BOSTON (CBS) – If you have a pulse, you want to see Jackie Bradley Jr. in the starting lineup for the Boston Red Sox as soon as possible. You want to see the highly touted outfield defense, and you want to see the kid who’s hitting .444 in spring training.
The Red Sox are run by humans who would also like to see it all on the field as well, but they know they can’t, that they have to wait.
And it’s undeniably the right decision.
The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton explained the situation perfectly last week: If the Red Sox keep Bradley in the minors for 11 days to start the season, they will be able to keep him under team control for an extra season (2019) than if they called him up to begin the year in the majors.
Somewhere along the line, that fact got misconstrued as the Red Sox trying to save money in the long term by keeping Bradley arbitration-eligible longer, but given that the team can postpone the 22-year-old’s free agency from 2018 to 2019, the Red Sox really have a no-brainer of a decision on their hands.
(The Red Sox can regain that year of service time, so to speak, if they send Bradley down to the minors for longer than 20 days after he begins the season in the majors. That, however, would be a tough move to make if he was excelling out of the gate.)
You’re seeing right now how vital an extra year of team control can be in the team’s current center fielder. Had Jacoby Ellsbury been rushed to the big leagues on his rise through the system, the Red Sox would in all likelihood be short one valuable player this season.
While a long-term extension for Ellsbury still seems unlikely for the Red Sox, they’re still in a favorable position with Ellsbury this season. If the team, coming off a 69-win 2012 campaign, is out of playoff contention by July, they may possess the most desirable trading chip in all of baseball.
And should that be the case, just like they did six years ago with Ellsbury for Coco Crisp, the Red Sox will have another dynamic young center fielder to supplant the 29-year-old Ellsbury.
If, for example, Ellsbury had been eligible to become a free agent this past offseason, it’s hard to say what the Red Sox would have done with him. The team was two games above .500 the day of the trade deadline, and shipping out the free agent-to-be for prospects might have sent the wrong message about the team’s hopes for the final two months of the regular season. They may have held onto him and lost him to free agency, getting nothing in return. It’s impossible to foresee where the Red Sox will be with Bradley five years from now, but guaranteeing extra flexibility is not a bad plan.
(And if you think this shouldn’t be a problem with Bradley, that the team should be able to lock him up to a long-term extension long before he reaches free agency, know that his agent is Scott Boras. That’s the same Scott Boras who made an agreement on a long-term extension for Ellsbury impossible over the past few years. There’s no reason in the world to believe Boras won’t do the same with Bradley.)
The fact that manager John Farrell said this week that Bradley will not be playing any left field but will instead play only center or right hints that such a midseason transition from Ellsbury to Bradley may already be the plan in place.
But for now, the Red Sox must wait a measly 11 days (nine games) in order to afford themselves future flexibility five years from now, when they could (and should) be a World Series contender again. Even if Bradley started the season with the big club this year and hit 1.000 with five homers in the opening week, would it ultimately change the way the entirety of the 2013 season plays out?
Of course not.
Even if Bradley remains a minor leaguer for longer than the 11 days, is it realistic to think his presence in Boston would be the difference between a playoff spot and another October at home?
Highly, highly doubtful — especially when you consider he hit just .271 at Double-A last season.
Looking at the upcoming season, it’s unrealistic to think the Red Sox are going to be a 95-win team that will be playing in late October, so it’s reasonable to take an approach of, “Let’s see what the kid can do in the majors. Why not?”
But knowing that the patience of waiting two weeks will ensure Bradley remains with the Red Sox for an entire season when he’s in the prime of his career is all the answer you need.