The Houston Astros need another outfielder, and an ideal option exists for them on the free agent market: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Two expensive signings relative to the Astros have taken place this offseason: them re-signing Michael Brantley and lifelong Astro George Springer signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. Meanwhile, right fielder Josh Reddick remains a free agent. Basically, two-thirds of manager Dusty Baker‘s 2020 starting outfield is gone — for the moment at least.
One figures that Brantley and Kyle Tucker man the corner outfield positions, but questions linger in center. Sure, the Astros could roll with and/or platoon Myles Straw and Pedro Leon in center. On the other hand, they could sign a player in his prime who’s a perfect fit for their depth chart.
Bradley is coming off a plausible season at the plate. Hitting .283 while posting an .814 OPS, a 118 OPS+, seven home runs, and 22 RBIs, he was a steady force for the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball’s 60-game regular season.
All in all, Bradley has been so-so in the batter’s box across his eight-year MLB career. He sports a career .239 batting average and a .732 OPS. Bradley also sports an 828:692 strikeout-to-hit ratio. What the center fielder did last season at the plate was unseen since his 2016 campaign, where he posted an .835 OPS and 87 RBIs.
That said, he finished in the top seven percent of MLB in average exit velocity in 2018 (92.2 mph) and has totaled 84 home runs since 2016 (2,199 at-bats). Bradley provides some pop from the left side.
Defense is what keeps Bradley on the field. He has a keen ability to get behind fly balls away from his vicinity, whether it be behind his head or in the gaps, and is a walking highlight reel. Bradley is sixth among MLB center fielders since 2016 in DRS (31). He’s one of the premier defenders in the sport.
Bradley would be Baker’s opening day center fielder, adding stability to their depth chart and filling the void Springer’s departure creates from a defensive standpoint. Bradley would also add a veteran bat to a versed positional depth chart. Bradley, Brantley, an advanced Tucker, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Yordan Alvarez would make for a dangerous offensive attack.
Yes, the Astros disgraced baseball with their illegal sign-stealing practices in 2017 and perhaps beyond. At the same time, most of the aforementioned players produced close to the level they did pre-sign-stealing revelations. They took the Tampa Bay Rays to seven games in the American League Championship Series after overcoming the Minnesota Twins and rival Oakland Athletics despite Justin Verlander being shut down for the season due to an arm injury.
Speaking of the A’s, the AL West is for the taking.
Oakland has lost Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks, and Robbie Grossman to free agency and continues to hit a wall in the AL Division Series; the Astros convincingly beat the A’s in the ALDS last season. Who else roams in the AL West? The Los Angeles Angels, who still haven’t added a difference maker to their starting rotation, the rebuilding Seattle Mariners, and the stagnated Texas Rangers.
As is, the Astros can compete for the playoffs and win their division. Re-signing Brantley on a short-term deal shows that the organization is intent on at least staying in the hunt, so why not go all in on this approach?
While Bradley likely seeks a long-term deal, his best bet could be a hefty, short-term deal given his offensive inconsistencies. He and the Astros agreeing to a deal along similar lines to the one they recently inked with Brantley (two-year, $32 million deal) is fair for both parties. Bradley gets a pay raise and stays in the AL while the Astros get an outfield enhancement.
Plus, the Astros have some future payroll flexibility as Verlander and Zack Greinke, who are due a combined $65 million in 2021, are free agents after this season. With the continued developments of some of their young arms, the Astros can afford to lose one of the two veterans, if not both next offseason.
Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t make the Houston Astros the team to beat in the AL. What he does do is make them a more complete ballclub. A well-rounded, functioning operation can put up a fight against anybody.