Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of the Major League’s top defenders, at any position. It also happens to be, that we’re enjoying an era in which sabermetrics and analytics have allowed defense to be measured statistically, creating an emphasis on the forgotten aspect of modern day baseball.
It’s unfortunate to partake – as fans of the homegrown center fielder – in the scuttlebutt surrounding this year’s gold glove finalists: Kevin Pillar, Byron Buxton, and Lorenzo Cain. We’ve seen Toronto’s defensive star rob homeruns and extra base hits from Boston for years now, and there’s no denying his highlight reel plays are game changing. Buxton may not get the draw that he deserves playing in Minnesota’s small market, but don’t let that stop you. Cain’s got a similar reputation in Kansas City; but Bradley’s defensive metrics are actually most similar to Pillar’s. Both players have a slightly above league average range factor, although it appears that Bradley’s cannon arm didn’t come into consideration for the award, having 13 assists to Pillar’s 8.
But as it played out, Bradley Jr. is not a finalist for his first ever Gold Glove, and is coming off of a .245 season, which is only 6 points higher than his career average. He struck out 124 times out of the 133 games he played in, had only one more steal (8) than Vazquez (7), and posted the lowest slash line – .245/.323/.402 – since his ugly rookie year of .198/.265/.266.
JBJ turned in his annual performance of season long poor hitting, saved by a one month stretch where he sees the ball. This year, it came in June:
.1009 OPS / 4 HR / 15 RBI / 15 R / 102 AB
Impressive, but that means he only contributed 13 homers and 48 RBI throughout April, May, and the remaining months. Which leads to the question: how much value would Jackie hold on the trade market?
His name has been linked to potential Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster scenarios but that may be more wishful thinking by Boston fans than anything else. Why would anyone in Red Sox Nation offer to give up Benintendi or Betts in a deal? Not with the tantalizing trio of Stanton, Beni and Mookie rejuvenating the “Big Three” moniker. But if that’s the rumor, then that’s the scenario we have to work with.
It’s important to note, that this week we’ve already endured rumors of Theo Epstein hoping to acquire the Sox rookie left fielder, so it’s fair to assume their are suitors for Bradley Jr. that just haven’t, or possibly won’t, surface until a trade were to be submitted for the League’s Office approval. After all, the rumor mill was silent before the Cespedes-Porcello & Smith-Miley transactions, both occurring under Dombrowski’s hand.
Free agent Lorenzo Cain is available this offseason, and he’d be a a major upgrade in center field. He has better range than Bradley in the outfield, and they’re on completely different tiers offensively. In what was labeled a “down” season by the Kansas City All-Star, Cain bested Bradley in AVG, SLG%, OBP, OPS, SB, BB, R, H, 2B, 3B, and total bases; 15 HR 49 RBI out of the leadoff spot fell short of JBJ’s 17/63, but that can be forgiven given Lorenzo’s track record and other superior offensive numbers.
The ability to sign him – if a vacancy in center field opened up – is part of the value in trading Bradley. This means that in the case of a deal for Stanton (33 long balls from 300) that includes JBJ, Boston could potentially DH the former Marlin and acquire Cain; but this manueving would add between $45 and $55 million to the payroll, under the safe assumption the ex-Royal will earn $15-$25 million annually. Here in Boston, the only major contracts unloading are Mitch Moreland’s $5.5M, and another $6.5M in Chris Young. However, after spending two consecutive seasons under the luxury tax threshold, this gives DD the ability to overspend, while facing minimal financial consequences. So it’s a feasible scenario, that would certainly solve the disappointing offensive firepower Boston displayed.
Trades carry many unknowns with them. Bradley is entering his prime, and it would hurt to see a scenario akin to the Travis Shaw and Tyler Thornburg move. But Boston is dangerous with Lorenzo Cain or Giancarlo Stanton on Alex Cora’s lineup card; if Cain were to come aboard, we wouldn’t miss the defense, and if Stanton were to be Boston’s newest superstar, I think we can live with him in front of the monster and Beni patrolling center. But this only adds to the idea that the team should pursue both All-Stars, in order to maintain the outfield defense, whilst adding what could be the Red Sox two leading hitters of 2018 and beyond.
This would, unfortunately, create what could be a problem in the diamond: if Stanton were to DH, does Hanley play first? I don’t even know if Hanley can field the position, with his surgerically repaired shoulders yet to be tested. If necessary, will Giancarlo wield a first baseman’s mitt?
Sometimes, you need to move on from popular players, and take risks to become more competitive. And if the front office decides to do that with their former first round selection to put Cain and/or Stanton in a Red Sox uniform, it will only improve their chances to contend for the World Series in 2018.