Cubs Mentioned Among Teams Interested in Former Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Heyo, we’ve got our first official Cubs target of the offseason. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, they are one of at least three teams with interest in former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Listed just outside the top 20 free agents by both MLB Trade Rumors and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, Bradley is projected to earn a short deal worth $8-11 million annually.
Free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. is drawing interest from the Phillies, Cubs, and Blue Jays, among other teams, as I mentioned this morning on @MLBNetwork. Bradley, 30, is coming off a season in which he posted a 118 OPS+, his best since 2016. @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 15, 2020
Those figures would seem to run contrary to the Cubs’ strategy since they non-tendered Kyle Schwarber rather than pay him at the low end of that scale. However, Bradley is a legit center fielder who showed an improved plate approach in 2020 and might be viewed as a great fit who would improve the overall outfield picture by pushing Ian Happ to left on a regular basis.
The fact that he might only be looking for a deal of one or two years is also attractive because 2021 will be his age-31 season. For the Cubs, that means potentially still getting prime production while giving top prospect Brennen Davis time to develop further. When you consider they’ve only got two regular outfielders on the roster as things currently stand, Bradley’s projected price tag makes a lot more sense.
Such a move wouldn’t be without risk, however, as Bradley’s 118 wRC+ in the shortened season was his first time above 90 since the 2016 season. His average exit velocity of 88.3 mph was his lowest since 2017 and his .343 BABIP appears to be unsustainably high after having never posted anything higher than .312 in his career.
Then there’s the matter of Bradley being a left-handed batter, which doesn’t really help a lineup that was historically bad against lefties after several seasons of regression in that regard. Though he put up a whopping 143 wRC+ with a 14.5% walk rate against southpaws in 2020, Bradley’s respective career marks of 84 and 8.3% tell us the small sample is aberrant. But hey, maybe he made some adjustments that he can maintain moving forward.
The Cubs are not alone in this particular pursuit, so it’s entirely possible or even likely that this amounts to nothing. Even if the optimistic coronavirus vaccine timeline and strong chances for expanded playoffs lead to bigger budgets around the league, Bradley may present enough risk at a high enough cost to give Jed Hoyer pause. That said, this particular rumor still provides a template for what the Cubs are likely to do this offseason.
Davis could very well be ready to take on an everyday role by 2022, so Hoyer doesn’t want to clog up the outfield in the meantime. At the same time, the budget theoretically still has plenty of room and several free agents like Bradley who fall outside the top tiers may only command short pillow deals. If we assume the Cubs will once again boost the baseball payroll after a cooling-off period, limited obligations this winter better allow them to thread the needle.
I’m not entirely convinced of Bradley’s fit, but getting anything close to his 2020 production could make for a very interesting move.