The Red Sox addressed one of their non-pitching concerns Friday, trading a pair of minor leaguers for St. Louis outfielder Tyler O’Neill.
O’Neill, 28, just finished his sixth major-league season, but has only once reached 500 plate appearances. That was in 2021, when the righthanded bat cracked 34 home runs and slashed .286/.352/.560 in 138 games, winning his second straight Gold Glove.
Injuries, however, have been the story of his career. His 2022 was sidelined by three injured list stints with shoulder and hamstring issues, limiting him to 96 games and a .228/.308/.392 line. He played in only 72 games in 2023, missing two months after a slow start with a lower back strain, and finishing with a .231/.312/.403 line.
O’Neill is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and could become a free agent after the 2024 season. He is projected to earn a salary of $5.5 million.
The Sox are sending a pair of righthanders to the Cardinals: Nick Robertson and Victor Santos. Robertson, 25, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Kiké Hernández trade on July 25, made nine appearances for the Red Sox, allowing eight earned runs in 12 innings.
Santos, 23, did not pitch in 2023 because of an elbow injury after splitting 2022 between Worcester and Double A Portland, but has made five appearances in the Dominican winter league.
“As we look to add pitching depth, as well as address concerns on potential playing time in the outfield, we felt this deal worked well in addressing both of those issues,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said in a statement. “We are excited to add Nick to our bullpen, and we feel Victor gives us added depth in our minor league system.”
If healthy, O’Neill — in the 89th percentile of major leaguers in arm strength and 80th percentile in sprint speed last season — should complement a lefthanded-heavy group of outfielders, including Jarren Duran, Masataka Yoshida, and Wilyer Abreu.
“I think balancing out the lineup is really important,” said Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow this week at the Winter Meetings. “I think we’ve been active and engaging in free agent conversations and trade conversations to give [manager Alex Cora] more flexibility. We’re really excited about that group [of outfielders], but they’re largely young and unproven. But the only way for a young group to prove themselves is to get the at-bats required to do so.”
O’Neill’s presence could also allow the Red Sox a bit more bandwidth for Ceddanne Rafaela at Triple A Worcester. If Duran isn’t traded, the Sox could shift him to left field and let O’Neill take over in center.
Yet that presents somewhat of a logjam. Yoshida, who is underwhelming defensively, could take over at DH but his power presents a question mark. Breslow noted that, ideally, he would want Yoshida to play on both sides of the ball and the team believes Yoshida improved defensively toward the end of the year.
The Sox will likely need to add another righthanded bat, though, and free agent Teoscar Hernandez is a name that should be considered.
As for O’Neill, his combination of speed and power gives Cora, who has been a proponent of speed on the bases the last few years, more ways to attack his opponents and, thus, win games.
The move leaves Boston with two open spots on its 40-man roster.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)