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Braves Potential Free Agent Target: Jackie Bradley Jr.

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Taking a look at the former Boston center-fielder

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jackie Bradley Jr. is an interesting potential free agent target for Atlanta. He’s played in Boston for his whole career, and the best way for me to describe his career so far would be “Ender Inciarte but with periods of actual above average offensive production”. He has been a spectacular defensive centerfielder, and has had multiple seasons at around 120 wRC+.

In the shortened 2020 season he posted a 119 wRC+ with a good balance of contact, on-base skills, and power. This has been his model for offensive success when he has been at his best. 2019 was much worse though on offense, at a wRC+ of 90.

Defensively, the metrics are conflicted. UZR and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) have him as neutral to slightly above average in the last two years, but Statcast’s OAA (Outs Above Average) have him in the 90+ percentile over that same period. All of the metrics graded him out as genuinely elite before 2019. I will call him a good defensive centerfielder conservatively.

Should the Braves sign him?

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

There are basically two realistic scenarios in which the Braves would sign Bradley Jr. as a starter. One scenario is if they have no intention of letting Ender Inciarte play meaningful innings and also want Pache to spend a good part of the next season in the minor leagues. In this scenario, Bradley could be a good defensive centerfielder for the club, with real offensive upside and an offensive floor that is close to Inciarte’s ceiling. One problem with this scenario is that Pache seems ready and is the level of prospect that I would not sign a non-star player to block. The other problem is that Inciarte would be sitting on the bench and being payed a lot of money for a player that could probably produce similar to what I would expect Bradley Jr. to produce. Additionally, this scenario would leave Atlanta still needing a starting left-fielder.

The second reason would be if they buy into his offense from 2020. This isn’t entirely insane, because he did have two full seasons before 2020 of well above average offensive production, but those were in 2015 and 2016. From 2017-2019 his season wRC+ has been 89, 90, and 90, which doesn’t exactly make me comfortable buying into an offensive resurgence. Buying into his offense seems especially dubious, since his Statcast batted ball profile (based on exit velocity and launch angle) already indicates that his 2020 offensive production was more luck-based than a real improvement in his play. He has a huge split between his xwOBA and wOBA, and all of his Statcast offensive metrics are either average or below average (aside from his BB%, which is actually in the 70th percentile). With all of that said, if Atlanta buys into his offense, he could be signed to play a corner outfield spot or center.

As you can tell, I do not find either of these scenarios in which Atlanta signs Bradley Jr. to be very compelling. There is a scenario in which I would love to have Bradley, however. This scenario is if his free agent market is either substantially depressed or virtually non-existent and he is willing to sign a relatively cheap deal as a bench player which is unlikely. Bradley is a good defender with the ability to play any spot in the outfield. He is also a lefty bat that is about league average against right handed pitching, and a good baserunner. He would be a fantastic piece of the bench, with the ability to come on as a defensive replacement for whoever ends up being Atlanta’s left-fielder (this would be especially useful for a Marcell Ozuna type), to pinch hit against right handed pitching, and to be a pinch runner if necessary. Ender Inciarte’s contract of $8 million to be a similar type of player to Bradley (albeit likely worse offensively) makes this scenario unlikely to actually happen in my opinion, but if Atlanta finds a way to trade Inciarte it might make a lot of sense.

MLB Trade Rumors projected Jackie Bradley Jr. for a two year $16 million contract in their top 50 free agents piece at the beginning of the offseason. This seems like more than Atlanta would pay him, since they would likely prefer to just sign Adam Duvall for cheaper to play left-field and allow Pache to roam center. Atlanta might be willing to spend a little bit more if they can off-load Inciarte in a trade. Bradley will likely be looking to sign somewhere where he can play every day, but the economics of baseball are strange right now, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.