The uncertainty surrounding George Springer's health has caused the Toronto Blue Jays to load up on as many outfielders as possible, with Jackie Bradley Jr. the latest to join the organization.
After a disappointing second stint with the Boston Red Sox, Bradley was released by the team on Aug. 4, making him a free agent. Less than a week later, the 32-year-old signed a one-year, major-league contract with the Blue Jays through the rest of 2022.
This move didn’t surprise most baseball fans, as the front office had previous interest in Bradley dating back to last winter. Toronto nearly acquired Bradley over the offseason, which would’ve sent Randal Grichuk to the Milwaukee Brewers, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Instead, the Brewers accepted the Red Sox’s offer, agreeing to a four-player trade that landed them Hunter Renfroe.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, ultimately connected with the Colorado Rockies, swapping Grichuk for Raimel Tapia. Now general manager Ross Atkins gets his guy almost a full season later, acquiring the 2016 All-Star.
In doing so, the club’s depth chart has quickly become crowded with big-league outfielders, with Bradley, Tapia, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Whit Merrifield and Bradley Zimmer all in the mix. But with Springer injured, there’s likely enough playing time to go around.
Carrying six outfielders in the majors isn’t ideal, so these next few weeks should serve as a tryout for Bradley. The Blue Jays haven’t received much offensive production from Zimmer, who’s slashing .107/.212/.240 this season, so it’s worth taking a flyer on a former ALCS MVP and World Series champion.
The problem for Bradley is he hasn’t enjoyed much success at the plate over the last few seasons. Having said that, his ceiling as a hitter is definitely higher than Zimmer’s, especially based on his track record.
From 2015–19, the left-handed hitter posted 87 home runs, 314 RBIs and a respectable .244/.328/.437 slash line across 654 contests. He also registered 45 stolen bases and a 100 wRC+ score, making him a league-average run producer.
Bradley also shined during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, hitting .283/.364/.450 with seven home runs, 22 RBIs, five stolen bases and a 119 wRC+ through 55 games.
Since then, however, the 5-foot-10 outfielder has struggled to replicate his offensive production and produced a pair of miserable performances with both the Brewers and Red Sox. Altogether, he mustered just nine round-trippers, 58 RBIs, nine stolen bases, a 45 wRC+ and a .182/.244/.286 slash line in 227 contests.
One encouraging aspect is that Bradley has enjoyed his fair share of hot streaks over his 10 major-league seasons. He hasn’t caught fire since 2020, although the Blue Jays are hopeful his luck will change.
If it does, Bradley could create an interesting internal competition between himself and Zimmer for the fifth outfielder spot. As things currently stand, the former Red Sox stalwart appears to hold a slight advantage both offensively and defensively.
Bradley has historically been more effective regarding plate discipline, as his career walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.34) is 0.10 points higher than his counterpart’s (0.24). He’s also registered a better strikeout rate (20.0 percent) this season, which is 18.4 percent lower than Zimmer’s.
Zimmer, however, is considered the faster runner as his sprint speed ranks in the 96th percentile this season, according to BaseballSavant. Despite his elite quickness, the 29-year-old has swiped just 41 career bases and a 10.2 BsR (Base running runs above average).
While Bradley’s sprint speed ranks in the 45th percentile, he has been far more effective on the base paths, logging 69 career stolen bases and a 19.2 BsR. That probably gives him the edge, albeit a small one, in this area too.
Defence is where these two outfielders stack up the closest. Both can play all three positions and have proven reliable no matter where they’re assigned.
As a former Gold Glove winner, Bradley jumps out immediately - literally and figuratively - as the front-runner. Thus far, the veteran outfielder has recorded +58 DRS and +49 OAA across 7,648.0 career innings in centre field. He’s been just as effective in right field, producing +14 DRS and +6 OAA in 1,068 innings.
The former first-round selection doesn’t play much in centre anymore as his range has declined with age. Still, he’s provided Gold Glove-calibre defence in right this season, with +7 DRS and +2 OAA across 525.2 innings.
Up to this point, the Blue Jays have primarily utilized Zimmer as a late-game defensive replacement, and he’s been tremendously effective in that role. This season, the 6-foot-4 outfielder has compiled 257.2 innings in centre, generating +2 DRS and +1 OAA.
For his career, Zimmer has posted +9 DRS and +6 OAA over 1,686.1 innings in centre. He’s also earned +1 DRS and +2 OAA through 406.1 innings in right. All in all, that’s fairly productive for a reserve defender.
Nonetheless, Zimmer’s only upside is his speed and defence, which might not be enough to retain his roster spot with the Blue Jays. Springer’s return will signal the need to remove an outfielder, and the team could lean more towards someone capable of starting.
Even at this stage of his career, Bradley probably fits that description better than Zimmer, although neither player is likely to make a significant contribution down the stretch — assuming everyone else stays healthy.
Given his recent struggles, Bradley’s opportunity with the Blue Jays could be one of his last chances to prove he can still play at this level. If he has anything left in the tank, now’s the time to show it.
With four seasons of playoff experience and a 2018 World Series title under his belt, the veteran may prove useful as the Blue Jays hope to make a deep postseason run this fall.
But to remain in blue, after spending eight and a half seasons in red as a division rival, he’ll need to earn every opportunity that comes his way.
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