Red Sox

Cutting Jackie Bradley now could save Red Sox $11 million, but here's why that won't happen

Cutting Jackie Bradley now could save Red Sox $11 million, but here's why that won't happen

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.

* * * * *

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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MLB odds: Rafael Devers among favorites to lead league in hits

MLB odds: Rafael Devers among favorites to lead league in hits

The Boston Red Sox lost some important offensive production this offseason when they traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But they should still have plenty of offense firepower in the upcoming year.

Between Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi, the team should be able to field a productive, high-scoring unit.

And it's no surprise that one of the Sox' young stars is among the favorites to lead MLB in hits this season. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Devers (+1300) has the fourth-best odds and trails only Jose Altuve, Nolan Arenado, and Whit Merrifield (all at +1200).

Devers ranked second in the league in hits last season. His mark of 201 base knocks trailed only Merriweather (206). Devers started the season rather slowly, too, so the it's well within the realm of possibility that he could generate more base knocks if he doesn't start with a slump.

This is especially possible given that Devers, 23, is so young yet already has two-and-a-half seasons of MLB experience. He may continue to improve ahead of his third full major league season. David Ortiz and Derek Jeter are among the stars that have voiced their confidence in Devers' abilities, so that would seemingly be a good sign for his upward trajectory.

Devers, 23, posted a .311 average, 32 homers, and 115 RBI for the Red Sox last season. He also played in 156 games, so he'll likely have to stay on the field often if he wants a chance to be the hits leader in 2020.

MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

Michael Chavis can hit fastballs. His first swing of consequence, after all, launched a 99 mph Jose Alvarado offering to the deepest reaches of Tropicana Field for a pinch double last April.

That pitch was just above the knees, however, just where Chavis likes it, and the result helped mislead the rest of baseball for the first month of his career. "He can hit 99," the thinking went, "so let's see how he handles the soft stuff."

Ten home runs and twice as many pulverized sliders later, it was time for Plan B.

Enter the Astros.

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On May 24, the Red Sox opened a three-game series in Houston. Chavis was hitting .270 with 10 homers and a .911 OPS in 29 games, making a serious case for Rookie of the Year. He had struck out 32 times, an acceptable number for someone on pace for 40 tape-measure bombs.

Chavis led off the series against Wade Miley and struck out swinging on an elevated 92 mph fastball. He faced eventual Cy Young winner Justin Verlander three times in the finale and saw 14 pitches, all fastballs, 11 of them above the belt. He didn't put a single one in play, striking out three times and finishing with six K's in 10 at-bats. Gerrit Cole had already blown him away a couple of times earlier.

From that point forward, Chavis hit just .242 with a .681 OPS and 93 strikeouts in 236 at-bats. The book on him was translated into every one of baseball's couple dozen languages, and it consisted of just four words: can't hit high fastballs.

"I would take a shot in the dark and say I'm not the first person to struggle against them," Chavis said recently. "It was the first time I felt exposed. It's a combination, they're phenomenal pitchers, but also I'm still trying to learn how to be a big leaguer. A lot of it was just in my own head, getting in my own way."

As Chavis embarks on his second season, he's well aware of this presumed deficiency in his game. And he has learned some important lessons that he believes will make a difference in 2020 as he looks to stick as a utility infielder or maybe even the starting second baseman if he can outplay Jose Peraza.

"You can't hit the ones that aren't a strike," Chavis said. "Essentially what I was trying to do was cover everything. I tried to cover the fastball middle in, the fastball up and in, the fastball up and away, I tried to cover everything and I started expanding up. So then I started getting worried about expanding down, and it snowballed.

"It's not that I can't hit a high fastball. You can find plenty of videos of me hitting high fastballs. My best talent is probably my fast hands, which goes very well with hitting high fastballs. A lot of it was just an approach of trying to do too much and getting in my own way."

Part of what made Chavis so impressive last April and May was his ability to lay off the high hard ones. But once he started swinging, he couldn't stop. Per Brooks Baseball, Chavis hit just .113 (6 for 53) on four-seam fastballs above the belt. In the upper third of the strike zone alone, he swung and missed at a staggering 39 percent of four-seamers. As a means of comparison, teammate Xander Bogaerts -- a tremendous high fastball hitter -- swung and missed there less than 10 percent of the time.

Manager Ron Roenicke believes the key for Chavis in 2020 isn't so much catching up to those pitches, but ignoring them.

"Nobody hits the fastball at the top of the zone, maybe Bogey, but there aren't many, and so if you're not really good at this pitch, which hardly anybody is, you really have to lay off it," Roenicke said. "So it's more the discipline part of it."

Chavis admits the struggles wormed their way into his head and took root.

"When I started expanding the zone, that's just timidness, trying to be too protective, and it was compounded by the results I was having -- striking out more, having tough ABs, falling into two-strike counts really early," he said. "That's something that was frustrating. I told myself I was really tired of falling behind 0-2, 1-2. Even when you're going good, that's a tough AB. One thing I remember telling myself is to be aggressive early, so I started being too aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone, and next thing I know, he hasn't thrown a strike and I'm sitting there 0-2."

While Chavis was no stranger to struggles -- he hit just .223 in his full-season debut after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft -- he had never struggled with such high stakes, and he admits that it affected him.

In the minors, after all, wins and losses don't matter. Development does. In the big leagues, that equation inverts.

"We're not working on progression, we're working on winning ballgames," he said. "I have to find a way where even though I don't feel good and I don't really know what's going on with my swing, I still have to find a way to compete, and that was something I still had to learn.

"Then when it gets exposed, that's when I don't want to get sent down. I felt like I was fighting for my life. Realistically, that's what it was every single day, that's what I was thinking about. And that more than anything is what got in my way, where I'm so worried about being sent down. I started making up scenarios in my head that aren't even real."

And so as Chavis prepares for 2020, he enters with a clear mind. The fastball above the belt that's so tempting must become a take so pitchers attack him where he can do damage.

"I'd say that's the normal me," he said. "It's not like I need to bring that guy back, but just allow myself to play. When I'm smiling on the field, when I'm relaxed, I'm not getting in my own way. I'm not getting the high fastball and trying to hammer it for a home run and getting all muscly. I just let it flow and make contact. It's frustrating, because you can say it's just me getting in my own way, but it's not as easy as saying don't think that way. It's like asking someone not to think about a pink elephant."

Call it the pink elephant in the room, then. Chavis knows how pitchers will attack him, and they're not going to change until he makes them.