Red Sox Rumors: Boston should avoid free-agent outfielder Eddie Rosario

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 02: Eddie Rosario #20 of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the Chicago White Sox on September 2, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 02: Eddie Rosario #20 of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the Chicago White Sox on September 2, 2020 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

Rumored free-agent target Eddie Rosario is a poor fit for the Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are in the market for an outfielder and one with enticing offensive upside recently became available after he was non-tendered by his former team. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Red Sox have shown some interest in Eddie Rosario.

However, despite a connection to manager Alex Cora from their time together with Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Rosario isn’t a fit for this roster.

At first glance, the decision by the Minnesota Twins to non-tender Rosario may seem surprising. After all, this is a player who smashed 32 home runs and drove in 109 RBI in 2019. He tallied 13 homers and 42 RBI in 57 games this year, putting him on pace for similar totals over the course of a full season. That type of run production would fit well in the middle of any lineup.

In an era where home runs are easier than ever to find, we have to look beyond the production from standard counting stats.

Rosario has generally been solid in the batting average department but the career .277 hitter has some warning signs that suggest his decline to a career-low .257 average is more than a small sample-sized fluke.

Rosario is a free-swinger who swung at 42.6 percent of non-strikes in 2020 and 44.3 percent from 2018-2020. He manages to make contact at a high rate with a 72.6 O-Contact% that ranks 10th in the American League over the last three years but that might not be sustainable in the long run considering none of the players listed ahead of him swing at pitches outside of the zone nearly as often.

An apparent allergy to drawing walks with a 5.0 BB% that ranks among the league’s lowest since 2018 has resulted in Rosario struggling to get on base. His career .310 OBP is shockingly low for a power hitter with a decent batting average.

The offensive shortcomings masked by his power production is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the flaws that Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic picked apart in his article explaining why the Twins non-tendered Rosario. The section that the Red Sox should be most concerned with when considering Rosario as a potential target is the part about his defense.

Rosario was once a great defensive outfielder but his excellent range has declined as the 29-year-old’s speed has aged poorly. He recorded sprint speeds in the 87th and 86th percentiles his first two major league seasons but fell to the 63rd percentile his third season and dropped again to the 56th percentile in 2019. His sprint speed is now about league average.

His declining speed has coincided with his defensive metrics trending in the wrong direction. In his first two seasons, Rosario produced plus-12 Defensive Runs Saved and a plus-10 Ultimate Zone Rating. He was minus-8 and minus-2 in those metrics combined over his last four seasons.

He’s no longer the defensive player he once was in left field and would be a liability patrolling Fenway Park’s spacious right field, which is where Morosi suggested the Red Sox would put him with Alex Verdugo presumably sliding over the center field. That outfield alignment would be a disaster that would cripple the team’s defense.

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Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom has expressed why the Red Sox essentially need two center fielders due to the notoriously difficult dimensions of Fenway’s right field. Verdugo impressed when tasked with the challenge this year and the Red Sox would prefer to keep him in that position. While he has some experience in center, Verdugo would be below-average at that position.

Rosario would be serviceable in left field but the Red Sox haven’t given up hope that Andrew Benintendi can turn his career around. There are several outfielders who recently joined the free-agent market after being non-tendered who could conceivably form a platoon with Benny, a left-handed hitter who has struggled against southpaws.

The left-handed hitting Rosario isn’t one of them. While he has no notable batting average split with a career .277 average against both right- and left-handed pitchers, Rosario’s slugging percentage and OPS are both over 100 points lower against lefties. Power is one of Rosario’s few desirable assets so using him primarily in situations where he produces a lower slugging percentage and home run rate would be a waste.

The only plausible path to the Red Sox giving Rosario sufficient playing time would be if they trade Benintendi but that would be a mistake with his value at an all-time low. As frustrating as the last two seasons have been, Benintendi has too much upside to give him away simply to make room for a player who can’t match his ceiling.

Some who are drawn to the power numbers might view Rosario as a borderline All-Star but he peaked at 4.1 WAR in 2018, putting him barely on the outskirts of consideration. His value fell to a mediocre 1.7 WAR in 2019 and 0.9 WAR in this year’s short season. Viewed in that context, it’s really not surprising that a contending Twins team passed on keeping a player projected for $10 million in his final year of arbitration.

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Rosario gets to test free agency a year earlier than he expected but he’s likely to find the conditions are harsh for corner outfielders who aren’t elite offensive performers. He’ll be an affordable option for a team with an opening in left field or designated hitter that wants to add some pop in their lineup but there’s no clear fit for him in Boston.