Red Sox Rumors: Astros making Jackie Bradley Jr. a priority

CLEVELAND, OHIO - AUGUST 13: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo homer to take the lead during the tenth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on August 13, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - AUGUST 13: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo homer to take the lead during the tenth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on August 13, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Astros want to steal Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Red Sox.

The Boston Red Sox are in danger of losing their center fielder to free agency as the Houston Astros have made signing Jackie Bradley Jr. a priority, according to Peter Gammons.

The former Gold Glove award winner would be a significant loss for the Red Sox if he signs elsewhere. Advanced fielding metrics haven’t always been able to capture his brilliance with the glove but the eye test confirms Bradley Jr. is among the elite defensive center fielders.

The unique dimensions of Fenway Park make it a notoriously difficult outfield to patrol. It’s vital to have a strong defensive center fielder who understands these quirks and few have ever done it as well as Bradley Jr.

The Astros could potentially lose three of their top outfielders with George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick all hitting free agency. Bradley Jr. would provide Houston with an excellent defensive player to anchor their revamped outfield and the Astros lineup is strong enough to support his streaky bat.

The push for Bradley Jr. indicates that the Astros are expecting Springer to leave. The New England native has long been rumored to be a target for the Red Sox so there’s a real chance we could see the two center fielders swap places.

As seamless as it might be to replace Bradley Jr. with a three-time All-Star, Springer isn’t a slam dunk acquisition. He’ll be among the most expensive players in this free-agent class, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting him for a 5-year, $125 million deal. The average annual value is more than triple what they predict for Bradley Jr.

Springer is clearly the superior player with significantly more upside with the bat but JBJ might be the better value on a shorter deal. Five years is a lot to commit to a 31-year-old who might be approaching the end of his prime.

The Red Sox would also need to sacrifice their second-round pick to sign Springer since he declined a qualifying offer from the Astros. Boston will be selecting fourth in the second round so the high draft pick is a steep price for an organization trying to rebuild its farm system.

Springer is a great player who would upgrade the lineup and provide above-average defense at a premium position. The high price tag is warranted but the Red Sox need to decide if it’s worthwhile for them to pay it when they have several other holes that need to be addressed.

Unfortunately, if the Astros snag Bradley Jr. then the Red Sox might be pressured into paying up for Springer due to a lack of viable alternatives.

Red Sox CBO Chaim Bloom has stated a desire for retaining a strong defensive outfield and he appears resistant to moving Andrew Benintendi or Alex Verdugo over to center. If a true center fielder is a priority then Marcell Ozuna loses his appeal. As tantalizing as it is to envision his bat in the lineup, he’s limited to a corner outfield spot or DH duties at this stage of his career.

Brantley is in a similar situation, limited to left field on his way to becoming a DH. That probably crosses him off Boston’s list as a potential cheaper alternative to his Houston teammate.

The free-agent pool gets shallow quickly if the Red Sox strictly target center field options.

Joc Pederson has spent more time in center than the corners in his career but that hasn’t been the case over the last three seasons. He’s also a platoon player who is essentially useless against lefties. Ditto for Adam Eaton.

Brett Gardner still occasionally fills in at center but he’s long past the point of it being his ideal position. The 37-year-old had a rough season at the plate and might not have much left in the tank. If he does extend his career, it might be tough to convince the long-time Yankee to switch sides in the heated rivalry with the Red Sox.

A reunion with Kevin Pillar makes a lot of sense. He was a good fit for his half-season in Boston and played well enough to turn himself into a trade chip at the deadline. He doesn’t provide much upside but he’s a solid defensive player with a right-handed bat to complement the pair of lefties he would share an outfield with.

Beyond that, the Red Sox would be scraping the bottom of the barrel for viable center field options or crossing their fingers that something emerges on the trade market.

A cheap veteran on a short-term deal buys Boston time for top outfield prospect Jarren Duran to develop. The club doesn’t view him as ready for the big leagues yet but he’ll be on the radar in the near future. Shopping in the bargain bin isn’t an exciting move but it might be the right one if they believe in Duran’s future.

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Otherwise, the Red Sox are essentially left with two options. Fight to keep Bradley Jr. in town or pay up for Springer.