Since his debut in 2013, Jackie Bradley Jr. has been a staple at the back end of the Red Sox’ lineup. He’s provided spectacular defense and hustle day in and day out, and when he’s gotten hot at the plate, he’s gotten hot. I don’t think anyone forgets his 29-game hitting streak in 2016, when he hit .415 and slugged .783 over 106 at bats. Or his grand slam off Roberto Osuna in the 2018 ALCS. Or his game-tying bomb in Game 4 of the World Series. The list goes on and on. Bradley has been one of my favorite Red Sox players to watch since he took over for Jacoby Ellsbury.
Sadly, though, the former first round pick’s original years of team control have expired and he is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career. There’s been a ton of speculation about whether the Sox will re-sign BRadley, or make a run at a star free agent like George Springer, or just hand the position off to prospect Jarren Duran. I think the best option for the Red Sox is to extend Jackie, and I’ll even tell you why.
First, while I’m high on Jarren Duran, it doesn’t seem like the Sox believe he’s ready for the big leagues just yet. While guys like Bobby Dalbec and Tanner Houck were given opportunities at the end of this year, Duran remained at the alternate site. Former manager Ron Roenicke was quoted saying “he’s still got some development”, and with no service time manipulation in play this late in the year, I’m inclined to believe Roenicke. Despite all of the excitement about Duran, it seems more likely we’ll see him in late 2021/early 2022.
Next, the free agent market for centerfielders just isn’t there. Outside of Jackie, the centerfield class consists of George Springer – huge gap – and guys like Kevin Pillar, Michael Taylor, and Jake Marisnick. Obviously, Springer is the star of the bunch, but he’s going to cost a fortune. In addition to a likely $25+ million AAV (average annual value), if the Stros’ extend Springer a qualifying offer (which they will), signing him would mean the Red Sox have to forfeit their top of the second round draft choice as well as $500k in international bonus pool money. It would be exciting to bring a player of Springer’s caliber to Boston, but I’m just not sure his price combined with the draft pick is worth it. This is especially true if Chaim Bloom and company believe Duran can be the Sox’ starting center fielder in a year or two.
With Springer too expensive, Duran not ready, and Pillar, Taylor, Marisnick not viable starting options, it seems like a Bradley reunion makes the most sense. It’s tough to say what his price will be thanks to a combination of Scott Boras’ demands and COVID-19 potentially depressing the market, but my guess is something like 2 years, $24 million. If the Sox can get Jackie on a short-term deal with an AAV of ~$12 million, I’d say that’s a success. Bradley sticks around for a couple more years, and either Duran develops into the starter we hope or the Sox reassess the position in 2023. Buying yourself time is the name of the game at this point.