Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Jackie Bradley Jr. in Free Agency

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2020

Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Jackie Bradley Jr. in Free Agency

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    This year's MLB free-agent market has two starting-caliber center fielders: George Springer and Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Springer's market will be limited to teams willing to offer an annual value north of $20 million and perhaps an overall contract value in excess of $100 million, but the lower price point on Bradley means a wider net of potential landing spots.

    A reunion with the Boston Red Sox, the only team he's played for during his eight-year career, remains a distinct possibility.

    However, a number of other teams are hot on his trail, and he stands as one of the market's most compelling players given his up-and-down offensive production and game-changing defense in center field.

    With free agency underway, let's look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Bradley based on their financial flexibility, roster needs and status as contenders.

No Chance

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    The Angels already have a pretty good center fielder...
    The Angels already have a pretty good center fielder...Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    30. Pittsburgh Pirates

    If you were a high-profile free agent drawing interest from multiple contenders, would you sign on to a lengthy rebuild in Pittsburgh? Yeah, me neither.

              

    29. Baltimore Orioles

    With Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart already in the mix, the outfield is one of the few areas the O's can build around. Marginal pitching upgrades and low-cost infield talent will be their focus this offseason.

              

    28. Kansas City Royals

    The Royals already found their center fielder for 2021, with Michael A. Taylor signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract a week ago. They will continue to bargain-hunt, likely sticking to stopgap deals as they rebuild.

              

    27. Seattle Mariners

    It's easy to dream on a future outfield of Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez in Seattle, to say nothing of a potentially healthy Mitch Haniger in 2021. The Mariners could make noise in free agency this winter, but they won't spend in the outfield.

                  

    26. Arizona Diamondbacks

    The decision to trade Starling Marte less than a year after they acquired him from the Pirates seemed to be a white-flag wave for the Diamondbacks. A youth movement could be forthcoming, and that means giving Daulton Varsho regular playing time in center field while top prospect Alek Thomas continues to climb the minor league ranks.

                 

    25. Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays are considering trading ace pitcher Blake Snell because of financial losses, per MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, so it's hard to imagine a scenario in which they spend big on Bradley. They already have a similar glove-first center fielder in Kevin Kiermaier, and he's set to be the team's highest-paid player in 2021 at $11.7 million.

                   

    24. Los Angeles Angels

    The Angels need pitching above all else, and with Mike Trout, Jo Adell and Justin Upton locked into starting outfield spots and Brandon Marsh waiting in the wings, outfield help should be at the bottom of their offseason list.

No Clear Fit

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    The return of Lorenzo Cain will plug Milwaukee's hole in center field.
    The return of Lorenzo Cain will plug Milwaukee's hole in center field.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    23. Oakland Athletics

    The A's will need to replace Robbie Grossman if they don't re-sign him. However, they already have a standout defensive center fielder in Ramon Laureano, so expect them to prioritize offense in filling the left field void. If they're going to spend beyond their usual limits, Bradley doesn't make the most sense.

               

    22. Minnesota Twins

    Does a non-tender of Eddie Rosario put the Twins in the market for an outfielder? Maybe, but the more likely outcome is that top prospect Alex Kirilloff has a clear path to playing time after he made his MLB debut in the postseason. Byron Buxton and Bradley might also be too similar to fit on the same roster.

       

    21. St. Louis Cardinals

    Upgrading a lackluster offense is the biggest priority for the Cardinals, so it's unlikely they will be interested in adding Bradley. They already have light-hitting Harrison Bader in center field, and he's a cheaper option than JBJ, with equally impressive defensive chops.

               

    20. Los Angeles Dodgers

    There's a scenario in which Gavin Lux is still not ready for the starting second base job, Max Muncy serves as the Dodgers' primary second baseman, Cody Bellinger moves back to first base and center field becomes a need. However, it's more likely they simply use Chris Taylor at second base if Lux goes to the minors.

                 

    19. New York Yankees

    Even if the Yankees don't re-sign Brett Gardner, they still have Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman and Giancarlo Stanton when he's not DHing as options in the outfield. There's some history of the Yankees swooping in on Red Sox center fielders with the Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury signings, but Bradley doesn't make much sense.

                

    18. Colorado Rockies

    Even after the non-tender of 2019 All-Star David Dahl, the Rockies still have Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson, Ian Desmond and Yonathan Daza all vying for outfield playing time, so they don't seem like an obvious suitor for Bradley. Then again, when is the last time the Rockies have approached the offseason with any semblance of a plan?

              

    17. Atlanta Braves

    The decision to non-tender Adam Duvall does not mean the Braves are in the market for outfield help. They still have Ronald Acuna Jr., Cristian Pache, Ender Inciarte and Drew Waters in the mix for outfield playing time, and the door is far from closed on a reunion with Marcell Ozuna, who would have to play the outfield if there is no universal DH in 2021.

              

    16. Milwaukee Brewers

    The Brewers were forced to use Avisail Garcia as their primary center fielder after Lorenzo Cain opted out of the season, but the latter will be back in 2021. Cain has played a good amount of right field in the past, and Ryan Braun is possibly headed for retirement, so an outfield of Christian Yelich, Bradley and Cain with Garcia as the fourth outfielder could work. Their spending will likely be focused on pitching, though.

Dark Horses

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    The decision to non-tender Kyle Schwarber opens up a spot in the Chicago outfield.
    The decision to non-tender Kyle Schwarber opens up a spot in the Chicago outfield.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    15. San Diego Padres

    The Padres seem to have finally found the long-term answer in center field in Trent Grisham. Still, they could use additional outfield depth. Tommy Pham and Wil Myers are slated to start at the corners, but the only other outfielders on the 40-man roster are Greg Allen, Jorge Ona and Jorge Mateo. They can aim a bit lower for a fourth outfielder, but never say never with general manager A.J. Preller.

             

    14. Washington Nationals

    The Nationals cut ties with Adam Eaton and Taylor this offseason, leaving an outfield vacancy alongside Juan Soto and Victor Robles. They could give Andrew Stevenson a longer look after he hit .366/.447/.732 with 10 extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances, but he has generally been viewed as a glove-first fourth outfielder. After Washington struggled offensively, Bradley might not fit what they're looking for, but it's a thin outfield market, so he can't be ruled out.

                

    13. Chicago Cubs

    The Cubs non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., leaving Ian Happ and Jason Heyward as the only outfielders on the 40-man roster. They'll add at least one starting-caliber outfielder, and shifting Happ to left field would make sense given his below-average career metrics in center field (-5 DRS). An on-base standout like Michael Brantley or Grossman should be their top target, but Bradley is also a potential fit.

                  

    12. Detroit Tigers

    The Tigers have settled for one-year, stopgap options the last few offseasons, and they could take a similar approach again while they continue to wait on the development of their young talent. However, after a surprising 17-16 start to the 2020 season, perhaps they're willing to open things up a bit this offseason. The outfield is an obvious area to upgrade, and Bradley could also be a solid veteran voice in the clubhouse.

              

    11. Miami Marlins

    Marte was a two-time Gold Glove winner in left field before he shifted to center field in Pittsburgh, so his presence on the Marlins roster is not a roadblock to signing Bradley. Corey Dickerson and Garrett Cooper could platoon in right field, though that would essentially mean throwing in the towel on Lewis Brinson. The Marlins are one of the tough teams to nail down this offseason.

                

    10. Texas Rangers

    The Rangers have long been searching for an answer in center field, and they may have one in Leody Taveras. He made his MLB debut in July at age 21, but he hit just .227 with a 32.1 percent strikeout rate and would benefit from further development. Despite an offseason of cost-cutting, the front office could still plug a hole and add a veteran voice to the rebuild if the price is right.

                  

    9. Cleveland Indians

    Remember the days of Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez patrolling the Cleveland outfield? How far that unit has fallen. None of the team's starting outfielders posted an OPS+ above 80 in 2020, and two of themDelino DeShields and Tyler Naquinhave since been shown the door. They're cutting costs as usual, but Bradley could be a worthwhile investment if they still view themselves as a 2021 contender.

                 

    8. Chicago White Sox

    The White Sox are one of the few teams that can justify targeting Bradley to play a position other than center field. They already have a Gold Glove center fielder in Luis Robert, but with a stacked offense in place, they could prioritize defense when addressing their right field vacancy. The pitching staff would certainly welcome the idea of Robert and Bradley sharing the same outfield.

7. Cincinnati Reds

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    Shogo Akiyama
    Shogo AkiyamaJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Shogo Akiyama hit .245/.357/.297 for a 76 OPS+ in 183 plate appearances in the first season of a three-year, $21 million contract, failing to fill the center field void as hoped for the Cincinnati Reds.

    The 32-year-old hit .303/.392/.471 with 31 doubles and 20 home runs during his final season in Japan, and he'll probably get every chance to live up to his salary in the final two years of his contract.

    However, if the team wants to upgrade, Bradley is a more likely target than perhaps any other outfielder on the market given the defensive shortcomings of corner outfielders Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker.

    With Trevor Bauer reaching free agency and with The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal noting Sonny Gray is on the trade block, defense behind a less potent starting rotation could be a priority.

6. San Francisco Giants

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    Mauricio Dubon
    Mauricio DubonJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    After non-tendering Kevin Pillar last offseason, the San Francisco Giants turned to young middle infielder Mauricio Dubon as their primary center fielder.

    The 26-year-old held his own while learning a new position on the fly, and he's athletic enough to improve with more reps, but he may wind up back on the dirt once shortstop Brandon Crawford reaches free agency after the 2021 season.

    Where does that leave the Giants in the outfield?

    They could simply use Dubon to bridge the gap to top prospect Heliot Ramos. The 21-year-old could be ready to debut in 2021 after closing out the 2019 season with 25 games at Double-A, and he has looked the part of a future center fielder defensively.

    However, if the Giants have their sights set on more immediate contention, Bradley will fill the void nicely, and there is plenty of room to fit him into the budget with a ton of money coming off the books the next two years.

5. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Adam Haseley
    Adam HaseleyFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Phillies used Roman Quinn (116 PA, 54 OPS+, -0.1 WAR) and Adam Haseley (92 PA, 87 OPS+, -0.1 WAR) in center field in 2020, so it shouldn't be hard for them to find an upgrade.

    Haseley, 24, was the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft and has shown flashes, but Philadelphia can't go into the season counting on him to be the everyday answer. Quinn simply doesn't have the bat to be anything more than a speed threat off the bench.

    Ideally, the Phillies would find a right-handed hitting platoon partner for Haseley while he continues to settle into the big leagues, but it's also worth considering shifting him into the fourth outfielder role and signing Bradley to start in center field.

    Philadelphia's offseason musts are upgrading the bullpen and replacing Jake Arrieta in the starting rotation, but addressing center field should also be a priority.

4. New York Mets

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    Brandon Nimmo
    Brandon NimmoJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    If the New York Mets sign Bradley, what will happen to Brandon Nimmo?

    Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith had stellar 2020 seasons while manning the corner outfield spots (Smith split his time at first base), so it's unlikely Nimmo would push either of them to a bench role.

    He could be used as a trade chip, but his elite on-base ability and two remaining years of club control might be worth more to the team than the defensive upgrade Bradley would provide.

    Nevertheless, the Mets have been pointed to as a potential landing spot for some of the top outfielders on the market, so perhaps they have a plan in place for how to handle what would become a logjam.

3. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Randal Grichuk
    Randal GrichukMatt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays have seemingly been linked to everyone this offseason, and they have reportedly scribbled Springer and Bradley onto their long shopping list.

    With Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez locked in to the corner spots and coming off stellar seasons that seemed to solidify their places as long-term pieces, that's bad news for Randal Grichuk.

    The 29-year-old posted a 114 OPS+ with 12 home runs and 35 RBI in 2020, but his defense in center field left a lot to be desired (-8 DRS, -11.8 UZR/150), and that cut into his value.

    With three years and $31 million left on his contract, the team will be motivated to find a spot for him in the lineup, and perhaps he will fit best in the DH role going forward.

    That would open up center field for Bradley, who would then have the opportunity to play against his former team on a regular basis in the American League East.

2. Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    If he has in fact played his last game in a Red Sox uniform, Bradley will go down as one of the better center fielders in franchise history.

    Here's a look at where he ranks in terms of WAR:

    • Tris Speaker: 55.8
    • Reggie Smith: 34.2
    • Dom DiMaggio: 33.1
    • Fred Lynn: 32.0
    • Jacoby Ellsbury: 21.3
    • Jim Piersall: 20.3
    • Ellis Burks: 18.6
    • Chick Stahl: 18.1
    • Jackie Bradley Jr.: 17.8
    • Johnny Damon: 16.5

    The Red Sox have shown interest in re-signing him.

    "At this point Jackie knows how we feel about him," Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters after Bradley stayed put at the deadline. "I think he, also as he said, has put a lot of time in this game to earn the right to see what the market has for him. But I don't see those two things as opposed at all. I think he has earned that right and he also knows how we feel about him."

    If Bradley does walk, Andrew Benintendi is capable of manning center field, which would open things up for Boston to pursue a more offensive-minded player in left field. Expect the Sox to make every effort to keep Bradley around, though.

1. Houston Astros

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    George Springer
    George SpringerGregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Houston Astros appear to be the team most likely to sign Bradley away from the Red Sox.

    According to MLB insider Peter Gammons, the Astros have made Bradley "a priority" this offseason, which lines up with what will be the biggest hole on the roster if longtime center fielder George Springer signs elsewhere as expected.

    Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are also free agents, leaving Kyle Tucker as the only sure thing in the Houston outfield.

    MLB Trade Rumors predicted at the start of the offseason that Bradley would sign with the Astros on a two-year, $16 million deal.

    There seems to be enough interest for him to get a third year and a slightly higher annual salary, but they nailed the landing spot. The Astros will sign him to a three-year, $30 million deal and take a major step toward shoring up their outfield.

       

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.