The Red Sox have to add power in the outfield, and they have options in free agency
Chaim Bloom may not exactly back up the Brinks truck for free agents, but he has to know that the Red Sox need an outfielder. One that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.
Fortunately, there will be relatively affordable options out there for the Red Sox’ chief baseball officer. “Relatively affordable” could qualify as a euphemism for “not good.” Certainly not game-changers on the level of Aaron Judge, who doesn’t seem to be on Boston’s radar, despite the team and its payroll capabilities consistently coming up as a potential landing spot.
But that doesn’t mean good players, who will make the Red Sox’ lineup better than it was in 2022, can’t be had.
Realistically, Bloom will try to identify value in the form of a mid-level contract for a corner outfielder who has hit for good power in recent years, whose stock has declined for various reasons. It’s not going to be the most exciting signing, and that may be why the front office aims higher than usual. But based on Bloom’s M.O., the most likely move in the outfield is for a low-to-mid-level signing with a chance to pay off big.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 15: Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom looks on during a press conference addressing the departure of Alex Cora as manager of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on January 15, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. A MLB investigation concluded that Cora was involved in the Houston Astros sign stealing operation in 2017 while he was the bench coach. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
If Bloom isn’t going to make a big splash, ideally he can identify the next Hunter Renfroe, who signed for just $3.1 million in 2021. He returned tremendous value on the deal with 31 home runs, the second-highest total of his career. Most of the names on this list have already produced at that level in their careers. Others may have untapped potential.
Here’s a look at free-agent outfielders who may fit Bloom’s approach.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 12: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out in the second inning in game two of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on October 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Bellinger is the most notable name among the non-tendered free agents, players who did not receive qualifying offers and hit the open market as a result. It’s been a bizarre drop-off for the 2019 National League MVP. Bellinger batted .305 with 47 home runs and a 1.035 that season, appearing to emerge as one of the premier hitters in the game. Instead, he’s gone way backward since then, batting .203 and posting a .648 OPS, with a 162-game average of only 23 homers.
Bellinger’s strikeouts reached a career-high in 2022 (1.04 per game), while his walks are way down; he had a .405 on-base percentage in 2019, but just .272 in the past three years. He’s also dealt with various injuries in recent years, but he’ll have to prove to teams he’s healthy and can stay that way.
Whoever signs him will be hoping they can fix his hitting woes, and come close to restoring MVP-level of production while getting in on an affordable contract. We all know the raw talent is there.
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12: Michael Conforto #30 of the New York Mets hits an RBI single against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a game at Citi Field on September 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
The former Mets outfielder has been consistently productive in his career, with a 162-game average of 28 home runs. But Conforto ended up missing all of 2022 after undergoing shoulder surgery in April and never signing with a team. He’s expecting to be ready for spring training, wherever he signs.
There’s a chance Conforto could still fetch a decent price tag, albeit on a short-term deal, because he’s not far removed from a 33-homer season in 2019. He would fit right in as the Red Sox’ right fielder.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 03: Wil Myers #5 of the San Diego Padres tosses his bat after hitting a three-run homerun during the eighth inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants at PETCO Park on October 03, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
The 10-year veteran hit 30 home runs in 155 games in 2017, but hasn’t reached that level of production or health in four of his last five seasons. He exploded for a .959 OPS and 15 homers in 50 games in 2020, but that seems to be the outlier. Myers does have legit power and the versatility to play first base or any outfield spot, he just needs to stay on the field. He could come affordable as a low-risk, high-reward signing for his next team.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – APRIL 15: Mitch Haniger #17 of the Seattle Mariners at bat against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning at T-Mobile Park on April 15, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. All players are wearing the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The 31-year-old has dealt with injuries and fluctuating games played throughout his career, but has proved capable of 30-home run power. In 2021, Haniger went off for 39 home runs in 157 games. So if he can stay healthy – admittedly, a big if – he’s going to launch his share of balls out of the park. Haniger has expressed desire to stay with the Seattle Mariners, but he’s a guy Bloom could look at in free agency.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – MAY 29: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros at bat against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on May 29, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Red Sox also need to figure out their designated hitter spot, and that could be where Brantley comes in. He could play the outfield on a part-time basis. But after J.D. Martinez’s power declined in 2022, do they want to go from one 35-year-old to another? Brantley does continue to produce, though. He’s batted .306 with an .832 OPS over the past four seasons, with 162-game averages of 17 home runs and 42 doubles.
JUPITER, FLORIDA – MARCH 21: Dominic Smith #2 of the New York Mets bats in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins in the Spring Training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 21, 2022 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
The Red Sox were already rumored to have interest in Smith ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. Smith was a sensation for the Mets in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, when he batted .316 with a .993 OPS and launched 10 home runs in 50 games. He even garnered a few MVP votes for that. He’s dropped way off recently, and he’ll be hoping that his .560 OPS in 2022 was rock-bottom. Whoever signs him will obviously be hoping for that 2020 magic. Don’t be surprised if Bloom “gets his guy” after sniffing around in the summer.
CINCINNATI, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 12: Aristides Aquino #44 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on September 12, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
The Red Sox made Franchy Cordero a non-tendered free agent, as did the Reds with Aquino – and these two may be somewhat the same. Does that mean Bloom would or would not want to gamble on the 6-foot-4 Aquino? He’s batted .194 with a .650 OPS the past two seasons, but also hit at a 20-home run pace. We must hope – no, pray – that Bloom doesn’t peg this guy as a starting outfielder. But maybe he’s worth a flier to see if he can build on the raw power. Red Sox fans should brace themselves for this one.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.