Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
The Diamondbacks had rumored interested in Jackie Bradley Jr earlier this winter. Then they were rumored not to be interested. Regardless, he’s a great fit. Regardless of that, he’s not likely available. Because stubbornness – let’s explore it anyway!
The Diamondbacks are theoretically uninterested because he doesn’t fit their timeline, which is interesting given they’re “not rebuilding.” He’ll be 29 in April, projected to earn $7.9MM in 2019, with one more season of arb eligibility after that. Given that Goldschmidt was only making $14.5MM before he was shipped out of town, JBJ comes a little pricey, but there’s reason to like him too.
Solid defense up the middle is the greatest gift a team can give a young rotation, and with Nick Ahmed and Carson Kelly, the Dbacks are off to a good start. Still, getting an all-world defender like Bradley in center could do for a young pitcher what a good offensive line does for a young quarterback: protect him.
Bradley’s not an exceptionally physically gifted player, but his defense maintains a high floor of productivity even when his bat slips. As he enters his thirties, his route reading ability should compensate for waning athleticism.
Offensively, JBJ is an enigma. He made his ML debut in 2013 and completely face-planted in a 37-game sample. The next season Bradley got a second chance to prove himself, but hit only .198/.265/.266 across 423 plate appearances.
And yet, that high floor we mentioned? Tremendous defensive numbers (17.1 UZR/150) pulled his overall value up to a total 0.2 fWAR for the season. Not good, mind you, but that’s the floor.
He went back to Triple A in 2015 and crushed, earning another call-up where he continued to rake, finishing with a 123 wRC+ in 71 games. The next season, 2016, is the high-water mark for JBJ: .267/.349/.486 in 156 games with his usual stellar defense, earning an All-Star-caliber total of 5.2 fWAR.
But a return to that level is not over-likely. His batting average and OBP dropped the next two seasons while his isolated power has cratered. He’s streaky, for sure, but he’s not likely to bounce back to the 118 wRC+ level from 2016.
Still, JBJ roaming center could be a difference maker. Unfortunately for Arizona, that’s exactly why he’s a perfect fit on a loaded Boston roster. Boston’s catchers, like Bradley, are below average offensively, but these defensive stalwarts at key positions are perfect compliments to a lineup that doesn’t need much help from the bottom of the order.
The Arizona Diamondbacks could try to pry JBJ from Boston, but he’s simply not as valuable to the Dbacks as he is to his current employer in Boston.
2019 will be JBJ’s age-29 season, and he’s not due for free agency until after 2020. By then, the Diamondbacks might actually have enough offense to make Bradley’s defensive value a good fit. As much as the Diamondbacks young staff could use a vacuum like JBJ in center, he’s probably a better target for free agency before the 2021 season.