The 2021 Boston Red Sox outfield exceeded expectations and helped fans move on from their beloved "Killer Bs." But is this new group built to last?
The 2018 World Series champion trio of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi was replaced with Hunter Renfroe, Kiké Hernandez, and Alex Verdugo. Despite the pessimism that surrounded them to begin 2021, Boston's new outfielders actually outperformed their predecessors and were a big reason the team made it all the way to the American League Championship Series.
Now, a piece of the "Killer Bs" is back in the mix as Boston recently brought Bradley Jr. home and sent Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers. What does this mean for the Red Sox outfield in 2022 and beyond? Here's a look at the current state of the Red Sox outfield and what the future looks like for each player at the position.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
2021 stats: .163/.236/.261, 6 HR, 29 RBI (134 games)
Contract status: Signed two-year, $24 million deal in March 2021. Mutual option for 2023, free agent after 2023 season.
Outlook for 2022: Still in shock from the Renfroe-JBJ swap? So are we. Bradley's days in Boston appeared to be behind him, especially after a 2021 season that was the worst of his career at the plate... which is saying a lot.
But there's a method to Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office's madness. Bradley gives the Red Sox a Gold Glove in the outfield and the ability to take advantage of Hernandez's versatility rather than stick him in center. And as great as it was to watch Renfroe throw runners out with a cannon from right field, he wasn't exactly a defensive wizard. Boston also acquired two intriguing prospects from Milwaukee in the deal.
JBJ's role should be identical to the one he had from 2013-20. Produce a bevy of "how the hell did he catch that?" highlight reels in center field while being one of the streakiest players in the league at the plate. He could simply come off the bench as a defensive replacement, but his offensive production can't possibly get any worse than last year, right?... right?...
As for his future in Boston beyond 2022, that's totally up in the air. The 31-year-old has a mutual option for the 2023 season.
2021 stats: .250/.337/.449, 20 HR, 60 RBI (134 games)
Contract status: Signed two-year, $14 million deal in Feb. 2021. Free agent after 2022 season.
Outlook for 2022: Hernandez joined the Red Sox last offseason with little fanfare. The 30-year-old super utility man was added for his unmatched versatility, though he spent most of his time (93 games) in center field. It didn't take long for him to turn into a fan favorite in Boston.
Hernandez enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career at the plate while playing stellar defense in center and at second base. He put up historic numbers in the postseason, going 9-for-20 with two homers and three doubles vs. the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS and then a 10-for-26 performance in the ALCS with three homers, a double, and a triple.
As of today, Hernandez is expected to spend most of his time at second base or at one of the corner outfield spots with Bradley retaking his spot in center field. He's scheduled to hit the free-agent market after the 2022 campaign.
2021 stats: .289/.351/.426, 13 HR, 63 RBI (146 games)
Contract status: Signed one-year, $649,500 contract last winter. Arbitration-eligible through 2024
Outlook for 2022: Verdugo resumed his role as Boston's spark plug last season and made it clear he enjoys every minute spent in a Red Sox uniform. Fortunately for him, he appears to be a big part of the team's long-term plans.
The 25-year-old spent most of his time in left field after Hernandez took over in center. That switch turned out to be beneficial, so that's likely where he'll be for most of 2022 unless the Red Sox snag, say, a Kyle Schwarber in free agency. Oddly enough, Verdugo put up eerily similar numbers to ex-Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi in 2021. In his first season with the Kansas City Royals, Benintendi slashed .276/.324/.442 with 17 homers and 73 RBI.
Verdugo will look to take a step forward offensively next season. He's no Mookie Betts, and he doesn't have to be, but Boston would love to see more power out of him as he continues to develop. Regardless, Verdugo has been a welcome addition to the Red Sox lineup and has helped get the bitter taste of the Betts trade out of Sox fans' mouths.
2021 stats: .286/.349/.518, 28 HR, 99 RBI (148 games)
Contract status: Signed a five-year, $110 million contract in Feb. 2018. Free agent after 2022 season
Outlook for 2022: Martinez is on here as a formality as he's primarily a designated hitter, but it's still worth mentioning the veteran slugger as he enters what could be his final season in Boston.
Martinez exercised his $19.4 million player option for 2022 and will officially become an unrestricted free agent after the campaign. Following a dismal 2020, the 34-year-old old showed last season he's undoubtedly still one of the game's most fearsome hitters. We can expect more of the same next year.
It seems improbable the Red Sox will pay up for Martinez in free agency next year given his age and the likely implementation of the universal DH. Enjoy his production in the middle of the order while it lasts.
2021 stats: .215/.241/.336, 2 HR, 10 RBI (33 games)
Contract status: Under team control through 2024
Outlook for 2022: Duran will look to work his way back into the Red Sox lineup after looking overmatched in the big leagues last season. The 25-year-old struck out in 40 of his 112 plate appearances and couldn't quite carry over his power from Triple-A Worcester, where he hit 16 homers in 60 games.
As Baseball America's No. 4 ranked Sox prospect, Duran should still have a chance to make an impression with the major-league club. The speedster's minor-league numbers were too encouraging to simply dismiss him after 33 games in the bigs. That said, it's abundantly clear he still has a long way to go.