The massive difference between this year's offseason and last year's could not be easier to spot, and it goes beyond the type of seasons the Red Sox were coming off. Following the 2012 season, Ben Cherington was looking at a roster full of holes, so there were things to watch for all winter. This offseason, though, presents very few issues to fix, and they have basically all been covered anyway. AJ Pierzynski was brought in to catch, Mike Napoli was retained, and the bullpen was stabilized with guys like Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop. Now, the last thing to watch for is what happens with Stephen Drew's market. Or at least, that's all we should be watching for.
For a large chunk of this offseason, there were rumors that suggested the Red Sox weren't sold on Jackie Bradley being an everyday player in 2014. Whether it was making a serious run at Shin-Soo Choo or putting together a package for Kemp, it seemed like Ben Cherington and the rest of the front office was having some pause about sticking the rookie outfielder in center field to replace Jacoby Ellsbury. Of course, with rumors like this it's impossible to know just how serious the Red Sox ever were about bringing in a big name at Bradley's expense. Assuming they are sticking with the former South Carolina Gamecock, it is a wise move to stick with their youth in center field this year. While Bradley may never be the player Ellsbury was in his years in Boston, and almost certainly won't be in 2014, that doesn't mean he won't be a productive player. He'll be perfectly fine, as long as the expectations are reasonable.
People will be waiting for an opportunity to jump all over this kid. It happens all the time with prospects. Remember when the entire city was clamoring to have Dustin Pedroia benched a month into his Rookie of the Year campaign? That tendency to be harsh towards young player will only grow due to the fact that he is replacing one of the best and most exciting outfielders in the game. Combine all of that with the fact that he struggled in his first exposure to major-league pitching in 2013, and it's easy to foresee too much criticism being hurled at Bradley in 2014. As long as you look at him for what he is - a steady, good but not great player in his rookie season - he should be perfectly fine.
There's not much to add about why Bradley looks like he is going to be a good player. His approach at the plate has been outstanding at every level he's been in (13.3 percent walk-rate in his minor-league career), he plays phenomenal defense, and he's shown gap power combined with strong, instinctual baserunning as a professional. Most impressively, he's been an incredibly fast riser through the professional ranks, earning a major-league starting gig just two years removed from the beginning of his first full professional season. His struggles in 2013 were quite overblown, too. While he was rushed to the majors far too quickly, he settled back down in his first taste of AAA, hitting at a great .275/.374/.469 (137 wRC+) clip for Pawtucket. His major-league line is brought down by that initial stint, too. When you take away his time with Boston to start the 2013, Bradley hit .237/.297/.458 against major-league pitching. That's still not a great line, but it's better than the .617 OPS he posted over the entire season.
There are going to be a lot of reasons to become impatient with Bradley over the 2014 season. His style of play is much less flashy than Ellsbury's, not to mention the fact that it's not on the same level yet. As a prospect who is replacing one of the team's best players, Jackie Bradley will have some high expectations put on his shoulders this season. These expectations will do nothing but serve as a source of frustration. Most projection systems expect him to hit at or just below a league-average clip this season, and that seems about right. Given his superb defense at a premium position, that would make him a valuable player. If you're expecting Bradley to match the production given by Ellsbury, you're going to be disappointed. With tempered expectations, though, Bradley should be one of the more productive players on the roster.