Red Sox Trade Rumors: Jackie Bradley for Edwin Encarnacion discussed

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 07: Edwin Encarnacion
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 07: Edwin Encarnacion /

Trade talks with the Cleveland Indians that could have put Edwin Encarnacion in a Boston Red Sox uniform fell apart. Could they be revisited?

There are more than a few Boston Red Sox fans who remain bitter that the front office decided to pass on Edwin Encarnacion as the heir apparent to David Ortiz last winter in order to duck the luxury tax. Could the team still rectify what these fans perceive as a mistake?

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Red Sox had trade discussions with the Cleveland Indians earlier this winter. The trade talks revolving around a swap of Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Encarnacion fell apart when Boston refused to part with their center fielder.

With free agent negotiations with J.D. Martinez locked in a stalemate, could the Red Sox pivot back toward engaging Cleveland in trade talks for Encarnacion?

The 35-year old is five years older than Martinez but is only owed about $40.3 million over the next two years, plus a $20 million team option for 2020 that includes a $5 million buyout. Martinez is seeking a higher average annual value and has thus far refused to settle for a five-year deal. If the Red Sox were to cave and give him the seven-year deal he demands then his contract would take him into his age 36 season – the same age Encarnacion will be in the final guaranteed year of his deal. The shorter commitment makes Encarnacion far less of a risk.

The appeal of Martinez stems primarily from the 45 home runs he bashed last year, yet Encarnacion’s 38 homers weren’t far behind. The 153 home runs Encarnacion has hit over the last four seasons tops the 128 mashed by Martinez over that same span. The career OPS for both sluggers is nearly identical. Both are defensively challenged, one-dimensional sluggers who provide the Red Sox exactly what they need and little else.

The only significant difference is that Martinez only costs money. Encarnacion may cost them a starter at another position. It’s unclear if keeping Bradley out of the trade would be a deal-breaker for Cleveland but it’s not as if Boston has much else to offer. Their farm system is barren of major-league ready prospects and a win-now team like the Indians would demand a return that can contribute right away.

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Trading for Encarnacion solves the power outage that plagued Boston last season but giving up Bradley creates a hole in the outfield. They could shift Andrew Benintendi over to center field but would still need another outfielder to take over in left. The only internal options on the 40-man roster are Bryce Brentz, Brock Holt and perhaps Blake Swihart. Would the Red Sox be comfortable giving any of them an everyday spot in the outfield or splitting playing time at the position between them?

It’s more likely this scenario would lead to signing a free agent outfielder. Martinez wouldn’t be entirely off the table but it seems unlikely Boston would commit the financial resources it would take to acquire Encarnacion and sign the top free agent bat on the market.

If Martinez is still in play they would be better off signing him to DH and keep Bradley. Otherwise, the Red Sox are stuck giving significant playing time in the outfield to Martinez without the benefit of a defensive wizard like Bradley in center to protect him. As much as this would add to the lineup, they may give back as many runs on defense with that outfield alignment.

Boston may genuinely have no interest in giving up Bradley, in which case the discussion potentially ends here. What’s interesting is that Cleveland may be willing to deal Encarnacion. If negotiations with Martinez linger into spring training then Boston could get impatient and start talking to Cleveland again. At least the threat of changing course toward a trade gives the Red Sox leverage over Martinez.

Next: Four free agent bats to avoid

A year ago fans were dreaming of Encarnacion swatting home runs over the Green Monster wearing a Red Sox uniform. It appears there’s at least still a chance of those dreams becoming a reality.