The Milwaukee Brewers have a seemingly full outfield, with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Avisail Garcia staked to starting spots as the three highest-paid players presently on the team. But having “too many outfielders” has never stopped David Stearns before, and according to a report from Robert Murray of Fansided, the team is considering adding another starting-caliber center fielder to their current group:
Sources: Brewers in the mix for free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) February 22, 2021
The left-handed hitting Bradley, picked by the Red Sox at #40 overall in 2011, made his big league debut for Boston in 2013 and spent parts of the next eight seasons roaming the grass at Fenway Park. He has actualized some solid in-game power, twice topping 20 home runs, as well the ability to be an above-average bat, posting wRC+ marks at or above 118 in three different seasons. In general, though, Bradley has been a slightly below-average hitter in the big leagues with a .239/.321/.412 career slash line (93 wRC+) and 98 home runs across 3,281 career plate appearances.
Bradley strikes out a fair amount (25.2% career) but posted the lowest K-rate of his career in 2020 at 22.1%. He also tied a career-best with a 10.6% walk rate (where his career average is 9.3%). Bradley was below the league average in terms of both exit velocity (40th percentile) and hard contact rate (34th percentile) last summer and posted a middling barrel rate (47th percentile), though those numbers were all below his career averages since the start of the Statcast Era in 2015. Bradley posted a .283/.364/.450 slash line and 7 home runs in 217 plate appearances last summer, with his 120 wRC+ coming in as the second-best mark of his career. A .343 BABIP (versus a .298 career BABIP) along with his batted ball metrics suggest that some level of luck was involved in his success last season, however.
Bradley is considered to be an excellent defensive outfielder, though, giving him a fairly high floor in terms of his overall value as a player. He won a Gold Glove award in 2018 and has accrued +48 Defensive Runs Saved over nearly 6,800 career innings in center field. He was graded at +5 DRS in 2020 and also came in at the 99th percentile according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric. Bradley’s average-ish bat and strong work with the glove at a premium position have helped him earn 18.0 bWAR over the course of his career, or an average of 3.6 bWAR per 650 plate appearances.
Bradley has never consistently played at the star-caliber level that has long been thought possible (especially in the context of his strong offensive showings in 2015, 2016, and 2020) so there could still be some upside left to his game. Left-handed batters have generally fared well at American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) over the years, and Bradley’s batted ball profile suggests that he could potentially benefit power-wise from hitting the ball in the air more often. Even in his current incarnation, though, Bradley is a valuable player, but the fit with Milwaukee is far from obvious at this time.
Lorenzo Cain could be a candidate for more regular days off given his age, injury history, and the fact that he sat out almost all of last season, but he still projects to be the primary center fielder for the Menomonee Valley Nine in 2021. Avisail Garcia was brutal last year and could make for a natural right/left platoon partner with Bradley in right field, but the Brewers are surely hoping to recoup some value as he’s earning $10.5 mil during the upcoming season. After those two and Christian Yelich, the team is light on experienced MLB outfielders, with Tyrone Taylor, Tim Lopes, Billy McKinney, Corey Ray, and Derek Fisher making up the rest of the outfield depth chart at present.
Bradley was ranked as the #21 free agent by MLB Trade Rumors entering the offseason and projected to land a two-year, $16 mil contract. After reportedly being “in” on both Justin Turner and Trevor Rosenthal in the past couple of weeks, the Brewers appear to still have some financial flexibility that could be used to add another piece to the roster before the start of the regular season. According to Jon Heyman, there are at least a half-dozen potential suitors for Bradley right now; other teams linked to JBJ during the winter have included the Astros, Giants, Mets, Cubs, Phillies, and his familiar Red Sox.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant