The Boston Red Sox have plummeted from contenders to American League East bottom-dwellers. Then again, that always seemed like a possibility entering the unprecedented 2020 season.
President of baseball operations Chaim Bloom elected to trade Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past offseason rather than risk him possibly walking in free agency. Bloom also sent David Price to L.A. in that deal, and Boston's rotation was weakened further by the loss of left-handers Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (complications from COVID-19).
Boston's rotation has struggled. The Red Sox rank dead last in rotation fWAR, per FanGraphs. The bullpen has not been much better, ranking 26th in fWAR. Additionally, core guys such as Andrew Benintendi (.441 OPS in 14 games) and J.D. Martinez (.682) have been worse for wear.
However, Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has come on strong at the end of the season, making a strong case for himself in a walk year. Bradley had a .937 OPS in September entering Thursday night's game against the Baltimore Orioles and has also continued to flashed the leather. The former Gold Glover ranks first among outfielders in terms of outs above average (OAA), per Baseball Savant.
Peter Gammons of The Athletic reported the "plan to re-sign" JBJ, though he also noted Bradley's agent, Scott Boras, might demand more than the Red Sox can afford. Thus, Gammons suggested the Red Sox might try to sign Houston Astros center fielder George Springer if they feel Bradley's asking price does not match his value.
Let's take a look at the two players and where they might end up this winter.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley's defensive excellence has been evident since he took over as Boston's full-time center fielder in 2014. The Richmond, Virginia, native also flashed his potential at the dish after posting consecutive seasons with an OPS of at least .832 in 2015 and 2016.
The 30-year-old's defense has remained as good as any outfielder's in the bigs throughout the years. But the offense has left much to be desired.
Bradley failed to post a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) value above 90 for three straight seasons between 2017 and 2019, per FanGraphs, and his strikeout rate began to trend back up. But a strong September means Bradley will finish his 2020 campaign with some positives. Aside from the outstanding defensive metrics, his 110 wRC+ and 109 OPS+ values are his highest since 2016.
Bradley was shopped at the deadline, but Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported the Red Sox did not receive any suitable offers. There also seemed to be a disconnect between Bloom's subsequent statements suggesting the team wanted to retain Bradley and what had been communicated to JBJ, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe.
In spite of possible tensions stirred at the deadline, a reunion seems likely. Bradley offers plus-plus defense, and the Red Sox lack impact prospects who could replace him.
Boston will also likely spend on starting pitching, but Bradley should be their top priority as far as position players are concerned.
Prediction: Red Sox re-sign Bradley.
It is possible the Red Sox make an effort to sign Springer, especially given the uncertainties of the free-agent market because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, Springer would likely command a massive contract. The 31-year-old has overcome a slow start to his 2020 with a .979 OPS in September prior to Thursday's game against the Texas Rangers.
This season will mark Springer's sixth year with an OPS of at least .800 or higher, and he has an .850 career OPS. Springer also ranks fifth among outfielders in fWAR between 2016 and 2020, per FanGraphs, and fourth if you exclude Kris Bryant (primarily a third baseman).
Perhaps most importantly for Boston, Springer would be an ideal presence in the lineup given his comfort-level batting leadoff (.864 career OPS), particularly considering Benintendi (.451 OPS) struggled immensely in that spot this year.
However, it seems unlikely the Astros will let Springer walk.
Houston has a number of players hitting free agency, including Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel. They figure to re-sign at least one impact bat, and Springer has upside as a plus defender while also being younger than the other three names.
Not to mention, Springer has been a core member of an Astros team that has reached the World Series in two of the past three seasons.
Prediction: Astros re-sign Springer.