What do Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe’s offensive woes mean for Red Sox’ outfield picture?

22 games into the 2021 season, it’s fair to say the Red Sox are not getting the results they had hoped for from two significant outfield additions they made over the winter.

Those two additions would be a pair of former Padres outfielders in Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero.

Renfroe, who signed a one-year, $3.1 million deal with Boston back in December, did not play in the Sox’ 8-2 loss at the hands of the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

Through 14 games this season, the 29-year-old is slashing a dismal .188/.241/.271 with just one home run and seven RBI over 54 plate appearances.

What Renfroe has lacked in offensive production, he has made up for it with his glove thus far as he came into play Saturday ranked seventh among qualified American League outfielders in ultimate zone rate per 150 games (22.7).

The same cannot be said for Cordero, whom the Sox acquired from the Royals as part of the trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City back in February.

Cordero did play in Saturday’s loss to the M’s while starting in left field and batting out of the eight-hole, but struck out swinging in all three of his trips to the plate.

The 26-year-old out of the Dominican has now punched out 23 times in 49 plate appearances this season while watching his slash line dip to an underwhelming .200/.265/.244 with just two extra-base hits and five RBI to his name so far.

While he has yet to put his power on full display in Boston, Red Sox manager Alex Cora attributed Cordero’s early struggles and high strikeout rate to the notion that the left-handed hitter was trying to make too much contact rather than stay within himself at the plate.

“I do believe he’s actually trying too much to make contact instead of staying on his swing,” Cora said of Cordero prior to Saturday’s loss. “Instead of recognizing your pitch and put a good swing on it, he’s not actually doing that. He’s late on the fastball. Now he’s out in front of offspeed pitches.”

Despite an 0-for-3 showing with three strikeouts in Saturday’s contest, Cora still remains confident that Cordero will be able to turn things around and prove to be a valuable member of this Red Sox team.

“You’ve got to keep coaching the player and giving him confidence,” said Cora. “He’s working on his craft every day with (hitting coaches) Timmy (Hyers) and Peter (Fatse). He’s in a bad stretch right now. But this is a guy that we trust and we believe he’s going to make contact. And when he makes contact, good things happen.”

Prior to being dealt to Boston in February, Cordero accrued 315 plate appearances with the Padres and Royals from 2016-2019. He crushed 12 total home runs in those 315 plate appearances, but — as previously mentioned — has yet to hit a homer in a Red Sox uniform.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom described Cordero as someone who “hits the ball about as hard as anyone in the big-leagues,” upon acquiring him from Kansas City this winter.

So far this season, the 6-foot-3, 232 pound pound outfielder has yet to barrel a ball and is averaging an exit velocity of just 87.8 mph on the balls he has put in play, per FanGraphs.

It should be said that the Red Sox invested in both Cordero and Renfroe with the idea that they could prove to quintessential low-risk, high reward players.

Besides Renfroe’s fine defense, there really has not been much of a reward from either outfielder thus far. Again, it’s still relatively early on in the season, but that point begs the question: How long will the Red Sox wait before making a significant change in the outfield?

And by make a significant change, I mean call up Jarren Duran.

Duran, 24, is regarded by Baseball America as the top outfield prospect in Boston’s farm system and is currently waiting in the wings at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester.

With the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the former seventh-round draft pick has not played in a competitive (non-spring training game) since 2019 and has yet to play above Double-A.

The Red Sox initially drafted Duran as a second baseman out of Long Beach State, but converted him to an outfielder on account of his speed and power potential.

This spring, the left-handed hitter clubbed three home runs, collected seven RBI, and slashed .340/.367/.702 across 47 Grapefruit League appearances.

While he has provided that much offensive firepower at spring training, the Puerto Rican winter league, and the alternate training site this year and last, the Sox still feel as though Duran can improve upon his defense in center field, which is understandable given the fact he is still relatively new to the position.

Bloom has said before that the Red Sox do not want to skip any steps in a prospect’s development, which would certainly seem to indicate that Duran is bound to see playing time for the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox before garnering any big-league consideration.

On top of that, Duran — who turns 25 in September — has yet to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster, which as you might expect is full at the moment.

The California native needs to be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster before November 20 in order to avoid eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft, but that is yet another obstacle in the way.

Still, Duran is undoubtedly one of the more exciting prospects the Red Sox have to offer. He seems to be more big-league ready than the likes of outfielders Jeisson Rosario or Marcus Wilson (both of whom are on the 40-man roster), too.

So, if Cordero and Renfroe continue to sputter along, it would not be surprising to see the Red Sox give Duran a crack in the outfield sooner rather than later.

His time is coming, and maybe it will come sooner than expected.

(Picture of Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, and Alex Verdugo: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo talks hitting out of the two-hole, moving around the outfield

When Alex Verdugo emerged as the primary leadoff hitter for the Red Sox last August, he settled into the role nicely.

On the 2020 campaign as a whole, the 24-year-old outfielder slashed .304/.362/.442 with 13 doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, three stolen bases, and 12 walks in 152 plate appearances out of the No. 1 spot in Boston’s lineup.

Because he held his own in the leadoff spot in his first year with the Sox, it certainly appeared as though Verdugo had a decent chance to retain that role heading into the 2021 season. That is, until the Red Sox signed veteran utilityman Kiké Hernandez — Verdugo’s former teammate with the Dodgers — to a two-year, $14 million deal in February.

Since then, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had challenged Hernandez — who hit leadoff 88 times over six seasons in Los Angeles — to earn the role of Boston’s leadoff hitter this spring and the 29-year-old responded by clubbing three homers and posting a 1.042 OPS in Grapefruit League play.

With that in mind, it seems likely that Hernandez will bat leadoff for Boston in the club’s Opening Day contest against the Orioles on Thursday afternoon, while Verdugo will slide down to the two-hole.

While some may view this as a demotion of sorts for Verdugo, the left-handed hitter actually prefers batting out of the two-hole, as he explained during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria on Wednesday afternoon.

“I actually love the two-hole. I love it,” Verdugo said when asked which spot in the lineup he favors most. “I think the two-hole has always been a super comfortable spot for me to hit. Obviously, I didn’t mind if I led off this year or not but it’s just something that I think [Cora] wanted to give a go and try. I like it. I really do. I like the lineup. I like the depth that we have from 1-9. And I think wherever we hit, I hit, I think it’s all going to benefit us.”

Last season, Verdugo hit out of the No. 2 spot on just two separate occasions for former Sox skipper Ron Roenicke. He went 2-for-8 at the plate with a walk, an RBI, and a run in those two appearances.

For his career, the former second-round draft pick owns a lifetime .267/.301/.474 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 14 RBI in 144 plate appearances when serving as his team’s two-hole hitter.

Verdugo also discussed the role he expects to play in the Red Sox outfield this season. He explained that while he anticipates seeing the majority of his playing time come in center field, he is also aware that he could see time in right field as well depending on where the Red Sox are playing on a particular day or night.

In assuming more responsibility in center field, Verdugo will be taking over for former Red Sox outfielder and Gold Glove award winner Jackie Bradley Jr., who established himself as arguably the best defensive centerfielder in franchise history before signing with the Brewers earlier this month.

Bradley Jr. was someone who made a habit of making hard-to-make catches look routine in his eight seasons patrolling center field for the Sox from 2013-2020.

For Verdugo, who only logged eight innings in center field last season, those are certainly sizable shoes to fill, but the Arizona native is not worrying about that too much.

“To me, it’s another outfield position,” Verdugo said in regards to center field. “Everybody talks about how you have to be the fastest guy, all that. I don’t believe in that. I don’t think you have to. I think it’s about your initial jumps, your reactions, and your routes to the ball. I feel like I have good instincts out there. And for the most part, I can read a hitter’s swing pretty well and know what our pitcher is trying to do and have a good idea of where I need to be.

“I don’t have a problem with bouncing around. Right, left, center, or any of it,” he added. “When I get out there, the only priority is to catch the ball and run it down.”

In his last season with the Dodgers in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and logged 475 2/3 innings in center field.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the 6-foot, 205 pounder was worth positive-4 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

Verdugo was also worth zero outs above average over that same span, per Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average defensively at that position two years ago.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ J.D. Martinez could see more playing time in left field in 2021

While the Red Sox are going to get creative with their outfield alignments this season depending on who they are playing and where they are playing, one name that cannot be forgotten about is J.D. Martinez.

The 33-year-old slugger has primarily served as Boston’s designated hitter since signing with the club in February 2018 — and for the most part has excelled in that role — but don’t be surprised if he plays more outfield this year.

Through his first seven appearances of the spring, Martinez has made five starts at DH and two in left field.

In his first three seasons with the Red Sox, the three-time All-Star’s number of appearances in the outfield have decreased from 57 in 2018 to 38 in 2019 to just six in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

While Martinez’s career numbers would suggest that he is more productive at the plate while DH-ing (lifetime 125 wRC+) as opposed to playing left field (lifetime 119 wRC+), Red Sox manager Alex Cora suggested that being in the outfield comes with its benefits.

“It’s good for him in spring training to move around,” Cora said when speaking with reporters Friday morning. “Actually, it keeps him out of the cage while he’s DH-ing, which is good. It’s kind of managing his workload. And I don’t think J.D.’s a bad outfielder. He’s just a big guy. He doesn’t move as well as other guys.”

Since joining the Sox in 2018, Martinez has logged a total of 875 2/3 innings between left and center field. In that time, he’s been credited with negative-13 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating of negative-10.

Put another way, the defensive metrics have not been kind to the Florida native as of late, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy playing the outfield when he can.

“You saw the first game [of the spring], right away he threw to the right base, almost out at second. Threw to the plate, almost out,” said Cora. “So it’s good for him to move around and he likes it. I think as far as preparation, he doesn’t get stuck on the DH thing. When he knows I’m going to use him in the outfield, he goes out there, he shags, he moves around, he’s throwing, which is good for him. I do believe it puts him in a better spot.”

Martinez himself echoed this same sort of sentiment last month, attributing the fact that he saw more playing time in the outfield to the success his team enjoyed in 2018.

“I told [Cora]. I said, ‘Hey, the last time I played in the outfield — like 80 games — we won a World Series. I don’t know,” he recalled while shrugging his shoulders when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron and Jim Rice on February 24.

2018 was also a year in which Martinez enjoyed a great deal of individual success, as he became the first player ever to win two Silver Slugger Awards in the same season for his offensive efforts as both an outfielder and designated hitter.

“Like I always remind him, I was the one that gave him two Silver Sluggers,” Cora said of Martinez Friday with a smile on his face. “I was responsible for that.”

Cora was then asked if he received any sort of compensation from Martinez, who netted $200,000 in bonuses for winning the two Silver Slugger Awards three years ago.

“What’s the next question?” the Sox skipper asked before chuckling for a moment. “I’ll call [super agent] Scott [Boras] on that one. I got to check with Scott.”

Cora — like Martinez now — was represented by Boras over the course of his 14-year major-league career.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo discusses challenges of playing center field at Fenway Park

As Opening Day draws ever closer, it looks more and more like Alex Verdugo will be the Red Sox’ everyday centerfielder to start off the 2021 season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. remains on the open market, and while a reunion between the Gold Glove outfielder and the Sox cannot be ruled out at this point, it appears that the club is confident that Verdugo is more than capable of taking over in center.

During a televised workout at JetBlue Park on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old spoke with NESN’s Tom Caron and Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice. Among other things, the two sides discussed the challenges involved in playing center field at Fenway Park.

“The challenge is you got a lot of space,” Verdugo said. “Right-center is 420′, and we got some weird dimensions in the walls. Like where the bullpen is, it kind of cuts in a little bit.”

Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 2017, Verdugo has logged 556 1/3 innings in center field, only eight of which came with the Red Sox last season during a game against the Marlins in Miami in September.

When he wasn’t playing center that one time in 2020, the former second-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come in right field (246 2/3 innings) with 167 1/3 innings in left mixed in there as well. And while he’s never played a professional inning in center at Fenway, Verdugo seems ready for the challenge ahead.

“For me, it’s the same as going into road parks, all that,” he said. “You just got to get out there and get to the warning track, feel it out, and take a couple of balls. You just get used to it that way. For me, it’s, ‘Be the person I am, play the game that I play, and get the jumps that I know I can.’ And then I’ll be able to cover the ground out here and hopefully — these gap-to-gap balls — cut them off and hopefully get some people off trying to extend the base or something.”

In response, Rice, who spent the entirety of his 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Sox and appeared in over 1,000 games at Fenway Park while doing so, offered Verdugo some advice.

“You can helm the gap-to-gap, but I think the key thing here is to worry about the wall more than anything else,” Rice said in regards to the Green Monster in left field. “If you look at your left fielder, anything to your left fielder’s left is going to come back to him. Anything over his head to his left is going to go towards right field. So those are the only angles that you really got to worry about out there.”

“Definitely. Obviously you know, you played out here way longer than I have,” responded Verdugo. “It’s just, once you learn the angles and know how they bounce off in certain spots, it’s not too tough.”

Looking back at his final season with Los Angeles in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and accrued 475 2/3 innings in center field that year.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the Arizona native was worth positive-3 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

According to Baseball Savant, Verdugo ranked 33rd among qualified major-league center fielders in 2019 in regards to outs above average (0). In other words, by that particular metric, he was average at that position two years ago.

Late last week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora stressed how important it would be for his team to improve defensively this coming season.

Verdugo, seemingly taking over for one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in team history, will likely play a key role in how much Boston’s defensive efforts improve in 2021.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox trade Andrew Benintendi to Royals, per report

The Red Sox have traded outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals as part of a three-team deal that also involves the Mets, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman and FanSided’s Robert Murray.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Red Sox would also receive outfielder Franchy Cordero from the Royals once the trade is finalized, while Heyman adds that right-handed pitching prospect Josh Winckowski would be going from New York to Boston.

Cordero and Winckowski are two players coming back to the Sox in this three-team swap, but The Athletic’s Chad Jennings reports that Boston could be getting as many as five players in return from the Royals and Mets.

Writing something new once this trade is made official, so stay tuned for that.

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox free agency rumors: Astros prioritizing signing Jackie Bradley Jr., per report

The Astros are reportedly interested in signing free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. — so much so that the club is making it a priority — per MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

Bradley Jr., 30, declared for free agency late last month after spending the first eight years of his major-league career in Boston.

The former first-round draft pick is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to net himself a two-year deal worth somewhere around $16 million this winter, with the ‘Stros being the favorite to acquire his services.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are reportedly interested in bringing back Bradley Jr. “for the 2021 season and beyond,” according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

In his eighth season with the Sox this year, Bradley Jr. put up quality numbers, slashing .283/.364/.540 to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played.

While producing at the plate at that impressive level, the 2018 Gold Glover also provided superb defense in center field, ranking second among major-league centerfielders in outs above average (7), per Statcast.

That defensive prowess of Bradley Jr.’s, as noted by Gammons in the above tweet, has become quite significant for the Red Sox and Red Sox pitching over the years.

Going back to the start of the 2016 campaign, when Bradley Jr. essentially established himself as Boston’s everyday centerfielder, the Sox have had the sixth-best centerfield defense in baseball in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (18.1).

Given the possibility that Bradley Jr. could depart for Houston or elsewhere this winter, the Red Sox would be faced with the reality that without Bradley Jr. manning center field on a regular basis, the club’s pitching could struggle as a result. That being the case because the flashy outfielder is capable of turning potential extra-base hits into outs at a moment’s notice.

With this in mind, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the team’s outlook for its outfield alignment going into 2021 when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“I think we have guys on this club who are capable of playing center field,” Bloom said Wednesday via Zoom. “But we certainly would like to be in as strong of a defensive position as you can. We know we play in a ballpark where you basically have two center fields here in Fenway Park. So we want to be mindful of that.

“We’d certainly like to have as strong of a defensive outfield as possible,” he added. “And a lot of that is contingent on having multiple guys who can play center field.”

Whether it be Bradley Jr., a free-agency or trade acquisition, or one or several internal candidates, Bloom and Co. have to determine what the Red Sox will do at center field moving forward. They do not have a great deal of time to do that if Bradley Jr.’s market is indeed heating up.