Veteran center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. remains “open” to continuing his career, according to a report from Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Abraham adds that Bradley has continued to work out throughout the offseason in hopes of returning to the field this spring.
Bradley, 34 in April, signed with the Royals on a minor league pact last spring and managed to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, though his time in Kansas City ultimately did not go how either side surely hoped it would. While Bradley continued to flash impressive defense in a part-time role with the Royals to open last season, racking up +4 ratings according to both Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved for his work on the outfield grass, he struggled badly at the plate before being released in early June.
In 113 plate appearances for the Royals last year, Bradley slashed a paltry .133/.188/.210 with a 25.7% strikeout rate, a 4.4% walk rate, and just six extra-base hits. That translates to a wRC+ of just 2, meaning Bradley’s offensive performance last year was 98% below that of a league average hitter. There’s reason to believes those dreadful results weren’t entirely earned by Bradley. His BABIP of just .173 last year was more than 100 points below his career .283 mark, and his expected wOBA was more than 60 points below his expected figure.
With that being said, even better fortune at the plate would have been unlikely to turn Bradley into even an average contributor at the plate last year. Even Bradley’s xwOBA of .242 was 12th-lowest among all major league hitters last year with at least 100 plate appearances, and dead last among outfielders who hit that same benchmark. Last year’s disappointing numbers were a continuation of the struggles Bradley has dealt with since departing Boston following the shortened 2020 campaign. Over the past three seasons, Bradley has hit just .176/.238/.275 in 309 games with the Brewers, Blue Jays, and Royals. While his defensive abilities in the outfield have remained impressive during that time, the lack of offense still left Bradley with negative fWAR in each of those years.
At this stage in his career, it would be a major surprise for Bradley to regains the form he showed during his peak seasons with the Red Sox. From 2015 to 2020, the former first-round pick posted a 102 wRC+ while posting elite defensive numbers in center field, allowing him to generate 16.7 fWAR. That figure places him 13th among all outfielders during that stretch, sandwiched between Marcell Ozuna and Starling Marte and ahead of the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley.
Unlikely as it is that Bradley returns to those heights, it would hardly be a surprise if a club in need of outfield depth took a chance on Bradley’s services, though his market would surely be limited to minor league offers. After all, Bradley’s defense remained strong even during his dismal stint with the Royals last year, and the veteran outfielder could serve as a mentor for young players throughout the spring if signed. Abraham even notes that Bradley spent part of his offseason working with young superstar Juan Soto in order to improve the 25-year-old phenom’s glovework in the outfield as he looks to bounce back from a pair of seasons that have seen his defense slip in the eyes of defensive metrics.