Except for some recent splashes made by the San Diego Padres, there has been relatively little news this offseason, especially regarding the 2021 MLB free agents. Some of the biggest names have yet to sign include Trevor Bauer and Carlos Correa. Another free agent who could be an impactful signing this offseason is former Red Sox outfielder, Jackie Bradley Jr. Let’s look at JBJ’s recent production, potential landing options, and value to try and predict where he will end up in 2021.
2021 MLB Free Agents: JBJ’s Production
During his time in Boston, Jackie Bradley Jr. was mainly known for his glove. Every year, JBJ was among the best defensive center fielders in the sport. While Bradley Jr. has only one Gold Glove award, he has been a finalist in three of the past five seasons. Bradley Jr. is now 30 years old, but there is no reason to believe that his defensive abilities will decline.
What could make JBJ more valuable than just a defensive player is his potentially improved batting skills. JBJ was never recognized as a good hitter, and with a career .239 batting average, there is a good reason why. In 2020, Bradley Jr. was able to post one of his best seasons at the plate hitting .283 with a 118 OPS+. If Bradley Jr. can replicate that production again, he should be viewed as one of the best 2021 MLB free agents available.
2021 MLB Free Agents: Where He Could End Up
The two clear favorites for signing JBJ this offseason are the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros. The Red Sox drafted JBJ in 2011 and have stuck with him for years despite constant trade rumors. Boston recently signed Hunter Renfroe to a one-year deal, but he is likely to be a platoon option in left along with Andrew Benintendi. With Alex Verdugo locked into right field, Boston still needs a center fielder, and Bradley Jr. staying with the team would fill that hole.
Another one of the 2021 MLB free agents, George Springer, could be a different option, but with Bradley Jr.’s history with the team, he would likely be a safer and less expensive option. A potential roadblock could be Boston’s unwillingness to discuss an extension with JBJ during the season, but in a COVID-19 impacted offseason, players are more likely than ever to accept the offer of whoever offers them the most money.
The Houston Astros could also be a good fit for JBJ. As mentioned above, Houston lost George Springer this offseason and will be needing at least one new outfielder. JBJ memorably played well at Minute Maid Park in the 2018 ALCS, winning series MVP. Houston has also reportedly been unwilling to offer Springer enough money to re-sign, so similarly to the Red Sox, Bradley Jr. is the cheaper and potentially more worthy option.
Some other less likely destinations for Bradley Jr. could be with the Mets, Blue Jays, or Phillies who are all looking to bolster outfield depth. The Mets in particular seem like an intriguing possibility, as new owner Steve Cohen is expected to be a big spender this offseason, bringing in some valuable 2021 MLB free agents.
2021 MLB Free Agents: Predicting Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Value
MLB Trade Rumors currently has Bradley Jr.’s contract as a two-year deal worth $16 million. This is about what I expect JBJ to make. Entering his age 31 season, teams will be less likely to take a long term risk with JBJ, but with the limited amount of pure center fielders in baseball, teams will want to make sure they have the position solidified.
When it comes down to it, Jackie Bradley Jr. is a very solid player who provides positive value, even when his bat is not doing well. He should be considered as part of the second tier of 2021 MLB free agents, right below Springer and Bauer. As a Red Sox fan, I hope he has not played his last games with Boston, but I know he will help out whatever team he ends up with.
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