Jackie Bradley had an awful season at the plate last year, so bad that despite being the best defensive outfielder in baseball, the Red Sox seemed to move on from him. The Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, free agent Hanley Ramirez and are all in on phenom Mookie Betts. JBJ is a man without a roster spot.
JBJ's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Jackie went back to work and shortened his swing and flattened it out. The results this spring have shown his progress as he is batting .345. At the end of last year there seemed to be a growing opinion that Bradley would never hit MLB pitching. There now seems to be a renewed faith among those in the game that maybe just maybe Bradley can be a big league hitter. The defense is unquestionable and if Jackie can hit he becomes a commodity. So what does his immediate future hold? Here is what Red Sox beat writer Alex Speier writes:
Bradley has changed the way he swings to a more level/downward plane from the uppercut swings he took a year ago.
“A work in progress,” said Bradley.
If he has to go back to Pawtucket, he has the right attitude, knowing last year was an offensive disaster. It may have been an aberration because Bradley has hit well at every level he’s been at.
Don’t think the scouts who watch Bradley on an everyday basis haven’t noticed. Now the guy who was just the great defender may be able to hit as well and suddenly there’s interest on the trade front. He’s become a chip again.
There is some feeling among scouts that he still has time to figure out an approach that works at the big league level. Meanwhile, his defense is obscenely good, to the point where it took a plummet below the Mendoza Line for him to play his way out of viability as an everyday center fielder.
There’s a decent chance that at some point, his value to another team will exceed his value to the Sox, making him a likely trade candidate. But that time hasn’t necessarily arrived.
The Sox believe they need at least three standout defenders who can hold their own offensively to cover center and right fields at Fenway. On paper, they have that with Betts, Shane Victorino, and Rusney Castillo, but Victorino represents an injury risk and he’ll be a free agent after this year. The Sox’ next two-way impact player is likelyManuel Margot, a 20-year-old who will open this year in High A Salem; Margot is unlikely to reach the big leagues before late-2016.
Bradley thus represents a critical depth option, for now, at least until Margot is ready. As such, at a time when he has two options remaining, there’s little reason for the Sox to be in a rush to move him.