Jackie Bradley Jr. reflects on time with Red Sox in heartfelt Players’ Tribune piece: ‘It was an honor’

Upon signing with the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this month, former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. did not rush to social media to bid farewell to the organization he had spent the first 10 years of his professional career with.

“I don’t want it to just be some short thing,” he said back on March 8. “The years that you invest and put in, I don’t think it would justice for me to just give a little tidbit over this. I will gather my thoughts and emotions and be able to put it into words soon.”

On Wednesday, the final day before the start of the 2021 regular season, Bradley Jr. put his thoughts and emotions into words via an essay, as the soon-to-be 31-year-old penned a heartfelt piece for The Players’ Tribune titled: ‘Dear Red Sox Nation.’

In 288 words, the former first-round draft pick-turned-top prospect-turned Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder reflected on the ups and downs he experienced in his time with the Sox and how special it was to make his first Opening Day roster in 2013.

“April 1, 2013 — eight years ago, tomorrow — was the beginning of a new chapter for my career,” Bradley Jr. wrote. “It’s one that would be filled with hardships and triumphs, but most importantly growth. From the Merloni Shuttle to the duck boat parades; from hitting slumps to hitting streaks; from All-Star Games to Gold Gloves; and from last-place finishes to World Series championships … my baseball career in New England has been one that’s challenged me to always be present in the moment. 

“And to always be better than the day before.”

Over the course of eight big-league seasons with the Red Sox, Bradley Jr.’s accolades include putting together a 29-game hitting streak and making his first All-Star team in 2016, winning ALCS MVP and his first World Series and Gold Glove award in 2018, and quite frankly establishing himself as one of, if not the best defensive outfielder in baseball.

“These memories and accomplishments would not have been possible without God, hard work, dedication, family, friends, teammates, coaches, and support staff,” he added. “The relationships I’ve made over the years, both on and off the field, have helped me to become the player and person I am today — and I’m so grateful for that.”

One relationship Bradley Jr. made while in Boston was with Alex Cora, who managed the Gold Glover in 2018 and 2019. And while Cora was not surprised by Bradley Jr. signing elsewhere, he will miss the player he had gotten to known in more than just an on-the-field capacity.

“Solid player, better person,” Cora said of Bradley Jr. earlier this month. “Very consistent at everything he did. It was a pleasure to have him in the clubhouse, to know him off the field and get to know his family. An outstanding kid. He did some great things while he was here. He was amazing in 2018.

“He has a fan from afar,” added the Sox skipper. “I’ll be paying attention. Off the field, we’re going to keep having a relationship.”

Bradley Jr.’s deal with the Brewers will net the Virginia native $13 million in 2021. It also includes a $11 million player option for a potential second year in 2022, though Bradley Jr. could hit the open market once again this winter if he so chooses.

As Bradley Jr. prepares to embark on a new journey in Milwaukee — playing alongside the likes of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Can — he will also be sure to cherish the memories he made in Boston from here on out.

“So before each of us officially turns the page to our next chapter, I just wanted to say: Red Sox Nation, thank you,” Bradley Jr. wrote. “It was an honor.”

(Picture of Jackie Bradley Jr.: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. officially signs with Brewers

Former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. finally saw his free agency come to a close on Monday as his two-year, $24 million deal with the Brewers was made official.

The 30-year-old had been on the open market for a little more than four months, eventually reaching the point where he was the best position player still available by the time clubs reported for spring training in February.

A client of super-agent Scott Boras, Bradley Jr. never wavered while being in a situation others in his position might have considering the fact it was early March and he was still without a job.

Speaking with reporters via Zoom from Phoenix, Ariz. on Monday, the Gold Glover explained what led to him landing with Milwaukee after a long winter.

“This was an unprecedented offseason,” Bradley Jr. said. “This is my first free agency, so I don’t have anything to compare it with. I personally enjoyed it, because I focused on the things that were going on around me. I was able to spend a lot of quality time with my family and kind of let all that figure it out itself. I was just relaxing, and waiting for the opportunity. I was continuously staying ready, working hard.”

Coming off a successful 2020 season in which he slashed .283/.364/.450 to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games while providing his usual superb defense in centerfield, the former first-round pick had multiple offers to consider, but he ultimately wound up signing a two-year pact with the Brewers that also includes an opt out after the first year.

“With the offer now, I just wanted to trust myself,” he added. “I believe in my ability and my talent and I feel like this particular deal offers me a lot of flexibility.”

Throughout the course of the offseason, Bradley Jr. seemingly had one definitive suitor in the form of his old club in Boston.

It never seemed all that likely that the two sides would come to terms on a new deal, but whenever he was asked, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom would say something along the lines of: ‘We love Jackie. We’re going to remain involved on that front until his free agency resolves.’

Bradley Jr.’s free agency ultimately resolved itself without the Sox getting overly involved, but the All-Star centerfielder did confirm that there were talks about a potential reuinion.

“I think, as a whole, you want to stay open-minded about it all,” he said when asked if there was a point this winter when he thought he might stay with the Red Sox. “Anytime you’re already closing off different avenues, then you’re limiting yourself. So I think as long as you’re pretty open-minded about listening and gathering all the information, that’s going to give you the best opportunity to make the decision that you feel is best for you and your family.”

Bradley Jr., who turns 31 next month, is slated to earn $13 million with the Brewers this season with the chance to earn an additional $11 million in 2022 if he declines to opt out of his deal.

That decision is a longways away, though, and the University of South Carolina product is just looking forward to familiarizing himself with his new organization for the time being. This is after all his first time reporting to a team whose spring training headquarters are not in Fort Myers.

And for what it’s worth, Bradley Jr. will wear the No. 41 for the Brewers. That number signifies the birth dates of himself, his wife Erin, his daughter Emerson, and his son Jackie III.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Bradley Jr. said when describing what it was like to put on a Brewers uniform on for the first time. “To be able to finally be out here and moving around, I’m glad to be here. I’m really excited for the opportunity and I’m going to have a lot of fun with these guys.”

(Picture of Jackie Bradley Jr.: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Jarren Duran homers once again for Red Sox as outfielder’s impressive spring rolls on

On the same day former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. reportedly found a new home with the Milwaukee Brewers, his potential heir apparent had another strong showing in spring training action on Thursday afternoon.

Outfield prospect Jarren Duran — making his third start and fifth overall appearance of the spring — went 2-for-3 at the plate with one double, one home run, one RBI, and two runs scored against the Orioles in Sarasota.

The home run, which came off Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer, was one that was aided by the wind, but it also showed how strong Duran is.

“I don’t know if that ball is gone from April on,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said with a masked smile while referring to the fact that Major League Baseball will implement deadened baseballs beginning on Opening Day. “Those are the ones that the balls are going to take away, but right now it counts.”

Boston may have gone on to drop Thursday’s contest to Baltimore by a final score of 6-3 in six innings, but Duran’s impressive offensive run to kick off the Grapefruit League campaign continued nonetheless.

Through his first five games of the spring, the 24-year-old is hitting .500 (5-for-10) to go along with two doubles, two homers, three RBI, and three runs scored in 11 trips to the plate thus far.

Having said that, it appears that Duran still has room to grow defensively in center field, as evidenced by a few of the decisions he made during the bottom half of the third inning on Thursday.

“There’s a man at first, a base hit to his right, he throws to third base, [the runner] gets to third, they advance,” Cora said. “Those are the things that are part of the equation. It’s good that he makes mistakes like that, so we can correct [them].”

Duran, 24, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system.

Boston originally selected the California native in the seventh round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Long Beach State, where he primarily played second base.

Upon reporting to short-season Lowell shortly after signing with the club in 2018, Duran was moved to the outfield as Red Sox area scout Justin Horowitz believed he “had more potential based on his bat life and strength and that he could unlock greater defensive impact” in the outfield as opposed to the infield.

Since then, the left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Duran — listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs. — has emerged as the top outfield prospect in Boston’s farm system and one of, if not the fastest minor-leaguer the organization has to offer.

Combine his freakish strength, athleticism, and quickness with his desire to get better, and it becomes clear that the speedy outfielder should be making his major-league debut sooner rather than later.

“We’ve been saying all along, he’s a good athlete, he’s working on his craft swing-wise, and he keeps improving,” said Cora.

(Picture of Jarren Duran: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Red Sox free agency: Jackie Bradley Jr. in agreement with Brewers on two-year deal, per report

In case you missed it, now-former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is reportedly in agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-year, $24 million contract, according to The Boston Globe’s Julain McWilliams.

Per McWilliams, Bradley Jr.’s deal with Milwaukee includes a player option after the first year.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal adds that Bradley Jr. will net $13 million in 2021 with the chance to earn an additional $11 million in 2022 if he decides to not opt out. Some of the money will also be deferred.

Bradley Jr., who turns 31 next month, was the top position player free-agent on the market leading up to Thursday morning’s news.

The former first-round pick spent the first eight seasons — and first 10 years of his professional career — with the Red Sox, most recently posting a .283/.364/.450 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games in 2020.

Despite putting up those impressive offensive numbers in addition to his usual superb defense in center field, it took a little while for Bradley Jr. to find a job this winter.

One reason behind that likely had to do with the fact that the Scott Boras client was reportedly seeking a “significant contract, perhaps beyond four years” as recently as February 3, according to The New York Post’s Mike Puma.

With the number of potential suitors dwindling down, the Brewers jumped in on the Bradley Jr. sweepstakes in late February and ultimately wound up acquiring his services with just weeks to go until Opening Day.

Last season, the Brewers outfielder ranked 25th in baseball in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (-11) and 17th in Ultimate Zone Rating (0.1), which translates to an Ultimate Zone Rating of -0.1 over 150 games.

Bradley Jr., who figures to slide into center while Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich patrol the corners, should help improve Milwaukee’s overall defensive numbers in 2021.

Now that his time with the Red Sox is likely over, here is a brief list of what the Virginia native accomplished in his time in Boston:

  • Two-time World Series champion (2013, 2018)
  • One-time American League Championship Series MVP (2018)
  • One-time All-Star (2016)
  • One-time Gold Glove Award winner (2018)

Assuming he does not return to the Sox anytime soon, Bradley Jr. will likely go down as one of, if not the best defensive centerfielder in franchise history. He will be missed and we wish him all the best with the Brewers.

(Picture of Jackie Bradley Jr.: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: MLB.com’s Ian Browne joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by MLB.com’s Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for the site and has been doing so since 2002.

Among the topics Ian and I discussed were his experience so far in Fort Myers while covering Red Sox spring training, how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will affect Grapefruit League play and the regular season this year, how Jackie Bradley Jr.’s free agency is going, where Tanner Houck will start the 2021 season, who will emerge as Alex Cora’s closer, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Ian for taking some time out of his busy spring training schedule (and putting up with shoddy hotel Wi-Fi) to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can check out his work for MLB.com by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo discusses challenges of playing center field at Fenway Park

As Opening Day draws ever closer, it looks more and more like Alex Verdugo will be the Red Sox’ everyday centerfielder to start off the 2021 season.

Jackie Bradley Jr. remains on the open market, and while a reunion between the Gold Glove outfielder and the Sox cannot be ruled out at this point, it appears that the club is confident that Verdugo is more than capable of taking over in center.

During a televised workout at JetBlue Park on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old spoke with NESN’s Tom Caron and Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice. Among other things, the two sides discussed the challenges involved in playing center field at Fenway Park.

“The challenge is you got a lot of space,” Verdugo said. “Right-center is 420′, and we got some weird dimensions in the walls. Like where the bullpen is, it kind of cuts in a little bit.”

Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in 2017, Verdugo has logged 556 1/3 innings in center field, only eight of which came with the Red Sox last season during a game against the Marlins in Miami in September.

When he wasn’t playing center that one time in 2020, the former second-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come in right field (246 2/3 innings) with 167 1/3 innings in left mixed in there as well. And while he’s never played a professional inning in center at Fenway, Verdugo seems ready for the challenge ahead.

“For me, it’s the same as going into road parks, all that,” he said. “You just got to get out there and get to the warning track, feel it out, and take a couple of balls. You just get used to it that way. For me, it’s, ‘Be the person I am, play the game that I play, and get the jumps that I know I can.’ And then I’ll be able to cover the ground out here and hopefully — these gap-to-gap balls — cut them off and hopefully get some people off trying to extend the base or something.”

In response, Rice, who spent the entirety of his 16-year Hall of Fame career with the Sox and appeared in over 1,000 games at Fenway Park while doing so, offered Verdugo some advice.

“You can helm the gap-to-gap, but I think the key thing here is to worry about the wall more than anything else,” Rice said in regards to the Green Monster in left field. “If you look at your left fielder, anything to your left fielder’s left is going to come back to him. Anything over his head to his left is going to go towards right field. So those are the only angles that you really got to worry about out there.”

“Definitely. Obviously you know, you played out here way longer than I have,” responded Verdugo. “It’s just, once you learn the angles and know how they bounce off in certain spots, it’s not too tough.”

Looking back at his final season with Los Angeles in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and accrued 475 2/3 innings in center field that year.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the Arizona native was worth positive-3 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

According to Baseball Savant, Verdugo ranked 33rd among qualified major-league center fielders in 2019 in regards to outs above average (0). In other words, by that particular metric, he was average at that position two years ago.

Late last week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora stressed how important it would be for his team to improve defensively this coming season.

Verdugo, seemingly taking over for one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in team history, will likely play a key role in how much Boston’s defensive efforts improve in 2021.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Chaim Bloom on possibility of Red Sox making more additions before Opening Day: ‘There’s still some players out there that are of interest’

Even after making a slew of roster moves this offseason, the Red Sox are likely still not done making additions between now and Opening Day on April 1.

Outside of the Marwin Gonzalez signing being made official sometime in the near future, nothing in regards to a roster move for Boston is imminent at this point, but that is not going to stop the club from exploring opportunities to improve for the short- and l0ng-term.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said as much on Sunday when asked if this is the roster that will kick off the 2021 season.

“Outside of what you alluded to (Gonzalez), there’s nothing else pending,” Bloom said via a Zoom call with reporters. “But, we’re always going to be on the lookout. There’s still some players out there that are of interest. We’re going to keep staying in touch with them, keep monitoring them. You guys saw the other day, we made a waiver claim.”

On Thursday, the Sox claimed right-handed reliever John Schreiber off waivers from the Tigers while placing ace left-hander Chris Sale to the 60-day injured list.

It was a transaction that, on the surface, is reminiscent of when Boston claimed right-hander Phillps Valdez off waivers from the Mariners last February and placed the now-retired Dustin Pedroia on the 60-day injured list in a corresponding move.

Valdez, 29, seemingly came out of nowhere and wound up making quite the impact in his debut season with the Red Sox, posting a 3.26 ERA and 4.28 FIP over 24 relief appearances and 30 1/3 innings pitched in 2020.

Expecting Schreiber, 27 in March, to do the same with his new team this coming season might be a bit unfair, but it’s safe to assume that Boston is making these sorts of moves with the idea that the players they bring in can contribute to the cause.

“This is a time of year when sometimes there can be that kind of roster shuffling in other organizations,” Bloom added. “It’s a bit early in spring to start having a lot of those conversations with other clubs, but we just want to make sure that we’re active. That we have our finger on the pulse and that we don’t walk past anything that has a chance to help us.”

While it still may be too early in the spring to engage with teams on players who may or may not be available via trade, one area the Red Sox can turn to is the free-agent market. And one free-agent the team is still interested in is old friend Jackie Bradley Jr.

Despite coming off a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played, the 30-year-old client of Scott Boras remains unsigned with just weeks to go until the 2021 season begins. That might have something to do with his reported asking price as well as the limited number of suitors out there.

The Red Sox, even while adding the likes of Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, Enrique Hernandez, and Hunter Renfroe to help bolster their outfield depth, have yet to rule out a reunion with Bradley Jr. — who spent the first eight seasons of his major-league career with Boston — to this point.

“We continue to stay in touch and make sure we’re in touch with Scott about his situation,” said Bloom in regards to Bradley Jr.’s free agency. “We’re going to do that until it resolves. Obviously, as the winter’s gone on, we haven’t let that prevent us from making other moves when we’ve seen opportunity to add good players that fit us and can bolster this roster. But, we love Jackie and we’ve stayed in touch with Scott on him throughout the entire winter.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora echoed this same sort of sentiment on Saturday when talking about Bradley Jr.’s current situation.

“We talk a lot, but we don’t talk baseball,” Cora said. “We don’t talk about his situation. I talk about Emerson and the baby and how they’re doing. He asks about my family, and we keep it at that. Obviously, he’s a good player. He’s a guy that can help any team at the big-league level to win ballgames. There’s more than just the manager and the player. There’s a relationship and I keep our conversations with that.”

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox free agency rumors: Jackie Bradley Jr. seeking ‘significant contract, perhaps beyond four years,’ per report

Potential Red Sox free-agent target Jackie Bradley Jr. remains unsigned as major-league camps in Arizona and Florida are set to begin in just a matter of weeks.

There have not been too many recent rumblings as to where Bradley Jr. could land, but on Wednesday evening, The New York Post’s Mike Puma reported that the 30-year-old outfielder “has been seeking a significant contract, perhaps beyond four years.”

Bradley Jr., who turns 31 in April, is a client of super-agent Scott Boras.

The one-time All-Star and one-time Gold Glove award winner is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played (217 plate appearances) for the Sox.

Boston has expressed interest in a reunion with Bradley Jr. since the closing stages of last season, but the two sides do not appear to be anywhere close to an agreement on a new contract at the moment.

“As far as Jackie, as it’s been all offseason, we continue to stay in touch with him,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters late last month. “We have been this entire time. And I expect we’ll continue to until his free agency resolves.”

Although it’s out there that Bradley Jr. may be seeking a four-plus year deal from interested clubs, it would be interested to see how much he is looking for in terms of average annual value.

The former first-round draft selection may be the top centerfielder on the open market now that George Springer has signed with the Blue Jays, but the fact of the matter is that Bradley Jr., while superb in the outfield, has proven to be inconsistent at the plate over the course of eight-year major-league career.

With that in mind, it seems unlikely that a team such as the Mets would be willing to invest that much in a practically defense-first outfielder who is now on the other side of 30, as noted by MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are inching towards towards the $210 million luxury tax threshold with their 2021 payroll following the signings of Enrique Hernandez and Garrett Richards being made official, so they would probably prefer to avoid that much of an investment as well.

Given those circumstances, Boston could stand put and roll with an everyday outfield of Andrew Benintendi in left, Alex Verdugo in center, and Hunter Renfroe in right to open the 2021 season if they so choose.

Jarren Duran, one of the club’s top outfield prospects, also appears to be on the cusp of getting big-league consideration sometime this summer.

The 24-year-old, who played winter ball for Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League, is currently representing Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series.

If not Verdugo or Duran, the Red Sox could look at other free-agents still available who have experience playing center field, such as Jake Marisnick and old friend Kevin Pillar.

(Picture of Jackie Bradley Jr.: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘have inquired on’ free-agent outfielder Jake Marisnick, per report

The Red Sox might not be considered favorites to land George Springer at this point, but there is another former Astros outfielder the club could pursue in free agency.

That particular outfielder’s name? Jake Marisnick.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the Sox are looking at a number of outfield options in the event that they are unable to re-sign Jackie Bradley Jr., who they are “still in on” as of this moment.

“If the Red Sox aren’t able to bring back Bradley Jr., they’ll start considering other options,” Cotillo wrote Friday. “One name they’ve inquired on — at least primarily — is Jake Marisnick.”

Marisnick, who turns 30 in March, was limited to just 16 games with the Mets this past season due to issues related to both his left and right hamstrings.

Over that small sample size, the California native was impressive, going 11-for-33 at the plate (.333) to go along with two home runs, three doubles, and five RBI. He declared for free agency in late October.

Prior to getting traded to the Mets from the Astros in December 2019, Marisnick was somewhat of a mainstay in the Houston outfield more so for what he could do with the glove in his hand as opposed to the bat, with the majority of his playing time coming in center.

From the start of the 2015 season until the end of the 2019 season, the 6-foot-4, 220 lb. outfielder played a total of 3,676 2/3 innings in the outfield for Houston.

While doing so, he posted a positive-53 defensive runs saved as well as an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 19.7, per FanGraphs.

Marisnick’s best year defensively might have come in 2016, but Baseball Savant does not go that far back with its outs above average (OAA) leaderboards.

Going back to 2019 though, the former third-round draft pick was worth eight outs above average, placing ninth among qualified major-league centerfielders that year, per Statcast.

In summary, Marisnick may be approaching 30, but he still has the makings to be a quality defensive center field option for whichever club he signs with.

In the Red Sox’ case, the ex-Astro may serve as a solid replacement for Bradley Jr. if the Gold Glover were to sign with another team in the coming weeks. He’s another free-agent who has a connection to Alex Cora (former bench coach in Houston as well.”

On top of his ability to potentially fill the hypothetical void left by Bradley Jr., Marisnick would presumably command a shorter-term deal on the open market, meaning he could serve as a bridge of sorts for Boston as Jarren Duran inches closer to the majors.

Duran, currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s top outfield prospect, is projected to start 2021 with Triple-A Worcester and could very well make his big-league debut for the Sox later on in the summer.

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen wrote last week that “Duran’s instincts in center field are still not good (though they’ve improved), and he relies on his speed to make up for what he lacks in off-the-bat feel and anticipation,” but it’s clear that the organization has high hopes for the 24-year-old.

That being said, under the assumption that Bradley Jr. does not return, Marisnick could be brought in to patrol center field to start the 2021 season. And if the timing is right, Duran could be called up to learn the ropes at the major-league level sometime in July, August, or even September.

This, of course, all depends on what Chaim Bloom and Co. have in mind for the puzzle that is the Red Sox outfield picture moving forward.

Boston’s chief baseball officer said back in November that he believes all three of Andrew Benintendi, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe could play center field if needed, but he would not be opposed to adding another outfielder, either.

“I think we have guys on this club who are capable of playing center field,” Bloom said during a Zoom call with reporters. “But we certainly would like to be in as strong of a defensive position as you can. We know we play in a ballpark where you basically have two center fields here in Fenway Park. So we want to be mindful of that.

“We’d certainly like to have as strong of a defensive outfield as possible,” he added. “And a lot of that is contingent on having multiple guys who can play center field.”

Bringing on someone as capable of playing center field as Marisnick would certainly seem to fit the mantra of “having multiple guys” who can play that position when asked to.

(Picture of Jake Marisnick: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo named fourth-best center fielder in baseball heading into 2021 season by MLB Network

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has been named the fourth-best center fielder in baseball headed into the 2021 season by MLB Network.

The 24-year-old, finishing behind the likes of Mike Trout, former teammate Cody Bellinger, and George Springer, only started one game in center field for Boston last year during his debut season with the club.

In said start, which came on the road against the Marlins on September 16, Verdugo went 1-for-1 in his defensive chances, recording a putout on a Miguel Rojas pop fly in the first inning of what would turn out to be an 8-4 defeat.

Per Baseball Savant, Rojas’ pop fly off of left-hander Mike Kickham left his bat with an exit velocity of 84.7 mph, giving Verdugo a 99% chance to catch it, which he did after jogging a few steps to his left.

Other than that, the rest of Verdugo’s playing time came in 2020 came in left or right field, where he did a decent job showing off his arm strength en route to recording seven outfield assists.

Prior to coming over from the Dodgers in that infamous trade last February, the former second-round draft pick patrolled center field quite a bit for Los Angeles in 2019.

Over a 61-game sample size (52 starts), Verdugo logged 475 2/3 innings in center, where he posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved as well as a 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

In that same stretch of games in center for the Dodgers, Verdugo was worth zero outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average at that position defensively.

Even with those numbers in mind, the Arizona native appears to be the frontrunner to become the Sox’ everyday center fielder in 2021.

This being the case because Jackie Bradley Jr. still remains unsigned while Andrew Benintendi could apparently be traded any day now.

Take those two options away, and outside of Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez are the only other two outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster who have major-league experience.

Having said all that, it’s safe to assume that The Shredder, MLB Network’s “player rating formula,” ran with the notion that Verdugo will fill the void left by Bradley Jr. come Opening Day in April.

Seeing how Bradley Jr. is a Gold Glove Award winner and one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in baseball, that could be a sizable void to fill, but Red Sox officials seem confident that Verdugo could handle it if given the opportunity.

“I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said last month when asked who on the Red Sox could play center field on a consistent basis. “But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Red Sox general manager and Bloom’s right-hand man Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment when speaking with reporters in early December.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery outfielder. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Verdugo’s manager, Alex Cora, also expressed optimism that the 6-foot, 192. lb. left-handed hitter would be able to handle things as the anchor of the Red Sox outfield this coming season.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” said Cora, when appearing on MLB Network Radio in December. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it… We do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox’ outfield outlook to change during these winter months, but for now, let’s just roll with the idea that Verdugo will be Boston’s Opening Day center fielder, likely batting leadoff or out of the two-hole.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)