How Cubs could find a window to sign Jackie Bradley Jr.


Hot Stove season is here, and NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at free agents who could fit the Cubs’ needs — and budget. Next up is Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

If Opening Day was tomorrow, the Cubs’ starting outfield, from left to right, would be Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

The 2021 season obviously is months away, and like many other things in this Major League Baseball offseason, there’s uncertainty regarding what the Cubs roster will look like next season.

Teams are in unique spots as they build out their rosters this winter, on the heels of revenue losses due to the 2020 pandemic season. It's difficult to project 2021 revenues without knowing how many fans will be in attendance. They don't even know what the rules will be, from roster sizes to whether there will be a universal designated hitter.

The Cubs specifically could part ways with members of their core — Schwarber is one of four under team control only through 2021 — as they look to trim payroll and retool their roster to remain competitive next season and beyond.

New Cubs president Jed Hoyer said Monday he has a payroll range for next season, and while he declined to get into specifics about any particular player’s future, he added he expects this offseason to be “slower than most” due to the uncertainty.

If this is a slow offseason, it could create an opportunity for the Cubs in free agency, depending on pandemic and vaccine developments as they relate to attendance and revenues. And one player who would fit in that scenario is Red Sox free agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley, 31 next April, has spent his entire eight-season career in Boston and was part of Theo Epstein’s final draft class as Red Sox team president. He’s one of the better defensive center fielders in baseball (2018 AL Gold Glove Award winner) with a career .239/.321/.412 slash line and 94 OPS+.

This past season was one of Bradley’s best at the plate — he slashed .283/.364/.450 with a 118 OPS+, posting career best walk (10.6 percent) and strikeout (22.1) rates. Even though it was only a 55-game sample, those results are encouraging because they came as he pulled the ball less and used the entire field. Those percentages:

Career — Pull: 36.9 | Center: 40.5 | Oppo: 22.7

2020 — Pull: 27.8 | Center: 44.4 | Oppo: 27.8

Bradley’s biggest asset is his glove, but 2020 showed he can be around a league average hitter who puts the ball in play, the latter being something the Cubs need.

This offseason already may be slow, and Bradley’s market may be slow-moving itself until George Springer —  the top center fielder available — comes off the market. Clubs who don’t land Springer could pivot to Bradley.

If Bradley hangs on the market into the next calendar year, when there will be more information on coronavirus vaccines, it could create a window for the Cubs to go after him. Maybe it would only take a one-year deal. Depending on the universal DH question and Schwarber's future, Happ could shift to left. 

There’s a potential scenario where the Cubs can pursue Bradley, but it may depend on some of this offseason's biggest questions being answered.

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