The Red Sox could lose center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Astros.
According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Houston Astros will be making a run at Bradley Jr. when he hits the market this offseason.
The impressive outfield depth that the Astros have benefited from in recent seasons is in danger of becoming a position of need with George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick all hitting free agency.
Springer would be the biggest loss if the Astros are unable to convince him to stay. The three-time All-Star is not only a force at the top of their lineup, he’s also their only viable option to start in center field. Springer’s departure would force Houston to either find a replacement from outside of the organization or rely heavily on a replacement-level player such as Myles Straw.
Bradley Jr. would be an appealing replacement. His bat is far less consistent than Springer’s but he’s coming off a strong season in which he hit .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. JBJ is an excellent defensive center fielder who can add stability to an outfield on the verge of a massive overhaul.
Bradley Jr. will also be significantly cheaper than Springer, which could be a factor for an Astros team with a budget bloated with several expensive contracts for aging players. Houston has over $116 million committed to guaranteed contracts for only seven players in 2021. Add the salaries of their arbitration eligible players plus other expenses and the payroll jumps to nearly $170 million. Re-signing Springer wouldn’t leave them with much room under the $210 million luxury tax threshold to fill out the rest of the roster.
An interesting aspect of this rumor is that it could involve two center fielders swapping places with Springer coming to Boston if Bradley Jr. lands in Houston.
Springer is one of the top bats on the market this winter and he would fit a position of need for the Red Sox more than any other position player if they lose JBJ. He might not be on Jackie’s level with the glove – few are – but Springer is a very good defensive outfielder who can play all three spots.
He’s also a massive upgrade at the plate over the streaky Bradley. Despite the edge in batting average going to Bradley Jr. in this shortened season, their track records show that Springer has a much higher floor in that department with a modest career .270 average. Springer provides much more power with 14 homers this year and a career-high 39 last season.
While he has plenty of pop to fit in the middle of any lineup, Springer has spent most of his career in the lead-off spot where he appears most comfortable. That could have value to the Red Sox since Andrew Benintendi hasn’t proven he can handle that role. Alex Verdugo thrived at the top of the lineup this year but he was somewhat reluctant to move into the lead-off spot and might prefer to hand the role to someone else next season.
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Boston will have room in the budget to upgrade from Bradley Jr. to Springer. The question is whether or not they should splurge on a position player rather than spend that money on their pitching staff.
Trevor Bauer should be a top priority but the favorite for this year’s NL Cy Young award won’t be cheap. The Red Sox might be willing to spend this winter but it’s unlikely they can afford both Bauer and Springer without going deep into tax territory. Boston has approximately $35 million in space beneath the tax line but Bauer would eat up a significant chunk of that figure.
If they strike out on Bauer, targeting one of the mid-rotation starters on the market while upgrading the offense with Springer is a feasible goal that they could accomplish without crossing the tax line.
Houston will presumably extend a qualifying offer to Springer, which means the Red Sox would need to sacrifice a draft pick in order to sign him. It’s possible they could offset that loss by extending a qualifying offer to Bradley Jr. so that they would get a compensation pick if Houston signs him. The projected $18.9 million cost is more than JBJ is worth if he accepts but if more teams join the Astros on the list of potential suitors, the odds increase that he’ll decline in order to seek a multi-year deal.
The Red Sox never showed any interest in extending Bradley, perhaps content to wait for the market to dictate his value. He could still return if he doesn’t find the type of offer he’s looking for but if Springer is on his way out of Houston, Bradley will have an interested suitor to lure him away from Boston.