The most important evaluations the Red Sox have to make this winter are internal.
Who exactly is Jackie Bradley Jr.? And Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts? Can all three be expected to return to their 2016 forms, or is 2017 closer to reality? Who are they actually? Maybe 2016 was an exception.
(Betts, it should be noted, remains a player who should be viewed a little differently, a step above.)
From there, the question is whether the Red Sox should really be trading any of the Bradley types after a down 2017. It’d be a great winter to try to lock someone up long term, although fat chance getting Scott Boras (Bradley, Bogaerts) or Greg Genske (Betts) to bite just because of a down year.
Last winter, it was the opposite. The kids were coming off great seasons, and paying them with the mindset they’d perform similarly every year forward could have hurt financially.
But this is where the Sox’ judgment, where Dave Dombrowski’s long experience in the game, can show its merit. Ostensibly, the trade value for Bradley should only rise from here. Yet, if the Sox don’t feel it would rise appreciably, it’s easier to justify moving him.
Part of the failure of the 2016 offense, which still pumped out 93 wins in conjunction with a great pitching staff, was the overestimation of the Killer B’s. David Ortiz was gone, and the Sox just didn’t seem prepared for the possibility that on top of his departure, some individual performances in 2017 weren’t shoe-ins to be repeated.
Whether the Red Sox are actively shopping Bradley seems to be a matter of semantics. Baseball sources said the Red Sox have made clear the center fielder is available. They’ve talked about him in potential trades for power hitting, to be specific.
Dombrowski doesn’t agree with the notion he’s shopping Bradley, however. It’s more of a listening mode, the way he tells it.
“I don’t know where those rumors have started, but they’re not accurate,” Dombrowski said. “I can say that we have interest in our players and people have asked us about our players often. But I’d say we’re very happy with our outfield. Could we do anything? I can't say we can't do anything with any of our players. But we like our outfield.”
How about this: Bradley is a chip they could reasonably move.
The Cubs are listening on Kyle Schwarber. But it’s hard to see a fit for a trade because Chicago is after pitching. Eduardo Rodriguez, due back in April, could be a chip but he doesn’t move the needle enough given his knee troubles.
“He's always been someone that teams have an interest in, I guess,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Monday about Schwarber, via The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. “But we have probably the most interest.”
The Sox, at some point, have to choose which of their young stars to hitch their ride to. Is it worth parting with Bradley now? Who is he really?