What sort of upgrade would Jackie Bradley Jr. be for Phillies?


The main three Phillies needs discussed all offseason have been catcher, shortstop and bullpen. If you extend the list to four, center field would probably be the next item because the Phils do not have a clear-cut, everyday center field answer for 2021.

Tuesday morning on MLB Network, Jon Morosi reported the Phillies are one of several teams who’ve shown interest in Jackie Bradley Jr., a former All-Star and Gold Glover and the Red Sox everyday centerfielder since 2015. There is the obvious connection to new Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who served that role in Boston from 2015-19. 

Bradley is a free agent for the first time. In the shortened 2020 season, he put together a better offensive “season” than he’s had since 2016, hitting .283 with an .814 OPS. 

Bradley, who will play at age 31 in 2021, is an exceptional defender, maybe the best defensive centerfielder of the last five years. His 49 defensive runs saved are third-most among centerfielders over that span, behind only Lorenzo Cain and Billy Hamilton, who each have fewer innings. But, really, all you need is the eye test when it comes to Bradley’s defense. He tracks down everything. His arm is one of the best. He’s spent his entire career at Fenway Park, which has a spacious centerfield and a ton of ground that must be covered, particularly in right-center where it’s 420 feet.

Bradley is probably a better CF defender than anyone the Phillies have had since Garry Maddox. He would be a major defensive upgrade in an outfield that had too many gaffes in 2020, particularly late in the season. The Phils’ outfield defense was fourth-worst in the majors, according to Fangraphs.

The Phillies’ center field incumbents are Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn. Haseley was the eighth overall pick in 2017. He’s hit .269/.330/.382 in 334 plate appearances in the majors, starting sporadically since his call-up in June 2019. The Phillies invested a premium pick on Haseley and need to, at some point, give him enough of an opportunity to sink or swim. You can’t really figure out his floor or ceiling with two starts a week. 

Though, while providing Haseley that opportunity should be a priority, it’s probably not a higher priority for the Phillies than improving upon their defensive weakness in the outfield. It's not like Dombrowski is the one who drafted him. Keep in mind, too, that Andrew McCutchen’s contract is up after 2021, and the widespread expectation is that the DH will be in the NL permanently by then, creating two more spots for Haseley or Quinn in the near future. So pretty much, even if the Phillies were to add a player like Bradley, it wouldn’t be blocking a young outfielder long term. 

Bradley is the second-best centerfielder on the free-agent market behind George Springer. While Springer is projected to sign one of the richest deals of the offseason, Bradley is more in line for a two-year deal.

After Springer and Bradley, the next-best CF options are borderline starters like Albert Almora, Delino DeShields and Kevin Pillar. The recently released, 27-year-old, oft-injured-but-talented David Dahl came off the board over the weekend, agreeing to a one-year, $3 million contract with the Rangers. The low price tag for Dahl wasn’t great news for Bradley.

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