It hasn’t been the best week for Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. First the struggling 24-year old was sent down to Triple A Pawtucket on Monday in favor of Mookie Betts (who has made the most of his opportunity). Then news came Friday morning that the Sox had inked Cuban centerfielder Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal, a record deal for an international signee.
You don’t have to look too deeply to read the writing on the wall. Bradley got a good audition at the major league level in 2014 and while he played Gold Glove defense, he struggled mightily at the plate. In a sampling of 348 at-bats over 112 games, Bradley hit just .216 with one home run and 30 RBI compared to 111 strikeouts. His .290 slugging percentage was the lowest among all qualifiers at the time of his demotion.
The message that has been relayed by the Red Sox is that Bradley didn’t necessarily lose his job, but rather that the team needed him to go down to the minors and refine his approach at the plate. But like they say, actions speak louder than words, and the actions put forth by Sox brass over the last week shows the team is looking at alternatives to Bradley in center.
Betts, plugged in at center in lieu of Bradley, was promoted not necessarily because of what he did over 45 Triple A games, but rather what he could bring to the big club. You know, can he give us what Bradley wasn’t able to?
The biggest shoe to drop, of course, has been Castillo. A $72.5 million investment is nothing to bat an eye at. He’s an speedy, athletic player who is said to have great defensive skills with a quick bat and 20-home run power. A guy who can hit first or second.
The only hope for Bradley, whose offensive ceiling appears as a bottom-of-the-order contributor who can hit about .260 or .270 with some speed (really a poor man’s Coco Crisp), is that Castillo is as much a centerfielder as Xander Bogaerts is a shortstop, and his weak arm relegates him to left field.
With that said, if Castillo does go the way of Jacoby Ellsbury circa 2010, the Red Sox have plenty of options beside Bradley. The Red Sox surplus of outfielders includes a number who can play center in Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava.
So he may not have lost his job per se, but Bradley might need to come up with something quickly if he’d like to save it.
Otherwise, if he stays in Boston, Bradley could find himself in a fourth outfielder role. A guy who comes in during the late innings as a defensive replacement for Castillo or Castillo’s fellow countryman Yoenis Cespedes, who is also defensively flawed.
The route out of Boston for Bradley at this point would be as a throw-in in an offseason trade. If the Philadelphia Phillies, who have seen more of the Red Sox in 2014 than some Red Sox scouts on account of how heavily they’ve scouted them, liked what they saw from Bradley; maybe he’s the last piece in a deal the could bring Cole Hamels — a left-handed ace the pitching staff craves — to Boston.
Bradley, long seen as the long-term replacement to Ellsbury, seems to be limbo. His stock has dropped throughout baseball. It’s obvious the Red Sox have little confidence in the centerfielder. He might still be viewed as the long-term answer in center. He might not. And things certainly seem to point at the latter based off what we’ve seen Ben Cherington do of late.
The Red Sox have shown us what they’re trying to accomplish with their recent shopping spree. Now it’s time for Bradley to show the Red Sox something he hasn’t already, or his days in Boston could be very numbered.