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Red Sox return one of the best outfields in the game

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From left: 22-year-old Andrew Benintendi, 26-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr., and 24-year-old Mookie Betts could be the Boston outfield for a while.Nick Wass

(Seventh in a series examining the Red Sox roster for 2017.)

That the Red Sox were able to pry Chris Sale away from the Chicago White Sox without giving up Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. was an achievement.

In infielder Yoan Moncada and righthander Michael Kopech, the Sox traded two of the best prospects in the game as part of a four-player package to get Sale. But that was a far better outcome than breaking up the outfield trio of Benintendi, Bradley, and Mookie Betts.

If the Red Sox return to the World Series next season, landing Sale while retaining their trio of exciting young outfielders could be the reason why.


"We wanted to keep that outfield together," president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "It's a special group."

It could well be the best trio in the game by a wide margin.

Betts finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting and won a Gold Glove in right field. He hit .318 with an .897 OPS. He was second on the team with 31 home runs, drove in 113 runs, scored 122 runs, and stole 26 bases. It was one of the best all-around seasons in franchise history.

Betts was the first Red Sox player since Ted Williams, who did it twice, to have at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs before turning 24.

He is already one of the best players in the game, and he has raised his OPS two years in a row. Every player has a ceiling, but his is in the stratosphere.

Bradley was third on the team in Wins Above Replacement with 5.3 last season. A gifted defensive player with power, he can change a game in many ways.

The last hurdle in Bradley's development is consistency. He is a streaky hitter prone to strikeouts, but that can be smoothed out. Since Aug. 1, 2015, he has hit .269 with an .857 OPS. He has 35 home runs and 127 RBIs over 213 games. There's a reason Dombrowski did not want to give him up.


Bradley was also a Gold Glove finalist, yet he didn't have the kind of season he wanted defensively, feeling he missed on a few opportunities. Look for improvement in 2017.

The arrival of Benintendi was one of the best developments of 2016 for the Sox. The 22-year-old had an .835 OPS over 34 games after being promoted from Double A Portland in August. He also dodged what looked like a season-ending injury to his left knee Aug. 24 in Tampa.

It may not be right away, but Benintendi could fit best as a No. 2 hitter. His surprising power and advanced approach at the plate will change the look of the offense over a full season.

Outside of Benintendi, Red Sox left fielders hit .259 with 12 home runs and 58 RBIs last season. A full season of Benintendi should vastly improve that production.

Benintendi also brings center fielder defensive skills to left field. As a group, Sox outfielders were credited with 42 defensive runs saved last season. Only the Royals (45) had more. That number could climb into the 50s next season.

The primary backup will be Chris Young. The 33-year-old was limited to 76 games because of a hamstring strain but hit .276 with an .850 OPS. He played most of his innings in left but started three games in center and two in right.


Young has a career .846 OPS against lefthanders — .999 last season — and that will earn him plenty of playing time as the designated hitter against lefties or in the outfield.

Brock Holt started the most games in left field last season, wresting the job away from Rusney Castillo in spring training. He has 147 games of outfield experience, and John Farrell won't be afraid to use him. when needed.

First baseman Mitch Moreland, signed earlier this month, has played 47 games in the outfield during his career, all but two in right. Moreland would not be a good fit at Fenway given the national park-sized ground to cover, but he could get a start or two on the road.

The farm system is almost wholly lacking in outfield prospects. Bryce Brentz, who has played 34 major league games, has played parts of five seasons at Triple A Pawtucket. The former supplemental first-round pick turns 28 this month and could use an opportunity elsewhere at this point.

Infielder Marco Hernandez is a candidate to get some work in the outfield during spring training. Beyond that, you can expect the Sox to sign a veteran or two to serve as insurance in Triple A.

Castillo, 29, is not on the 40-man roster and won't be any time soon, as that shields his contract from Major League Baseball's competitive balance tax calculations.


The Sox spent $72.5 million to sign Castillo out of Cuba in 2014. He has since played only 99 games in the majors and has a .679 OPS. He was outrighted to Pawtucket last season.

Castillo has four years and $46 million left on his deal. If communism is toppled in Cuba, he may be responsible.


Primary 2016 starters: Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF), Mookie Betts (RF), Brock Holt (LF).

Expected 2017 starters: Bradley (CF), Betts (RF), Andrew Benintendi (LF).

Major league depth: Holt, Chris Young, Bryce Brentz, Mitch Moreland.

Prospects to watch: Rusney Castillo.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.