1:15 pm: The Red Sox have announced that Bradley has been released. He will now be free to sign with any team for the protated league minimum, with Boston on the hook for the remainder of his contract.
8:55 am: The Red Sox will designate veteran outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for assignment later today, reports Julian McWilliams of the Boston Globe.
Boston reacquired Bradley in an offseason trade that sent Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers. The trade netted the Red Sox a pair of prospects, infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton, and saw the Sox take on the second year of Bradley’s two-year, $ 24MM contract in the process. Effectively, the Sox purchased a pair of minor leaguers by bringing Bradley back into the fold and picking up the tab on his deal. Binelas and Hamilton rank as Boston’s No. 22 and No. 26 prospects, respectively, on Baseball America’s midseason ranking of their farm system.
There was certainly some reason for the Sox to roll the dice on a Bradley reunion even after an awful 2021 showing that saw him hit just .163 / .236 / .261 in 428 plate appearances as a Brewer. He remained an all-world defender in the outfield, was dogged by a .226 average on balls in play that sat 64 points below his career mark, and made hard contact at better-than-average rates (89.7 mph average exit velo, 40.3 % hard-hit rate). Of course, Bradley also punched out at a career-worst 30.8% clip in Milwaukee, walked at a career-worst 6.5% rate and popped up more regularly than ever before.
Bradley indeed did not hit as poorly as he did in Milwaukee, but this season’s .210 / .257 / .321 slash wasn’t nearly enough of a rebound to carry Bradley on the roster for the entirety of the season. He’s been 42% worse than league average with the bat, by measure of wRC +, and his defensive marks in center field have fallen off a bit this season (though he’s played right field more regularly anyhow).
25-year-old Jarren Duran has taken over the club’s regular center fielder, getting the bulk of the playing time there since mid-June. He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, hitting a meager .232 / .280 / .384, but his wRC + of 82 is still well ahead of Bradley’s, though with worse defensive numbers. It seems the club will continue giving him a run of playing time for now to see how he fares down the stretch. Boston acquired Tommy Pham at the deadline, which likely played a part in nudging Bradley out of the corner outfield picture. Pham, Duran and Alex Verdugo will likely be the regular outfield rotation, with Jaylin Davis around as depth and Enrique Hernandez joining the mix once he returns from the injured list.
As for what happens now, there’s no way for the Sox to work out a trade since the deadline has passed. Their only options with Bradley are to put him on waivers or release him. Bradley’s defense will surely intrigue some other teams, but it seems unlikely any team will claim him given his poor offensive performance and contract situation. He’s making a $ 9.5MM salary this year, leaving a little over $ 3MM still to be paid out. There’s also a $ 12MM mutual option for 2023 with an $ 8MM buyout. Any team putting in a claim would be on the hook for that money. Even the clubs most interested in Bradley will likely just wait for him to clear waivers, at which point he could elect free agency and be signed for the prorated league minimum with the Red Sox on the hook for the remainder.
In the short-term, the trade certainly looks like a misfire for the Sox, with Renfroe having a solid season for the Brewers. He’s hit 19 home runs and is slashing .246 / .299 / .508 for a wRC + of 120. However, the long-term evaluation of the deal will depend upon the future development of Binelas and Hamilton.