DENVER — Not sure we got to see enough of Jackie Bradley Jr. in the big leagues this season to determine whether he could replace Jacoby Ellsbury as the starting center fielder if Ellsbury departs in free agency.
But the Red Sox insist they still love Bradley’s ability.
Both Ellsbury and Bradley are represented by Scott Boras, who is on record as saying that he hopes Ellsbury and the Sox can reach an agreement. Bradley and Ellsbury are different players. Both are speedy, but Ellsbury is faster and could be the best base stealer in baseball right now. In the post-steroid era, that’s a valuable commodity, and Boras knows it.
The expectation is that the Red Sox won’t offer more than five years for Ellsbury, but may be willing to approach $20 million per year. The Sox could end up paying less annual value to the heart and soul of the team, Dustin Pedroia, but that’s what Pedroia agreed to when he signed an eight-year, $110 million extension in July.
Ellsbury also is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Bradley is a good outfielder, but whether he’s Gold Glove-caliber remains to be seen.
The Red Sox insist that Bradley has done nothing to diminish their opinion of him.
Bradley received the majority of his playing time this season in Pawtucket, where he hit .275 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 320 at-bats. Bradley took spring training by storm and made the team out of the gate. His big league numbers haven’t matched the hype — .191 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 89 at-bats — but the 23-year-old has time to blossom.
“I’m learning and that’s the main thing,” said Bradley. “Even though I missed the learning curve, I felt I’m getting better whether it’s mentally or physically. Just be professional every single day. You have to be ready to play, come in if you’re not in the starting lineup. Come in and be able to help out any way you can.”
Manager John Farrell pretty much said the same thing, that Bradley has been able to get his feet wet in the majors, face big league pitching, and understand what it takes to excel at this level.
Whether that translates into a full-time job next season remains to be seen. That depends on Ellsbury’s status, though in Boras’s perfect world Ellsbury would be in center and Bradley in left. But with Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Daniel Nava potentially in the way, Bradley starting next season is hardly a slam dunk.
Ellsbury will have suitors, including the Mets, Mariners, and Rangers. If he’s enticed to stay in Boston, that could squeeze out Bradley.
Most scouts from other teams who watched a lot of Bradley in Pawtucket feel he will hit in the major leagues eventually. The consensus is he’s going through a feeling-out process, much as Pedroia did early in his career and Will Middlebrooks did this year.
The Red Sox will continue to use Ryan Dempster out of the bullpen and hope he becomes a useful late-inning option in the playoffs.
“If I can get as many [opportunities] as I possibly can, just to get into different situations
Dempster closed for the Cubs from 2005-07 when he amassed 85 saves, but it’s been a while since he worked out of the pen. Saturday’s relief appearance against the Blue Jays was his first in six years.
“We’re trying to do something special here, we’re trying to going out there and compete for a championship, so any place I feel like I can help, I can get righties and lefties out, hopefully I can be a guy that they lean on in the biggest pressure situations there are,” he said.
Dempster hopes the shorter stints will give him added velocity, but he still reached 90 miles per hour on his fastball Saturday. Dempster’s out pitch is his splitter. In that regard, his repertoire is similar to that of Koji Uehara, who also throws 90 and a splitter.
Farewell to Helton
The Red Sox open a two-game set in Colorado Tuesday and get to see Todd Helton for the final time. Helton is retiring after 17 seasons, all with the Rockies. He has a .316 average, .414 OBP, and .953 OPS for his career, with 2,514 hits, 368 home runs, and 1,402 RBIs . . . Tickets for the Division Series go on sale Tuesday at noon, via redsox.com or by calling 888-REDSOX6.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.