Jackie Bradley Jr. beamed on a gloomy morning in late September. For more than eight years, he donned a Red Sox uniform. Now, at 30 years old, he was a free agent — a goal of his once he realized he was a mainstay in the big leagues.
“This is a big deal,” Bradley said at the time. “Once you first get to the big leagues, your goal is, ‘How can I stick in the big leagues?’ And then once you finally get your feet under you, it’s like, ‘Alright, well, if I get three years, I get to arbitration.’ You get three years [and] arbitration, it’s like, the next step is, ‘Alright, well, how can I get to free agency?’”
Over six months have passed since that moment, but Bradley finally has a team, agreeing to a $24 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-year pact with a player option after the first season, according to a major league source.
The Sox took Bradley in the first round (40th overall) in 2011 out of the University of South Carolina. Upon reaching the big leagues in 2013, his career came with its inconsistencies at the plate.
Bradley cracked the Opening Day roster that year after hitting .419 in spring training, but was optioned at the middle part of April. He totaled just 107 plate appearances in the majors that season, hitting .189, then .198 the following year in 423 plate appearances.
As a result, Bradley became accustomed to the trip between Fenway and Triple A Pawtucket. So much so that he and his wife, Erin, kept their apartment in Rhode Island and made the trip to Boston whenever his number was called.
“Erin and I would just sit in the car in just complete and utter silence,” Bradley said. “I was just completely baffled or angered by the way I had performed. It weighed on me heavy.”
Bradley’s success with the Sox began in 2016, when he slashed .267/.349/.486 with 26 homers and an .835 OPS. Bradley played a part in the 2018 World Series championship, named ALCS MVP weeks before winning his first and, to date, only Gold Glove.
Bradley is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, center fielder to ever play for the Red Sox. However, Bradley’s defensive metrics took a hit at Fenway because of its quirky dimensions. It made one former teammate imagine just how good Bradley would be with more room to maneuver.
“I would love to see Jackie play center field in a big outfield like Colorado,” former teammate David Price said during a phone conversation last September. “Where you can get to see him run around and get to see him be reckless in the outfield.”
Said sox reliever Matt Barnes: “To me, he is the best defensive center fielder in the game.”
Bradley, who is represented by mega-agent Scott Boras, wanted to take a slow and measured approach to free agency. Bradley, of course, wanted the right financial and baseball fit, but also the right living environment for himself, Erin, and children Emerson and Jackie Bradley III.
Bradley had his share of suitors this offseason, including the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, and Houston Astros. The Red Sox kept in contact with Bradley, but they were deemed more as check-ins than an actual pursuit.
The loss of Bradley officially caps the end of a Red Sox era, with both Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi traded in consecutive offseasons. Now, Bradley is elsewhere, too.
Bradley’s final season with the Sox was a success. He slashed .283/.364/.450 with 7 homers and an .814 OPS in the 60-game season. He believes he’s on the right side of 30, even with the doubt that comes with that.
“A lot of people like to say they’re proving people wrong or their critics wrong,” Bradley said. “I come from the mold where I like to prove the people that support me, that love me, my family. I like to prove them right.”