A few teams reportedly showed interest in trading for Jackie Bradley, Jr. at the Winter Meetings, but were told by the Boston Red Sox that he is not available.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be the Opening Day center fielder for the Boston Red Sox, no matter how many teams would prefer to have him in their own lineup.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reports that a few teams inquired about Bradley at this year’s Winter Meetings but were told by the Red Sox that he is not available. It seems the team hasn’t been gushing over their outfield trio in an effort to pump up their trade value and fully expect to deploy what may be the best defensive outfield in the game.
The Chicago Cubs were one team that had Bradley high on their list of targets, at least until they went in another direction by signing free agent outfielder Jason Heyward to an 8-year, $184 million deal. Heyward gives the Cubs an above-average bat to go along with one of the best defensive outfield gloves in the game, which is essentially what the Red Sox are hoping Bradley can become if he can build on the momentum from his scorching month of August at the plate.
If the Red Sox had left the door even slightly ajar on a potential Bradley trade, would the Cubs have lavished Heyward with such a lucrative contract? We may never know, but the Red Sox are content to keep Bradley at a bargain price.
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Cafardo also mentions the Kansas City Royals as one of the team’s that inquired about Bradley as a potential replacement for free agent Alex Gordon. After seeing the staggering contract that Heyward received from the Cubs, the Royals may consider Gordon out of their price range. Gordon is coming off of an injury plagued season, but averaged 6.0 WAR over the previous four seasons, which exceeds the 5.5 WAR Heyward has averaged over his last four years.
Similar to Heyward is that Gordon’s value stems primarily from his elite defense. The four-time Gold Glove winner saved 27 runs with his defense in 2014, putting him in the same class as Heyward, who had 24 defensive runs saved last season.
Gordon will turn 32 before next season begins, so he won’t be able to command an eight-year deal or anything close to the total dollars that Heyward received, but he might come close to the average annual value on a shorter deal. If Gordon gets offers for $20+ million per year, we can probably count the Royals out on the bidding war.
You can see why Bradley would be an attractive alternative for the small market Royals. He has the ability to become Heyward and Gordon’s equal in the field, while his developing bat is finally showing signs of life. Heyward and Gordon have posted a nearly identical career OPS at .784 and .783 respectively, while Bradley finished the 2015 season with an .832 OPS.
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If teams are convinced that what we saw from Bradley at the plate last season is more along the lines of what we should expect going forward, rather than the dismal performances from his limited opportunities over the previous two years, he could prove to be a tremendous value compared to the more expensive defensive-minded outfielders that hit the free agent market this winter.
Which is exactly why the Red Sox are intent on keeping him. Bradley was worth 2.2 WAR last season when he played in only 74 games. Extrapolate that over a full season and his value starts to approach All-Star caliber. Heyward and Gordon may be more proven commodities, but the 25-year old Bradley has the upside to reach their level thanks to his outstanding defense, while earning only a fraction of the cost.
Having a core of young players on cheap contracts is what allows a team like the Red Sox to spend $217 million on an ace. Even with Bradley’s value at its peak, trading him would not net them a starting pitcher of David Price‘s caliber, therefore trading Bradley for a starter and replacing him with Heyward or Gordon would not have been a viable alternative.
Teams may continue to call about Bradley, but they’ll receive the same answer that teams inquiring about Mookie Betts have received. Thanks, but no thanks. Unless a team is willing to blow the Red Sox away with an offer, Bradley is staying in Boston.