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March 25. 2013 9:00PM

Vin Sylvia: Bradley worth the wait for Red Sox


 

March 24, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley (74) signs autographs prior to the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports 
JACKIE Bradley Jr. came off the bench for the Red Sox Monday and went 2-for-2, with a two-run single and a triple.

After 24 spring-training games, he's batting .444 (24-for-54), with an on-base percentage of .523 and an OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) of 1.190. All three numbers are team-highs among Sox players with double-digit plate appearances.

In addition to all that, the soon-to-be 23-year-old outfielder's defense has been outstanding.

So of course when the Red Sox open the season at Yankee Stadium on April 1, Jackie Bradley Jr. should be ... back in the minor leagues.

By now, you probably know the two sides of the Great JBJ Debate.

No question he should start the season with the major-league club, goes one argument. He's been the Red Sox' best player in spring training, and David Ortiz's heel woes have created a lineup opening. Bradley is ready to play in the major leagues now, and the Red Sox shouldn't have him start the season in the minors merely for the sake of delaying his eligibility for arbitration and free agency.

But he needs to go to the minors for only 11 calendar days from the start of the season for the Sox to avoid losing a full year of control over where Bradley plays, goes the counter. In that 11-day span, the Red Sox are scheduled to play nine games, early-April weather permitting. Sacrificing a full year of a player's prime for nine games - max - at the start of his career is not a good trade-off.

I'm in the latter camp. I realize the season in question, 2019, is a long ways off, but imagine this scenario:

The Red Sox are one of the top teams in baseball, coming off an appearance in the 2018 postseason, and Bradley is a five-time All-Star. But Bradley's also a Scott Boras client who's now eligible for free-agency, and there is serious doubt as to whether Boston will be able to re-sign him. Without him, its chances of returning to the playoffs will be greatly reduced.

All because they had him start 2013 with a big-league club in a bridge year rather than spend less than two weeks in the minors.

Still think nine games in 2013 are worth losing a full season six years down the road? Consider this:

The first nine games on the Red Sox' schedule are against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays, teams with a combined six left-handers in their starting rotations. Right off the bat, Boston will face CC Sabathia in the opener in the opener on Monday and Andy Pettitte in the series finale at the Stadium on Thursday.

If you place the lefty-hitting Bradley on the Opening Day roster, you then have a choice: Play him against Sabathia and Pettite and risk a career-starting funk or sit him against the veteran southpaws and whittle down to seven the max number of games for which you're forfeiting an entire season of player control.

Yes, the team can secure that season of control by sending Bradley down to the minors at a later date, but what if circumstances - a rash of injuries, a moderate to high level of success - make it impractical to demote him once the season's begun? That's fine if having him on the roster for the entire season helps get the Red Sox back to the postseason this year, but who really believes that's going to happen?

In a more likely scenario, Bradley spends the entire season in the majors, bats a respectable .280 or so with decent production, and the Red Sox finish with a record of about 84-78.

And when he heads to free agency five years later, taking the next season's playoff hopes with him, Sox fans will be scratching their heads and asking, "Why was it they gave up an entire year of Jackie Bradley Jr. for a few games at the start of 2013?"

Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at vsylvia@unionleader.com.

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