In Boston, things are never dull even when they’re supposed to be. Such is the case with Jackie Bradley Jr., who in spite of an incredibly impressive Spring Training finds himself on the outside looking in for a spot on the Red Sox Opening Day roster.
By the end of today, we’ll know whether Bradley’s envelope-pushing performance impressed the Boston brass enough to earn himself a trip north to New York, where the Red Sox will open the 2013 season this Monday. If he doesn’t crack the active roster, there’s bound to be a healthy contingency of Red Sox fans and media-types alike who’ll be none too pleased with the decision and are sure to make quite a bit of noise about it.
I’m not one of them.
The long and skinny of it is that the case for Bradley’s inclusion on the opening day roster just isn’t very strong. The assumption that somehow nine games without a player who has yet to hit above the AA level would or could make a significant difference in the outcome of the season for the Red Sox is narrative-driven drivel at it’s worst, and for a variety of reasons.
Central to the JBJ debate has been the issue of team control. If the Red Sox allow Bradley to join the team on Opening Day, his service clock would immediately start and he would become a free agent following the 2018 season. Should the Red Sox elect to wait 11 days to promote him at the beginning of the season OR send him down for 20 days at some point later in the season, Bradley’s clock would be set back one year, meaning that he’d be eligible to file for free agency following the 2019 season.
Given the likely outcomes on the field and the issues of team control that an opening day roster with Bradley included would present, the argument that he belongs in uniform when the team takes the field in Yankee Stadium on Monday seems kind of silly. A non-starter, even.
But some people just don’t want to let it go. So to illuminate the absurdity of the argument, we can start by taking a look at what that difference between Bradley and someone else would actually be over the course of those nine games.
The two projection systems that are the most pro-Bradley Jr. are – without question – Oliver and ZiPS. Oliver has him hitting .261/.336/.407 in his rookie season in 433 PA’s for a grand total of 2.1 fWAR. ZiPS has Bradley making 516 PA’s and hitting .249/.335/.367 for 2.2 fWAR. No matter which one you prefer, Bradley would be worth around .15-ish fWAR over the course of those nine games – or roughly 1/10th of a win.
Should the Red Sox decide to not start Bradley, the other two options would likely be either Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney. Both Oliver and ZiPS project Sweeney and Nava to be roughly 1-fWAR players next year, or at least something very close to that. Grinding that to a 9-game sample gives you around .08 wins over that period.
Between Bradley and the Nava/Sweeney tandem, we’re basically talking about a .07 fWAR difference over those nine games, something that is so statistically insignificant that it’s almost not even worth talking about – but that’s kind of my point.
Horrible applications of fWAR included, there’s really no way to measure whether Bradley will be good in the first nine games or not. The same could be said for Sweeney or Nava. What we do know, is that it’s far more likely that Bradley’s total lack of contribution to a hypothetical 2019 team over a 162 game sample size WOULD have a noticeable, even significant effect on the roster.
In knowing that, doesn’t it make the answer to this whole dilemma kind of easy? Even if we were to make insane projections and dub Jackie Bradley Jr. as the new Mike Trout, he’s still barely earn around .8 fWAR, which even then wouldn’t justify the trade off of an entire age 28 season’s worth of production. Even in the most optimistic of conditions, having Bradley break camp on the active roster just doesn’t make sense.
Simply put, 162 games in 2019 > 9 games of .07 fWAR this year – which of course is based on Bradley performing as expected, which in and of itself is a question mark. That alone should be enough to make this ‘case closed.’
The other interesting argument coming more from talk radio circles has been the ‘If he’s good, then to heck with the control, they have the money to pay him, especially with the lack of long term commitments, so they should just shut up and pay him and screw the last year of control.’ This argument also comes complete with the always popular ‘Red Sox are cheap’ undertones.
Not to be mean, but this point deserves it’s own special place in the Pantheon of bad arguments.
For one, prognosticating what the market will look like by then or what the team’s payroll will be at that point, is mostly absurd. Where the argument dives into full blown hubris is the assumption that somehow, even if the Red Sox wanted to give Jackie Bradley Jr. a record breaking contract, that he’d take it no questions asked. Even if the Red Sox fired a money cannon at his face and paid him an absurd annual salary, there’s no guarantee that super Agent Scott Boras would be interested in taking it. So again, this has nothing to do with money and everything to do with control.
And if it’s just about spending money, then one would have to think why the Red Sox (or anyone in Boston, for that matter) would care about Jackie Bradley Jr in the first place? Why not just pay every semi-interesting free agent that bungles his way onto the market and call it an offseason? After all, the Red Sox have the money, right?
That also leads one to ponder if the Red Sox did indeed have all the money talk radio seems to think they’re hiding from us all, then would the money really an issue if it’s not an issue?
So before we get everyone more incoherent and hysterical then we should be over a situation that’s basically the world’s best baseball problem to have, ever – here’s an idea: let’s not be so belligerent. Everyone take a breather and wait 11 days. Trust me when I say, it’ll probably be worth it. For all of us.