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Jackie Bradley Jr. could be available, so should the Royals pursue him?

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He’d definitely be an upgrade, but at what cost?

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
Sep 9, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) catches a fly ball hit by New York Yankees designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Kansas City Royals are likely going to need some outfield help. Their current candidates include Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips, Erick Mejia, Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler, Ryan McBroom and maybe Alex Gordon if he decides to play one more season. There are certainly some capable names in there, though two of them could and possibly should be infield mainstays, one is absolutely a DH and the rest feature some array of post-hype prospect goodness. If the Royals went with that group just to see what they have in 2020, nobody would bat an eye. It might even be the best possible move.

But if they decide they want someone proven, and Dayton Moore has shown that even in the throes of a rebuild he does, a name emerged over the weekend. News surfaced that the Red Sox are likely to tender Jackie Bradley Jr. a contract and then pursue a trade with their center fielder. Bradley has long been an apple of Dayton Moore’s eye and really does fit what the Royals look for in a center fielder defensively, though the numbers showed a decline defensively.

Is Jackie Bradley, Jr. the Royals next center fielder? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.

Pros

  • The guy can go get it in center field. Again, his ratings slipped this season, but he combines a very good arm with enough speed. He’s certainly not a burner, but he can move. And center field in Fenway is a tough position to play with the deep corner and all the nooks and crannies, so he’d probably welcome an opportunity to patrol a symmetrical center field.
  • He provides stability. He’s had at least 535 plate appearances in each of the last four seasons. Talk all you want about Bubba Starling needing a chance to prove himself, but like Adalberto Mondesi, it seems that there’s an injury of some sort every single year. If you want to argue that the best ability is availability, Starling doesn’t provide that and having someone like Bradley there helps to take that sting away if something does come up.
  • He lengthens a lineup, at least compared to what the Royals have right now. After breaking out in 2015, Bradley had an excellent 2016 campaign. Since then, he’s dipped to being a slightly below-average hitter with a .234/.318/.409 line over the last three years. No, that’s not great, but not horrible. In a lineup where you feel pretty good at least about the top five, he doesn’t need to be a star in the lineup. One of the quickest ways for the Royals to improve is to build around the top of their roster with players who aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel. Royals center fielders in 2020 hit .211/.271/.294. Royals number seven hitters hit .196/.243/.287. Replace both those lines with what Bradley provides and that’s a big, big improvement.

Cons

  • While he can go get it in center field, the numbers are beginning to tell a tale that maybe the Royals don’t want to sign on for. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he’ll earn about $11 million in his final year of arbitration. Do you really want to spend 10 percent of payroll on a 30-year old center fielder with declining defense? Sure it’s better than spending any money on guys like Billy Hamilton or Chris Owings, but when the bar is that low, pretty much anything is better.
  • He strikes out A LOT. His 27.3 percent strikeout rate last year was the highest he’s posted since 2014 and 11th highest in the big leagues. And it’s not just one pitch he whiffs on. He hits fastballs just fine, but still has a 27 percent whiff rate. He hit .165 with a .319 SLG on offspeed pitches with a 39.2 percent whiff rate. And sure, he’ll turn around a hanging breaking ball, but he’ll also swing and miss on a heck of a lot of those too. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal in the bottom of the lineup when you add in the occasional pop and the fact that he does work some walks, but if the Royals want to get back to a content-oriented approach, Bradley doesn’t fit that bill well.
  • He might be a player who increased shifting could really be a career-destroyer. In 2019, his wOBA with no shift was a respectable enough .327. Against the shift, it was .304. In 2018, his wOBA with no shift was an excellent .376, but .249 against it. Moving half his games to Kauffman Stadium wouldn’t help that with fly balls far less rewarded than those in Fenway.

It really comes down to what the Red Sox are wanting for him. If it’s next to nothing, sure, it’s not a bad idea to give it a shot. And given how likely they are to move him, it might not be much. Is he worth a good chunk of their 2020 payroll and a player, though? The Royals don’t really need to make a move because they do have plenty of in-house options. Are any of them any good? My guess, outside of the infielders potentially moving to the outfield, is no. But it really is still just a guess and what looks to be another year of non-contention is a good time to turn that from a guess to actual knowledge.

Ultimately because the team is at least a year away from being relevant, I’d probably pass on spending the prospect capital (as limited as it might be) and the money (not insignificant for a team with a lower payroll) and try for someone a little more bargain-based on the free agent market. If they decide they want a center fielder or someone who can play there occasionally, they have options.

Pick up a Cameron Maybin or see if some fences can be mended with Jarrod Dyson or even see if Leonys Martin can capture some of the magic from a solid 2018 before his illness. If you fully trust Phillips/Starling in center, go get Corey Dickerson or someone of his ilk. Those all seem to be better options for the 2020 Royals than giving up an actual player and money for Jackie Bradley Jr. Of course, it would be fun seeing Merrifield play next to his old buddy. Still, while I’m relatively ambivalent on this issue because he would be a fairly significant upgrade, I’d likely look elsewhere and wish JBJ luck on a different team.

Poll

Should the Royals trade for Jackie Bradley Jr.?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Yes, no matter what.
    (49 votes)
  • 37%
    Only if the prospect price is right.
    (336 votes)
  • 57%
    No way.
    (514 votes)
899 votes total Vote Now