Free-agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who played for the Boston Red Sox from 2013 to 2020, has agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in free agency, per ESPN.
The contract reportedly includes an opt-out clause after the first season, meaning Bradley could become a free agent again next offseason.
The 30-year-old is one of baseball's best defensive outfielders, notably sporting a perfect fielding percentage in 2020.
A 2018 Gold Glove winner, he routinely makes highlight-reel catches, such as when he robbed New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge of a home run in 2017:
Bradley fared well at the dish in 2020, hitting a career-high .283 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. His .814 OPS was his best mark since his All-Star season in 2016. In between, Bradley largely struggled at the plate, hitting .234 with a .727 OPS from 2017 to 2019. The increase in defensive shifts have significantly hindered his offensive potential in recent years.
Christopher Smith of Mass Live wrote about that rise in July 2018. Of note, Baseball Savant credited teams with shifting 51.7 percent of the time in 2018, 68.8 percent in 2019 and 62.0 percent in 2020 compared to 33.1 percent in 2017 and 30.5 percent in 2016.
Bradley spoke with Smith about the difficulties associated with adjusting to the shift:
"Everybody's always saying, 'Oh, just go the other way. Yeah, you can say go the other way. But if a pitcher is pitching you inside, are you just going to try to knife it the other way? They (pitchers) want you to manipulate your swing. They want to get you to stop thinking about your strength to try to do something different. They're OK with giving up a single compared to an extra-base hit or a homer. They're OK with that."
Bradley did better in 2020, but he also benefitted from some good luck, with a BABIP of .343 (league average is .300). He notably hit the ball hard a career-low 27.1 percent of the time, per FanGraphs, meaning regression could be on the way next year.
That being said, fans saw glimpses of his offensive potential in the 2018 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, as he won the ALCS MVP thanks to a bases-clearing double, a grand slam and a two-run shot from Games 2 through 4, respectively.
Regardless of how Bradley performs at the plate, though, he should provide tremendous value for the Brewers defensively. He's been part of some excellent teams (including a World Series champion) and brings that pedigree over to Milwaukee.
The Brewers now sport a phenomenal defensive outfield with Bradley and the return of Lorenzo Cain, who won a Gold Glove during his last full season (2019). Cain opted out of the 2020 season after five games. Christian Yelich is a Gold Glove winner too, having taken home the award in 2014.
Milwaukee was looking for some extra outfield help after the team did not re-sign free agent left fielder Ryan Braun, who recently told Adam McCalvy of MLB.com that he's "not currently interested in playing."
Bradley may not provide Braun's pop, but he offers a defensive improvement and should cover a ton of ground with the rest of his outfield teammates. At any rate, he is a solid pickup for a Brewers team looking for a trip to the playoffs for the fourth straight year.