Red Sox offseason primer: Outfield

Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts might end up as Boston's 2015 Opening Day outfielders, though a lot could change between now and then. USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON -- How unsettled was the Boston Red Sox outfield last season? Manager John Farrell used nine left fielders, five center fielders and 10 right fielders.

The outfield Farrell envisioned he'd have to open the season -- Grady Sizemore in center, flanked by a platoon of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes in left and Shane Victorino in right -- played exactly one game together, and that didn't come until late May.

Victorino blew out a hamstring in the last exhibition game of spring, ultimately had back surgery and played in just 30 games. Nava was sent down to Pawtucket after opening the season in a severe slump. Sizemore was overmatched by center field, his bat was slow to come around and ultimately was released.

Gomes was dealt at the trading deadline.

Jackie Bradley Jr., whose subpar performance in spring training had him ticketed to return to Pawtucket, instead was rushed to the big leagues and kept there, long after his bat proved incapable of hitting major league pitching even as he played peerless defense. The Sox traded for two outfielders, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, spent $72.5 million on a Cuban import, Rusney Castillo, and gave long looks in the outfield to two converted infielders, Brock Holt and Mookie Betts.

All those machinations mean that the Sox are certain to have a different look in the outfield by next spring, and the uncertainty invites all kinds of speculation about which direction the Sox will proceed. An early guess, based on the way the season ended, would be Castillo in center, with Cespedes in left and Betts in right, with Nava and Craig on the bench and Bradley back in Pawtucket working on his swing, but that alignment raises as many questions as it answers:

• What do the Sox do with Victorino if he comes back healthy, as he vows to do, with $13 million and one year left on his contract? Even if the Sox had plans to trade him, they won't be able to do so before he shows he's healthy in spring.

• What if Cespedes, eligible to become a free agent after 2015, signals his intention to leave after the season?

• What if the Sox have to surrender Betts as the price of acquiring a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher?

• What if the Sox make a run at Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, even though the Marlins insist he's going nowhere, or Atlanta's Jason Heyward, who is a year away from free agency but would offer the Sox left-handed balance and play outstanding corner defense?

• What if Bradley, arguably the best defensive center fielder the Sox have had in 40 years, has a great spring? Does he force himself back into the picture?

This much is clear: GM Ben Cherington will not go into the 2015 season with an outfield that combined to hit 26 home runs, the fewest in the majors, and languished near the bottom of most of the other key offensive categories as well. But how he gets there should be fascinating to watch.

Red Sox outfielders' performance this season (major league rankings):

  • Batting average: .249, 27th

  • On-base percentage: .313, 23rd

  • Slugging percentage: .356, 28th

  • Home runs: 26, 30th

  • Extra-base hits: LF 44, 20th; CF 37, 24th; RF 49, 17th

  • Offensive WAR: LF 1.4, 17th; CF 0.8, 26th; RF 1.7, 16th

  • Errors: LF 6, 18th; CF 1, 1st (tied); RF 4, 9th

  • Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average: LF -7, 23rd; CF -3, 20th; RF 10, 6th

Left fielders used: 9

Offensive stats: Jonny Gomes 54 G, .224/.311/.321/.632 3 HR, 24 RBIs; Yoenis Cespedes 43, .266/.297/.439/.737 5, 30; Daniel Nava 35, .316/.397/.351/.748 0, 5; Grady Sizemore 22, .277/.330/.422/.751 1, 13; Mike Carp 10, .207/.258/.241/.499 0, 3; Brock Holt 7, .333/.375/.400/.775 0,0; Bryce Brentz 5, .300/.300/.350/.650 0, 2; Allen Craig 1, .250/.250/.500/.750 0, 0; Kelly Johnson 1, .000/.000/.000/.000 0, 0.

Center fielders used: 5

Offensive stats: Jackie Bradley Jr. 107 G, .198/.270/.267/.537 1 HR, 26 RBIs; Mookie Betts 28, .272/.353/.447/.800 4, 11; Grady Sizemore 16, .191/.309/.298/.607 1, 1; Rusney Castillo 10, .333/.400/.528/.928 2, 6; Brock Holt 9, .143/.200/.179/379 0, 0.

Right fielders used: 10

Offensive stats: Daniel Nava 65 G, .267/.329/.390/.719 4 HR, 27 RBIs; Brock Holt 32, .311/.356/.475/.831 2, 9; Shane Victorino 30, .268/.303/.382/.685 2, 12; Grady Sizemore 14, .148/.207/.204/.411 0, 1; Allen Craig 10, .160/.323/.200/.523 0, 0; Mookie Betts 9, .355/.412/.484/.896 0, 1; Jackie Bradley Jr. 8, .217/.217/.261/.478 0, 4; Jonny Gomes .241/.333/.345/.678 1, 3; Alex Hassan 2, .143/.250/.143/.393 0, 0; Bryce Brentz 1, .250/.250/.250/.500 0, 0.

Best performance: All the preseason attention was focused on two other rookies, Bradley and Xander Bogaerts, but the 21-year-old Betts may have stamped himself as the team's leadoff hitter of the future with his coming-out party. He handled the transition to the outfield, which he had barely played before arriving here, with aplomb, brought speed and athleticism to the lineup, and showed that he can drive the ball as well.

Biggest disappointment: Bradley was historically bad at the plate, his .198 average the lowest ever of any Sox rookie who had 300 or more plate appearances. The depths to which he fell were puzzling, given his history of being able to hit going back to his college stardom at South Carolina and throughout the minor leagues. Bradley expresses confidence he will hit, and former big leaguers like Mike Cameron recalled fighting similar slumps early in their career, but it's an open question whether Bradley gets another chance here.

Biggest surprise: A strong case could be made for either of the converted infielders, Betts or Holt, thriving in the outfield, but did anyone really foresee Gomes going from such a key role player in 2013 to non-factor so quickly?

Outlook for 2015: We've touched on it above, but the outfield situation is so fluid the Sox could go in any number of directions.

Potential free-agent signings: The Sox won't be targeting an outfielder in free agency.

Potential trade targets: If they make a trade, it will only be in a megadeal (Stanton or Heyward).

Prospects in the system: He's only 20 and hasn't played above Class A Salem, but Manuel Margot is already ranked the third-best prospect in the Sox system by SoxProspects.com, which cites his plus-plus speed, his plus-defensive skills and potential impact bat as the tools of a potential future All-Star.

Scout's take: Castillo has way more upside in center field than Bradley. He has tremendous actions in center field, he's faster than Bradley though the arm isn't as strong, and he looks like he will hit. That's saying a lot, since Bradley's defense was Gold Glove stellar. I think Bradley will mature, but his bat has a long way to go, and you can't start in a major league outfield if you can't hit. I think he has trade value, for a team that takes a chance that his bat will come along, knowing that he may end up no more than an extra outfielder. The problem for the Red Sox is his bat has already been exposed on the major league level. Unlike Castillo or Betts, there was never any spark or surge. The people I talk to about Betts love his athleticism and versatility.

I expect Cespedes to test free agency. I've seen a little regression in his game since he first came over from Cuba, and I don't think he's a good corner outfielder. A lot of his highlight plays came out of misplays. His whole effort level, to me, was greater when he first came here. He'll produce offense in real good spurts, but I'm not buying the total package. I guarantee you there will be no hometown discounts. For me, a lot of yellow flags.

I've never been a Craig guy, and now his injury history comes into play. The Sox have a real jigsaw puzzle to solve in their outfield.