Trading Jackie Bradley Jr. Should be a Red Sox Top Priority

It's all about the luxury tax in 2020 for the Red Sox. Shedding salary is the name of the game and JBJ should be part of that discussion.

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The end of another Patriots season always signals that Red Sox spring training is right around the corner. And with rumors swirling, hypothetical trade packages being thrown together and Chaim Bloom looking to shed payroll before the start of the season, deals could be coming out of Fenway Park in the coming weeks.

The two hot button names that have been involved in stories have been David Price and Mookie Betts. The details as to why they are the two obvious candidates to be moved don’t need to be thoroughly explained at this point in the offseason. David Price is eating payroll at $32 million in each of the next three seasons, and the likelihood that Mookie Betts lands himself on the free-agent market following the 2020 season is exceedingly high. Betts is also projected to earn himself a nice, 2020 salary of something between $27 million and $30 million.

So in the quest for Bloom and his front office team to dip below the $208 million mark, these appear to be the obvious two names to be sent packing. Although, there’s another core member of this Red Sox roster, who was somewhat of a catalyst during the 2018 postseason run, who is, and should be, a candidate to be traded.

Rather than dealing away Betts–which has appeared to be less and less likely as the offseason’s grown older–trading Jackie Bradley Jr. is another possibility that this team should strongly consider.

We’ve already heard whispers of the Red Sox looking to deal away Bradley this offseason. Back in November, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that he believes a trade involving the Gold Glove center fielder was “all but certain”.

Bradley Jr. is projected to bring in $11 million in 2020 after the Red Sox decided to tender a contract offer at the start of December.

The main issue that we’ve seen this offseason is an issue that really, the Red Sox brought upon themselves. During the Winter Meetings, General Manager, Brian O’Halloran, told the media that while yes, the team is looking to essentially set fire to the league’s largest payroll, they are also making winning their number one priority. To some, that notion may seem disingenuous. Now the fanbase expects a winning team at this cheaper rate.

It is going to be immensely dangerous to attempt to sell to the Red Sox fanbase that they are looking to remain as competitive as they claim if they deal away former MVP, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, and All-Star, Mookie Betts.

They claim they want to win but they also want to cut salary and sell like some high-class auctioneers. A perfect candidate to be dealt in this type of scenario though, again, is Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley Jr. has been frustrating to say the least for much of the fanbase. His defense is and always has been unbelievable and the way he covers ground in center is unmatched. It’s debatable, but he’s the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. His ability to make plays and save runs is what makes letting him go such a difficult decision. But the Red Sox are in a unique situation in their outfield.

Many rosters are comprised of two solid outfielders, mixed with perhaps a below-average fielder in either right or left. You don’t have to go far to find an example. Manny Ramirez in the outfield was a circus in Boston. It was incredibly fun to watch, but it was a circus nonetheless.

But the Red Sox roster has three legitimate center fielders. And at Fenway Park, having at least two is somewhat of a necessity with the enormity of right field.

This is why, when it comes to the fielding aspect of losing Bradley Jr., it would certainly be a loss, but it wouldn’t be anything catastrophic. The defensive play in center–whether you move Andrew Benintendi into the slot or Mookie Betts–wouldn’t be a detriment that could ruin the team’s chances in 2020.

A major part of the issue with Bradley Jr. has always been the gaping hole in his bat along with a streakiness that goes unmatched. There are times where he genuinely becomes somewhat of a feared hitter. But more often than not, his offensive skill level becomes a true detriment to the lineup.

In his seven years in the majors, he’s put together a career batting average of .236, an OBP of .317 and an OPS of .727.

Through the first two months of the 2019 season, his average sat at just .194.

Bradley Jr. has been a great asset to have on the Red Sox roster over this recent run that really kicked off in 2016. With payroll not being a remote priority and an offense that was a league leader in multiple categories over several seasons, his struggling bat could be overlooked. But now that the front office is taking a critical look at the entirety of the roster, doesn’t trading Bradley Jr. make sense?

Defensively, again, while it may take a step back, they’d be fine slotting in two of their other top tier options.

Offensively–and this goes without saying–the subtraction of his bat wouldn’t take a dig at the production through the lineup.

While the front office takes a critical look, they have to ask themselves whether or not each player is truly worth the room they’d be taking up on the payroll. Essentially, they’d be taking the Bill Belichick approach by deciding if they can substitute your production with someone comparable, who comes at a cheaper rate.

An $11 million salary for one season doesn’t seem like anything that could break the bank. But with Betts now potentially staying put, Bloom will be looking for other ways to shrink the payroll and Bradley Jr.’s contract is a tasty option that could be key to the front office reaching their desired goal.

It’s up to you whether or not you believe the team when they say that they are making winning their number one priority. But with all of these discussions taking place involving one of their top two pitchers, it doesn’t feel like the case. And because of this, trading Jackie Bradley Jr., like Ken Rosenthal eluded to, seems imminent.

They tried to deal him last year after reports surfaced that they “pushed hardest” for a Bradley Jr. trade. And before they swung a deal with the Houston Astros for center fielder Jason Marisnick, the Red Sox were reportedly discussing a JBJ deal with the New York Mets.

The desire to cut down that payroll seemed like a pretty lofty goal at the time, but if Bloom’s team decides to make a deal like this, it would help their cause in an immense way.

As it currently stands, Fangraphs has the Red Sox estimated payroll sitting at $236 million for the 2020 season.