Editor's Note: The Red Sox officially elected to tender Bradley a contract for the 2020 MLB season ahead of Monday night's 8 p.m. deadline.
Jackie Bradley isn't going anywhere, at least not today.
The Red Sox have until 8 p.m. on Monday night to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, and there's no chance Bradley is set free.
The Gold Glove center fielder is entering his final year of arbitration, where he's expected to earn about $11 million. That's a lot of money for a below-average offensive player on a team looking to cut payroll, but the reasons to maintain control of Bradley far outweigh the risks of setting him free.
For one, the only upside to walking away today is cost certainty, since it would clear that potential $11 million before it becomes a line item. But seeing as that payroll for luxury tax purposes isn't calculated until the end of the season, it would be intellectually lazy to cut that cost right now when there are other, more imaginative ways to treat a flawed but intriguing asset.
Put another way: the Red Sox didn't hire Chaim Bloom to take the path of least resistance. They hired him to be creative, and Bradley offers multiple paths for creativity.
For one, he can be traded, and the Red Sox have many, many holes to fill this winter at everywhere from starter to first base, second base, reliever, and outfield. They're also looking to replenish a farm system that was strip-mined in (a successful) pursuit of a title under Bloom's predecessor, Dave Dombrowski.
While it's fair to wonder exactly how much trade value Bradley will carry entering his age-30 season at a relatively high salary, he's still considered an elite defender at a premium position, and there's a market for that, especially since clubs like the Diamondbacks and Cubs are run by front offices that helped draft and develop him.
(One note on defense: the advanced metrics suggest Bradley regressed last year, but because publicly available defensive stats are considered flawed and unreliable, I wouldn't fixate on the fact that his defensive runs saved, for instance, dropped into negative territory.)
There's another case for tendering Bradley, too: maybe the Red Sox plan to keep him. It has been considered a fait accompli that he'll be traded this winter, and that's still how I'd expect things to play out, but a case can be made for keeping him if former MVP Mookie Betts is dealt, since the Red Sox will already be losing one impact defender and might not relish the idea of replacing two-thirds of their starting outfield.
In that case, you take the bad with the good. Bradley hasn't delivered even league average offense since his All-Star 2016 campaign, and at this point we should stop pretending he's suddenly going to discover consistency. What he can do is provide 20 homers, Gold Glove defense, and about 2 WAR at the bottom of a batting order and that's actually worth $11 million, give or take. It's certainly not beyond the pale.
And finally, we should also note that contracts tendered today aren't guaranteed. If the Red Sox find Bradley's arbitration winnings too onerous and they fail to trade him, they can release him sometime in the first 16 days of spring training and take themselves off the hook for all but one month of his salary. Not saying that's likely, but it's an available last resort.
Add it all up, and Jackie Bradley's Red Sox career isn't over yet. At least not today.
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Bradley isn't the only arb-eligible player the Red Sox must decide on by Monday night. Catcher Sandy Leon was the most likely non-tender candidate, but the Red Sox traded him to Cleveland on Monday for minor league right-hander Adenys Bautista.
Everyone else should receive an offer. Per the invaluable projections at MLB Trade Rumors, here's where the rest of the team's arb-eligible players should fall: Betts ($27.7 million); Eduardo Rodriguez ($9.5 million), Andrew Benintendi ($4.9 million), Brandon Workman ($3.4 million), Matt Barnes ($3 million), Heath Hembree ($1.6 million), Marco Hernandez ($700,000).
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