With a handful of notable additions, and a bevy of returning faces, the outfielders of the AL East are as good as almost any division in the majors. Although depth at the position thins out at the bottom of this list, each team has at least one outfielder with All-Star potential.
By sending Mookie Betts and David Price to Hollywood, the Red Sox began an aggressive teardown of their most expensive pieces, regardless of on-field value. Now, the team has set its aims on contention in the distant future, building around a new core of young talent.
Although he was their most dependable in the wake of Betts’ departure, Jackie Bradley Jr. is also likely headed for greener pastures by the start of the regular season. With JBJ looking for his first major payday through free agency and the Red Sox’s longest-lens approach, he’ll have a better chance of getting paid elsewhere.
In JBJ’s stead, the Red Sox will give one of the spoils of the Betts-Price trade an opportunity to roam center on an everyday basis. Alex Verdugo’s consistent, smooth swing has resulted in solid contact and consistent line drives, but he lacks the power to do much more than hit for average. In 2020, he wildly outperformed his batted ball data, so should be in for some of regression when it comes to his inflated power number. However, he’s hit the ball harder in past seasons, so there could be some room qualitative improvement as well.
In the corner spots, Verdugo is flanked by former Padres Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe (the baseball player). Cordero hasn’t been much better than replacement level through four seasons, but has flashed the ability to hit the ball hard even if his balls in play haven’t always left his bat at the optimal angle. Renfroe provides a similar set of tools with inconsistent contact but the appeal of the potential for above average power.
Beyond their switch-hitting Venezuelan slugger in right field, Anthony Santander, the Orioles are stocked with some pretty mediocre options in the outfield. Dwight Smith Jr. followed up a solid rookie campaign with a slumped 2020, resulting in an eventual demotion in August, and is now in the Cincinnati farm system.
Projected starters Austin Hays and DJ Stewart have performed passably in their limited big-league experience, but haven’t shown enough to be considered inextricable parts of the Orioles’ future. Stewart, a now 27-year-old former first round pick, has hit for some power and demonstrated the keen eye of an experienced hitter, but strikes out too much and is too slow to be a sure thing on offense or defense. Hays is almost the inverse; he’s a stellar center fielder who swings at everything and can’t do much with the ball when he does. He’s exactly the kind of player who can fill in without being a total liability, but won’t really help a team win many ballgames.
Their one standout, Santander, has legitimately become one of the better outfielders in the division. Though his 2019 batted ball data may have cast doubt upon the legitimacy of his above average slugging and OPS, his slightly improved eye, quality of contact, and overhauled defense made him an All-Star level producer in 2020.
Though he’s never been a qualified offensive centerpiece, Kevin Kiermaier is still one of the very best defensive outfielders in all of baseball. In even his worst offensive seasons, his defense has carried him near two-win production, the mark of a qualified starter in the majors. His defensive fundamentals will support his floor so long as he can continue to run, catch and throw.
The Rays’ projected right fielder, Manuel Margot, is a less steady but still valuable option in the outfield. With almost no power, his offensive ceiling is even lower than Kiermaier’s, but at only 26 to Kiermaier’s 30, is better positioned to continue to be an elite defender in the immediate present.
As the first of three legitimate contenders for the AL East’s best outfielder, Randy Arozarena has a chance to prove he’s the real deal after a torrid regular season and scalding playoff performance. He didn’t shy away from any moment as a rookie, was the best hitter in the league against the best pitching in the game, and even did something I’ve never seen before. Arozarena’s main obstacle ultimately himself. He was arrested over the winter after an incident involving the custody of his daughter. If he can stay out of trouble off the field and within himself while in the box, he has ample talent to become one of the very best the game has to offer.
By adding a couple of former MVP candidates to seven offensively promising returning starters, the Blue Jays appear poised to improve on their 19th-ranked run total from last season. In particular, George Springer’s arrival in Toronto helps continue to shift the balance of power in the AL East toward the Blue Jays. He’s no Kiermaier with his glove, but Springer has been one of the best hitting outfielders in four of the past five seasons, including an especially dominant 6.5-WAR 2019 season. Perennially a high-level All-Star, Springer might be the safest bet for the best outfielder in the division, especially considering he’s not missed more than a quarter of a season in any of the past five years.
Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are no slouches, either. Last year, each outfielder posted a wRC+ of at least 135, along with almost average offense. As a unit, he Blue Jays’ outfielder is set to mash opposing pitchers, even if they’re not quite as staunch defensively as their previously ranked counterparts in Tampa Bay.
With Brett Gardner in tow for the 14th straight season, the Yankees have at the bare minimum four starter level outfielders even without factoring in any potential growth from Mike Tauchman or Estevan Florial.
Of the two established vets, Gardner’s a plus-platoon guy, but hits righties at an above average clip by taking advantage of Yankee Stadium’s lefty friendly confines and can still hold his own at either corner spot. Aaron Hicks walks better than almost anyone. In 2020, his walk rate ranked in the 99th percentile of the majors, leading to an xwOBA in the 87th percentile despite an xBA of just .257. On the flip side, Hicks has become one of the game’s worst outfielders in large part due to his terrible jumps despite an absolute hose and the occasional show-stopper. He’ll need to summon some of the defensive magic of his 2017 season if he has hopes of approaching his best-case scenario, but his eye will make him a valuable contributor to the Yankees’ stacked lineup as long as he’s healthy.
Finally, Clint Frazier is going to be a starting outfielder for the New York Yankees. After years of injury setbacks, poorly timed slumps, and general overcrowding, the time has come for Frazier to cement himself as one of the franchise’s cornerstones. He still strikes out more than is ideal, but walks a ton, and hit the snot out of the ball for a .511 slugging in the regular season. Add that to his suddenly excellent, Gold Glove finalist defense in left, and Clint Frazier has an outside shot of actually being one of the Yankees’ most valuable players.
If healthy, Aaron Judge is a no-brainer MVP candidate. However, over the past three seasons, that “if” has ballooned to the tune of 142 missed games and a 6’7” frame riddled with myriad maladies. Perhaps the game’s greatest wild card, Judge could just as easily win an MVP as he could miss the entire season. With his upside, and the floor of the three others, the Yankees have too much talent, and enough insurance to enter the season with the AL East’s best outfield corps.