Brandon Nimmo is the second-best outfielder available in free agency and is a player the Red Sox should take a look at. Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Red Sox had one of the least productive outfields in baseball last year, and as luck would have it the top free agent on the market is an outfielder coming off an MVP-caliber season.

Boston’s path is obvious, right? The Red Sox should simply go out and sign Aaron Judge.

Great job everyone, we did it. Let’s all go home.

In all seriousness, signing Judge would be great but the odds that the New York Yankees slugger lands in Boston probably aren’t odds you’d bet your mortgage on. Even with the Red Sox currently more than $100 million under the luxury tax threshold the club has a litany of needs and might not be willing to invest close to $40 million per year on one player.

So how else could the club upgrade its outfield? The free-agent market after Judge is pretty shallow, so the club may need to get creative to turn the group around.

Nimmo the clear No. 2 after Judge


If the Red Sox aren’t able to land Judge, then New York Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo is the clear next best option on the free-agent market.

Nimmo has been among the best all-around outfielders in the game over the past three seasons, ranking sixth in wins above replacement by outfielders during that stretch (10.4). He’s also coming off a strong season during which he batted .274 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI, but more intriguingly posted a .364 on-base percentage and an OPS+ that ranked 30% better than league average. Those totals each ranked among the best in baseball for outfielders.

The 29-year-old isn’t going to come cheap, especially with the deep pocketed Mets likely to try to retain their star center fielder, but he also isn’t going to command the kind of historic deal Judge is looking at. If not Nimmo, Mitch Haniger, Joc Pederson and Andrew Benintendi are also potential targets, as is Japanese standout Masataka Yoshida.

Reynolds, Happ among trade candidates

With only a handful of impactful free agents available, Boston’s best bet to overhaul the outfield might come on the trade market. Unlike the past few years, where the club has prioritized bringing in prospects at the expense of big league talent, the Red Sox have indicated they are now ready to start leaning into their minor league depth to bolster the big league roster.

Should the Red Sox go this route, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds would seem a prime target. The 27-year-old is coming off a season in which he batted .262 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI and a .807 OPS while languishing on a last-place club, and in 2021 he earned All-Star honors and MVP consideration after posting a career-best .912 OPS.


Reynolds is still under team control for three more seasons, so the Pirates will surely demand a hefty bounty in return. But if the Red Sox are willing to pay the prospect price they could lock down one of the best bang-for-your-buck outfielders in the sport for the next three years.

Another similar option along those lines is Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ. The 28-year-old earned All-Star and Gold Glove honors this past season, but since he’s due to hit free agency after next season he might not command quite as high a price as the Pirates might want for Reynolds.

It wasn’t long ago that Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger was one of the brightest stars in baseball. His production has fallen off in recent years, but if he become available, he might be worth taking a flyer on. Marci Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Should Sox take flier on Bellinger?

Boston shouldn’t put all, or even most, of its eggs in this basket under any circumstance, but it might still be worth a try.

Cody Bellinger was once one of the brightest young stars in baseball, earning Rookie of the Year in 2017 and National League MVP in 2019 at age 23. Since then his production has fallen off a cliff as injuries have sapped his once prodigious bat speed, and he’ll be a prime non-tender candidate by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would otherwise owe Bellinger close to $16 million in salary arbitration.

If Bellinger becomes available on a cheap, one-year deal, it could be worth kicking the tires and seeing if he can rediscover his old form. For all his recent struggles at the plate, Bellinger still is only 27 years old and remains an excellent defensive outfielder.


Could Alex Verdugo be dealt?

If the name of the game is to upgrade the outfield, the Red Sox should also be taking a hard look at the players they already have.

Kiké Hernández will be one of next year’s key contributors. One of the Red Sox first 2023-focused moves was re-signing Hernández on a one-year, $10 million deal, and after an injury plagued season he should be in line for a bounce back.

Rob Refsnyder will also return after signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. He was arguably Boston’s most reliable outfielder in 2022 and is a no brainer to serve as the No. 4 guy off the bench next year.

That leaves Alex Verdugo as the remaining starter under team control, but his long-term future with the club may not be set in stone.

Once among baseball’s top prospects, Verdugo has established himself as a quality starting-caliber outfielder since his arrival in the Mookie Betts trade but has so far failed to take the next step. This past season was pretty underwhelming, and at his year-end press conference Red Sox Manager Alex Cora singled Verdugo out as a guy he’d like to see improve in 2023.

If the Red Sox believe Verdugo can still be part of the solution, then he’ll be back next season. But if the club isn’t sure then don’t rule out the possibility he could be dealt. The Red Sox already traded away Benintendi under similar circumstances in 2021, so there’s recent precedent for such a move.

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