Red Sox To Sign Adam Duvall

The Red Sox are in agreement with outfielder Adam Duvall on a one-year, $7MM deal that could reach up to $10MM with performance bonuses, reports Craig Mish of the Miami Herald. According to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo, the performance bonuses are based on plate appearances. The deal is pending a physical. Duvall is a customer of CAA Sports.

Duvall, 34, started his MLB career with the Giants in 2014 and has since bounced around the NL, playing for the Reds, Braves, and Marlins. The highlights of his career thus far were the 2016 season, when he earned an All-Star selection with the Reds, slashing .241/.297/.498 (104 wRC+) with 33 homers in 150 games, and the 2021 season, where he earned a Gold Glove award, slashed .226/.287/.513 (107 wRC+) down the stretch for the Braves following a midseason trade from the Marlins, and won the World Series with Atlanta. On the season, Duvall led the NL in RBI with 113 while swatting 38 home runs.

Duvall returned to Atlanta for the 2022 season, but his age-33 campaign wasn’t nearly as productive as that 2021 season. A left wrist strain — more specifically, a torn tendon sheath that required surgery — quite likely impacted Duvall’s overall performance, but the regression was still pronounced. Coming into the 2022 season, Duvall had a career .241 ISO (slugging minus batting average). The .263 ISO he turned in during his 38-homer performance in 2021 ranked him 14th among all qualified batters. That power wilted considerably, however, with Duvall’s ISO shrinking to .188 — ranking 74th among players with at least 300 plate appearances. The resulting .213/.276/.401 slash was 13% worse than league-average, by measure of wRC+.

The 2022 season saw Duvall’s average exit velocity dip from 89.8 mph to 88.3 mph, while his rate of barreled balls and hard-hit balls each dropped by more than three percentage points. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate jumped from a career-worst 31.4% in 2021 to an even higher 32.1% in 2022.

It’s impossible to say exactly how much that was due to his injured wrist and how much might be due to a general decline in skill. For a low-OBP slugger like Duvall, the loss in power is certainly concerning regarding his ability to play as an average or better bat on an everyday basis. That being said, Duvall still showed huge power against lefties in 2022 (.233/.282/.562, 129 wRC+) while posting a strong +5 OAA in just half a season split mainly between left and center field, showing he does still have value even if his power doesn’t return to its pre-2022 form.

With offseason acquisition Masataka Yoshida manning left and Alex Verdugo set to play right field, Duvall seems ticketed for time in center field — although he’d notably be a fine right-handed complement to either Yoshida or Verdugo, who each bat left-handed. Cotillo reported yesterday that the Red Sox believe Duvall to be capable of playing center field at age 34, despite the fact that he has just 593 Major League innings at the position.

Whether Duvall will play center on an everyday basis or be in more of a timeshare depends on the development of young Jarren Duran, whose meager .221/.283/.363 (78 wRC+) slash line in 2022 was held down by a massive platoon split; Duran slashed just .184/.238/.211 against lefties for Boston, translating to a virtually unplayable 22 wRC+. Against righties, however, he beat a more palatable .229/.293/.398 (91 wRC+). Duvall and Duran manning center would allow Enrique Hernández to play the infield, helping to cover for the loss of Xander Bogaerts in free agency and Trevor Story to injury.

Even after an offseason that saw Boston extend Rafael Devers for $313.5MM and add Yoshida on a five-year, $90MM deal along with smaller pacts with Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, Corey Kluberand Chris Martin, Chaim Bloom’s front office still has more to do ahead of Opening Day, even after signing Duvall. The top priority going forward has to be addressing the middle infield, where Hernandez can capably play everyday, but the top option to be his double play partner is Christian Arroyo. Short stop Elvis Andrus, in whome Boston reportedly has interest, is the best middle infielder left on the free agent market. That said, Josh Harrison and perhaps even Jurickson Profar remain as potential options at second base and the Red Sox have reportedly explored the trade market for infield help as well.

With Duvall on board, the Red Sox are projected for an Opening Day payroll of about $190MM, with roughly $216MM worth of luxury-tax obligations on the ledger. That cash payroll mark is well shy of the $221MM at which they ended the 2022 season, while the current luxury level leaves about $17MM worth of breathing room before they’d be at risk of paying the tax for a second consecutive season. He should leave Bloom and his staff with some leeway as they continue to search for ways to augment the roster.

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