With less than an hour before the collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox pulled a stunning buzzer-beater that no one saw coming.
The Red Sox made a shocking trade late Wednesday night, sending Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers and bringing back longtime center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects, minor league infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton.
The deal was certainly unexpected, even to the Red Sox front office.
“This was one that a few days ago I would not have thought would have been on our radar,” Bloom said.
Bradley, who was drafted by the Red Sox in 2011 and became one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball over eight big-league seasons in Boston, signed a two-year, $24 million contract in free agency with the Brewers last winter. The Red Sox moved on without him — as well as Andrew Benintendi with a new-look outfield that included Kike Hernandez in center and Renfroe in right.
The Red Sox got productive seasons from both, with Renfroe blasting 31 homers and producing a league-leading 16 outfield assists, though he also made 12 errors. But as this week progressed, the Sox found an opportunity to deal him for a fan favorite who they think fits well in their plans in addition to two prospects.
With the trade, the Sox will effectively be taking on some more money to get the prospects. Bradley is owed $9.5 million next season, and he has a $12 million mutual option for 2023 that includes an $8 million buyout. Renfroe, who is arbitration-eligible, is projected to earn $7.6 million and has one more season remaining of team control in 2023.
Bloom said he briefly spoke with Bradley, who was certainly not expecting to learn the news of his return to Boston.
“It was kind of a whirlwind evening for him,” Bloom said. “He seemed happy. I said, at various points in 2020, I don’t know Jackie nearly as well as a lot of people here that I work with, but in just that short time, I saw why everybody is so fond of him, and I became fond of him myself. He and his family mean a lot to his organization, and vice versa. So, I think he’s excited to get back here. I don’t want to speak for him. He certainly was surprised, but he certainly seemed excited.”
Bradley is coming off a rough season in Milwaukee after hitting .163 with .497 OPS in 134 games. But the Red Sox are hoping a return to familiar territory will help the 31-year-old return to form.
“We’re certainly optimistic,” Bloom said. “This is home for Jackie and recognizing that it was a tough year for him, I think we all know the ability he has is better than what he showed this year. I think coming back here, we’ll be able to get him back to a lot of what he used to do. Defense has always been his calling card but we know he’s a better hitter than what he showed this past year and we’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get him back to something resembling who he was here for so long.”
The plan for Bradley and how the Red Sox may look in the outfield with his return and Renfroe’s departure is certainly not set in stone yet. With the baseball lockout likely lasting months and more roster additions to be made when it’s over, it’s too early to say how everything will look come spring training and Opening Day. But in Hernandez and Bradley, Bloom is excited to have two true center fielders he believes are two of the best defensively in the game.
The Red Sox have five outfielders on their 40-man roster with big-league experience, with Hernandez and Bradley, Alex Verdugo, Jarren Duran and J.D. Martinez in the mix. Bradley has the ability to play all outfield positions if needed, and Hernandez’s ability to play second allows even more roster flexibility. Whatever the case, they will continue to have options defensively, and with Bradley, another elite one.
“I think that’s something that I think will be interesting to talk [about] with Alex [Cora] and the staff as we progress toward the season,” Bloom said. “The good thing is … we have two of the best and so Alex will have options. We also play in a park where it feels you need two center fielders to cover our center and right. …
“We talked about the defense, and Hunter is a great defender as well but Jackie is really one of the best and especially one of the best in this ballpark that’s ever done it. To have him back, the more the merrier in terms of premium outfield defenders here.”
Story by Steve Hewitt, Boston Herald.