I think the Red Sox are clearly going to make a big move this offseason. There is a compelling case that they are targeting top free agent J.D. Martinez, and it seems likely that they also discussed with the Chicago White Sox, relatively long ago at this point, a deal for bopper Jose Abreu. These moves remain hypothetical, and for our troubles we get neither Martinez or Abreu but Mitch Moreland. Merry Christmas?
“Two bags” in hand is worth something, I guess -- he’s fine -- but I’m still focused on the three in the bush, so to speak. The three big names remaining for the Red Sox, now that they’re presumably out of the Eric Hosmer game, are that of Martinez, Abreu and Jackie Bradley Jr., who could easily be shipped out of town for backfill if the need arose.
I see how it would work, but in the last couple days brave Globe soul Chad Finn has played devil’s advocate to some extent, on Twitter, to the idea that Bradley should be traded. I’m not sure many people are actually saying JBJ *should* be traded, but I’m not sure the distinction matters in light of Finn’s strong arguments, which amount to: Hey, he’s good and cheap. Which is true! And then there’s this:
Since 2014, among American League center fielders (at least 75 percent of their games in CF) only Trout and Jones have hit more HRs than Bradley.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) December 21, 2017
Finn thinks Andrew Benintendi is not a competent replacement in center field which, if nothing else, is a pretty damn brutalist way of looking at it. That doesn’t make it wrong, just, yanno, kinda harsh. Also, to be fair, there might indeed a Bradley trade fetish, and in that case, there are certainly people overstating his flaws in service of this fetish.
All that said, trading JBJ just makes sense on a basic level: a dirt-cheap offensively skilled and plus-fielding center fielder is a valuable as hell, and for all his defensive wizardly Bradley is the arguably third-best of those, overall, in his own outfield. As the subway ads say: Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward. If Bradley is jettisoned for parts following other, bigger deals, and the Sox try to roll with Bennie in center, I will understand it.
I will also understand if Bradley remains on the team. (Last year I said he should be your favorite player!) I’m not crossing my fingers on that just yet, though. From what I’ve learned of Dave Dombrowski from afar (in the Detroit days) and up close (now) is that the chatter surrounding his club has a way of becoming a reality. I’ve never been more sure that Bradley is on the block as when Dombrowski half-denied it after a rumor slipped out, as he was shocked, I’m sure, that such a closely held trade secret would leak to the very people who had to ask him about it.
It’s not rocket science, though. It just makes sense that you’d deal your most obvious trade piece in service of your ultimate goal of getting the best players in baseball and backfilling afterward to round out the roster. Matt Collins wrote this week about what would happen if the Sox don’t sign Martinez, but if they do, that makes a starter-level outfielder expendable for the right price. Among Bradley, Betts and Benintendi, JBJ is so obviously the logical trade chit (and especially to San Francisco, but that’s another story) that it’s hardly worth discussing.
That being said, it’s sure possible Bradley ends up as the best player between himself, Betts and Bennie. It’s just unlikely. At 27, he’s not old by any means, but he’s the oldest of the three. His power is real, but so are his weaknesses, weaknesses like going through weeks at a time unable to hit the broad side of a barn. He could learn, but these “problems,” such as they are, seem more fundamental than Betts’ 2017 season of the infield pop-up.
So the issue, as Finn correctly identifies, is in center field, particularly with regard to Benintendi. Could the a) Red Sox effectively replace Bradley with Bennie in any sort of reshuffling of the roster, and b) is it worth it to try when Bradley’s persistent power gives him a mid-range offensive floor? I’ve thought about it a bunch, and my answers to both of these questions are: Maybe! Probably? Potentially. I think “potentially” is best, especially if the Sox in fact sign Martinez, but any one will do. I don’t think it’s overly hopeful to suggest Benintendi could be serviceable in center, if not great — and certainly not too, well, brutal.
All of this is predicated on signing Martinez, of course. If they don’t, it would neither surprise nor disappoint me to learn that Bradley is returning to the team. He probably shouldn’t be your favorite player anymore, to be honest — just way too streaky — but he’s still good at baseball. If last year taught us anything, though, “good” is never quite good enough for us. We demand greatness, and sometimes we have to pay for it.