With only two outfielders currently on the 40-man roster (Ian Happ and Jason Heyward) it’s understandable that Cubs fans are a bit antsy regarding the team’s offseason plans. With no signs of financial flexibility to make even a moderate splash in free agency, pouring over the list of free agents that could both fit and contribute is a bit of a nauseating task.
It’s why, in part, I’m sold on the idea of pursuing Haruki Nishikawa. His defense would certainly play in center, and although his bat would be a huge question mark in the transition to the bigs, the speed and on-base skillset is very real. Plus, he won’t be all that expensive.
It’s not hard to imagine my surprise, then, when Jon Morosi tweeted out the Cubs as a major player in the market for Jackie Bradley Jr.
The lefty hitting Bradley is a defensive revelation, a “pure, natural center fielder” that Hoyer acknowledges could push Happ to left field, where he’s better suited. His best years in Boston were 2015-2016, where he hit a combined .262/.345/.489 with 36 HR, a .354 wOBA, 119 wRC+, good for a 7.2 fWAR.
Those numbers took a dip in the ensuing years, but in his 2020 walk year he pieced together a solid offensive campaign, hitting .283/.364/.450, 7 HR, .352 wOBA, 119 wRC+, and an fWAR of 1.9 in just 55 games. Given his below average output from 2017-2019 it’s hard to take this past season’s numbers as canon, but they’re encouraging nonetheless.
The indefatigable Brett Taylor has already written about Bradley Jr. this morning, highlighting the red flags in 2020’s shortened season. Certainly the .343 BABIP is unattainable, and the drop in hard hit percentage and increase in ground balls hit are alarming. That said, if we’re taking 2020’s production with a grain of salt, so too should we with peripherals that are outliers from career norms.
For his career, Jackie has walked at a slightly above average clip (9.2 percent) while also striking out slightly above average (25.2). Those numbers are true even in his solid 2015-2016 campaigns, so in terms of making contact and reaching base, we know the type of hitter Bradley Jr. is as he enters his age-30 season.
MLB Trade Rumors pegs Bradley Jr. to sign a two year, $16 million deal, whereas Fangraphs suggests a two year, $20 million pact. This range is certainly attainable for the Cubs, who saved roughly the same AAV in non-tendering Kyle Schwarber — and, nostalgia aside, Bradley Jr. is a much better fit for this roster at this time.
That the Cubs are rumored by a credible, national source to be pursuing a viable free agent is telling. Perhaps the Cubs think the contract will be feasible for them, and they are performing due diligence on a player that could alter the roster in a meaning way without breaking the bank.
Who knows what to make of this in the end. It would be a terrific sign if the Cubs emerge as a serious suitor for Bradley, Jr., and even better if this is just the beginning in their interest of legitimate free agents.
Featured Photo: Stuart Cahill, Boston Herald
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs
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