During the winter season, the Cleveland Indians are looking to improve their 2020 team, and the rumor mill has begun. One of the more common links to the Indians is Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Cleveland Indians have plenty of holes to fill this winter. Like many teams, the Indians are also trying to determine how to balance short-term vs long-term strategies for success. Balancing the current window to win-now with the current core (Francisco Lindor), while also maintaining clean long-term financials can be tricky.
This is where the case for Red Sox CF Jackie Bradley Jr. starts to make sense. Bradley is being shopped by the Boston Red Sox, who are looking to restructure their financial spending, and move an expiring player who may not be in their long-term plans.
He debuted with the Red Sox in 2013, and had his best season in 2016, when he hit .267, 26 home runs, and posted a 5.5 WAR. Since then his offensive statistics have dropped each season. In 2019, he hit just .225 with 21 home runs and a 2.0 WAR. In 2020, Bradley enters the final year of his contract, and according to Spotrac will earn $11 million.
On the surface, your initial reaction should be, “Why would he fit with the Indians?” It’s true, the declining statistics are a red flag. In addition, the Indians got great contributions in 2019 from Oscar Mercado. It’s unlikely that Bradley could replace Mercado at CF. His value starts as one of the corner OF positions, and as a top of the lineup hitter to move Lindor down the order.
After those two points, the reasons to trade for Bradley outweigh the negatives. At $11 million for the 2020 season, he should be cheaper than a large portion of the free agents the Indians could sign to help them win now. Bradley brings a championship pedigree, and experience playing in the biggest games. He’s also a plus defender who won a Gold Glove for his defensive play in 2018.
His defensive capabilities create an opportunity for the Indians. Outside of Mercado, the remaining outfielders all have deficiencies on defense. Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow, and Franmil Reyes have flaws that will hurt the backbone of the Indians; the pitching.
There is hope that Tyler Naquin returns from injury early in the season, and possibly calling up Bradley Zimmer, but those are IF’s. Improving the defense helps reduce runs, and the Indians will look to win with their pitching and defense in 2020.
There is also the consideration that pending whom the Indians would trade to acquire Bradley, his acquisition can help them in the near term and the long term. In the short term, he would be a valuable asset on a playoff contender. There are many cases where a contract year, or a change of scenery improves the offensive performance of players.
Should the Indians fall out of contention or trade Lindor, he will have trade value to contending teams. If he shows any uptick in offensive performance, his value will only increase, and allow the Indians receive prospects in return.
While his 2019 road average of .191 is also a concern, his power is not. He hits around 20 home runs each season, which was more than corner outfielders Bauers and Luplow. Even the midseason trade of Yasiel Puig didn’t garner the power results the Indians were seeking.
The other reason the Indians are linked to OFs this winter is because of the injury history of Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer. Bradley, to his credit, has played more than 130 games in each of the last four seasons.
Whether you are on the fence or not with a trade for Bradley, the reason I am ok with such move is the benefits he would provide defensively, and as a hedged bet trade acquisition. The season could take many different turns and having an asset in trades like Bradley, as well as a postseason veteran, would benefit the Indians. The only way such a trade would backfire is if Bradley uncharacteristically got injured early in the 2020 campaign.
Regardless, the rumors around Jackie Bradley Jr. are just one of many this winter that will involve the Indians. Get ready for some creative roster building by Chris Antonetti as we head closer and closer to the 2020 season.