Rumors

MLB Trade Deadline: Jackie Bradley Jr. could be a perfect center field fit for Phillies


Bradley Jr. could be for the current and future Phillies what Maddox was for the 70’s-80’s teams. (Keith Allison)

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches in Major League Baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies have a number of holes that could use filling if the club wants to seriously take a run at the 2019 postseason.

The struggles of the pitching staff are well known to all Phillies fans. The starting rotation could use two more reliable, veteran arms. The bullpen, struggling through numerous injuries all season, could use better options as well.

Among the reserve position players, a more reliable, veteran backup is needed at catcher. In addition, the club could use a more talented veteran bat with some pop than is currently available off the bench for manager Gabe Kapler.

The glaring need in the everyday lineup can be found out in center field. That is the one position that immediately jumps out as an area where improvement is needed.

During this season, the Phillies suffered the unexpected loss of the incumbent starter, Odubel Herrera, to his legal troubles and league suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident. It is not likely that he is ever going to appear in a Phillies uniform again, at least not if the fan base has anything to say about it.

Andrew McCutchen sliding over was a possibility, and the veteran actually filled in a number of games when Herrera had suffered an April injury. But McCutchen was also lost for the season when he suffered an ugly knee injury which required surgery. He will not return until spring training of next year.

Kapler has been trying to get by with a combination of the perpetually out-of-position Scott Kingery and the perpetually injured Roman Quinn. Also, youngster Adam Haseley has been given a shot when healthy.

But if the Phillies are serious about getting to the 2019 postseason and making a legitimate further run by 2020, they need a more proven answer in center field. Enter my suggestion as a potential trade target, Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley is a 29-year-old Virginia native who was the Red Sox pick at 40th overall in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of South Carolina. He made his big-league debut in the 2013 season, and is now in his fourth season as Boston’s full-time starter in center field.

He is not a big hitter, carrying a career slash line of just .237/.319/.405 over nearly 3,000 plate appearances. He has demonstrated some pop in the past, with a 26 homer-87 RBI campaign during his lone AL All-Star season back in 2016. He has modest speed, topping off with 17 stolen bases a year ago.

What Bradley brings to the Red Sox, and what he would bring to the Phillies were they to find a deal, is truly elite defense in the middle of the outfield. You see, for my money, Bradley is as good a defensive center fielder as I have ever seen. That is not a statement to be taken lightly when I got to see Garry Maddox roam the outfield every day for a decade in a Phillies uniform.

Bradley has won just one Gold Glove Award. That came for his work last year. And that is a flat-out crime, no disrespect to players such as Byron Buxton, Kevin Keirmaier, Brett Gardner, Kole Calhoun or Nick Markakis, each of whom has taken home one of those plaques awarded in the American League since the 2014 season.

With a defensive outfield of McCutchen in left, Bradley in center, and Bryce Harper in right, the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies would put one of the top defensive groups in the game out there day after day. This season, Bradley would help cover for some of left fielder Jay Bruce‘s defensive shortcomings.

On a championship contender with multiple offensive weapons, a defensive whiz as good as Bradley can be part of the lineup. The Phillies should have those weapons already in place with Harper, McCutchen and Bruce joining shortstop Jean Segura, catcher J.T. Realmuto, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, second baseman Scott Kingery and third baseman Maikel Franco – or top prospect Alec Bohm at the hot corner.

The present group has not produced as consistently as they are capable of during this 2019 season. I still expect them to elevate their individual and collective games over the final two and a half months. Much more should certainly be expected of them over the longer haul in the next couple of years.

Bradley can be a free agent after the 2020 season. The Phillies would have him for a run this year and next, unless they chose to extend him. If the Phillies could ink Bradley to a two-year extension, carrying him through 2022 and his age 32 season, that could be ideal.

The top overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, Mickey Moniak, would turn just 24-years-old in May of 2022. He is a center fielder who has begun to look like a potential big-league regular. Should that development path continue at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, then Moniak may be ready. But spending a year serving as a backup to acclimate could also prove valuable.

As a price for Bradley, the Red Sox, like most other clubs, would probably be looking at young pitching. Perhaps a combination of Adonis Medina with one of the more experienced arms such as Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez would get it done.

Why would Boston do it? First, the Red Sox can cover the position by sliding over left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who could be a strong center fielder in his own right. In return for a player who they could lose to free agency 15 months from now they would get a pair of live arms.

The Red Sox could call up one of the top power bats in the minor leagues, Bobby Dalbec, to play in left with the Green Monster behind him. Or Dalbec could play first, with Michael Chavis flipping to left. Boston could also shop for a short-term power bat to man the position.

Boston is currently sitting in third place in the American League East Division, nine games behind the arch-rival New York Yankees. They are 1.5 out as part of a five-team scrum within three games of one another in the AL Wildcard race.

The Phillies need more than this, I know. They still have to go out and get better quality pitching of their own. That is going to prove extremely difficult in the present market, with a number of contenders looking for the same thing, a few of whom seem better positioned to land the more talented and experienced available arms.

Fill in your holes. Try to make a run in 2019, but also keep an eye towards 2020 and the following couple of seasons as well. That is what a Bradley deal would be all about. Fill that center field hole with a truly elite defender, and move on to the filling the next hole. Pick up the phone, Matt Klentak, and give Boston GM Dave Dombrowski a call.

 

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