Back in January of 2018, Alex Speier for the Boston Globe reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers were interested in exchanging an outfielder with Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers would be receiving Jackie Bradley Jr. while the Red Sox would get Yasiel Puig. Although Puig was the superior offensive player, the Red Sox valued Bradley’s defense in centerfield and rejected the trade. Two seasons later, it seems like the Red Sox made the right choice.
Yasiel Puig was coming off a 2017 season that saw him hit a career-high 28 homers and a slash line of .263/.346/.487 at age 26. He posted his highest WAR total since 2014. Bradley, on the other hand, had his worst offensive season since 2014. After being named an All-Star in the 2016 season, his numbers came back to earth and he finished the season with 17 homers and a slash line of .245/.323/.402 at age 27. The Red Sox had one of the worst offensive seasons out of any team in the American League. They finished dead last with a total of 168 homers. It made sense for this team to want to add a young outfielder with good offensive numbers. However, the team wouldn’t budge.
The Red Sox had their reasons for rejecting the trade. First, they were hoping that Bradley’s 2017 season was just a down season from his previews seasons. During 2015-2016 Bradley slashed .262/.345/.489 with wRC+ of 119, 21st among outfielders in the league. The team had hopes that the offensive struggles were a coaching problem. The Red Sox went from having the best offense in baseball in 2016 to one of the worst. Bradley Jr was clearly not the only one having trouble at the plate. They also didn’t want to mess with the chemistry that the outfield had. Alongside Mookie Betts and rookie Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox outfield posted the best defensive numbers out of any outfield, finishing first in DRS and UZR.
Performance after the Trade Proposal
With all those reasons, along with the fact that Bradley had an extra year of control over Puig, it was an easy decision for the Red Sox. Now with two years of hindsight, it’s a decision the team would not go on to regret. Over the next two seasons, Puig’s defensive numbers started to decline. It got to the point where he became a liability to have him on the field. After posting elite defensive numbers in 2017, with a DRS of 14 and UZR of 11.8, those numbers took a huge hit and in 2019 he had DRS of 0 and UZR of -0.1. The Dodgers eventually ended up trading him to the Cincinnati Reds after the 2018 season. The Reds would later trade him to the Cleveland Indians at the 2019 trade deadline.
Jackie Bradley Jr. never replicated his offensive numbers from 2015 and 2016. His defense, however, continued to be one of the best in the game. He would go on to win his first Gold Glove award during the 2018 season. With a change in their hitting coach and the signing of J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox returned to being one of the best offensive teams in the league. The team finished the season with the best AVG, OBP, and SLG in all of baseball. They also had the best record in the league. Bradley played a huge role in the playoffs for the team. He won the ALCS MVP and helped the Red Sox capture the 2018 World Series title.
Heading into the 2020 Season
Bradley Jr is still the starting centerfielder for the Red Sox, while Puig is a free agent who’s yet to sign with a team. With the recent rumors that the National League might implement the DH once the season begins, the door has opened for Puig to sign back with an NL club. Who’s to say what would have happened if the Red Sox did go through with the trade proposal back then. Maybe they still win the World Series without Bradley, but it’s hard not to look back and be relieved that they decided to keep an eventual gold glove centerfielder and ALCS MVP over a player who instantly became a big defensive liability on the field.
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