The Boston Red Sox?s outfield opened eyes down the stretch.
There certainly were low points for the unit in 2015, when the Red Sox finished with a 78-84 record, but no aspect of Boston?s roster compares to the outfield in terms of potential and intrigue. The Red Sox have a dynamic trio in place, which bodes well for the future of the organization.
Does this mean everything?s etched in stone? Of course not.
Decisions need to be made with regard to the outfield, and those decisions are complicated by some uncertainties that still surround the athletic bunch. Let?s assess the situation going into the offseason.
2015 at a glance
The Hanley Ramirez experiment lasted longer than it should have. So, too, did the Shane Victorino era.
The Red Sox?s outfield didn?t make significant strides until those situations were resolved — Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on July 27 and Ramirez last played Aug. 26 — but Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo made up for Boston?s missteps with a good September together.
The Red Sox?s hope was that Ramirez (an infielder by trade) would adjust to left field without any issues. After all, playing left field at Fenway Park isn?t too difficult despite the Green Monster?s menacing presence. Manny Ramirez mastered the Wall and even Jonny Gomes (a subpar defender) stayed afloat.
But Ramirez was the biggest defensive liability in Major League Baseball before the Red Sox finally pulled the plug on his outfield career. And it cost Boston. Ramirez now is a man without a clear role, unless the Red Sox feel comfortable handing him the keys to first base, which they shouldn?t.
Betts, Bradley and Castillo frequently were lumped together down the stretch — heck, I?ve already done it here — and the reason is simple: Each outfielder had his moments — they flooded defensive highlight reels — but the group?s impact collectively was undeniable and worth salivating over.
?I feel like every ball that?s hit out there you?re going to be out, and I know the pitchers are feeling the same way. It?s just uplifting,? Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who served as Boston?s interim manager down the stretch, said on the final weekend of the season in Cleveland. ?You look for those uplifting moments in baseball when you can have a team full of guys who are picking one another up, and it also sends a pretty good message to the opposing dugout.?
I?d be remiss if I didn?t mention Alejandro De Aza, who performed very well in 60 games with Boston, but it was obvious from the second the Red Sox acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles that his stay would be short. The Sox traded him to the San Francisco Giants at the end of August.
Whose job(s) to lose?
Betts, Bradley and Castillo.
Betts is the most proven given his consistency and his ceiling. He?s a star in the making and should hold down Boston?s leadoff spot for the foreseeable future.
Bradley finally gave the Red Sox reason to believe he?ll hit major league pitching. He?s still prone to slumps and expecting an .832 OPS moving forward seems a bit unreasonable, but the 25-year-old is an elite defender who needs to hit just a little to survive in The Show. And he showed he can do that.
Castillo is the real mystery. He is 28 years old and the Red Sox still don?t know whether he?s capable of providing consistent production. But the Red Sox have a lot invested in the Cuban outfielder — he signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August 2014 — and they might want to see things through, especially with him flashing his tools late in the season.
Manuel Margot, 21
Margot should be an attractive trade target for teams needing an up-and-coming outfielder given his age, his skill set and his proximity to the majors. He hit .276 with six home runs, 50 RBIs, 39 stolen bases and a .743 OPS in 110 games split between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2015.
Margot is the Red Sox’s No. 4 prospect, according to SoxProspects.com. He might not jump to the majors in 2016, but his time is coming and his diversity of tools makes him a player to watch.
Andrew Benintendi, 21
It didn’t take long for Boston’s 2015 first-round pick to turn heads. Benintendi’s combination of power and speed makes him a very exciting prospect, even if he won’t sniff the majors in 2016.
Benintendi, who was selected seventh overall out of the University of Arkansas, hit .313 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a .972 OPS in 54 games split between Lowell and Greenville. He could climb the ranks quickly with continued production like that.
Benintendi is the Red Sox’s No. 5 prospect, according to SoxProspects.com.
Betts, Bradley and Castillo will open the 2016 campaign with Boston.
New Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski seems to love the trio?s athleticism — he even tried to trade for JBJ while with the Detroit Tigers — and while you need to give up something to get something on the trade market, Boston has other assets that make more sense to deal based on their trade value versus their value to the organization.
The real question, then, is where exactly each outfielder will play. Castillo seems like a safe bet to start in left field. Betts and Bradley, meanwhile, flip-flopped between center field and right field over the final couple of weeks, and the Red Sox still haven’t made a decision on them.
Typically, you’d put your best defensive outfielder (Bradley, in this case) in center field and figure it out from there. Fenway Park is unique in that it has a very spacious right field, though. Betts’ experience and apparent comfort level in center field should keep him there with Bradley manning right field.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images