Boston bids farewell to JBJ, looks ahead

Cora: Bradley Jr. 'a solid player, better person'

March 4th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Jackie Bradley Jr. gets ready to join the Brewers after agreeing on a two-year, $24 million deal (according to a source), he leaves behind years of indelible moments with the Red Sox.

The circus catches over walls that saved many runs and several games. The jaw-dropping throws from the warning track. The barrage of big hits when he was on one of those patented hot streaks -- the surge en route to winning the 2018 American League Championship Series MVP Award was the most well-timed of them all.

The countless images of Bradley interacting with Red Sox fans at community events.

And most of all, the celebration he had with fellow outfielders Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts (both of whom were traded within the last year) that Sunday night at Dodger Stadium right after Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado to end the 2018 World Series.

“A solid player, better person, very consistent in everything he did. It was a pleasure to have him in the clubhouse, to know him off the field, and to know his family,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He’s an outstanding kid. He did some great things while he was here.”

Drafted in the first round of the 2011 Draft by the Red Sox after winning back-to-back championships at South Carolina, Bradley got to the Major Leagues within a couple of years and became a cornerstone -- and in '16, an All-Star -- for a team that won three straight AL East titles and a championship flag in ’18.

“Jackie is one of the most impressive people I’ve met in this game. He didn’t just play here and win championships here; he and his family became part of this community and gave back in so many ways,” wrote Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom in an e-mail.

“He did the Red Sox proud -- on the field, in the clubhouse and away from the ballpark -- every day he wore our uniform. Even though he’ll be elsewhere, how we feel about him won’t change. Jackie and [his wife] Erin and their kids will always be important to everyone here and we wish them the absolute best as they start this next chapter.”

In a vacuum, it would have made sense for Bradley and the Red Sox to stay together for longer. At 30 years old, Bradley should have plenty of good baseball left in him, and last year’s shortened season was one of his best (.814 OPS) offensively.

But considering where the Red Sox are as an organization, Bradley didn’t fit into the short- or long-term plans for a couple of reasons.

The first was payroll. The Red Sox have been candid that this is a season of rebuilding the foundation rather than going “all in” for a World Series, and signing Bradley would have put them over the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million.

The second is Jarren Duran. The exciting prospect -- who is ranked No. 8 in Boston’s system by MLB Pipeline and who is expected to vault into the top five entering this season -- sure looks like the center fielder of the future for the Red Sox. He has a nice combination of speed and power, and he is off to a strong start in Spring Training.

While it’s highly unlikely Duran will make the team out of Spring Training, he could be Major League-ready by mid to late season.

In the meantime, the Red Sox have a combination of athletes Cora is looking forward to mixing and matching in the outfield.

The one player who will be in the outfield just about every day is Alex Verdugo, but it isn’t clear yet if he will stay in right field (where he excelled last season) or replace Bradley in center.

Unlike most Major League parks, Fenway Park’s right field is considered every bit as challenging as center, if not more. Could the Red Sox play Verdugo in right at Fenway and center on the road?

“I'm not settled with any alignment. I'm settled with talent. We're going to be versatile and move people around,” said Cora. “Alex is a great outfielder. You saw it last year. In Fenway, I don't know how much value you give center field. I give right field a lot of value. There's not too much you can do going to your right as a center fielder. All you can do is either see it going over the Monster or play it off the wall, catch it and throw to second base. We think the real value is right field.”

Four new acquisitions (Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, Kiké Hernández and Marwin González) and primary designated hitter J.D. Martinez will be the other players who spend time in the outfield for the Red Sox.

Look for Cordero to play a lot against righties, Renfroe to play against all lefties (and some righties) and Hernández to play just about every day either at second base or in center field. González will stick to the corner outfield spots, said Cora.

Cordero, who has yet to work out for the Red Sox after starting Spring Training on the COVID-19 injured list, has played center the most of any position. He will also see his share of time in left.

Though Renfroe is mainly known for his power and has started just one game in center in his career, Cora thinks he’s athletic enough to play there. Right field is where he’s spent most of his career.

Though the glory days of Benintendi, Bradley and Betts are over, Cora is confident in what he will go to battle with in the outfield.

“One thing’s for sure. On a daily basis, we're going to match up with the opposition and have the best lineup possible, and we will play defense,” Cora said. “We will play defense. It doesn't look that way right now, but we will play defense.”

In Bradley, the Red Sox lose one of their best defenders ever, and someone who played 873 games for his original team, belting 98 homers with a .732 OPS.

“Actually I texted him this morning and said he has a fan from afar,” said Cora. “I’ll be paying attention. Obviously off the field, we’re going to keep having a relationship.”