Where does Jackie Bradley fit during this September?
After a thoroughly difficult 112 games for Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox opted to demote the struggling outfielder to Triple-A Pawtucket on August 19 and promote top prospect Mookie Betts. While Bradley has continued to scuffle since that demotion, however, Betts has emerged as a force for the Red Sox and has left Bradley’s future role with the team questionable.
Thus, the Red Sox promotion of both Bradley and relief pitcher Drake Britton to Boston yesterday appears to create more questions than it answers.
Playing in his first full season with the Red Sox this season, Bradley compiled a shaky .216/.288/.290 slash line, showing none of the elite on-base ability and surprising pop that he displayed throughout his Minor League career. Bradley’s hitting has been so bad, in fact, that it has practically negated his phenomenal defense, which even in just 112 games, ranks seventh among Major League outfielders according to FanGraphs.
Through that defense and the occasional offensive surge, Bradley has shown flashes at the Major League level. In a lost season, it wouldn’t normally be a problem to give him regular playing time, but right now, there’s just no place to put him in the Red Sox outfield. Mookie Betts has emerged in a big way in the recent weeks and has upped his slash line to an impressive .280/.353/.449 mark in 31 games in Boston, and absolutely deserves everyday playing time. Also deserving everyday playing time is Yoenis Cespedes, the stud left fielder who the Red Sox acquired from Oakland in the Jon Lester trade and is slashing .297/.313/.477 since joining the Red Sox.
That still leaves right field open for potential playing time for Bradley, as Allen Craig has been atrocious since joining the Red Sox, but even that will be occupied by a more permanent player in a couple of weeks. Betts will likely shift to right field when high-priced Cuban import Rusney Castillo joins the team and, of course, Castillo will have to play everyday to get a feel for Boston and the life of a Major League Baseball player.
Once Castillo joins the team, that leaves no available spot for Bradley for both the rest of 2014 and next season. Unless the Red Sox relegate him to a fourth outfielder role, which they likely wouldn’t when considering his formidable ceiling if he can even hit at a league-average rate, there’s just no space for Bradley on the Red Sox roster.
Perhaps the team will attempt to trade Bradley for a stud pitcher or power hitter this offseason, but they still need to see at least a little bit of Bradley over the rest of the season. After all, if nothing else, Bradley would make an excellent fourth outfielder solely because of his defense. The question is simply whether there’s room for improvement with Bradley, and if so, will the Red Sox be able to recover that potential before it’s too late? That question can’t be answered in the final weeks of the season, but the Red Sox still need to give Bradley regular playing time somehow on the chance that he’ll show even a glimpse of his prior potential at the plate.