Red Sox: Exploring why Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn’t traded at the deadline

Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on photo day. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on photo day. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Why didn’t the Boston Red Sox trade Jackie Bradley Jr. at the deadline?

The Boston Red Sox made a few relatively minor moves before the trade deadline but the one player widely considered the most likely to be dealt remains in the organization. At least for now. What happens with Jackie Bradley Jr. after this season is anyone’s guess and that uncertainty is why it’s so puzzling that the Red Sox never seemed close to dealing him.

Bradley Jr. is in his final year of team control before he’s eligible to test free agency for the first time in his career. The Red Sox were clearly sellers at the trade deadline and an expiring contract of a player who isn’t a part of their future is exactly the type teams in their position should be trying to move.

Does that mean the Red Sox intend to re-sign their center fielder? That depends on whether you believe what they say or what they do.

Hearing Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom address the topic with reporters, you would be inclined to believe that the Red Sox want Bradley Jr. to stay in Boston for the remainder of his career.

"“We love Jackie. That shouldn’t be news,” said Bloom. “He’s been here a long time, he means an enormous amount to this organization. Me, personally, not having known him as long, I’ve still come to regard him so highly and see what an incredible person he is. We know he’s a good player. We’d love to have him here for a long time. That was the case months ago, it was the case yesterday, the case today, the case tomorrow. I don’ think there’s anything to read into that today, but that shouldn’t be news, it’s how we’ve always felt about Jackie.”"

If their stance hasn’t changed that they view Bradley as a long-term piece of the puzzle, why haven’t they done anything about it?

According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Red Sox have not approached Bradley Jr. about a contract extension. They appear willing to let him test the market without even bothering to try convincing him to sign a team-friendly extension.

If Boston is willing to risk letting Bradley Jr. walk after the season, why not trade him now? It can’t be that they hope to recoup a draft pick if he declines a qualifying offer. Bradley Jr. would presumably jump at the approximately $18 million offer, which might be more than he’d receive on a multi-year deal in free agency.

Bradley Jr. was considered a potential non-tender candidate when Boston was hellbent on slashing payroll. Instead, they offered him $11 million in his final year of arbitration (since prorated for the pandemic-shortened season) rather than use those saving to further their goal of dipping below the luxury tax. They could have traded his expiring contract during this lost season to add some assets to a depleted farm system. According to Bradford’s report, there was interest around the league so they could have gotten something for him. Instead, they held on to him and might lose him for nothing after the season.

The most logical explanation for Boston’s approach is that they are interested in re-signing Bradley Jr. but only for the right price. They didn’t want to make the mistake of insulting him with a low-ball offer so they will tell him to go see what offers are out there. If it’s a reasonable price, the Red Sox might be willing to match or even slightly exceed it.

Kevin Pillar‘s career numbers at the plate are slightly better than Bradley Jr.’s and his stellar defense is at least close to being his equal. At 31 years old, the same age Bradley will be next April, Pillar had to settle for a 1-year, $4.25 million deal from the Red Sox. Market conditions haven’t exactly improved since the pandemic crippled revenue across the league.

If the Red Sox offered Bradley Jr. a similar contract for 2021 now, he’d undoubtedly turn it down. Even a multi-year deal at that same average annual value is one he would likely scoff at. But if he goes to free agency and can’t find a better offer than that? Perhaps the Red Sox will be sitting there waiting to welcome him back with a short-term, low-cost deal.

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The Red Sox might have their eyes on a bigger prize when free agency opens. Houston’s George Springer is one of the top position players in this year’s crop and a Red Sox club fresh off resetting the luxury tax might make him a target. Locking up Bradley Jr. to an extension leaves them with no room in the outfield to chase Springer. Waiting to address JBJ’s contract situation allows them to retain flexibility in case a better opportunity presents itself. If Boston isn’t able to lure the three-time All-Star away from the Astros, re-signing Bradley Jr. for short money could be a solid fallback plan.

Bradley Jr. probably wasn’t coming back next year if the Red Sox traded him now. They would at least lose any possible advantage of matching his best offer if they forced him to temporarily uproot his family at the deadline.

If the Red Sox were blown away by an offer for Bradley Jr. then they would have jumped on it. Bloom has made it clear that nobody was untouchable for the right offer. Clearly, that type of offer never came, nor should we have expected it considering his inconsistencies on offense.

Keeping Bradley Jr. through the deadline creates more flexibility with their approach to the offseason. Boston might chase an upgrade in free agency or on the trade market. They might turn the center field position over to a young prospect such as Jarren Duran. The Red Sox weren’t ready to make those decisions yet and keeping the door open for Bradley’s return provides a sense of comfort if other plans don’t pan out.

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That’s the most logical explanation for why the Red Sox didn’t trade Bradley Jr. and continue to praise him as a key part of this club despite that they haven’t made any efforts to lock him up for the future.