Eighth in a series.
The Red Sox’ outfield situation is complicated heading into 2020. What you see might not be what you will get when the Sox report to spring training in February.
All three regular outfielders in 2019 — left fielder Andrew Benintendi, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and right fielder Mookie Betts — have been the subject of trade speculation as the team tries to reach a goal of getting its payroll below the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.
The Red Sox have been quiet this offseason with only a couple of acquisitions. But with the calendar turning to a new year and spring training right around the corner, January could be an interesting month as new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom gets to work shaping his roster.
Betts, who is regarded as one of the best players in the game and can become a free agent after the 2020 season, has declined an extension in the past and instead has elected to bet on himself, and for good reason.
His body of work, his age (27), and the market shifting this offseason in favor of players should set up Betts for a hefty payday at the end of 2020.
There has been plenty of trade speculation regarding Betts, but the Red Sox haven’t given any inclination that they will indeed trade him. Instead, they have reportedly sought a landing spot for 34-year-old starter David Price, who is owed $96 million over the next three seasons.
Bloom said at baseball’s Winter Meetings in early December that he’s engaged in discussions with Betts and his representatives.
“You guys know that obviously over the course of time, there’s been a lot of conversations with him,” Bloom said. “I think just because those conversations haven’t resulted in a deal, I don’t think it’s fair to say he hasn’t been open to it. I don’t want to get into exactly what we might be talking about right now or have talked about since my arrival.”
A more likely candidate to be moved is Bradley, who is projected to make $11 million in arbitration and was a name the Red Sox looked to trade to the New York Mets before the Mets acquired Jake Marisnick.
“Any player that’s really, really good, is a Gold Glove-type guy — particularly in the center field category, which the industry starves for — and you’re a year away from free agency, you listen and people call,” his agent Scott Boras said recently.
The Benintendi-Bradley-Betts outfield is one of the better outfields of this decade, and it was on a national stage during the Sox’ 2018 World Series title run. It took a step back in 2019, but remains elite.
The most elite is Betts, who has a career batting average of .301 to go along with a .374 on-base percentage and an .893 OPS.
He’s a four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, in addition to a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He won the American League MVP award in 2018 when he hit .346 with 32 homers and a 1.078 OPS.
Betts didn’t replicate those numbers in 2019. He went into the All-Star break hitting .272 but turned it around in the second half, slashing .325/.389/.603, while also tallying a .992 OPS.
Despite some of the early struggles, Betts still put together a good season, hitting .295 with 29 homers and .915 OPS. Since he broke into the league in 2014, Betts has the second-highest wins above replacement (WAR) behind 2019 AL MVP Mike Trout. Betts’s 72.8 ultimate zone rating is the best among all outfielders in that span.
Bradley has been inconsistent at the plate since he got his first taste of the big leagues in 2013. He has a career batting average of .236 with just a .317 OBP, and has been prone to slumps. After he struggled at the plate in 2018, hitting just .234, Bradley worked with J.D. Martinez’s hitting coach, Craig Wallenbrock, that offseason and got worse.
Bradley hit .225 in 2019 and struck out a career-high 155 times. But Bradley has also been a key contributor. He’s won a Gold Glove and participated in an All-Star Game. He was the ALCS MVP in 2018, and is heralded as one of the best — if not the best — defensive center fielders.
Bradley’s metrics are affected because of the small dimensions at Fenway. What is often a flyout in most ballparks can be an extra-base hit at Fenway. Despite the ballpark dimensions Bradley’s 36.2 UZR ranks eighth in all of baseball since he broke into the league in 2014.
Bradley doesn’t turn 30 until April, and perhaps could help a contending team while also benefiting from a change of scenery.
The biggest question with Benintendi is if he’s an All-Star or just a guy. To this point, the answer has been more of the latter.
Benintendi didn’t have a bad season, but it wasn’t a convincing one either. The 25-year-old hit .266 but struck out 140 times and struggled with his jumps in the outfield.
“This kid striking out  times, that’s not normal,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Outs are outs, but, no, I think that’s one of the things that happened this year. There are too many strikeouts on this team right now.”
Cora said at the Winter Meetings that his staff visited with Benintendi and believes to have corrected his woes at the plate. Cora added that Benintendi got in better shape, which should help him defensively. Some have speculated about the possibility of adding a bigger name (such as Price) with Benintendi in a trade, but Benintendi is still under three years of team control.
The Red Sox’ depth in the outfield is a moving target. If they move Bradley, Betts is more than capable of handling center field.
Martinez is primarily a full-time designated hitter at this point, and the recently acquired Jose Peraza is an outfield option.
Marcus Wilson is on the 40-man roster and could be a solid defensive replacement. Jarren Duran, who hit .250 in Double A last year, could be thrown into the mix.
C.J. Chatham also could get a look in the outfield, as well as Bobby Dalbec, but the Red Sox might have to see what they can get on the open market. Steven Souza, who played under Bloom with the Tampa Bay Rays, comes to mind.
The Red Sox will have some decisions to make, and dealing Bradley, Betts, or even Benintendi for platoon-type talent would mark the end of an era in Boston.
Primary 2019 starters: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi.
Projected 2020 starters: Betts, Benintendi, and a replacement for Bradley, if he’s traded.
Major league depth: Jose Peraza, Marco Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Sam Travis.
Prospects to watch: Marcus Wilson, Jarren Duran, Bobby Dalbec, Nick Longhi, C.J. Chatham.