Red Sox free agency rumors: Astros prioritizing signing Jackie Bradley Jr., per report

The Astros are reportedly interested in signing free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. — so much so that the club is making it a priority — per MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

Bradley Jr., 30, declared for free agency late last month after spending the first eight years of his major-league career in Boston.

The former first-round draft pick is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to net himself a two-year deal worth somewhere around $16 million this winter, with the ‘Stros being the favorite to acquire his services.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are reportedly interested in bringing back Bradley Jr. “for the 2021 season and beyond,” according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

In his eighth season with the Sox this year, Bradley Jr. put up quality numbers, slashing .283/.364/.540 to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played.

While producing at the plate at that impressive level, the 2018 Gold Glover also provided superb defense in center field, ranking second among major-league centerfielders in outs above average (7), per Statcast.

That defensive prowess of Bradley Jr.’s, as noted by Gammons in the above tweet, has become quite significant for the Red Sox and Red Sox pitching over the years.

Going back to the start of the 2016 campaign, when Bradley Jr. essentially established himself as Boston’s everyday centerfielder, the Sox have had the sixth-best centerfield defense in baseball in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (18.1).

Given the possibility that Bradley Jr. could depart for Houston or elsewhere this winter, the Red Sox would be faced with the reality that without Bradley Jr. manning center field on a regular basis, the club’s pitching could struggle as a result. That being the case because the flashy outfielder is capable of turning potential extra-base hits into outs at a moment’s notice.

With this in mind, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the team’s outlook for its outfield alignment going into 2021 when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“I think we have guys on this club who are capable of playing center field,” Bloom said Wednesday via Zoom. “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.”

Whether it be Bradley Jr., a free-agency or trade acquisition, or one or several internal candidates, Bloom and Co. have to determine what the Red Sox will do at center field moving forward. They do not have a great deal of time to do that if Bradley Jr.’s market is indeed heating up.

Red Sox among teams who have expressed ‘initial interest’ in free-agent right-hander Matt Shoemaker, per report

The Red Sox are one of several teams to express ‘initial interest’ in free-agent right-hander Matt Shoemaker, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported late Sunday night.

Shoemaker, who turned 34 in September, is coming off a 2020 season in which he posted a 4.71 ERA and 5.95 FIP over six starts and 28 2/3 innings pitched for the Blue Jays.

The Michigan native was limited to just six outings this year on account of hitting the injured list in late August due to right shoulder inflammation, but he was able to return to the mound a month later. He even got the nod for Toronto in Game 1 of the Wild Card series against the Rays in which he scattered two hits over three scoreless frames.

A former undrafted free agent who signed with the Angels in 2008, Shoemaker has proven to be a solid middle to back-end of the rotation caliber starting pitcher when healthy. That’s the thing, though. He has struggled to stay on the field these past few years.

Prior to the 2020 season, the veteran righty got off to a roaring start with the Jays in 2019, allowing just seven runs (five earned) through his first four outings and 25 2/3 innings of the year (1.75 ERA).

In what was his fifth start of the year against the Athletics on April 20, Shoemaker got caught in a rundown and wound up spraining his left knee. Nine days later, he underwent ACL reconstruction as well as medial meniscus repair, and his season was over just like that.

Again, when he is healthy, Shoemaker, who works with a split-finger fastball, sinker, four-seam fastball, slider, and curveball, has proven to be effective at the major-league level.

The Red Sox are a club in desperate need of starting pitching help, so taking a flier, if you want to call it that, on someone of Shoemaker’s caliber certainly makes sense. Even more so when you consider the fact that the Jays recently locked up left-hander Robbie Ray on a one-year, $8 million deal earlier this week.

Red Sox Reportedly in Agreement With Kevin Pillar on One-Year Deal

The Red Sox are reportedly in agreement with free-agent outfielder Kevin Pillar on a one-year deal in the $4 million range, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. The completion of the deal is still pending a physical.

MLB Network’s Jon Heyman had reported that the two sides were close to a major-league deal on Tuesday.

After officially dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers earlier this week, the Red Sox found themselves in need of a right-handed hitting outfeilder, as the club’s projected everyday outfield — Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Alex Verdugo — are all left-handed hitters.

Pillar fills that need in addition to providing exceptional defense in center field.

In 161 total games between the Blue Jays and Giants last year, the 31-year-old slashed .259/.287/.432 with a career-best 21 home runs and 88 RBI to go along with 14 stolen bases. He was non-tendered by San Francisco in early December.

One thing Pillar did exceptionally well last year was produce against left-handed pitching, as he posted an .823 OPS in 174 plate appearances against southpaws.

Compare that to Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles against left-handed pitching in 2019 (.640 OPS in 188 PAs), and the two could create quite the platoon for Boston in center field.

A native of California, Pillar was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn approximately $9.7 million in his final year of salary arbitration heading into the 2020 season.

The former Blue Jay owns a lifetime slash line of .307/.339/.380 with one career home run and 22 RBI at Fenway Park.