Boston Red Sox plan for right field isn’t built to last

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 20: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 20: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

What are the Boston Red Sox going to do in right field?

The Boston Red Sox created a hole in right field when the shipped Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers. Manager Alex Cora has a plan for filling the void but it’s a short-term solution that he doesn’t necessarily need to stick with for the entire season.

Several appealing corner outfielders were available in free agency to replace Renfroe but Boston pivoted to spending their resources on Trevor Story. The former Rockies star is a better overall hitter than Renfroe and his pull-heavy swing that fits perfectly at Fenway Park should produce plenty of power despite leaving the hitter’s haven of Coors Field. Story upgrades a weak spot at second base, leaving right field as the most concerning question mark on the field.

According to Chad Jennings of The Athletic, Cora intends to use Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field against right-handed pitchers.

Bradley Jr., who returned to Boston in the Renfroe trade, immediately upgrades the defensive outfield alignment. The Gold Glove award winner was arguably the best center fielder the franchise has ever seen during his previous tenure with the team, which will lead many to question why he isn’t reclaiming his old spot. The Red Sox prefer to keep Enrique Hernandez in center, where he thrived last season. Boston needs a strong defensive outfielder to handle Fenway’s notoriously difficult right field and Bradley Jr. is their best option to handle that challenge.

His glove will be a welcome addition to the outfield but Bradley Jr.’s bat threatens to become a liability to the lineup. He was the worst hitter in baseball last year, hitting a pitiful .163/.236/.261 in 134 games for the Brewers. Among players with at least 400 at-bats, Bradley Jr. had the lowest batting average, the lowest slugging percentage, and worst wRC+ in the majors.

The Red Sox are banking on a return to a familiar environment sparking Bradley Jr.’s streaky bat. He owns a respectable .259 average and .774 OPS in his career at Fenway. Bradley Jr.’s career OPS is 43 points higher against righties than against lefties, so protecting him with the platoon advantage should help him deliver enough offense to warrant a spot in the lineup.

When the opponent sends a lefty to the mound, Bradley Jr. will be sent to the bench. The Red Sox plan to use J.D. Martinez in right field against southpaws. That would open the designated hitter spot, allowing one of the regular infielders to get a partial day of rest by slotting into that role. The versatile Christian Arroyo will fill in for whichever infielder is serving as the DH that day.

The defensive decline will be significant with Martinez replacing JBJ in the outfield. Martinez has produced -7 defensive runs saved in 137 appearances as an outfielder since joining the Red Sox in 2018. He’s primarily a DH for a reason. Cora is crossing his fingers that Martinez can provide passable defense in right field but it’s not a scenario they want to rely on often.

The lineup will be stronger with Arroyo, who hit .329/.356/.529 against lefties last season, in place of the left-handed Bradley Jr. Any drop off to the outfield defense is partially offset with improved infield defense if Arroyo pushes Xander Bogaerts or Rafael Devers to the DH role.

It’s a shaky plan to patch together a lineup using internal options but it can work in the short term, which buys the Red Sox time to evaluate if Jarren Duran can be the long-term solution for the outfield.

Duran’s stock has fallen since he struggled in his brief introduction to the big leagues last season. The highly-touted prospect hit .215 with a .578 OPS and a sky-high 35.7 K% in 107 at-bats.

As discouraging as this small sample was for Duran, he’s still the same hitter who impressed in Triple-A, where he produced an .873 OPS, smashed 16 homers and stole 16 bases in only 60 games. He’s a five-tool talent with blazing speed and emerging power but if he’s ever going to cement a role for himself in the majors, Duran needs to drastically improve his plate discipline.

It’s important to note that Duran only had about a half-season of experience at Double-A in 2019 before sitting out the following year when the minor league season was cancelled by the pandemic. The jump to Triple-A was a steep learning curve and the gap between that level and the majors was wider than ever. Failing in his first taste of the big leagues doesn’t mean Duran’s career is doomed. He can still learn to harness the power in his swing while improving his contact rate.

Duran has much to prove but the Red Sox need to give him that opportunity to develop in Worcester. He shouldn’t be rushed into a spot on the Opening Day roster but if Duran is thriving after a couple of months in Triple-A, he’ll be on the radar for a call-up to Boston. His arrival would solidify the Red Sox outfield, pushing Bradley Jr. into a fourth outfielder role where he can contribute as a defensive replacement.

There’s no need to spend on an expensive free-agent who would block Duran’s path for the foreseeable future. If Duran hasn’t earned himself a promotion as the trade deadline approaches, the Red Sox can explore the market for a rental to upgrade in the outfield for the remainder of this season. Boston can reevaluate the future of their outfield in the offseason.

Whether it’s Duran taking over or bringing in a trade deadline acquisition, Boston’s primary right fielder at the end of the season probably won’t be on the Opening Day roster. The Red Sox can get by for a few months with Bradley Jr. platooning in right field with Martinez but the plan isn’t built to last for the full season.

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