Last offseason the Cincinnati Reds reportedly show interest in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer first noted this over the weekend in his run down of options the team could look at in free agency or possible trades.
Jackie Bradley Jr has one year remaining before he’s a free agent. He is entering his final year of arbitration and is projected to get $11M according to MLB Trade Rumors.
Things have changed a little bit since the pre-2019 season and the pre-2020 season. Sort of. The Reds weren’t exactly sure if Nick Senzel could handle center field last offseason. This year they know that he can. There’s also the fact that there’s one less year remaining before free agency for Jackie Bradley Jr. and that may be a factor. On the flip side, it may be a positive factor as it should mean it would require less to acquire him if the team were still interested. With regards to the Red Sox – they are trying to cut payroll, so a deal that would save them some money makes sense.
So that begs the question: Are, or should the Reds still be interested? When looking at the 2019 Cincinnati Reds and trying to find where they need to improve, the biggest area of need is offense. The Reds weren’t very good in this area. Some of that may be due to injuries – Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel both missed decent chunks of time and should be back in 2020 ready to go. But the team is still likely to need a middle infielder – perhaps two depending on what they plan to do with Freddy Galvis and his option.
Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t exactly an offensive thread. After hitting very well in 2015 and 2016 – .263/.345/.489, good for a 118 OPS+ – he’s dropped off the last three years, hitting just .234/.318/.409. That’s just a 90 OPS+, which is well below-average. He’ll be 30-years-old next year, so expecting a breakout would probably be a bad plan. But, he’s not a terrible hitter – he’s just not exactly a solid one these days, either. Sort of.
Bradley Jr. is a left-handed hitter. And he really struggles to hit lefties. Over the last two seasons he’s posted a .201/.286/.322 line against left-handed pitching. But against right-handed pitchers he’s hit .241/.328/.450. While you’d like to see a few more hits in there, that’s a solid on-base percentage for a center fielder, and that’s good power for one. And it would be foolish to not mention that starting next season the LOOGY will be gone, leaving fewer chances for opposing managers to try and match up a guy like Bradley Jr. against a left-handed reliever.
Given that Nick Senzel can absolutely play second base, the fact that he’s currently a center fielder doesn’t matter too much. The flexability here could make for a platoon in center field where a guy like Jackie Bradley Jr. starts there against right-handed pitching, with Senzel sliding to second base. But when a left-handed starter is on the mound, Senzel slides to center and someone else fills in at second. This could also happen later in games when a lefty reliever happens to be on the mound and you would prefer to pinch hit for Bradley Jr. instead of having him face a same-handed pitcher.
Defensively, Jackie Bradley Jr. is regarded as a good defender. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference rate his defense as above-average in their versions of WAR. Baseball Savant had him at +6 runs above-average this past season. He was at +12 the year before.
Defense wasn’t exactly one of the weaknesses of the 2019 Reds. But their outfield defense didn’t exactly stand out, either. Adding Jackie Bradley Jr. would certainly help move it in the right direction. Offensively, if used against right-handed pitching he’d probably help improve the offense a little bit. The Reds need to move that needle a lot, though. Especially if they want to compete for a playoff spot. This could be a move in the right direction, but they’d need to still be on the lookout for several other pieces – big, difference maker types of moves.