- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
TAMPA, Fla. -- We've got the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees on ESPN today in a 1 p.m. ET game. Jackie Bradley Jr. is expected to play for Boston, in the midst of a spring in which he's 18-for-41 and, just as impressively, he has drawn eight walks and has only five strikeouts.
In spring training, a lot of young hitters would tend to swing the bat anxiously and aggressively, because that's what hitters do, but Bradley has shown patience, in keeping with his hitting approach from the minors. He's had 615 plate appearances in pro ball so far, and in those, he has almost a 1-to-1 walk to strikeout ratio -- 91 walks and 97 strikeouts.
He has been so good, at a time when David Ortiz is hurting, that there is pitched conversation about what the Red Sox should do with the outfielder -- whether they should keep him in the big leagues to open the season, or to send him to the minor leagues.
If Bradley played for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are the most disciplined organization in baseball in the way they try to maximize the value of their player development products, it would be a no-brainer: He would go back to the minor leagues until they were certain he had been given the best chance to hit the ground running at the major league level -- and to not start his service-time clock until the most advantageous time for them.
But these are the Boston Red Sox, with a budget more than twice the size of the Rays', with a lot more margin for error financially and a fan base with a much higher level of expectation. And there is this, which cannot be emphasized enough: They haven't made the playoffs the past three seasons, and they are coming off the disastrous Bobby V season in which they went 69-93 and were widely regarded as unlikable and unwatchable in New England.
If Bradley -- a dynamic prospect with a strong, poised presence -- has the ability to make an immediate impact, in a year in which the AL East appears to something of a mud bog of parity, he could help to change a lot for a Red Sox Nation that still tells tales of the Gold Dust Twins of Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in '75. Jackie Bradley Jr. could serve to alter the likability, and the losing.
Generally speaking, if the Red Sox want to delay free agency for Bradley, they need to wait 20 days before calling him up during the season, or until about April 20. (There are variations of how they could accomplish this, in which they'd send him back to the minors early in the season, but having him open the year in Triple-A is the most simple.)
This may seem like a small amount of time for an extra year of club control, but as one executive noted, consider the Braves in 2010: Atlanta decided to open the season with Jason Heyward as their right fielder, he played well right from the start, and the Braves made the playoffs by one game.
Another example cited by another official: The Angels of 2012, who waited until the end of April to summon Mike Trout to the big leagues, as they gave Vernon Wells a chance to play daily. Trout played like an MVP and the Angels went 83-59 after he arrived, but because the Angels were 6-14 at the time he arrived they wound up missing the playoffs.
For the Red Sox, there is a clear advantage to waiting before they promote Bradley -- but they also must keep an open mind to the possibilities that some players can be an exception to the rule. If there is an every-day opportunity, and if there is a player who is a clear best alternative, there is some value in going with that player who can mitigate the downside to starting earlier.
The other factor the Sox must consider is Bradley's timeline for becoming arbitration eligible.
If the Red Sox want to prevent Bradley from becoming a "Super Two" and getting an extra year of arbitration, one executive wrote in an email, "the best time [to call him up] is somewhere in the range of June 15-July 1. Since [Super Two] players are in the top 22.2 percent of the two-plus [years] service class, it is something of a moving continuum. Put another way, if clubs all wait and don't call up top prospects like Bradley the date gets pushed back. However, based upon past dates and the current projections for this class, a promotion somewhere in the June 15-July 1 timeframe should work."
How much could the Red Sox save by doing this? Well, consider the case of Buster Posey, who is at one extremely high end of the spectrum. Buster Posey has two years and 161 days of service time, meaning that he qualified for arbitration this year, and he and the Giants settled on a salary of $8 million. If he had been summoned to the big leagues in July 2010, rather than in May, his salary would have been a fraction of that.
But the Giants probably wouldn't have made the playoffs or won the World Series in 2010 if they had kept Posey in the minors another four to six weeks, in an effort to freeze his arbitration clock.
If I were running the Red Sox (and they are fortunate that is not the case): I'd start him in the minor leagues to open the year and call him up April 20, after ensuring that he wouldn't become eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season, rather than 2018. Jonny Gomes could play left field until then, and move into a fourth outfielder/DH role once Bradley arrives.
For the readers: What would you do with Bradley?
Issues for Yankees, Giants
• Hal Steinbrenner runs the Yankees, and he's really good at forecasting, too, writes David Waldstein.
Normally, this wouldn't be a concern. But the Yankees have almost no safety nets in place with a lineup that appears much weaker than last year, given the departures of players such as Nick Swisher and the injuries to Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees need the 38-year-old Jeter to be a productive member of their lineup, and we are less than two weeks away from the start of the regular season and he has not yet come close to playing nine innings at shortstop in any exhibition.
• As the start of the season nears, the Giants also have a lot of pieces out of place, writes Henry Schulman. From his story:
Their No. 3 hitter, Pablo Sandoval, will not throw a baseball before this weekend because of an inflamed ulnar nerve in his right elbow. Head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner revealed Tuesday that an MRI taken Monday also shows a bone spur in the back of Sandoval's elbow, which Groeschner downplayed as a "chronic" condition that should not prevent the third baseman from playing.
Most troublesome, backup catcher Hector Sanchez is struggling through his second spring bout of shoulder inflammation and will attempt to play light catch Wednesday.
The battle for jobs
5. Billy Hamilton was reassigned.
6. The Tigers sent Nick Castellanos to the minors, as expected.
7. The Brewers are looking at a young outfielder for a bench role.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. A top Cardinals prospect is still waiting for his visa.
Mike Leake is scheduled to start Friday's game. Chapman is on the list to follow him. No inning total is listed with either, but Jose Arredondo, J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall and Clay Hensley are each listed and scheduled one inning.
If Leake throws four innings and Chapman one, we may know what the team has decided, even if it's not announced.
• The Marlins have many decisions to make, writes Steph Rogers.
• Yorvit Torrealba's impact on another player makes him an important part of the Rockies, writes Troy Renck.
• Little went right for the Royals.
• Some Cleveland pitchers have found some encouragement this spring, writes Paul Hoynes.
• The Twins' pitching outlook is ugly, as Jim Souhan writes.
• The Angels signed a catcher because of concerns about one of their other catchers.
• Old friend Peter Gammons has a strong reaction to the Astros' strategy.
• A Mariners prospect keeps the game in perspective, as Geoff Baker writes.
And today will be better than yesterday.
The Boston Red Sox have a tough decision to make with Jackie Bradley Jr., writes Buster Olney.