Jackie Bradley Jr. entered Tuesday trapped in an 0-for-35 slump. How should the Boston Red Sox address the issue?
Give him more playing time.
Sure, it sounds rather counterintuitive. In fact, the concept seems quite crazy for such a performance-based industry. But if the Red Sox intend to answer one of their most pressing questions down the stretch — who exactly is Bradley as a player? — they must put themselves into a position to make a full assessment.
Bradley was benched again Tuesday. The 24-year-old has started just four of Boston’s 10 games since Aug. 1, with Brock Holt seemingly emerging as the Red Sox’s go-to center fielder. The outfield will only become more crowded when Allen Craig returns from the 15-day disabled list — Craig is eligible to be activated Sunday — so Bradley certainly faces an uphill climb in his search for better results and more playing time.
Let’s get one thing straight. Bradley has been awful at the plate this season, particularly during his 0-for-35 skid, in which he has struck out 18 times. He’s hitting .211 with a .281 on-base percentage and .571 OPS, all of which can be found toward the bottom of the league among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. In a word, Bradley looks lost.
That being said, the Red Sox have made it clear that the remainder of the 2014 season represents an opportunity to evaluate players who are expected to be part of their 2015 plans. It’s why catcher A.J. Pierzynski was cut loose. It’s why the Red Sox traded four-fifths of their starting rotation, in turn opening spots for Boston’s plethora of up-and-coming hurlers. It’s why the Sox pulled the plug on the Stephen Drew era and moved Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop. And it’s why sitting Bradley more often than not is counterproductive.
Yes, Bradley is hurting the Red Sox offensively, which would be an issue if Boston was in the midst of a playoff push. The reality of the situation, however, is that the Red Sox aren’t going anywhere this season, meaning each of the club’s personnel decisions should be made with an eye toward 2015. Even as Bradley continues to flounder at the dish, the Red Sox must give him everyday at-bats or else Boston will enter spring training next season knowing even less than it did before the 2014 season.
This doesn’t mean Bradley needs to be in the Red Sox’s starting nine. A demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket would be totally understandable, though Red Sox manager John Farrell indicated Tuesday that such a move hasn’t yet been considered.
Bradley already is an elite defensive center fielder capable of making an impact with his glove, something that would justify having him occupy a bench spot on a contending team — sacrificing everyday at-bats in the process. But since the Red Sox are bringing up the rear in the American League East, a forward-looking approach is paramount.
“Well, his defense speaks for itself,” Farrell told reporters Tuesday in Cincinnati. “He’s had the ability and has the talent to impact a game if a given play calls for it. We saw in two occasions in the last series, and yet we’re still working to have some the adjustments that he’s worked through in early BP and regular BP to gain some traction inside of games (offensively).”
Bradley’s defense has helped the Red Sox win games. His offense is one reason why the Red Sox are losing games. One could argue it’s a push, but the goal for Boston’s final 40-plus contests should be to ensure that 2015 doesn’t involve such a steep trade-off.
“It probably relies on who else is around him,” Farrell said Tuesday. “If there’s an offense that is a top-five offense in the league, despite the production from any given player, then maybe you have more ability to carry a pure defender. But where we are right now, we need every one of our guys to carry the weight offensively.”
Bradley definitely isn’t carrying his weight offensively. If and when he does, however, he’ll be worth his weight in gold.
The Red Sox must keep that in mind during a critical stage in Bradley’s development.