The Red Sox have reportedly approached Jackie Bradley Jr. about bringing the free-agent outfielder back for the 2021 season “and beyond,” according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.
Per Bradford, the Red Sox “are far from the only suitors for Bradley Jr., with the Astros showing strong interest and one American League Central team putting the 30-year-old at the top of its free agent wish-list.”
Bradley Jr., who does not turn 31 until next April, is coming off one of his better all-around seasons in the majors in 2020. Primarily serving as Boston’s centerfielder, the former first-round draft pick slashed a robust .283/.364/.450 to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played.
Those impressive numbers, as well as still proving to be one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, will certainly help Bradley Jr.’s case as he embarks on free agency for the first time in his career.
Based off industry speculation, which can best be highlighted by MLB Trade Rumors’ free agency predictions, the Boras Corp. client is projected to land a two-year deal worth somewhere around $16 million this winter after not receiving a qualifying offer from Boston earlier this month.
MLBTR, in correspondence with the aforementioned report from Bradford, have Bradley Jr. joining the Astros on that two-year pact, but it would appear that the Red Sox can not be ruled out as favorites to retain the South Carolina product’s services.
“We love Jackie,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters back in August. “That shouldn’t be news. He’s been here for a long time. He means an enormous amount to this organization. For me personally, not having known him as long, I’ve still come to regard him so highly and see what an incredible person he is. We know he’s a good player. We’d love to have him for a long time. But that was the case months ago. It’s the case yesterday. It’s the case today. It’s the case tomorrow.”
Besides Bradley Jr., this year’s free agency class is not exactly filled to the brim with starting-caliber centerfielders save for three-time All-Star George Springer, who has a qualifying offer attached to him. The likes of Jarrod Dyson, Brett Gardner, Jake Marisnick, and Kevin Pillar represent some of the other possibilities on that front.
Internally, the Sox could move either one of Andrew Benintendi or Alex Verdugo to center, both of whom have logged a combined 147 games at the position at the major-league level. Neither would likely provide the level of defensive prowess Bradley Jr. would, though, and another vacancy at either corner outfield spot would open up as a result.
Looking at the prospect pipeline, outfielder Jarren Duran, Boston’s No. 8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is without a doubt one of the Sox’ most exciting young talents.
The 24-year-old had a terrific spring and consistently put on a show at the alternate training site in Pawtucket over the summer, but he still may be at the point where he needs just a little more time to develop before getting the call.
Marcus Wilson, who is currently on Boston’s 40-man roster, and Jeisson Rosario, who will presumably be on Boston’s 40-man roster within the next 12 days, are also intriguing options, but like Duran, neither have played above the Double-A level yet.
At the end of the day, who Bloom and Co. decide to roll with at center field moving forward will be no simple decision. Perhaps the Sox will take advantage of what looks to be a slow-moving market this winter, but if a savvy team like the Astros are that interested in acquiring Bradley Jr.’s services, they will surely be aggressive in doing so.
On another note, it should be fascinating to see how Bradley Jr., who described free agency as “cool” because “you get to weigh out your options,” goes about fielding offers this winter. Will he allow the Red Sox to counter any offer he may get? Or, will he just take the best deal possible due to the current economic climate? We will have to wait and see on that.