The Pirates need a centerfielder now that Starling Marte has been traded. This could be an opportunity to get a decent stopgap for Travis Swaggerty, and a high-ceiling prospect in the same deal.
The Red Sox seem to be on the cutting payroll trend and look to be going through a partial rebuild. The trade of outfielder Mookie Betts and left-handed starter David Price freed up a decent amount of money. Now, they sit around $16 million below the luxury tax, and that gap could potentially grow. Could the Pittsburgh Pirates take advantage of Boston’s current status?
One of the names the Red Sox have been said to be trying to salary dump in recent seasons is outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. With a need in centerfield and low payroll that sits just below $50 million, taking on JBJ’s contract should be an idea the Pirates should seriously entertain.
Jackie isn’t one known too much for his bat. Last season, the former defensive standout hit just .225/.317/.421with 21 home runs and a 90 wRC+ in 567 plate appearances. However, he has consistently put up decent power numbers for a centerfielder. In the last 4 seasons, JBJ has averaged a slugging % of .430, and an isolated slugging of .186. In the same time frame, center fielders have averaged a slugging of .415 and ISO of .161. In a healthy season, Bradley can easily be a 20 home runs/30 double threat, which isn’t too bad. Add in the fact he was above average in exit velocity (63rd percentile), and hard-hit rate (75th percentile), and his original 90 wRC+ and .740 OPS looks a lot better.
Now when I said that he is a former defensive standout, I meant it. The last two years haven’t been Bradley’s best defensively. Last season, he was around average with -1 DRS and -.7 UZR in centerfield. In 2018, the lefty had a 0 DRS (-2 in CF, +2 in RF), and an overall 8.8 UZR.
Outs above average have been kinder to him though with +6 OAA in 2019, and +12 OAA in ‘18. He still has a cannon of an arm, having been worth 3.7 outfield arm runs above average in the prior season. Regardless, he is a far superior upgrade defensively to the former Pirates center fielder, Starling Marte (-8 DRS, -4.4 UZR, +11 OAA through ‘18-’19).
Bradley Jr. is in the last year of his contract, which is perfect for the Pirates. By the end of 2020, Swaggerty could be in Triple-A as he did very well in the second half of 2019 in Bradenton, and will likely spend most of 2020 in Double-A Altoona.
The Red Sox and Jr. settled on an $11 million salary for 2020. While the Red Sox don’t have a very deep farm system, they could give up a mid-tier prospect to shed his salary. One of the more interesting names I found is the 2019 4th round pick Noah Song. Last season, Song pitched in a limited sample size 17 innings, but struck out 19 batters, and allowed just 5 walks and 10 hits.
Currently, his fastball (60), curveball (55) and slider (55) all receive above-average grades, while his change-up is a very good 4th pitch that sits at a 50 grade. Currently, he is the Sox’ 15th best prospect. However, he was drafted out of Annapolis Naval Academy. So in the coming future, he could be forced to serve in the US Navy for two years.
Another pitcher I would also ask about is 23-year-old Chase Shugart. The right-hander was drafted out of the 12th round of the 2018 draft and was very effective last season in Single-A Greenville. Through 89 and two-thirds innings, Shugart had a 2.81 ERA, 3.12 FIP, and 1.249 WHIP. Shugart is a control freak, indicated by his 2.3 BB/9, and .4 HR/9, but uninspiring 7.3 K/9 in Greenville last year. However, he does come with some baggage. He has been tested positive for drugs twice and was suspended 50 games last year, so take that as you will. Currently, the youngster is ranked as the team’s 24th best prospect.
To sweeten the pot, I could see the Bucs throwing in Kevin Kramer. Kramer is already 26 and has been passed by many other middle infielders in the Pirates’ organization. With the addition of JT Riddle, youngsters Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman likely going to see regular playing time at the same time some point next season, and Adam Frazier proving he can be a top tier defensive 2B, he won’t have an opportunity to get plate appearances in the MLB with the Bucs.
The Pirates have expanded his versatility with him seeing more time in the corner outfield, both in the majors and minors, but his overall lackluster numbers aren’t going to carry him far. Last season, Kramer hit just .260/.335/.417 with 10 long balls in 448 plate appearances at Triple-A. He was given just a 92 wRC+ by Fangraphs as well and ranked 118 in OPS (.752).
However given the fact the Red Sox don’t look like they are going to be in competition for either the division or a Wild Card spot next season, have no good answer at second base, or outfield if this deal was made, Kramer could find himself more playing time in Boston.
A trade of Jackie Bradley Jr. plus a mid-tier prospect for all of his salary and Kevin Kramer is more than a fair deal. It fills the needs of both teams. The Red Sox shed one of the worst contracts on their payroll, and receive a utility man who would have never would have seen even semi-regular playing time with the Pirates, and the Bucs get a decent centerfielder on a short-term deal and a prospect with promise.