Mazz: The key to the Red Sox’ offseason may be in center field
The biggest positional need in Boston baseball? That would be center field, the potential key to the entire Red Sox’ offseason plan.
But let’s explain.
Positionally speaking, the biggest needs on the Red Sox for 2024 are pretty simple: defense up the middle and a right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup. Everything else can pretty much be addressed in a variety of fashions, be they platoons, sacrifices on offense or defense, whatever.
But let’s say the Red Sox had a center fielder like Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez or Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox. Everything would change almost instantly. For obvious reasons, Rodriguez is out of the question. (He just began a 12-year contract, one of the more creative deals in recent baseball history that could worth anywhere from $210 million to $470 million.) But what about a guy like Robert, a 25-year-old Cuban who just had a breakout season?
A right-handed hitter who just turned 26 in August, Robert ranked second in the majors this year in WAR among center fielders. (Only Rodriguez was better.) He batted .264 with 38 home runs, 80 RBI, 90 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. Does he have flaws? Yes. IS there some risk? Yes. But he is also signed through 2025 with two additional club options through 2027 for a total of $67.5 million, and the luxury tax numbers range from $8.3 million to $20 million over the next four seasons.
In July, the White Sox were entertaining trade talk on him.
But let’s think even bigger
Now, if you really want to think big, the White Sox could be the perfect match for the Red Sox for a blockbuster: Robert and right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease for a package built around Red Sox prospects Marcelo Mayer and, say, Brayan Bello. Is that crazy? Maybe … or maybe not. Like Robert, potentially, Cease would be the kind of piece with a huge ripple effect that could knock the rest of the Red Sox’ pitching staff into place. The entire makeup of the Boston roster would change significantly – and the Sox might still have prospects like Roman Anthony, Wikelman Gonzalez, Kyle Teel and beyond.
If you want to get something, folks, you have to give something.
Now, are there risks? Yes. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Cease (signed through 2025) is coming off a bad year but finished second in the American League Cy Young Award balloting in 2022. Prior to last season, Robert had 36 home runs for his career. But if the Red Sox are looking to do something bold that could alter the roster now and still leave them both money for the free-agent market and prospects for the future, something akin to this is where they should be looking.
Now back to Robert, who, again, bats right-handed. He’s young, athletic, talented. Putting him in center instantly improves the Red Sox defense while making left and right fields easier to fill. It balances out the middle of the lineup. (He batted mostly third for Chicago, which would place him directly between Rafael Devers and Triston Casas.) Red Sox manager Alex Cora would have something more akin to the lineup he envisions while Sox ownership would have a payroll within their vision and the proponents of the Red Sox’ minor league system would still have pieces to augment the team in the short term and the long.
Is that all a fantasy? Maybe. Or probably. But you get the idea. If the Sox want to do something major this offseason that would still leave them open to pursue a pitcher (read: Yoshinobu Yamamoto) on the free agent market, center field is probably the key to the whole thing.