Thomas: Jackie Bradley Jr. DFA makes Renfroe trade look even worse originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
If the analytics revolution is about putting players in the best position to succeed, then man, did the Red Sox fail Jackie Bradley Jr.
Of all the moves Chaim Bloom has made since arriving as chief baseball officer in 2019, the Bradley trade may be the worst. From the moment the Red Sox reacquired the veteran outfielder for Hunter Renfroe last winter, they asked too much of him, and now he’s taking the fall for an imperfect roster.
The Boston Globe broke the news that Bradley was designated for assignment Thursday, and based on his numbers, it’s hard to argue. Bradley is hitting .210 with a .578 OPS, which places him 193rd out of 199 players with at least 275 plate appearances.
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But take a step back, and it’s clear that the Red Sox put Bradley in an untenable position. After signing a two-year, $24 million contract and then posting career-worst numbers with the Brewers, Bradley returned to Boston (A) to help acquire two prospects in exchange for Milwaukee dumping his salary, and (B) to serve as a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement.
No one expected him to be a full-time player, and yet he opened the season as the starting right fielder then basically stayed there until this week’s acquisition of Tommy Pham made him relatively expendable.
Part of his extended playing time was born of necessity after Kiké Hernández suffered a serious hip injury in early June, but it mostly reflected an appalling lack of planning. Bradley currently ranks fourth on the Red Sox in games played, right behind Bobby Dalbec, which explains a lot.
Trading Renfroe only made sense for 2022 if the Red Sox added a right-handed-hitting outfielder to start in right field and replace his considerable production (.251-31-96 last year), with Bradley available vs. right-handed pitching and as one of the game’s premier defensive replacements.
Not only did they fail to address that obvious need in March when the offseason resumed after the lockout, they ignored it until August, when they finally acquired Pham from the Reds.
Not the right move
Combined OPS of Red Sox right fielders (2022)
Hunter Renfroe’s OPS (2022)
In the meantime, they summoned Jarren Duran from Triple-A Worcester and made him their starting center fielder, even though he has trouble tracking fly balls in twilight. Once again, they failed to maximize Bradley’s skills, leaving him right alongside the overmatched Duran. An outfield alignment of Duran in the left, Bradley in the center, and Alex Verdugo in the right would have served them better than watching Duran treat inside-the-park grand slams with indifference.
Only when Pham arrived did they finally move Verdugo to the right. They’re now committed to Duran, who, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, is batting just .135 with 31 strikeouts in his last 20 games. Given his defensive limitations, it’s hard to argue he’s an upgrade over Bradley at this moment.
Either way, the Renfroe trade looks atrocious today. While selling high on the slugger made some sense, the swap considerably weakened the offense because Bloom never made a complementary move. Despite missing 30 games with calf and hamstring injuries, Renfroe still has 19 homers and an .806 OPS with the Brewers. He homered twice in his return to Boston last weekend.
The prospects the Red Sox received, who were really the key to the deal, look uninspiring. Speedy utilityman David Hamilton has stolen 50 bases in 54 chances at Double-A Portland, but he’s only hitting .231 and didn’t even make Baseball America’s list of the organization’s top 30 prospects.
Meanwhile, the more highly-touted Alex Binelas continues to flash raw power with 22 homers, but he’s hitting just .139 in 27 games since joining Double-A Portland. The third baseman who profiles as more of a first baseman or DH checks in at No. 22 on BA’s list.
The future of the Renfroe trade now rests entirely in their hands, because Bradley is gone. He could’ve been a good fit for the roster, which now has nowhere to turn for late-innings defense. But instead the Red Sox asked him to be something he simply isn’t, and now he’s paying the price.