Red Sox's Top Options in Free Agency, Farm System to Replace Jackie Bradley Jr.March 4, 2021
The Boston Red Sox will enter the 2021 season with a new center fielder after reports that Jackie Bradley Jr. is set to join the Milwaukee Brewers.
According to the Boston Globe's Julian McWilliams, Bradley plans to sign a two-year, $24 million contract with the Brewers that includes an opt-out clause after 2021.
Bradley wasn't expected to return to the Red Sox, so the team has been building their outfield depth this offseason to find someone who could replace him. The most-likely option to man center field is Alex Verdugo, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade in February 2020.
Boston also has Franchy Cordero, acquired from the San Diego Padres as part of the Andrew Benintendi trade last month, on the 26-man roster to play the position. There aren't many readily-available options in the farm system to choose from.
Jarren Duran seems poised to start this season in Triple-A, but the 24-year-old has yet to play a game at that level and is still learning to play center field after being drafted out of Long Beach State as a second baseman in 2018.
The pool of free-agent center fielders is very thin at this point. Danny Santana is the best player still on the market with extended experience playing the position, but he's had just one season with an OPS+ above 64 since 2015.
Verdugo is the most logical option for manager Alex Cora to take over for Bradley. The 24-year-old spent most of last season alternating between right and left field, but he played 67 games in center from 2017-19 with the Dodgers.
MLB.com noted in 2017 that Verdugo has the instincts to play center field, even though his speed isn't a natural fit for the position. His offense will be far more valuable if he's able to play in the middle of the diamond instead of playing a corner spot.
Verdugo hit .308/.367/.478 with six homers and 15 RBI in 53 games last season. Cordero has the speed to play center—he finished in the 94th percentile of all MLB players in sprint speed during the 2018 season—but the 26-year-old has been unable to stick in the big leagues because of his .236/.304/.433 slash line in 95 career games.
The Red Sox acquired Verdugo hoping he would at least make for a suitable replacement for Betts. His first year with the team was a success and a move to center field could be the final step toward him becoming an All-Star.