Red Sox: Jackie Bradley’s future with Boston is a bit uncertain

BOSTON, MA - JULY 25: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox hits a double during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on July 25, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 25: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox hits a double during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on July 25, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

With Jackie Bradley in the final year of his contract, it seems his Red Sox days are numbered. Recent events suggest that Boston will need to keep him.

Lost amid all of the Red Sox offseason drama and the hoopla surrounding the Mookie Betts trade is the status of their incumbent center fielder. Jackie Bradley has been dazzling Red Sox fans with his defensive skills in center field while becoming one of the premier Gold Glove outfielders in the league.

At the plate, he’s been incredibly streaky throughout his career, but his hot streaks have been enough to counter the brutal slumps he endures such that he remains an everyday player.

The 2020 season marks Bradley’s seventh with the Red Sox after being drafted by the team in 2011 and it’s also his last under contract before he becomes a free agent. Bradley and the team avoided arbitration by agreeing to an $11 million deal earlier this winter which took care of this year but left his future beyond the season up in the air.

While he won’t be as coveted on the free agent market as Mookie Betts will be due to his inferior offensive production and his age (Betts is 27, Bradley will be 30 in April), he’s still sure to have suitors who won’t be able to resist his glove.

Yesterday as I was perusing Twitter, I noticed this tweet from Rob Bradford mentioning Bradley’s contract status this season:

A little bit of digging (since I remember listening to that bit on the podcast last year) turned up the episode in question and revealed that the following exchange took place (as transcribed by NESN):

"Bradford: Have you ever come close to signing an extension with the Red Sox?Bradley: No.Bradford: Have the Red Sox ever offered him an extension?Bradley: No.Bradford: Is he surprised the Red Sox have never offered him an extension?Bradley: No."

Very interesting. With Bradley being a Scott Boras client, I’m sure not too many of us are surprised that he’s taking this approach. Off the top of my head, the only Boras clients I can remember who re-signed with the Red Sox before they hit free agency were Jason Varitek and Xander Bogaerts.

Bradley’s approach also seems to mirror Betts’ in the fact that he doesn’t seem interested in signing an extension and instead wants to bet on himself in free agency (which is completely their right).

If it were up to me (and I’m aware that it’s not), I’d offer Bradley something in the range of five years and $60-65 million as an extension. I’ve long been a Bradley fan and would like to see him spend the rest of his career in a Red Sox uniform.

If he takes it, great; if he doesn’t, I hold the line and let him move on if he thinks he can get more elsewhere after the season. My guess, though, is that this will be Jackie Bradley’s final season in Boston and I believe this to be the case for a number of reasons.

First, the team just signed another light-hitting, slick-fielding center fielder who has spent all but a half season of his career in the AL East, Kevin Pillar. Let’s take a look at their career hitting statistics (both have played for seven seasons thus far):

  • Bradley: .236 BA, 91 HR, 354 RBI, .317 OBP, .727 OBPS
  • Pillar: .261 BA, 76 HR, 318 RBI, .296 OBP, .701 OBPS

They’re not too different at the plate with Bradley showing a little more power while Pillar hits for better average. In the field, Bradley gets better jumps on balls and doesn’t have to dive (and risk injury) as much as Pillar, but they’re both adept with the glove. Bradley has a Gold Glove and Pillar does not, but both have consistently been in the conversation as the best defensive center fielders in the American League for several years.

With Pillar signing for one year and $4.25 million, he costs less than half of what Bradley does and can play any outfield position. My initial reaction upon hearing this signing was that between Pillar, Alex Verdugo, and prospect Jarren Duran waiting in the minors, the writing was on the wall and that Bradley would be traded soon.

Add in the fact that Chaim Bloom seems to like trading big money long-term contracts for cheaper veterans and younger cost-controlled players with multiple years of team control, and it seems as though it’d be a no-brainer for him to move Bradley.

The Red Sox don’t seem like they’re in any hurry, or even have any desire, to sign him beyond this year and they may want to trade him before he walks away for nothing at the end of the season the way they did with Mookie.

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It would make sense to move Bradley for pitching since that’s what the team desperately needs, but I’m not sure what he’d bring back. While I don’t think Bradley’s value is as low as many do, it’s probably safe to assume he’s also not going to bring back a haul (like, say, Noah Syndergaard or someone of that caliber).

Still, the Red Sox need pitching and moving Bradley for some major league-ready arms would fill a huge hole this Red Sox roster currently has. What’s changed my mind all of a sudden is the recent news that Alex Verdugo’s back issues, which have kept him out of action since last August, are not better.

In fact, they’ve gotten worse with it being reported that he now has a stress fracture in his back and even if everything goes according to plan, he won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Leaving aside the fact that the Red Sox admitted they knew this about Verdugo and still accepted him in the trade with Los Angeles. Add in the fact that A) back issues are concerning in someone so young and usually worsen as one ages, and B) they had an issue with Brusdar Graterol‘s Tommy John surgery two years ago, but not this?

This means that as of right now the Red Sox still only have three major league caliber outfielders: Bradley, Pillar, and Andrew Benintendi.

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With all of this uncertainty swirling around the Red Sox outfield, it seems as though Jackie Bradley will probably be around for a while longer (and probably most, if not all of this season). Things can always change in a hurry, but with the depleted and injury-prone pitching staff, the Red Sox have, they’re going to need all of the defense they can get in the field and keeping Bradley around for a while yet goes a long way toward addressing that.