Texas Rangers: Could a Jackie Bradley Jr. trade be an option to fill CF?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 29: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on September 29, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 29: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on September 29, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Texas Rangers could be in the market for a center fielder and Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. could be available via trade. Is there a match to be made?

After sending out their only true center field option for 2020, Delino DeShields, in the trade that brought Corey Kluber to Arlington, the Texas Rangers could be in the market for a center fielder. Coincidentally, the Boston Red Sox are looking to shed payroll this offseason and Jackie Bradley Jr. could be available via trade because of that. If the 29-year old is available, should the Rangers be interested?

As it stands now, Danny Santana is set to be the Rangers center fielder on Opening Day with Scott Heineman expected to be the back up. Santana, coming off a career year, has more than earned a shot to be an everyday player come 2020 but the idea of that role coming as a center fielder is a bit concerning. At the plate, Santana was one of the most important players the Rangers had last season with a slash line .283/.324/.534 in 130 games. He hit 28 homers, four times his previous career high of seven in 2014, and played a crucial utility man role around the diamond. He never really played a consistent position all season getting time at every position except pitcher and catcher.

Despite all the buzz though and him seemingly cementing his role as an important player next season, he still was without a defensive home. When center field opened up, it seemed the natural fit but defensively, Santana is a bit suspect. In 191.2 innings in center field last season Santana posted a -29.2 UZR/150. His career average is better but at -7.2 UZR/150, there’s plenty to be desired. And with Willie Calhoun, who has some defensive limitations himself set to be the everyday left fielder, perhaps Texas would benefit from a more defensively stable player in center.

Enter Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox outfielder is expected to make $11 million next season per Spotrac, his final year of arbitration. For a club trying to limit a ballooning payroll like Boston, that figure could mean he finds his way to the trade block. JBJ was rumored early in the offseason to be a non-tender candidate but it seems Boston either felt they could make the finances work or at the very least, get something in return for him rather than let him leave for nothing.

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At the plate, Bradley Jr. struggled last season hitting just .225 in 147 games, his lowest average since he hit .198 in 2014. However, he managed to reach base at a .317 clip due to his impressive 9.9% walk rate. That on-base percentage is only seven points lower than that of Danny Santana, whose average was 59 points higher. JBJ’s elevated walk rate is mostly in line with his career numbers too meaning he should be a consistent on-base option in 2020, even if his average still leaves something to be desired. He actually posts offensive numbers that somewhat resemble those of Delino DeShields, however his 21 homers and OPS of .738 in 2019 are both significant upgrades.

Defensively though is where Bradley Jr. still brings value, despite down numbers last year. Predominantly a center fielder throughout his career, JBJ has a 6.5 UZR/150 rating through his time in the majors thanks to his ability to make plays considered ‘unlikely’ or worse. The 2019 season was difficult in the field through as his normally good outfield play dipped to a career worst -1.8 UZR/150 when playing as an everyday center fielder. Still, that number is far better than Danny Santana and JBJ is only a year removed from 2018 when he had career best defensive ratings.

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While trading for a player coming off a down year with only a year left on their contract sounds like a strange move, Texas could get in on a Bradley Jr. trade without losing much as a return. Boston likely tendered the outfielder in hopes that they could recoup at least some value and as their desperation to shed salary seems to grow, they could be incentivized to move him for less than hoped. In the end, the payroll hit would be the only substantial cost to the Rangers as they’d take on all of his 2020 expected salary. However, because he only has one year left of arbitration, the financial burden is lessened knowing he’ll be off the books next offseason.

Acquiring Jackie Bradley Jr. would also raise some eyebrows because he’s a left-handed bat, something Texas has been trying to avoid this offseason. However, unlike Nomar Mazara who was more or less traded because he was a lefty outfielder, Bradley Jr. brings value defensively and can play all three outfield spots, not just one. This move would allow Texas to move Santana back into his everyday utility role, one he seemed comfortable in last season. If they still wanted Santana to play a primary position every game, they could try and convert him into a long-term first baseman given the struggles of Ronald Guzman at the plate. Santana played some innings at first last season to mixed results, but a full spring of work at first could get his defense to a respectable level.

Making a move for Bradley Jr. would increase the Rangers offensive production from center field compared to last season while also making sure the sting of losing a defensive player like Delino DeShields is lessened. If it works out, the price feels like a bargain with the prospect return to Boston minimal and the financial investment tolerable. If it doesn’t, Bradley Jr. would just be a grossly overpaid fourth outfielder for one season and then the Rangers could hit the reset button on center field in 2021, perhaps when top prospect Leody Taveras is ready for the big leagues.

Next. Could Willson Contreras be a trade target at catcher?. dark