It seems like the greatest topic of discussion with the Boston Red Sox during spring training has been Jackie Bradley Jr. and whether or not he should make the Major League ballclub. Many debaters look at his stats and either say they’re so good that he needs to stay, or that spring training stats are too watered down to hold in high regard.
But when the time comes to make the decision whether they should keep Bradley with the big club or send him back down to the minors, the Red Sox need to make the stats secondary and think about how their decision could be perceived by the players on this team and by the 22-year-old Bradley. If they do, they might not send Bradley back to the minors.
The most important reason for the Red Sox to keep Bradley is because they owe it to the players to do so. This is the highest level of competition there is in the game. There are no levels after MLB. Therefore, the Red Sox players who do make the team need to be assured that they are given the absolute best chance to compete.
If Bradley is good enough to contribute to the team, the Sox owe it to every player on that team to take Bradley and give the team the best chance to win a World Series. What kind of a message would the Sox be sending by stopping a player who could help them succeed now? Essentially, they would be telling the players, ‘You’re not good enough to win now. We’ll cross the bridge to more prosperous times.’
I’m telling you now, that won’t sit well with the players, and it shouldn’t. I’m sure they all think if they play well this season, they can make the playoffs.
Yes, if the Red Sox wait until April 12 to bring Bradley up they would have him through 2019 because they wouldn’t start his service time this year. That’s a big deterrent, but the Red Sox would really be preventing this guy from getting his increase in pay. It may just be one year later, but Bradley might now think that’s all that terrific.
You have to treat your employees right, and while Bradley has only showed himself to be of high character, you never know if he will resent not being on the team now and not getting a pay boost until 2020. While that’s not angelic, you know what? It wouldn’t make him a bad person. A competitor might want this opportunity, and a proud man might want what he deserves.
You never know what can happen in the course of a season that will cause friction between a player and his team. Maybe he doesn’t run out a ground ball and the manager calls him out publicly. Maybe he gets into a fight with a teammate. Maybe he gets crappy treatment for an injury. All these things and more can arise, and you never know what can sway a player from leaving when they’re a free agent and what could sway them to stay. By promoting Bradley to Boston, the Sox may be earning some credit in this regard, rather than starting things off negatively, with a debit.
For these reasons, when it comes down to whether Bradley stays or goes, the decision might be dependent upon whether Bradley is ready to contribute to the Red Sox. If he is, the Red Sox might not want to risk dissapointing the parties involved.
Heading into Thursday’s (3/14) game, Bradley was batting .536. Not only was that the highest spring batting average for the Boston Red Sox, but more impressively, that was highest batting average of any player throughout MLB. While those stats are inflated by the relatively small sample and the watered down pitching pool, the fact that he led MLB in hitting is not going to help the Red Sox claim that Bradley needs more seasoning.
As for the other outfielders competing for an outfield position with the Sox, Bradley is outperforming them by leaps and bounds. Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava have been okay this spring, and Jonny Gomes has failed in his limited sample. Bradley clearly looks better than the other options the Red Sox have and might just be better than 75 percent of all MLB outfielders.
The Red Sox need to think long and hard about what it would say to Bradley and his big league teammates if they prevented him from making the big league team for any reason other than because he’s not better than what they have right now. They need to think about what kind of message that would send to their players.
If they do, Bradley might have a good chance of starting the season with the Boston Red Sox based on the fact that his play says he deserves to.
Feature Photo Credit: Rich Brooks via Flickr