The asking price for Jackie Bradley Jr. is too steep for the Red Sox
We are mere weeks away from the start of training camp and Jackie Bradley Jr. remains without a home. Several teams have kicked the tires on the veteran center fielder but there doesn’t appear to be much progress. The Boston Red Sox haven’t closed the door on a reunion but there’s little reason to believe they would be willing to meet his current asking price.
According to The New York Post’s Mike Puma, Bradley Jr. is looking for a significant deal that runs beyond four years.
Bradley Jr. has earned the type of deal he’s seeking based on his stellar defensive play at a premium position but the Red Sox need to consider what they would get out of him moving forward, not what he’s done in the past.
He’s a notoriously streaky hitter prone to frustrating slumps. There is a bit of pop in his bat but he’s only topped 20 home runs twice in eight seasons. Although, in fairness, his seven home runs in 55 games put him on pace to flirt with that total again in last year’s shortened season.
The inconsistency at the plate means Bradley Jr.’s value is tied primarily to his Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field. Betting on a player who turns 31 years old in April to remain as effective in the field for several more years is a risky proposition.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Bradley Jr. would receive a 2-year, $16 million deal. The average annual value is more than fair based on his defense alone and he could push for a salary of around $10 million per season if competition for his services escalates. Adding on more years is what will give teams pause.
George Springer, who is slightly older than Bradley Jr., received a lucrative six-year deal from the Toronto Blue Jays. While a case can certainly be made that the Jays overpaid in this market, Springer will at least retain some value with his bat even if he moves to a corner outfield spot or designated hitter by the end of the contract. A legitimate star is worth gambling on because that’s what it takes to reel in a player of that caliber in free agency. The same can’t be said for Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox are excited about the future potential of prospect Jarren Duran. He still needs a bit more polishing in the minor leagues but he could make his major league debut at some point in 2021 and take over the center field position the following year. Boston isn’t interested in creating a roadblock for their top outfield prospect by locking in Bradley Jr. long-term.
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What they need is a veteran on a short-term deal to act as a placeholder until Duran is ready. Bringing back Kevin Pillar would be a good place to start. Albert Almora and Jake Marisnick are other available options who can be signed for cheap and would add depth with a right-handed platoon bat.
Bradley Jr. doesn’t fit what the Red Sox are looking for unless he settles for a shorter deal. At the moment, he appears to be sticking to his guns regarding what he feels he’s worth. That could change as potential suitors drop off the board though. The Blue Jays (Springer), Chicago Cubs (Joc Pederson) and Houston Astros (Michael Brantley) were rumored options who ultimately went in another direction to fill their outfield needs.
A one-year deal, perhaps with an option to create some flexibility in the event that Duran’s progress stalls, would work for Boston. The Red Sox have less than $10 million in space beneath the Competitive Balance Tax threshold and signing Bradley could push them over the line. Paying a small tax penalty is worth considering if everything breaks right this season and the Red Sox find themselves in contention. If they are out of the race by the trade deadline, Boston can deal Bradley and other assets to dip below the tax line.
Time is running out as spring training approaches. If Bradley Jr. doesn’t find the contract he wants soon, the familiarity of the only organization he’s ever known wouldn’t be the worst idea if he decides to sign a one-year deal and test the market again next winter. It might be wishful thinking but the door hasn’t slammed shut yet.