Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has been popular in trade rumors in the past, though no club has come up with a compelling enough offer to pry him out of Boston yet. Now, however, Bradley is approaching his last year of team control – in which he’ll make a projected $11MM – and the Red Sox may be on the verge of reducing payroll. With those factors in mind, Bradley may be heading into the offseason as one of the majors’ strongest trade candidates. Bradley, with his combination of defensive adeptness, passable offense and quality base running, remains valuable enough on the field for the Red Sox to tender him a contract at a fairly high cost. But if the Red Sox decide it would be wise to move on via trade in the coming weeks, there would surely be interest from elsewhere. Bradley probably isn’t going to require a sizable return in a trade, after all, and free agency isn’t exactly rife with appealing center fielders teams could count on as starters.
Here’s a look at several clubs that could inquire about Bradley…
- Braves: Center field isn’t a pressing need for the Braves, as they could continue to go with superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. as their man pick there (at least until hyped prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters show up). The Braves also have two other viable outfield starters in Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis, though they’re facing a decision on the latter’s $6MM club option/$2MM buyout. If the Braves part with Markakis, would they send Acuna to a corner? Even if Markakis stays, MLBTR’s Steve Adams raised an interesting question when the two of us were discussing Bradley: Would Atlanta and Boston consider a swap around Bradley and Inciarte? Both teams would come out with capable center fielders, with the Red Sox cutting some of their payroll for 2020. They’d get two years’ control over Inciarte, who’s due a guaranteed $16.025MM through 2021 (including a $1.025MM buyout for 2022).
- Cubs: Center field was a sore spot during a bitterly disappointing 2019 for the Cubs, whose top choice, Albert Almora, posted horrific numbers. The Cubs had to consistently turn to Jason Heyward amid Almora’s struggles, so they could simply keep the former in center next next year. But if Chicago wants to shift Heyward back to right field on a full-time basis in favor of a more traditional center fielder, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team at least check in on Bradley. Who selected Bradley in the first round of the 2011 draft? Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, then Boston’s general manager.
- Diamondbacks: Arizona may have its center fielder in breakout star Ketel Marte, though if the club would rather put him at second, a Bradley pursuit would make sense. Like Epstein, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen happened to be in the Red Sox’s front office when they drafted Bradley.
- Giants: The Giants already have a pricey veteran center fielder in Kevin Pillar, who’s projected to make $9.7MM in 2020. Whether they’ll keep or non-tender Pillar is up in the air, though, considering the 30-year-old’s offensive limitations. Although Bradley isn’t a world-beater at the plate in his own right, his .317 career on-base percentage is an improvement over Pillar’s .296 mark. That said, even if the Giants were to cut the cord on Pillar, it’s possible they’d just hand center to Steven Duggar to evaluate whether he’s fit for the role.
- Mets: Center field is a question for the Mets, who would likely be better off playing Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto in the corners instead of forcing them into the outfield’s most challenging position. The problem, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd noted Friday, is the club’s lack of financial flexibility. Fitting Bradley into their payroll would be tough without shedding a similar salary or salaries (Jed Lowrie, for example).
- Phillies: The Phillies figure to have Bryce Harper and the returning Andrew McCutchen in the corners next season, though it’s unclear what they’ll do in center. While the team does have some in-house options in Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn, it’s highly debatable whether any would be preferable to Bradley. Herrera might not even play for the Phillies again after missing most of this year because of a violation of the MLB-MLBPA joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy.
- Rangers: This would partly hinge on whether the Rangers want to deploy slugger Joey Gallo as a full-time center fielder next year. If so, Bradley to Texas would be all the more improbable. Gallo aside, the Rangers have seen Delino DeShields struggle mightily as their primary center field choice over the past couple seasons.
- Reds: Not only does Cincinnati seem to be preparing for an aggressive, payroll-increasing offseason, but center field stands out as an area it could plausibly upgrade. However, that depends on whether the team wants to line up Nick Senzel in center, where he played as a rookie in 2019, or move him to second base.
- White Sox: A change of Sox for Bradley looks like a possibility, as Chicago is in obvious need of outfield help. The unit may have been the worst of its kind in 2019, when Leury Garcia and Adam Engel combined for uninspiring production in center. Going forward, only left fielder Eloy Jimenez looks like a lock to return as a starter next season. Likewise, stud prospect Luis Robert could play an important role in a year, though his forthcoming arrival won’t stop the Sox from seeking veteran help. Of course, if the Sox decide Robert’s ready to take over center imminently, they’ll probably be in the market for a big-hitting right fielder instead of someone like Bradley.