It’s rare when the Red Sox make a trade that comes as a complete surprise.
By the end with Mookie Betts, it was just a matter of when and where. You knew Dave Dombrowski would give up whatever prospects it took to get Chris Sale in 2016.
The 2014 fire sale engineered by Ben Cherington was as predictable as it gets.
But the Red Sox and Brewers pulled off a legitimate shocker late Wednesday night, sending Jackie Bradley Jr. back to Boston along with two prospects for Hunter Renfroe.
This would be the same Jackie Bradley Jr. the Sox showed zero interest in retaining when he was a free agent a year ago.
The e-mail announcing the deal arrived at 11:30, 30 minutes before the lockout froze transactions. It required a second look. The Sox really had done this?
They did, and here is why.
It’s about the prospects. Alex Binelas, 21, was a third-round pick in June out of Louisville. The lefthanded hitter signed for $700,000 and put up a .973 OPS in 36 minor league games.
Binelas needs work defensively. He’s a corner infielder for now but could end up in left field. But the power is what attracted the Red Sox.
“The bat is really his calling card,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “A good hitter with really special power.”
David Hamilton, 24, was an eighth-round pick in 2019 from the University of Texas. He’s a shortstop who got to Double A last season, then had a .916 OPS in 14 Arizona Fall League games.
Hamilton ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in 2019 and missed that season. But he signed with the Brewers, finished his rehab, and played for an independent league team in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic.
Hamilton stole 31 bases as a college sophomore and had 52 in 61 attempts last season in 101 minor league games.
If baseball follows through with rule changes to bring more athleticism into the game, Hamilton could have a lot of value.
“Premium speed and a really good middle infielder. He plays a really good shortstop,” Bloom said. “Exciting player to add to our system.”
Bradley is due $9.5 million in 2022 with an $8 million buyout for 2023 or a $12 million mutual option. Renfroe is projected to make $7.6 million next season.
In essence, the Sox paid about $10 million to get Binelas and Hamilton.
The Sox sold high on Renfroe. He had 31 homers, 96 RBIs, and an .816 OPS over a career-high 144 games last season.
Renfroe was an all-or-nothing player on both sides of the ball. The home runs came at the expense of a .315 OBP. He also had 16 assists and 12 errors in right field.
For every spectacular play Renfroe made in the field, there was a misplayed fly ball or a wild throw. He finished the season with minus-1 defensive runs saved.
The Brewers will be Renfroe’s fourth team in four years. He’ll probably be looking for another home a year from now.
Bradley had 12 DRS last season despite starting only 99 games. But he was otherwise a bust for the Brewers. He hit .163, and his .497 OPS was the lowest among the 188 players in the majors with at least 400 plate appearances.
Bradley started poorly, never came out of it, and resisted changes to his approach. He had only 47 at-bats in September.
The Sox are banking on the past. Bradley was a league-average hitter from 2016-20.
“I think we all know the ability he has is better than what he showed this year,” Bloom said. “I think coming back here, we’ll be able to get him back to a lot of what he used to do.
“We know he’s a better hitter than what he showed.”
The Sox were a disaster defensively last season when Kiké Hernández wasn’t in center field. This trade gives them better options.
If Hernández plays second base, the Sox can use Bradley in center. Or they can play Bradley in right field with Hernández in center. Or maybe Bradley is a fourth outfielder and now there’s room for free agent Kyle Schwarber in left with Alex Verdugo in right field.
As Bloom said, having two premium center fielders can’t be a bad thing. Most teams can’t come up with one.
I like the trade because it gives manager Alex Cora more options. As good as Hernández was last season, he’ll be even better if he plays more often at second base. Bradley also has a lot to prove and knows he’ll have to earn his time.
The long-term play is what’s intriguing.
The Sox have Hamilton, Nick Yorke, Jeter Downs, and Marcelo Mayer as middle-infield prospects with high ceilings.
The first base, third base, and left field group includes Binelas, Triston Casas, and Blaze Jordan, with Bobby Dalbec already in the majors.
It’s unlikely all eight of those players end up in Boston. Some will be trade chips.
“The key for us is to use our resources as best we can,” Bloom said. “We want to make sure that we’re making what in our mind are good deals. Those can be small deals, or they can be big deals.
“We want to make sure we put ourselves in position to line up on good deals.”