Jackie Bradley, Jr., Mookie Betts, and Andrew Benintendi. These three players are locked in as the Red Sox starting outfield for the next five seasons. Bradley and Betts won’t be free agents until 2021. Benintendi is signed through 2023. On Opening Day this year, Bradley will be 26 years old, Betts will be 24, and Benintendi will be 22. What the Red Sox have here is three players who have multiple tools signed through their mid-late 20’s. In other words, when the Sox look towards trades or free agency for the next half decade, the outfield likely won’t need to be addressed.
Let’s start with the defense. All three players are centerfielders. Betts and Benintendi are playing the corner positions simply because Bradley is on another planet defensively. Betts was arguably the best defensive right fielder in baseball last year. He would probably be a top five defensive center fielder if he played there. Benintendi made some tremendous plays in left field during his brief stint with the Red Sox late last season. All three players are great at tracking down balls. Bradley and Betts, in particular, have cannons for arms. There isn’t a better all around defensive outfield in baseball and it isn’t even debatable.
On the offensive side, the Red Sox are equally impressive at these positions. Betts finished second in the league MVP last year with a .318 batting average, 31 home runs, and 113 RBI. At age 24, this is just the start for Betts. He’s going to be battling Mike Trout as the best overall player in MLB for many years to come and it won’t be long before Betts is considered to be the best player in the game.
Jackie Bradley Jr. hit .267 with 26 home runs and 87 RBI last year. This coming from a guy who was hitting at the bottom of the lineup most of the year. Of the three outfielders, Bradley has the least amount of upside at the plate. However, his power numbers were very impressive last year along with his .835 OPS. He had a .349 OBP as he does a good job of getting on base. Bradley certainly has peaks and valleys within these numbers. There was a point early in the season that he was the toughest out in baseball during a 29 game hitting streak. There were also times in the second half where he was an automatic out. If Bradley has an area he can improve on at the plate, it’s simply be more consistent.
Bentintendi is the wild card here. Last season, in just 34 games, he hit .295 with a .835 OPS. As a rookie, this was very impressive. This kid didn’t appear to be nervous at all or in awe of being in the big leagues. He played like a veteran…like a guy who belongs. This kid has big potential to be special and there’s a reason why he wasn’t part of the Chris Sale deal. He could very easily be in that Betts/Trout category very shortly. He’s rated as the best prospect in baseball.
So where does this Red Sox outfield rank amongst Red Sox outfields? Let’s take a close look at some of the Red Sox best outfields.
LF Manny Ramirez CF Johnny Damon RF Trot Nixon 2002 – 2005
Defensively, this trio simply doesn’t match up to the current Sox outfield. Ramirez was a below average outfielder and is not match for Benintendi. Damon was a plus outfielder, but he had a very weak arm. Bradley blows him away defensively. Troy Nixon was a very good defender, but the edge goes to Betts here. He covers more ground and he had a better arm. Offensively, Ramirez is the best of the bunch in these groups. He was one of the elite hitters of his generation. Betts would be the second best hitter of the six. After that, it’s pretty close. You could make the case for Benintendi having the highest ceiling of the four players. He should be able to at least put up the production that Johnny Damon did. This group gets a slight edge on offense at least for right now. Considering the major defensive difference, today’s Red Sox outfield tops the outfield on the early 2000’s.
LF Mike Greenwell CF Ellis Burks RF Dwight Evans 1987 – 1989
This group was better defensively than the previous one, but still isn’t at the same level as the current Red Sox outfield. Evans was an eight time gold glover, but by the time Greenwell and Burks were taking over, he was not longer elite defensively. Burks was a gold glover and an All-Star in 1990. He was a very solid player during these years. Greenwell, like Ramirez, was a below average outfielder. Offensively, none of these players were at the same level as Betts. You can make the argument that all three were better hitters than Bradley. Evans had some monster years ranging from 100-123 RBI in each of these three seasons. “The Gator” finished second in the AL MVP voting in 1988 hitting .325 with 22 homers and 119 RBI. He never came close to these numbers again though. This group collectively was slightly better than this group offensively. Close call, but here’s thinking that Benintendi will be a better overall player than Greenwell giving the current Sox the slight edge considering the big edge on defense.
LF Jim Rice CF Fred Lynn RF Dwight Evans 1975-1980
Check out these numbers in 1979:
Jim Rice .325 BA, 39 home runs, 130 RBI, .977 OPS
Fred Lynn .333 BA, 39 home runs, 122 RBI, 1.059 OPS
Dwight Evans .274 BA, 21 home runs, 58 RBI, .820 OPS
In addition, Lynn was a four-time gold glove winner during this span and Evans won the award three times. Rice was yet another great hitting Red Sox outfielder who was not a good defender. With that said, just the pure production of this group along with their elite defense in 2/3 of the positions, currently puts this outfield as the top Red Sox outfield ever. This current group has the potential to be just as good, if not better, but they aren’t there yet.
So, in summary, the Red Sox outfield of the late-70’s remains the best Red Sox of all time…for now. As we stated earlier the wild card here is Benintendi. The Red Sox already have two All Star outfielders and they may have a third on the way.
We have at least five years to analyze this trio and chances are we’ll be talking about the forty years from now the same way we’re talking about Rice, Lynn, and Evans.
Hopefully, with a couple of championships on top of it.