Don’t Trade Jackie Bradley for Jose Abreu by Dave Cameron November 29, 2017 If there’s been one fairly easy prognostication this winter, it’s that the Red Sox are going to sign one of the expensive free agent hitters available in this class. Dave Dombrowski has historically not been shy about spending big to upgrade his roster, and has also shown a propensity for building rosters around power. The Red Sox ranked 27th in home runs last year. This is probably not something he wants to repeat. So everyone has been linking the Red Sox to one of J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, or Carlos Santana, the three best hitters in this class. But perhaps the assumption that the Sox would sign one of those three has been more about those guys being available than about how well any of them actually might fit in Boston. Of those three, Martinez is the only guy who could be described as a slugger, with Hosmer and Santana creating value by making contact (and drawing walks, in Santana’s case). Saying that Dombrowski will sign Hosmer or Santana to help the team’s home run total is weird, given that the Red Sox got 21 home runs from their first baseman last year, while Santana projects to hit 28 this year and Hosmer projects to hit 26. It’s more than they got from Mitch Moreland and friends, but it’s not like either one is going to dramatically alter the team’s slugging percentage. And Martinez, while filling the desire for dingers, would require some sacrifices on the roster to make the current team work. An OF/DH joining a team that already has three outfielders and a DH means that either Hanley Ramirez has to play first base almost everyday — which he hasn’t been healthy enough to do of late — or that Martinez has to displace either Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. from the line-up. And if you’re spending north of $100 million to sign Martinez, you want to make sure you’re getting a substantial upgrade, not just swapping out one good player for another. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the Red Sox are looking at alternative options. And this morning, Jon Heyman reported on one that might be a particularly good fit. chisox have been in active talks with red sox and others on star 1B jose abreu. boston was 1 of 4 finalists for abreu when he signed with chicago (milwaukee & houston were the others). — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 29, 2017 Abreu has hit 30+ home runs in three of his four seasons in the majors, and is coming off a particularly strong season, where he hit .304/.354/.552, good for a 138 wRC+. He’s not a great defensive first baseman, but he’s good enough to allow Hanley to stay at DH full-time. He’d give the team something similar in overall production to what they could get from signing Hosmer or Santana, only slanted more towards the home run side of things, which probably fits Dombrowski’s preferences a bit more. And if you trade for Abreu, you aren’t signing up for a long-term commitment. Abreu has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and then the team could decide whether Rafael Devers is going to stick at third base long-term or if they need to shift him across the diamond. Abreu would upgrade the team’s offense in the short-term without requiring the kind of contract that could hamper the team’s efforts to win in the future. Abreu makes plenty of sense for the Red Sox, and maybe more sense than any of the free agents. So, unsurprisingly, my chat today contained plenty of questions about what an Abreu-to-Boston trade might look like. More surprising was how many of them involved the Red Sox send Bradley to Chicago as part of the deal. Let’s just get this out of the way, since I already wrote it in the headline: the Red Sox should not trade Jackie Bradley Jr for Jose Abreu straight up. Abreu is a nice player who would help the team, but turning Bradley into Abreu is a lateral move at best. Bradley and Abreu, Past 3 Seasons 2015-2017 PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR Jackie Bradley Jr. 1432 0.255 0.337 0.456 0.339 109 10.2 24.7 21.6 9.7 Jose Abreu 2038 0.296 0.351 0.508 0.362 130 -8.7 64.1 -43.8 9.1 Over the last three years, Bradley and Abreu have produced roughly equivalent WAR totals despite Bradley getting 600 fewer plate appearances. Abreu’s clearly a better hitter, but there’s a huge gap in baserunning value, so the offensive difference has only been about worth 10 runs per 600 PAs, and Bradley’s outstanding defense in center field is clearly worth more than Abreu’s mediocre defense at first base. Bradley’s WAR isn’t inflated by some huge UZR numbers either; in fact, the public perception is that Bradley is more valuable defensively than our fielding numbers suggest. Going forward, Bradley should continue to be at least as valuable as Abreu, if not more so. He turns 28 in April, while Abreu turns 31 in January. And while one can certainly quibble with Bradley’s inconsistency, as he fell apart in the second half last year, Abreu hasn’t exactly been a steady performer himself, performing at a below-average level as recently as 2016. Steamer projects Bradley for +3.2 WAR in 2018, while Abreu is forecast for +2.8 WAR, so unless you’re dramatically overweighting offensive value, swapping the two wouldn’t really make the Red Sox better. And then there are the financial implications. Both Abreu and Bradley are arbitration eligible this winter, but because of how arbitration rewards offense relative to defense, their projected costs are wildly different. Matt Swartz forecasts a $17.9 million salary for Abreu, a $7 million raise over what he got as a first-time eligible player last year. Bradley, meanwhile, is projected to earn just $5.9 million, a $2.3 million raise over what he got as a Super-Two last year, given that his 2017 offensive numbers won’t impress the panel. So swapping the two straight up would add $11 million to the Red Sox payroll for 2018. That isn’t enough to sign a premium free agent, but it gets you most of the way to the AAV that a guy like Carlos Santana would require, and just signing him instead would give the team a +3 WAR first baseman while also retaining their +3 WAR center fielder. And then there’s the service time difference. While both Bradley and Abreu are second-time arbitration eligible, Abreu has four full years of service, while Bradley is at 3 years and 159 days, meaning he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season. So the Red Sox have three more years of Bradley’s services, while Abreu would only come with two years of control before he hit free agency. And it’s not like the Red Sox have a starting-caliber fourth outfielder who would make it more efficient to turn a +3 WAR outfielder into a +3 WAR first baseman. Right now, we have their top outfield reserve as Bryce Brentz, a soon-to-be-29-year-old who spent all of last year in Triple-A and projects to put up an 87 wRC+ next year. The other internal option is probably Brock Holt, who was alternately terrible and injured last year, and has a career wRC+ of 88. Neither of these guys should be starting for a contender in 2018. If the Red Sox traded Bradley for Abreu, they’d be removing roughly $11 million from their budget while simply shifting the spot at which they’d need to upgrade this winter. Oh, and this is a much deeper class of first baseman sign than outfielders, so replacing Bradley by just throwing more money at a veteran is likely more difficult than just signing someone to play first base. And they’d be getting older while reducing the number of controllable years of their best players. Trading Bradley for Abreu would make the Red Sox worse, not better. It’s just not something the organization should want to do. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t trade for Abreu, though. If the White Sox request is more reasonable, and they can add Abreu while keeping Bradley for themselves, that’s certainly something worth exploring. But Abreu is going to cost something like $40 million over the next two years, and at that price, he’s not so much more valuable than any of the free agent alternatives that the team should surrender some high-quality asset to bring him to Boston. If he costs you a couple of not-that-close prospects, that’s interesting. If the White Sox want Bradley, though, Dombrowski should tell them to go pound sand.