How Does Jackie Bradley Jr. Fit Into Red Sox’ Plans?
Going into spring training, it was widely assumed that Jackie Bradley Jr. would be taking over the Red Sox everyday centerfield job, and that at some point Grady Sizemore would be healthy enough to challenge him for playing time. Things have not gone as planned, and the Red Sox find themselves looking at a different roster to break camp than they originally expected. To this point in spring training, Bradley Jr. has posted a .182/.250/.318 triple slash, almost a polar opposite of his stunning numbers from a year ago. Teams do not usually read too much into spring training stats, but it is still somewhat disappointing in the sense that the Red Sox expected Bradley Jr. to take the centerfield job and run with it, thereby leaving themselves with both depth and options in the event that Sizemore is not healthy or able to play every day. This plan has not come to fruition so far, and it has everyone questioning what will happen between Bradley Jr. and Sizemore regarding the centerfield job heading into Opening Day.
The Red Sox have been pleasantly surprised by what they have gotten out of Sizemore so far this spring, even if the player himself won’t admit any significant accomplishment. However, Sizemore is scheduled to start five games this week, at a time where John Farrell has clearly stated that he will be trying to get his regular lineup on the field as much as possible. This leaves many to believe that Sizemore’s performance (and lack of Bradley Jr.’s) is leaving him in line to start in centerfield on Opening Day in Baltimore. When asked this week if Sizemore has a chance to make the team come Opening Day, Farrell responded “Yes,” in addition to stating the Red Sox’ current expectation that he can become an everyday player. This was an entirely unexpected scenario going into the spring, although one that likely pleases the Red Sox.
So how does Bradley Jr. fit into the master plan? If, for whatever reason, the Red Sox ultimately decide that despite his impressive spring training performance they would feel most comfortable sending Sizemore to AAA Pawtucket to open the season, Bradley Jr. would most likely be manning centerfield, no questions asked. However, If it is determined that the team is better off with Sizemore in centerfield, Bradley Jr.’s future becomes much less certain. Would the Red Sox want Bradley Jr. getting regular at-bats in the minor leagues, or would it be more beneficial to keep him on the major league roster? Bradley Jr. has minor league options left, so sending him back to Pawtucket would be a simple process, however it would raise questions about the Red Sox major league roster. For example, if Sizemore’s health prevented him from playing every day, who would fill in in centerfield? Shane Victorino has played centerfield in the past and would get the job done, but Sizemore and Bradley Jr. are really the only true centerfielders in Red Sox camp. If the Red Sox wanted Bradley Jr. to stick around just in case something were to happen to Sizemore, it would be at the expense of one of the Red Sox other bench players who could play key roles, such as Mike Carp or Jonny Gomes. There are also lineup implications with this decision, as the starting centerfielder could drastically change the current lineup composition and leadoff situation.
Bradley Jr. has gone on the record as saying that he will be prepared for whatever decision the Red Sox make regarding their centerfield situation. This is good because it currently looks like the team is planning on having Sizemore be their everyday centerfielder, with Bradley Jr. likely headed to Pawtucket. Regardless of how things look on Opening Day, the Red Sox will need Bradley Jr. at some point over the course of the season, and it is reasonable to think he will be playing a key role come September. It appears Jackie Bradley Jr.’s time has not yet arrived, but it will certainly be coming soon.