Red Sox Rumors: Austin Meadows is a potential trade target to watch
The Red Sox could look to a division rival to find an outfield upgrade
We’re still waiting for the Boston Red Sox to make a significant upgrade to their lineup and the options on the free-agent market are dwindling. The team has been tied to many prominent free-agents in the rumor mill but most of them have already signed elsewhere.
Free agency isn’t the only way to acquire talent though. As the free-agent pool thins, the trade market begins to heat up. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, one name being mentioned in trade talks is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Austin Meadows.
Meadows had a breakout season in 2019, hitting .291 with a .922 OPS and 33 home runs. He earned a spot on the All-Star team and finished 14th on the AL MVP ballot.
The following year was a disaster as Meadows hit a meager .205 with a .667 OPS. He was limited by an oblique strain late in the season and appeared in only 36 games during the pandemic-shortened season.
The drastic decline can be chalked up to small-sample noise in messy season that saw many players struggle to adjust to their routines being interrupted followed by a rushed training camp to prepare for a 60-game season.
Meadows bounced back with a solid 2021 season. His .234 batting average wasn’t appealing but his 117 OPS+ shows he was still a well above-average hitter. Meadows tallied 27 home runs and drove in 106 RBI.
Moving to Fenway park could unlock more of his offensive potential. Meadows matched his career-high with 29 doubles last season and the pull-heavy lefty could easily top that total by taking aim at the Green Monster for half of his games.
MLB plans to implement new rules in the near future, including one that will ban defensive shifts. Meadows faced a shift 75 percent of the time last season and produced an underwhelming .304 wOBA against that defensive alignment, per Baseball Savant. His production jumped to a .402 wOBA without the shift, suggesting Meadows will be among the prime beneficiaries of the rule change. That may not come into play this year but it’s a factor to consider for any team seeking to acquire him.
If his bat bounces back to anywhere near his 2019 level, Meadows would be an appealing upgrade for the Red Sox lineup.
The downside is that Meadows isn’t known as a great defensive player. He’s a passable corner outfielder who spent nearly half of his games as a designated hitter last season, a role currently occupied by J.D. Martinez. If Boston were willing to settle for below-average defense for one year before moving the player to DH if Martinez leaves in free agency after this season, wouldn’t they have fought harder to re-sign Kyle Schwarber?
Granted, the deal the Phillies handed Schwarber that pays him nearly $20 million per year is a bit overpriced for a defensively limited player expected to serve mostly as a DH. Meadows would be a much better value, projected to earn $4.3 million in arbitration this year.
The reasonable salary leads to the question of why the Rays are shopping Meadows. They were rumored to be in the mix for Freddie Freeman but they need to dump Meadows to save a modest amount of salary? The Rays have enough depth that they can afford to trade Meadows without hindering their chances to compete this season and now would be the time to move him before he gets more expensive and closer to free agency.
Tampa Bay isn’t in a position where they need to deal Meadows though, especially after falling short in the Freeman sweepstakes. It seems even less likely that they would trade him to a division rival.
Meadows is an imperfect fit for a Red Sox team that needs a reliable corner outfielder and prefers a right-handed bat to balance the lineup. The former first-round pick is a talented player who has shown upside though, which makes him an option to monitor if the Rays continue shopping him.
If nothing else, this is a reminder that the Red Sox aren’t necessarily done upgrading their roster despite running out of options in free agency. The trade market is slower to develop and we should expect Chaim Bloom to explore that path thoroughly.