The Red Sox’s payroll has already emerged as one of the top stories to monitor in the upcoming offseason. With Boston’s “goal” of dropping their competitive balance tax number for 2020 south of the $208MM threshold, some difficult decisions are surely looming. After all, the Sox already have north of $150MM on the luxury tax ledger next season, per Spotrac, not counting arbitration-eligible players. (If J.D. Martinez were to opt-out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his deal, that would knock $22MM off the Sox’s tax ledger but potentially cost the team their best hitter).
On top of that, Boston’s upcoming arbitration class is massive, with twelve players projected to earn upwards of $70MM. A few (Chris Owings, Gorkys Hernández, Steven Wright) are easy non-tenders, which will knock the projected arbitration earnings down $5-6MM. Still, it’s clear that the math doesn’t position the Red Sox to reset their tax number especially easily. The team’s yet to be determined long-term baseball operations head will have some challenges to overcome.
To that end, Christopher Smith of Mass Live hears that the current front office is already discussing potential non-tenders which could ameliorate payroll concerns. While Jackie Bradley, Jr. (projected $11MM salary) may stand out as a speculative non-tender candidate, Smith opines it’s more likely than not the Sox will indeed tender the 29 year-old a contract. (Catcher Sandy León, Smith hears, is in bigger jeopardy of losing his job after another abysmal offensive showing.)
2019 was a disappointing one for Bradley, although he did rebound from a nightmarish April to post a pretty typical .225/.317/.421 line (90 wRC+). That marked the third straight season of below-average offensive production for Bradley, making his strong 2016 season look like an aberration. Of course, Bradley’s selling point has long been his outstanding glovework in center field, and that remains a strong suit, even if he’s not quite the defender he was at his peak. While DRS and UZR each considered him to be an average center fielder this season, Statcast was still enamored of his work, crediting him with six outs above average. That’s a far cry from the 15 and 12 outs above average Bradley was worth in 2017 and 2018, respectively, but he still remains an asset in the grass.
While Bradley’s absolutely still a major league caliber player, that estimated $11MM price tag is not insignificant for an organization looking to shed payroll. Indeed, Smith notes it’s likely the Red Sox would shop Bradley if they do follow through with an arbitration offer. The upcoming free agent market for center fielders is woeful, but Bradley would likely take a backseat in trade talks to Starling Marté, whom the Pirates should market this winter. Marté, while two years older than Bradley, has been the more productive of the two each of the past two seasons and comes with one additional year of team control.
Entirely speculatively, the Cubs, White Sox, Rangers and Phillies, among others, stand out as teams looking to contend in 2020 who have uncertainty in center field. Bradley’s price tag and lackluster offensive production mean he won’t return a huge prospect haul if Boston were to pull the trigger on a trade, so any team in baseball could put together an adequate package. With the Red Sox still on the lookout for a permanent voice atop the baseball ops department, it’s impossible to handicap at this point the odds of Bradley going elsewhere, much less pinpointing an exact destination. Nevertheless, it’s at least notable to hear that, as of now, the organization doesn’t seem inclined to let their longtime center fielder depart for nothing more than cash savings.