Breaking down AL East outfields for '21

February 24th, 2021

Look around the American League East, and all five teams have intriguing players in the outfield.

No team in the division has made a more impactful addition in that area than the Blue Jays, who have added George Springer to their exciting young core. The Yankees will once again have superstar slugger Aaron Judge manning right field, but he needs to avoid the injures that have dogged him in recent years.

Then there are the defending American League champion Rays, who have one of the most exciting young players in postseason hero Randy Arozarena.

Believe it or not, the Red Sox have lost their entire trio (Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts) from their 2018 championship team, but they have an up-and-coming player with dazzling skills in Alex Verdugo.

Then there are the Orioles, who hope that Ryan Mountcastle picks up where he left off from his impressive debut last season.

Here’s a look at what we know, and what we don’t, about the outfields in the AL East.

Blue Jays
The known: The Blue Jays should generate plenty of offensive production from the outfield group of George Springer, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk. The power potential of this outfield group ranks among the best in baseball and should be a strength of the club after Springer signed a six-year deal for a franchise-record $150 million. Springer hit a career-high 39 home runs in 2019, while Hernández hit 16 over 50 games last season as the club's breakout star, earning him his first Silver Slugger Award. Gurriel's upside is evident if he can stay healthy for a full, 162-game season, too, making him a great breakout candidate for '21.

The unknown: There are four "starters" and three spots here, so the Blue Jays will need to get creative in terms of their outfield reps. The DH spot will help with this and, naturally, injuries and hot streaks will take care of this playing time split along the way, but it could be a difficult day-to-day decision for the Blue Jays early in the season. Gurriel has taken some ground balls at first and third base recently while Hernández has been taking fly balls in left field, so there could be some added positional flexibility here, too. This is a good problem for the Blue Jays to have, of course, but they'll need to strike the proper balance and maximize the value of matchups.
-- Keegan Matheson

The known: The Orioles' outfield has been a bright spot of the rebuild, from the emergence of run-producing Anthony Santander in right to Ryan Mountcastle in left and elsewhere. Heading into 2021, Mountcastle looks like the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year after hitting .333/.386/.492 with five homers in 35 games last season. Santander broke out in a big way last year, hitting 11 homers with a .890 OPS before an oblique injury ended his season after 37 games. Cedric Mullins rebounded from a lost year in ’19 and now looks like an impact defender in center who can make things happen with his speed, and Austin Hays and DJ Stewart will battle for at-bats at fourth outfielder and DH. Trey Mancini could also see time in the outfield, though he’s expected to play more of his natural position of first base this season.

The unknown: Will Santander or Mancini be traded? That’s the biggest question regarding the O’s outfield after both saw their names pop up in rumors this winter. On the field, it’ll be interesting to see if Hays can play his way into a platoon with Mullins in center and if Stewart hits enough to procure everyday at-bats at DH. If not, Hays profiles better as a bench option since he is a stronger defender. Looking ahead, is 2021 the year prospects Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna finally arrive? Probably. But unless some pieces move around, where will they play?
-- Joe Trezza

The known: They have a lot of depth, versatility and potential starpower. The Rays can stack their lineup by putting postseason hero Randy Arozarena in left field and 2019 All-Star Austin Meadows in right, with Kevin Kiermaier doing his Platinum Glove-winning thing between them in center. They can go all-defense with three natural center fielders: Kiermaier flanked by Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips. They can mix and match with any combination of Arozarena, Kiermaier, Meadows, Margot, Phillips and Yoshi Tsutsugo, with Brandon Lowe also capable of moving to the outfield and intriguing prospect Josh Lowe perhaps not too far away. Tampa Bay is expecting big things from Arozarena and Meadows, in particular, believing full and/or healthy seasons from both will boost a lineup that didn’t receive any significant reinforcements this offseason. After the historic postseason Arozarena put together, we know for sure that expectations will be sky-high.

The unknown: Can they really carry all those outfielders on a 26-man roster that will need at least 13 pitchers? Assuming the answer is no, who will be the odd man (or men) out? And each individual outfielder, particularly their top three, enters the season tagged with a significant question, too. With Blake Snell the latest Rays star to be traded, is Kiermaier next to go? Could the clubhouse leader be moved this season if the Rays aren’t contending come July? Is Arozarena really the best player on the planet, like he seemed to be last October, or will the rookie come back down to earth? Can Meadows stay healthy all year after being set back by COVID-19 and injuries last season? The good news for the Rays is they have more than enough depth to answer most of those questions, and if they all play up to their potential, this could be a truly special group.
-- Adam Berry

Red Sox
The known: Alex Verdugo is the outfielder who will be in the lineup every day. In fact, he looks poised to hold down center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. a free agent and likely to sign elsewhere. In Verdugo, the Red Sox have a hard-nosed player who contributes in all facets of the game and comes with a bundle of energy on a daily basis. Free-agent acquisition Hunter Renfroe can rake lefties and could also get a chance against righties now that Andrew Benintendi has been traded. Renfroe figures to get most of his time in right field while Franchy Cordero -- the main acquisition piece for Benintendi – tries to hold down left field. Star DH J.D. Martinez will also play the corner outfield spots at times.

The unknown: Can Cordero stay healthy? The Red Sox love his tools, but so did the Padres and Royals. Thus far, he hasn’t been able to put it together because he’s too often been injured. Perhaps Cordero will benefit from having a mentor like Martinez, who loves to talk hitting. Can Renfroe hit well enough against righties to be an everyday player? If not, veteran super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez should see his share of time in the outfield. Is there any chance of a reunion with Bradley? It seems unlikely. But if it does happen, manager Alex Cora will have to do some reshuffling, which would include Verdugo moving back to right.
-- Ian Browne

The known: With manager Aaron Boone confirming that Clint Frazier has earned the opportunity to begin the year as the Yankees’ starting left fielder, the outfield appears set. Switch-hitter Aaron Hicks is expected to offer his strong on-base abilities as the regular center fielder and Aaron Judge will contribute a fearsome power bat while patrolling right field, with Giancarlo Stanton projected as the everyday designated hitter. Brett Gardner is expected to enter the year as a reserve, capable of playing left field and center field.

The unknown: Injuries have limited Judge to 242 games over the last three seasons. Judge’s health will be a huge storyline as he aims to shed an injury-prone label that he detests. It remains to be seen how often Gardner will play, which largely will depend on the availability of others. Will Stanton play a single inning in the outfield? Frazier’s status as a Gold Glove finalist came as something as a surprise after a rough showing in 2019 -- one exacerbated by lingering concussion issues. Can Frazier put that definitively in the rear-view mirror?
-- Bryan Hoch