Adam Duvall largely fits the bill for Red Sox additions so far this offseason: If he plays to the level he has in the past, he’ll be a terrific addition.
However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that’s easier said than done.
Boston reportedly reached an agreement with the free agent outfielder, per multiple reports. According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the one-year deal is worth at least $7 million and could reach as high as $10 million.
Without even knowing the incentives, it’s likely that if Duvall plays well enough to reach those, he’ll provide great value to the 2023 Red Sox.
Duvall was an All-Star earlier in his career with the Cincinnati Reds, earning the nod in 2016 when he went on to hit 33 home runs and drive in 103 runs. He hit 30 home runs twice with the Reds, and Cincinnati eventually dealt him to Atlanta at the 2018 trade deadline. He played just 121 games with the Braves between the ’18 deadline and the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before signing with the Miami Marlins before the 2021 campaign.
The hope for the Red Sox is that Duvall is able to regain whatever it is that made him a borderline elite player in 2021. He appeared in 146 games, hitting .228 with 38 home runs, and a National League-best 113 RBIs. His South Florida stint was short-lived; Miami flipped him back to Atlanta at the deadline, a move that proved to be incredibly shrewd. Duvall hit 16 home runs and drove in 45 runs in just 55 games down the stretch for the Braves. He then hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs between the National League Championship Series and World Series, helping Atlanta secure a world title.
And he’ll never have to buy another drink for himself in Atlanta after hitting this grand slam in Game 5 of the 2021 Fall Classic.
The bat is very much feast or famine, though. Duvall was in the 4th percentile for strikeout rate in 2021 and 15th percentile in walk rate.
Duvall also won a Gold Glove for his work in the outfield with both the Braves and Marlins. It’s Duvall’s defense that might ultimately be the most important aspect of this entire move. Duvall started playing some center field for the Marlins in 2021 and then made 18 starts in center for the Braves after the deadline. He made 43 more starts — roughly half — in center field for the Braves last season.
The assumption is Duvall primarily plays center field for the Red Sox, largely out of necessity. Boston doesn’t have a healthy full-time shortstop on its roster after Trevor Story underwent elbow surgery and could miss the entire season. If Duvall plays center, it likely would send Kiké Hernández back to the infield (despite Alex Cora’s October declaration) where he has 64 career starts at shortstop. It’s not a perfect situation, considering Duvall and Hernández have just 139 combined starts at those respective positions, but their versatility inspires some confidence in their abilities to play adequate defense.
In Duvall’s case, he handled himself as well as could be expected for someone without much experience at the position. He ranked 22nd in total defensive runs saved (four) among 59 center fielders with at least 550 innings in center field over the 2021 and 2022 campaigns. The flip side to that, though, is Hernández finished fourth with 18 runs saved. But it’s still a better option than, say, Jarren Duran, who finished 56th of those 59 center fielders with minus-14 runs saved.
The other big question mark with Duvall is durability. The 34-year-old has played 138 games just four times in his career and just once since 2018. A torn tendon sheath in his left wrist ended his 2022 season in July. Wrist injuries can be bad news for hitters, as Red Sox fans know all too well. Nomar Garciaparra was a .332 career hitter before a wrist injury in 2001. He played just 818 games and hit .297 after the surgery (though he did have other injuries after that).
If Duvall is healthy, and if he can regain the form that made him an impact player for a world champion in 2021, he’ll be a significant pickup for the Red Sox. If he plays competent center field and Hernández plays serviceable shortstop, it will be a sufficient stopgap for a team with holes in the middle of the field. Not to mention, if he’s able to regain the 30-home run, 100-RBI pop, he’ll lengthen and strengthen a lineup that lost some key offensive contributors.
But like some of Boston’s other recent additions, there’s no guarantee that’s the case, and that wide range of collective outcomes will determine just how competitive the Red Sox can be in 2023.