Although we focus on the Cubs’ side of today’s tender deadline primarily because we have our hands a little more around their decisions, there are obviously big decisions going on all around baseball today.
Big decisions, and also likely a number of trade conversations – “are you sure you don’t want to send us a little something for this guy today? If you don’t, we might just non-tender him and he’ll be a free agent for everyone to try to sign … ” – so we usually see a little activity today.
For the Cubs, that most likely means last-minute attempts to move Addison Russell before tonight’s tender deadline, but I doubt they find a suitor who wants him at $5+ million in arbitration and would give up a PTBNL or whatever. We’ll see. But what about acquisitions? Cubs on anyone in trade today?
I also tend to think that’s a no. Remember, most of the guys on the tender bubble today are there because their current team sees their future production being potentially outpaced by their cost in arbitration. Not exactly something the Cubs are in a position to jump all over.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching the tender decisions closely. In fact, Ken Rosenthal drops a bit of a surprise candidate for the Cubs’ open center field spot: Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Bradley, 30 in April, is projected by MLBTR to make $11 million in 2020, his final year of arbitration. With the Red Sox trying to get back under the luxury tax, that’s a relatively huge hit for a guy who hasn’t posted an above-average offensive season since 2016, and whose defense took a step back in 2019 by the various metrics. You always want to hope on the 5+ win guy he flashed in 2016, but after three years of apparent decline, you can understand why the Red Sox might just want to move on.
And if they do, Rosenthal pegs the Cubs as among the possibly interested teams, together with the Diamondbacks:
If non-tendered, Bradley would become a free agent entering his age-30 season. The Diamondbacks, a team headed by three former Red Sox executives, would have interest, according to major-league sources. The Diamondbacks, who lean slightly toward Ketel Marte getting the majority of his time at second base, are exploring every center field option.
The Cubs might be another possibility for Bradley, who was part of Theo Epstein’s last draft class with the Red Sox in 2011. Epstein had interest in acquiring Bradley to replace Dexter Fowler after the 2015 season, but Bradley was coming off a breakout year. The Cubs ended up re-signing Fowler and winning the World Series.
The Cubs, of course, already have a questionable tender available in center field in Albert Almora, whose offense has also dipped and whose defensive metrics also took a step back last year. I’m not sure how exciting a proposed platoon would look either, given that Almora hasn’t consistently hit lefties in a year, and Bradley, who bats from the left side, was barely a league-average hitter (101 wRC+) against righties last year (and for his career, he’s slightly below average against righties).
Throw in the fact that Bradley’s strikeout rate has risen three straight seasons to reach an ugly 27.3% this past year, and I have a hard time seeing the fit here.
The flip side, I suppose, is that the Cubs clearly want to add to their outfield, and if Bradley is non-tendered and finds almost no market out there for him in free agency, well, sure. Consider him for the outfield mix if you believe he’ll improve with a new organization. But aggressively pursuing him after a non-tender for the purposes of making him the starter in center field or even the strong side of a platoon with Almora? Nah. Nah. I don’t see that.
In general, though, I do like that Bradley’s presence on the market could at least create a little more optionality out there for other clubs looking at center field (just as I like Starling Marte being on the trade market, whether the Cubs pursue him or not). It’s not a secret that, all else equal (i.e., if he’s healthy) and on a reasonable deal, Shogo Akiyama is the guy I want the Cubs to land for center field. The Diamondbacks have also been heavily linked to Akiyama, so if Bradley’s presence gives them another option and maybe helps the Cubs finish things up with Shogo? Well groovy!
Still, there’s the obvious past connection here between the Cubs’ front office and Bradley (he was a big-money supplemental first rounder in Theo Epstein’s final Boston draft), and we know they aren’t going to ignore any possible outfield options this offseason. Like I said, I don’t have a problem with Bradley coming over as part of the outfield mix if his market craters in free agency – the Cubs are woefully lacking in quality outfield depth beyond the first layer – but I really struggle to see him making sense as a center field starting target.
UPDATE: Well, it’s going to be a trade, if anything, if this report is accurate:
The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players is tonight. There’d been some question among MLB teams about whether the Red Sox might non-tender Jackie Bradley Jr. That’s not going to happen: Per source, the Red Sox are tendering a 2020 contract to Bradley.
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) December 2, 2019
It’s really hard to imagine Bradley getting $11M in AAV on the open market, so perhaps the Red Sox simply would prefer to retain him, and then shop him (with cash or with another player) to get something in trade? Kinda the opposite of the Orioles’ lame approach with Jonathan Villar?
It’s also possible the Red Sox are reversing course and don’t plan to get under the luxury tax? Or it’s also possible they already have a trade lined up for Mookie Betts (or an extremely high level of confidence that it will happen)? All I can say for sure right now is that I’m not interested in the Cubs acquiring Bradley for full freight.