Red Sox Opinion: Trading Jackie Bradley Jr. is not in team’s best interest

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Jackie Bradley Jr.
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Jackie Bradley Jr. /

The Red Sox have a good center fielder in Jackie Bradley Jr. It would be extremely misguided of them to start actively shopping him around MLB.

Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is no stranger to being involved in trade rumors.

His name has been thrown around during Hot Stove season for a while now. He was a speculated trade chip after the 2015 season. He is “among many outfield options…” the San Francisco Giants “…are currently considering” according to John Morosi. The interest for JBJ on the trade market is there. But, it is important to note that the Red Sox are not actively pursuing any trade that involves Bradley as its centerpiece.

And they’re smart to hold that position. Trading Bradley is one of the more misguided decisions the team can make.

I love Bradley as a player. For my money, he’s the best center fielder the Red Sox have had this millennium. So this position of mine comes from an equal parts statistic and selfish place. But my duty to you, the reader, comes first. So we’ll start with the statistic reasons, I guess.

The main complaint when it comes to JBJ is his streaky nature at the plate. We’ve all seen the talent, we know it’s there. His ability to hit for both average and power has shown through.

2016 is chief among those instances. The player we all thought he would be – a .220 hitter, 10 homers, at most 50 RBI- seemed to vanish. He hit 26 homers that year drove in 84 runs and slashed .267/.349/.486. His isolated power reached .216, ranking in FanGraphs “Great” category for that statistic. He became dynamic in the field and at the plate.

Then 2017 happened, and while he kept his power (17 homers, .158 “above-average” ISO), everything else fell off around that.

But that’s okay, sort of. Of course, the Red Sox want offensive production out of every one of their players. The center field position, however, is not one that has historically demanded outstanding offensive production. Center fielders are closer to shortstops than they are to any other position on the diamond. The position they play is, defensively, in the “harder to play” category. And Jackie makes it look easy.

(For defensive measurement purposes, I’m using Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR.) These are the most efficient Defensive Metrics we have to compare outfielders. Errors and Fielding Percentage are bad metrics.)

Over his career as an everyday starter (since 2014,) JBJ has accounted for 43 DRS and a 32.6 UZR. This is by no means “Elite.” Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays has accrued a 62.8 UZR and 103 DRS in that same time frame. THAT is Elite. Bradley, as I’m sure you already knew, is a very good, above-average center fielder, and his 2017 metrics reflect that.

BOSTON, MA – JULY 30: Jackie Bradley Jr.
BOSTON, MA – JULY 30: Jackie Bradley Jr. /

Last season, JBJ counted for 9 DRS and a 4.2 UZR. That counted for No.5 and No.7 in their respective categories in all of MLB. That is an extremely competent and, frankly, one of the better center fielders in baseball.

Why would the Red Sox give up on that? Because Andrew Benintendi is a natural center fielder? I’m sorry, but I don’t have the same faith in Benintendi’s defensive prowess that I do Bradley’s. And there’s no way Mookie Betts moves off of his position after winning two Gold Gloves there. And besides, why give up on him before you see how he reacts to the managerial switch?

Alex Cora enters the Red Sox clubhouse as a fresh voice. He’s a young, open-minded, and from all reports I’ve seen, he’s a player’s coach who connects well with younger players. Torey Lovullo was the same type of coach in his tenure with the Red Sox. When Lovullo filled in for John Farrell in August of 2015, Bradley thrived. That month he hit five homers, scored and drove in 23 runs, and slashed .354/.429/.637. That’s an OPS of 1.066.

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Those numbers carried into 2016, as I’ve discussed. In 2017, that offensive prowess went away. You know what else went away in 2017? Torey Lovullo. Perhaps a new voice in the room, a new skipper to connect to, will help Jackie become the player we’ve seen in spurts throughout his career.

Moving away from the player’s track record, the main business reason the Red Sox should absolutely avoid trading Jackie Bradley Jr. is simple: they’d be selling low.

Bradley does still have some value around the league – thanks to his glove – but that value is drastically lower than it should be. His offensive output in 2017 was extremely underwhelming. He missed time due to injury, sure, but he never really found the footing he had in 2016. Why on earth would you sell low on a player under team control for the next two years? And the return for the 27-year old should be prospects to replenish a depleted farm system if the Giants interest is any indication. With prospects being as valuable as they are, the return would be $0.50 on the dollar. It’s just shortsighted.

“But,” you cry out, “if the Red Sox sign J.D Martinez, AND keep Bradley, where’s Martinez going to play?”

DH, obviously. Injuries have plagued Martinez over his career and is defense is sub-par. The former-Tiger accounting for Negative-23 DRS and a Negative-18.8 UZR. If he can play 150 games and hit well for Boston, anything else would be gravy. He’d serve as an extra outfielder.

Baseball, and sports in general fall into the entertainment industry. And Bradley is one of the most entertaining players I have ever had the privilege of watching.

His defensive ability is unrivaled by any Red Sox center fielder in my lifetime. Jacoby Ellsbury was good, so was Johnny Damon. Bradley, on the other hand, is arguably head and shoulders above those two.

What is inarguable about the comparison between Bradley and his two aforementioned predecessors, is the arm ability. The Red Sox of my lifetime have featured center fielders – Damon and Ellsbury in particular – that couldn’t throw a baseball well. Bradley has that ability in excess, accruing 37 OF assists over his career in Boston. The still active Ellsbury only has 34 to his credit, with Damon collecting 79 over an 18-year career. I’m confident Jackie can top that in his career.

Next: Fringe pitcher options for 2018 roster

JBJ is a lot of fun to watch play baseball. I just hope we all get to continue to watch him play baseball in Boston.