Red Sox

Benching Jackie Bradley was never an option, but first homer of season reminds us what he can be

Benching Jackie Bradley was never an option, but first homer of season reminds us what he can be

It took nearly two months, but on Monday Jackie Bradley's drought finally ended.

The Gold Glove center fielder, mired in a historically brutal slump even by his standards, launched his first home run of the year in a 12-2 pounding of the Blue Jays. His opposite-field shot in the sixth played no role in the outcome -- the Red Sox were already cruising to victory -- but the badly needed blast came with more of us questioning his place in the everyday lineup.

Bradley entered the game hitting .144 with no homers and only four extra-base hits. For someone coming off a strong second half and excellent postseason that included the American League Championship Series MVP award, Bradley's season-long funk felt particularly demoralizing.

While we've always accepted streakiness as part of the package, it really did feel like he had turned a corner last year. He began consulting with J.D. Martinez's personal hitting coach around the All-Star break and in the second half delivered some of the most consistent offense of his career, batting .269 with an .827 OPS. He followed by posting a .943 OPS between the ALCS and World Series, driving in 10 runs in 10 games with three homers and a double.

He arrived at spring training confident in a new swing that would end his streakiness once and for all, and in a sense he was right, because there have been no streaks to speak of, just struggle upon struggle.

But Bradley's path forward is actually deceptively simple. It's easy to forget that he only hit .200 last postseason, because virtually all of his production was pivotal, but it showed the way he could validate his existence from an offensive standpoint: hit for power and his place in the lineup would be secure.

When he opened this season by failing to homer in his first 38 games, however, concerns over his viability began gaining urgency. How long could the Red Sox carry an everyday player who wasn't even hitting .150, let alone .200, no matter how game-changing his glove?

Replacing him isn't as easy as it sounds, though, which is why he's not going anywhere. One option would be to make Martinez a more frequent outfielder and move Andrew Benintendi to center, but the DH has battled back issues and is an average defender at best. The Red Sox need his bat in the lineup, not his glove.

The other would require toppling dominoes that would leave the Red Sox worse than where they started: bench Bradley, move Benintendi to center, try power-hitting youngster Michael Chavis in left, and then fill second base with Eduardo Nunez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Dustin Pedroia, or Brock Holt, depending on who's healthy.

Their averages range from .063 (Holt) to .200 (Lin), so you'd be leaving yourself in the same position offensively, but weakened defensively at two positions. The same logic applies to putting Steve Pearce (.131) in left.

In that context, there's little incentive to bench Bradley, which is why he has appeared in all but eight games. It helps that every regular except Benintendi now owns an OPS of greater than .800, so there's enough offense to go around. The emergence of Chavis and Christian Vazquez lower in the order has saved Bradley from answering some seriously tough questions.

So forget about benching him. A far more palatable option is that Bradley rediscovers his power stroke, maintains a solid eye (16 walks), and keeps making web gems.

Maybe Monday represented a tentative first step in that direction.

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MLB Power Rankings: The Red Sox are bad... but how bad?

MLB Power Rankings: The Red Sox are bad... but how bad?

We're now two weeks into the 2020 MLB season and well... the Boston Red Sox are who we thought they were.

The Red Sox have a 4-8 record as of Thursday's off day, putting them in last place in the American League East. They're coming off a surprising 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, which ended a four-game losing streak that spotlighted just how long this 60-game season is going to be. How's that for irony?

Without Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis), the starting pitching staff has been anchored by Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez. After that, it's a bunch of guys who leave fans hoping the game isn't out of reach by the third inning.

So yeah, the Red Sox are bad, but just how bad are they? Let's see how they stack up with the rest of the league...

Dustin May blowing up for Dodgers, but here's why Red Sox passed on him in 2016 draft

AP Photo

Dustin May blowing up for Dodgers, but here's why Red Sox passed on him in 2016 draft

The internet is losing its mind over lanky Dodgers right-hander Dustin May, who is unleashing 99-mph two-seam fastballs that look computer generated as they zip a foot and a half behind right-handed hitters.

The 6-foot-6, 180-pounder is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in three starts, with 15 strikeouts and only three walks in 13.2 innings. Just 22 years old, he looks like a future ace in an organization swimming in top-flight prospects.

May's stuff is so overwhelming, and his Dodgers pedigree so established as a consensus top-20 prospect, it's easy to assume he was selected high in the first round of the 2016 draft.

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That assumption would be false. May actually lasted until the third round, 101st overall, where the Dodgers convinced the Texas high schooler to forgo a commitment to Texas Tech with a signing bonus of $1 million, more than $400,000 above slot.

The Red Sox had the 11th pick in that round, 88th overall, and used it to select University of Florida right-hander Shaun Anderson, who signed for $700,000 before being traded a year later to the Giants in a deal for infielder Eduardo Nu├▒ez. Anderson represented the Giants in the 2018 Futures Game and last year reached the big leagues as a swingman, starting 16 games and saving two. He owns a lifetime ERA of 5.42.

Anytime a third-rounder even reaches the majors, which only happens about 40 percent of the time, that's a worthwhile pick. So with all due respect to Anderson, May's breakout success leads to an obvious question: Did the Red Sox give serious thought to drafting him 88th in 2016?

Even though they liked him, the answer is not really. A standout at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas, May was a late bloomer. He threw in the low 80s as a sophomore, but with excellent command. His fastball jumped into the low-90s by his senior year, touching 95, but after a fast start, his velocity dipped. Most projections pegged him for the third or fourth round, where it would take an aggressive offer to buy out his commitment to Texas Tech.

The Red Sox weren't in position to make such an offer, because they had decided to use the 12th overall pick on a high-ceilinged high schooler of their own.

New Jersey left-hander Jay Groome began 2016 as Baseball America's No. 1 overall prospect, but he slipped after a transfer violation cost him half his senior year, and reneging on a commitment to Vanderbilt created character concerns. The Red Sox jumped at the chance to land the 6-foot-6, 220-pound horse with a mid-90s fastball and outstanding curveball, knowing they'd need to pay him above the slot recommendation of $3.2 million.

The problem is, they didn't know exactly how high they'd need to go, with rumors circulating that Groome sought $4 million. With each team allotted a bonus pool, the Red Sox couldn't risk paying Groome so much that there wasn't enough left for May. Groome ended up agreeing to a $3.65 million bonus, or roughly $430,000 above slot, which is about what it took for the Dodgers to sign May.

Groome underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and returned at the end of last season to throw four innings between rookie ball and short-season Lowell. He's currently working out in Pawtucket, where he impressed against Triple-A hitters in a recent live bullpen with an effortless 93-mph fastball that should add velocity as he builds back arm strength.

If Groome hits, then the Red Sox will have no complaints about a 2016 draft that has already produced four big leaguers and could add a couple more in first baseman Bobby Dalbec and shortstop C.J. Chatham, not to mention 19th-round left-hander Kyle Hart.

If they could do it all over again, though, they'd find a way to take May. They're not alone, because 30 teams combined to pass on the young star 100 times before the Dodgers struck gold.