Can Jackie Bradley Jr. Return to Red Sox?

(Photo: Stuart Cahill, Boston Herald)
Eric D. Schabell

Contributing Writer

Since the end of the shortened 2020 season there have been many free agent rumors around some of the top outfielders available on the market, but none more interesting to watch than Jackie Bradley Jr.

It's always interesting to see what the MLB Trade Rumors predictions are on his 2021 free agent signing, and they have Bradley Jr down for a two year deal for $16MM. Looking back he made $8.5MM in 2019 and if 2020 was a full season it would have been $11MM for that year. 

Now the world is a different place financially with so many potential free agents, and good outfielders among them, sitting at home with little hope for a contract in 2022. So would it seems like $8M per year for a two year deal for Bradley Jr would be something to jump on.

But not so fast there, it's a bit more complicated with his agent being Scott Boras. The word on the street is that they are looking for a multi year deal, and not just two, but maybe beyond four years. 

Is there a market for Bradley Jr, who turns 31 this year, for five years at $45 - $50MM?

Let's look at the teams that have been mentioned so far.

Philadelphia Phillies

The big fix here is that the new general manager is none other than ex-Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski, who loved Bradley Jr during his time at Fenway. It's not their first, second, or even third priority in this offseason, but if they did it would be a massive upgrade.

"Bradley Jr is probably a better CF defender than anyone the Phillies have had since Garry Maddox. He would be a major defensive upgrade in an outfield that had too many gaffes in 2020, particularly late in the season. The Phils’ outfield defense was fourth-worst in the majors..."

The estimated payroll reserves on the Phillies in 2021 is smaller, but if they chose to use free agency as the solution to their center field problems they can fit a longer term deal with Bradley Jr. The question will be, how far with Dombrowski be willing to go for him?

Atlanta Braves

Bradley Jr been linked with the Atlanta Braves, but it would seem that the flashes of offense he showed in 2020 might not be enough to offset the two down years in production previous to that. He's coming off a 2020 season in which he batted .283 with seven home runs, 22 RBIs and an .814 OPS in 217 plate appearances across 55 games. It was a good season for the one of the games best center fielders defensively, but he's shown some up-and-down stretches offensively throughout his career.

The discussion happening around a potential Braves acquisition is that they have a top prospect on the brink of breaking into their center field position. Signing Bradley Jr to a longer term contract would put them in a bit of a pickle as what to do with him longer term. If Bradley Jr were open to a shorter contract, it would make more this option more realistic.

Houston Astros

The Astros have lost George Springer to free agency and the Blue Jays, leaving a gaping hole in their outfield. The rumors are that they should seriously consider Bradley Jr as backfilling Springer, "Bradley Jr would be (manager) Baker’s opening day center fielder, adding stability to their depth chart and filling the void Springer's departure creates from a defensive standpoint. Bradley Jr would also add a veteran bat to a versed positional depth chart."

The Astros have an estimated salary reserve to spend of just north of $14MM while staying under the luxury tax threshold for 2021. So need, opportunity, and future flexibility in payroll suggest a very good possibility that they can fit Bradley Jr in for the coming 4-5 years in center field.

New York Mets

There seems to be no shortage of money in the Mets ownership these days. They are capable of signing anyone they like it seems. After acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, this team is looking to go very long in the postseason. 

This might make an offer of less years than what Bradley Jr is asking for, or if he would be willing to take less annual value, attractive in that players want to play for a winner. 

This is a team to watch in the Bradley Jr sweepstakes.

San Francisco Giants

It's been reported that the Giants are also looking at upgrading their outfield with Bradley Jr. They are keen to add left-handed hitters and the Giants used 12 outfielders in the 60-game 2020 season. The the only man with a guaranteed spot is Mike Yastrzemski so Bradley Jr would fit in nicely if they were more sure of his offensive productivity. 

The real question is if the Giants are willing to go long on a multi year deal right now for one of the premier center fielders in MLB?

Boston Red Sox

This is the big question, can Bradley Jr be brought back to center field in Fenway? 

As things now stand the Red Sox have acquired Hunter Renfroe for right field, have Andrew Benintendi in left field, and moved Alex Verdugo to center field. 

Renfroe does not preclude Bradley Jr from returning and is more of a fourth outfielder if he does. Chief baseball operations Chaim Bloom told the Globe last week at the end of 2020, “We continue to stay in touch with him and have been this entire time. I expect we’ll continue to until his free agency resolves.”

The problem is payroll flexibility. The Red Sox have reserves left of just over $7.5MM to keep them under the luxury tax for 2021. There is just no room for an elite free agent center fielder like Bradley Jr in the Red Sox plans.

The reality for Red Sox Nation is that if he's not willing to take a reduced annual salary there's just no path for Bradley Jr that leads to center field in a Red Sox uniform.

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.