Initially, Red Sox fans didn’t expect much from Alejandro De Aza. The outfielder was designated for assignment by Baltimore, then traded to Boston on June 3rd for Double-A pitcher Joe Gunkel. Great, we thought: another semi-serviceable yet unspectacular outfielder. We really needed one of those.
Yet, all sarcasm aside, amid the worried din of a spluttering Red Sox season, De Aza has been a tremendous addition; his play on both sides of the ball adding a new dimension to this Boston team, and inspiring it to a mini resurgence in recent weeks.
Through his first 20 games with the Red Sox, De Aza is hitting .317, getting on base at a very respectable .348 clip, and, somewhat surprisingly, slugging .617. The Dominican has hit 3 home runs with Boston, slashed 4 doubles, and collected 11 RBI. Over the past seven days, De Aza owns a 1.378 OPS, second best in all of baseball, while his average of seeing four pitches per plate appearance would, given enough playing time, rank in the Major League’s top 20.
Admittedly, a Line Drive Percentage of 25, down from 32% with the Orioles, coupled with a high .354 Batting Average on Balls in Play, means De Aza is likely to cool off as pitchers and defenses adjust, but, for little more than $3 million in remaining salary, his production has been a real bargain for the Red Sox. Ben Cherington should be commended on a great business move, in which he extracted brilliant value from an asset simply discarded by a rival team.
This, somewhat inevitably, brings us to Hanley Ramirez, the injured superstar De Aza has replaced in the Red Sox’ outfield. Though it may be difficult for traditionalists to swallow, statisticians will tell you that De Aza has already been more valuable to Boston in one month than Ramirez has been in the entire first half. After all, De Aza has added 1 Win Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference, compared to Hanley costing the Sox -0.1 WAR. I don’t agree entirely, but the stats essentially tell us that Ramirez, earning $14.75 million more than De Aza this year, has thus far contributed less to the Red Sox’ overall success than has Alejandro, which is a particularly startling revelation.
With Ramirez expected to return very soon, the Red Sox will once again face a logjam in the outfield, with Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts also playing well; Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig still languishing in Pawtucket; and Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava working their way back to health. However, I strongly believe that all great teams work on a meritocracy, with the best-performing players deserving the opportunity to play. For the Red Sox, such a system would have to include De Aza, who has been one of the team’s most consistent players in June.
Ultimately, some solution will be found in the outfield, where the Red Sox have eight viable options for four big league roster spots. As the deadline approaches, De Aza’s value may best lie as a stealth trade chip. Though unlikely to be dealt as a stand alone asset, it would be great if the Red Sox could include Alejandro in an inventive deal for pitching, having seen his stock rise from Baltimore castaway to big league desirable. Perhaps that’s where his future lies, but, right now, let’s just enjoy De Aza for what he is: a very solid ballplayer with a decent array of respectable tools.