With Red Sox bullpen stabilizing, outfield looms as MLB trade deadline need

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Tomase: Outfield remains a Red Sox need; here are five possible fits originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The trade deadline needs of the Red Sox have seemed obvious for months: bullpen, bullpen, and bullpen. But what if that's no longer the case?

With Chris Sale's return looming and Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock expected off the injured list, the Red Sox suddenly could have options in relief, and that's before considering how willing they'll be to push some of their top prospects.

Imagine a rotation fronted by Eovaldi and Sale, with Whitlock back in the bullpen alongside rehabbing left-hander Josh Taylor and Prospect X, be it Brayan Bello, Bryan Mata, Frank German, or even Josh Winckowski, who is 3-1 in four spot starts.

Add those arms to John Schreiber, Tanner Houck, Matt Strahm, Jake Diekman, and Austin Davis, and the Red Sox might actually have enough back there to contend, especially since once the playoffs start, Michael Wacha could set up and Nick Pivetta could close on the days they aren't starting.

I won't complain if Chaim Bloom adds another arm, preferably one with closing experience. But if he decides the bullpen is in fact OK, there's another area of upgrade worth exploring: outfield.

Ranking the top 10 potential trade deadline targets for Red Sox

For all of the strides the Red Sox have made offensively since a frigid April, the outfield hasn't really contributed. The Red Sox rank in the bottom five in baseball in outfield homers (15), steals (eight), and OPS (.651), and those numbers would be even worse without recent boosts from Jarren Duran and Rob Refsnyder.

Before hitting the injured list, center fielder Kiké Hernández was hitting just .209. His spot can be upgraded. Right fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has posted an OPS of only .595. His spot can be upgraded. Even Alex Verdugo, who came alive over the weekend in Cleveland, is batting .260 with five homers. His spot can be upgraded.

With relatively little in the outfielder pipeline -- most of their top prospects are either pitchers or infielders -- Bloom has an opportunity to add a corner outfield bat not just for the stretch run, but beyond if he so chooses. So who might be available?

The biggest fish is Juan Soto, but the Nationals have publicly stated they will not trade the face of their franchise, who has posted numbers at the start of his career that put him in a class with Ted Williams.

Seeing as the Red Sox have yet to extend Rafael Devers or Xander Bogaerts, it's hard to imagine Bloom shelling out the prospects it would take to land Soto (who has already turned down a $350 million extension offer) and then ponying up to keep him in Boston. But if there's one young hitter in the game I'd take over Devers -- and it might only be one -- it's Soto.

Pipe dreams aside, here are some other potential fits.

Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs

This would be one potential move with an eye on the future. The versatile 27-year-old switch hitter is hitting a career-high .279 with an .835 OPS. He has played every position except catcher and shortstop, and he murders left-handed pitching (.352 average).

He's also a homegrown Cub who desperately wants to stay in Chicago. He may be the litmus test for Jed Hoyer's rebuild. Trading All-Star catcher Willson Contreras or closer David Robertson is one thing, but moving on from a piece who could still be viable when the Cubs are good again is another.

Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

An All-Star who posted a .912 OPS last year en route to an 11th-place MVP finish, the 27-year-old Reynolds would check a lot of boxes. He's under team control through 2025, he's a switch hitter, and he's an everyday center fielder.

After a rough start, he has come alive this month, with a .319 average and five homers. He won't come cheap, but he'd potentially be here for three-plus prime years.

Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals

Reunion, anyone?!? Benintendi will probably be Kansas City's All-Star representative, assuming he isn't traded first. He won a Gold Glove in left field last year and is hitting .299, albeit with negligible power.

Kansas City has already begun selling by trading first baseman Carlos Santana to the Mariners. If Benintendi doesn't go, super utilityman Whit Merrifield could be on the block, along with veteran center fielder Michael Taylor. It's not clear any would be enough of an upgrade to warrant a move, but they'll at least be available.

David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks

A former Gold Glover and Silver Slugger, Peralta is in the final year of his contract and would be a straight rental. He already has more homers (nine) this year than all of last year (eight), and he provides some potential pop from the left side.

Tommy Pham, Cincinnati Reds

Maybe he's too much of a loose cannon after that gonzo story about slapping Joc Pederson over a fantasy football beef, but Pham is an experienced outfielder who has already impacted one pennant race for Bloom; the Rays acquired him in 2018 and he hit .343 with seven homers in 39 games en route to 90 wins. He's hitting .245 with 10 homers this year.