Red Sox Free Agency: A.J. Pollack deal provides template for signing Jackie Bradley

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 31: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 31: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The deal that A.J. Pollack signed with the Dodgers provides an idea of what the Red Sox can expect it will take to re-sign Jackie Bradley next year.

The free agent market is often influenced by recent history, with each contract setting the bar for players of similar caliber. Deals struck this winter will create a template for upcoming negotiations, which is why the Boston Red Sox are monitoring the current landscape with the future in mind.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers have signed center fielder A.J. Pollock. ESPN’s Buster Olney followed up with details of the contract, which will pay Pollack $55 million over the next four seasons. The agreement includes a $10 million player option in 2023 (or a $5 million buyout) and he can opt out after the third season if he reaches a certain number of plate appearances.

Boston should take note of this deal since Pollack is the free agent outfielder who most resembles Jackie Bradley Jr., who will hit the market next winter.

Pollack hits for a better average, although injuries have sapped his production in recent years to drag him well below his .281 career average. He’s been limited to 237 games over the last three seasons and has hit .261 with a .797 OPS over that span. Bradley’s career began with a brutal stretch at the plate but his .250 average and .763 OPS since his breakout 2016 season is comparable to Pollack’s last few years.

The home run power tilts slightly in Pollack’s favor coming off a season in which he outpaced Bradley 21 to 13 in that category despite playing in fewer games. This was the second time in his career that Pollack hit 20+ homers, which Bradley has done only once. Bradley’s career-high 26 home runs in 2016 are more than Pollack has ever produced in a season, indicating he may have a higher power ceiling, albeit with a lower floor.

The days of swiping 30+ bases are far behind Pollack but he’s reached double-digit steals in every season in which he’s played 75+ games. Bradley was given more freedom than ever on the basepaths last season when he stole a career-high 17 bases. Each is capable of contributing on the bases.

Bradley is an elite defensive center fielder who finally won his first Gold Glove award in 2018 and has averaged 8.8 defensive runs saved since his first full season. Pollack is no slouch in the field though, averaging 8.5 DRS and earning a Gold Glove in 2015.

Evaluating their contributions in each aspect of the game shows a similar value between the two players. Pollack missed almost the entire 2016 season due to injury but he’s produced 5.5 WAR in the two seasons combined since. Bradley has been worth 5.1 WAR the last two seasons and was valued at 5.5 WAR in 2016 alone.

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While Pollack may be the slightly better all-around player, he’s missed significant time over the last few years. There’s value in staying healthy and JBJ has appeared in at least 133 games in each of the last few seasons.

We should expect Bradley to cash in next winter with a deal similar to what Pollack received with perhaps a few tweaks. Pollack turned 31 last month while Bradley will turn 30 shortly after the first season of his next deal begins. Since Bradley will essentially be a  year younger when he negotiates his deal, he may be able to guarantee a fifth year at a higher salary than Pollack’s player option. With fewer health risks, there’s less of a need for Bradley’s deal to have an opt-out clause tied to plate appearances.

Barring a dramatic shift in market conditions over the next year, a five-year deal in the range of $65-70 million seems about right for Bradley. That would give him a similar average annual value to the first four years of Pollack’s deal with the only difference being a guaranteed fifth year (or a player option that doesn’t come with a reduced salary).

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Will the Red Sox be willing to pay that much to retain Bradley? There are other priorities to address over the next two years. Boston probably can’t keep everyone and JBJ may end up being a payroll casualty if this is what it will take to sign him. If that happens, the defensive wizard’s skills in center field will be sorely missed.