Astros: Why Jackie Bradley Jr. is a good fit in Houston

Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) looks on prior to the game against the Houston Astros during spring training at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) looks on prior to the game against the Houston Astros during spring training at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

Much has been made of the Houston Astros interest in Jackie Bradley Jr., but why is he a good fit?

It’s no secret the Houston Astros will probably need to acquire two starting outfielders before Spring Training begins. Fans would love to see George Springer return, but that’s looking unlikely at this point. With that being the case, free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. is actually a perfect fit for this team’s needs.

The rumor mill suggests the Astros are trying to re-sign Michael Brantley. If they succeed, they’ll have the outfield corners locked down with Brantley and Kyle Tucker. Center field will have to be addressed, and with Springer likely gone, that leaves Bradley as the next-best true center fielder on the open market. It makes sense that the Astros are already rumored to have interest in him.

Bradley, who’ll turn 31 next April, has patrolled the expansive center field at Fenway Park for the past several seasons and done quite well. He won a Gold Glove in 2018 and was an All-Star in 2016. He’s long displayed a strong arm and continues to grade out favorably in the field, tallying five defensive runs saved in 2020.

His bat is definitely a few steps down from Springer’s, as he’s posted an adjusted OPS below league average in three of the past five seasons. But he established new career highs in batting average (.283) and on-base percentage (.364) in 2020 and is more than capable of hitting 20-plus homers in a given year. There are certainly worse hitters you could have in the bottom third of your order.

And it’s not as though the Astros particularly need a big bat. They have Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Tucker and Yordan Alvarez returning. If they can re-sign Brantley and Yuli Gurriel can bounce back, they’ll have plenty of firepower. You can afford to take on Bradley’s average bat in order to have his plus glove at a premium position.

As a left-handed hitter, Bradley would bring some serious balance to the lineup. If Brantley returns, that would give the Astros four lefties (Bradley, Brantley, Alvarez and Tucker) and five righties (Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Gurriel and Martin Maldonado) in their everyday lineup. Though it would also mean their starting outfielders are all lefties, they’ll have the right-handed Myles Straw and Chas McCormick as bench options.

The Best Option

In terms of the free-agent market, the other center field options include plus-defenders whose bats are just plain anemic, such as Billy Hamilton and Jake Marisnick. The Astros already have a player like that on the roster in Straw. If you want offense, there are no true impact bats aside from Springer.

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The only other free agent I’d consider is Kevin Pillar. He would, at best, be a modest upgrade offensively over Bradley, but the metrics have not been kind to his performance in center field the past few years, so he may need to move to a corner. The trade market will be difficult given that the Astros farm system is thin.

Bradley’s all-around game is what makes him a worthy replacement. Even with league-average offensive production, he’s still been good for at least 1.9 WAR in every season since 2015, with the exception of the shortened 2020. Still, he amassed 1.8 WAR this year, so it’s reasonable to expect at least that much going forward.

MLB Trade Rumors pegged Bradley to sign in Houston for a modest $16 million over two years, which seems like a steal. If he provides a total of 4.0 WAR over the life of that contract, you’re paying $4 million per win above replacement, which is a bargain. In a normal offseason he would probably get considerably more money, but such is the reality of this year.

Bradley is also a winner. We all remember how he torched the Astros in the 2018 ALCS on his way to the series MVP award. He’s been on the biggest stage and, aside from Springer, he’s the best center fielder on the market. The Astros would be wise to reel him in.