A potential corner outfield target.
The Boston Red Sox are coming off a season that went far better than most anyone could have expected, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. This team has some pretty clear needs if they are looking to take another step in 2022, which presumably they are. They need to improve their rotation, adding at least a couple of arms to that group to make sure they can enter the season feeling comfortably in case of injury. They also need a facelift in the bullpen, and could probably use an upgrade over Christian Arroyo for the everyday second base gig. That’s a pretty clear list of needs that should be the priority this winter.
But it’s not necessarily to just focus only on the clear needs, and someone like Chaim Bloom is the kind of executive who is going to try being a bit more creative when the opportunity presents itself. To me, the opportunity does present itself and in a way that we have talked about a few times already this winter. In Hunter Renfroe and Alex Verdugo, Boston has two players who can play right field and are good, but not great, hitters. They have value, but also overlap a bit in a way, and the team could look to trade one — Renfroe would make more sense — to address one of the needs above and turn to the market to sign a left fielder who can provide more consistent offense.
To be clear, this is not advocating a need to trade Renfroe (or Verdugo), and if there isn’t a palatable deal on the table it is perfectly fine to go into next year with the same corner outfield pairing. But for the sake of discussion, if there is a way to improve the late innings, as an example, and it costs Renfroe to do it, you have to consider it, especially with the number of corner outfielders available this year. And so that’s how I set the table for how the Red Sox can make a run at Mark Canha, who in my eyes has been one of the game’s more underappreciated players of the last few years.
Canha, who turns 33 prior to the start of the 2022 season, has been in the league for quite about a half-decade now, originally getting selected by the Marlins in the 2010 draft. He was then a Rule 5 pick who was traded to the Athletics, and he has been a success story from that event. Making his debut in 2015, he stuck with the A’s and turned into an everyday player in 2018. Though a bit of a late bloomer, Canha has been a solidly above-average hitter every year since that 2018 season.
In that first year, he finished with a 115 wRC+, meaning he was 15 percent better than the league-average hitter by that metric. That’s the same mark with which he finished this past season. In the two seasons in between, he was even better, putting up a 146 wRC+ in 2019 and followed that up with a 127 mark in the shortened 2020 season. He doesn’t always hit for the power you look for from a corner outfielder, but he makes up for it in other ways and it’s fair to expect his average power output could bump up to above-average as a right-handed bat moving from Oakland to Fenway.
But the real selling point offensively for Canha is his ability to draw a walk, carrying a rate of at least 12 percent in each of the last three seasons. He can be a frustrating kind of hitter who hits into a lot of outs, carrying a low batting average despite average strikeout rates, but he rarely expands the zone. Per FanGraphs, the league-average chase rate last year was 31 percent, while Canha’s was only 24 percent. For some reference, Kyle Schwarber’s rate was just a percentage point lower. The approach the latter brought to Boston was correctly identified as a key part of the team’s run in second half and postseason, and Canha can bring that with fewer strikeouts, though admittedly with a bit less punch, too.
But there are two advantages Canha has over Schwarber. The first is simply the price, and while I would like that to not be a major factor we know that it is. The Red Sox have the holes discussed above to fill, and while maybe the Renfroe/Verdugo trade helps fill one, there is more that needs to be done beyond replacing that outfielder. Signing Canha over someone like Schwarber saves some money to spend filling a different hole. No one knows what these players will sign for, but MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year, $24 million deal for Canha.
That’s much cheaper than what Schwarber will go for, and Canha is also a clearer fit defensively. He’s best fit in left field, and the Red Sox are well-equipped to make that happen, but if injuries necessitate some shuffling then the former Athletic has experience at all three outfield spots. The Red Sox need to be more consistent defensively in 2022, and this is a move that helps get them there.
When Bloom was hired we heard a lot about the creativity and how he could build a roster in some ways that maybe don’t seem immediately obvious. This type of move seems to fit that model and could work out to build the best 2022 roster possible. A trade of one corner outfielder for help in another area of need, and then signing a relatively cheap replacement who provides consistent offense helps all sides. And among the corner outfielders, Canha feels like the type of player who checks enough of the boxes to be the secondary move in this scenario.