and the Sox will be his fourth team in the last six seasons. The Sox also are banking on Duvall being able to handle center field, a position where he has only 68 starts over nine seasons.
The upside is Duvall had 38 home runs and 113 RBIs for the Braves in 2021 and drove in 10 more runs in 16 postseason games while ably handling center field. He had season-ending wrist surgery last July to repair a torn tendon sheath.
Alex Verdugo switched from left field to right field in August of last season. An above-average defender in left, Verdugo was less effective in right.
Manager Alex Cora said near the end of last season that Verdugo’s improvement would be one of the keys to improving the team. To what degree Verdugo took that to heart will become clear in spring training. To date, he has been a little above average player for the Sox since being acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade.
Kiké Hernández, an excellent center fielder in 2021, dealt with a core injury for much of 2022 and played only 93 games. He returned from surgery in August and had a .653 OPS over 42 games.
How he will fit into the outfield remains to be seen as Hernández will more likely be needed at shortstop or second base. But he could spell Duvall at times.
The other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Wilyer Abreu, Jarren Duran, and Rob Refsnyder.
Abreu, 23, was one of the prospects obtained from the Astros for Christian Vázquez in August. He hit .247 with an .834 OPS in 129 Double A games last season with 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases.
He has played all three outfield positions in his minor league career. Duran, 26, played his way into the major league lineup last June and had a discouraging .638 OPS before being demoted in August.
As for his defense, there were 41 players who had at least 400 innings in center field last season. Only Bryan Reynolds (Pittsburgh) and Nick Senzel (Cincinnati) graded out lower based on Defensive Runs Saved. Duran had a minus-9 DRS.
Another metric, UZR, had him as the second-worst center fielder in the game. He seemed almost indifferent at times while in the outfield.
Trevor Story’s elbow surgery and the potential move of Hernández to the infield may have reopened the door for Duran.
“He has a chance to get a lot of at-bats,” Cora said. “We know the player. We know what he can do.”
Cora believes the new shift rules will benefit Duran, a lefthanded hitter.
“He’s still dynamic. He’s young and he’s learning,” the manager said.
The Sox also re-signed Refsnyder, a 31-year-old journeyman who had an .881 OPS last season over 177 plate appearances. He profiles as one of the primary outfield backups.
Three other players with major league outfield experience — Greg Allen, Niko Goodrum, and Raimel Tapia — were signed to minor league contracts that included an invitation to spring training.
Tapia, who turns 29 next month, is the best of that group. He has played parts of seven seasons in the majors, hitting .277 with a .709 OPS.
Primary 2022 starters: Alec Verdugo LF, Kiké Hernández CF, Jackie Bradley Jr. RF
Projected 2023 starters: Masataka Yoshida LF, Adam Duvall CF, Verdugo RF
Major league depth: Hernández, Jarren Duran CF, Rob Refsnyder LF-CF-RF, Greg Allen CF-LF, Niko Goodrum LF-CF-RF, Raimel Tapia LF
Prospects to watch: Wilyer Abreu LF-CF-RF