RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: The future of JBJ in Boston clearing up after Springer signing

RED SOX INSIDER

Jackie Bradley is officially on the clock.

The All-Star center fielder hasn't had much to do through the first three months of free agency, thanks to the domino system that dominates baseball's winter.

The lead domino finally fell on Tuesday night when free agent George Springer agreed to a massive six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays, pending a physical.

Springer was the No. 1 center fielder on the market, and any team that thought it had a shot at him wouldn't consider Plan B until he made a decision.

Bradley is Plan B, and he's got enough to offer another team that I have hard time picturing him returning to the Red Sox.

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Bradley has been linked at various points this offseason to the Mets, Cubs, and Phillies, who each boast Red Sox connections. Mets assistant GM Zack Scott oversaw Bradley's entire Red Sox career, Cubs player personnel czar Jason McLeod drafted him in 2011, and new Phillies boss Dave Dombrowski avoided arbitration with him three times in Boston.

The Mets and Phillies are certainly closer to contention than the Red Sox, which gives them more incentive to prioritize Bradley, who remains a Gold Glove caliber center fielder with some pop. The Astros obviously have an opening as well, now that Springer is gone. Bradley would make for an intriguing replacement, especially coming off the second-best season of his career.

 

Showing some pop at the plate?

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s batting average from 2017-19.
.234
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s batting average in 2020, a career-high.
.283

He just hit a career-high .283 with an .814 OPS, rate stats that project to be roughly on par with his All-Star 2016, when he slammed a career-high 26 homers. He made the prorated portion of $11 million in arbitration last year, and Fangraphs projects that the 30-year-old will earn a two-year, $20 million contract.

So why not the Red Sox?

For one, they have a ready-made center field prospect in Jarren Duran who turned 24 in September and should be ready before Bradley finishes a two-year deal. Were the veteran willing to sign for a year, then the timetable would align. But unless the secondary market just completely collapses, there's no reason for him to sign anything less than a multi-year contract. It wouldn't be a surprise if someone gives him a three-year deal. It's hard to see how a contract of that length fits the Red Sox rebuild.

There's also the issue of the team's actions vs. its rhetoric.

While chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has repeatedly stated a desire for Bradley to return, the club did not negotiate with him during the season when it had a window of exclusivity. That changed in November when WEEI.com's Rob Bradford reported that the Red Sox had finally approached Bradley about a contract, but now they're competing with everyone else.

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The Red Sox also made it easier for him to leave by not making him a qualifying offer, which means he can sign anywhere without costing his new team a draft pick.

We shouldn't discount Bradley's feelings in this process. Even if the Red Sox want him back, the Scott Boras client may decide the time has come for a change. The Red Sox probably won't be very good -- the Springer acquisition makes Toronto even more of a threat in a stacked AL East -- and Boston fans haven't always exactly welcomed Bradley, who has served as a punching bag over his offensive inconsistency.

He has already watched the Red Sox trade outfield partner Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, and he knows a rebuild is starting. Re-signing with the Red Sox could simply mean he ends up having no say in his future home if he's traded away at the deadline.

It would make more sense for him to choose his home now and move his young family on his own terms. The fact that Springer has signed means Bradley's market is about to start moving.

Don't be surprised if it takes him right out of Boston.