Jackie Bradley Jr. was prepared to walk away from baseball before Kansas City signed him in March.
The rebuilding Royals wanted more experience on their roster and Bradley has proved to be a good resource for young players such as center fielder Nate Eaton, right fielder MJ Melendez, and shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.
“Helping out anyway I possibly can,” Bradley said. “I’m definitely enjoying it. Talking about my experiences and ultimately just being around the guys. It’s fun.”
Bradley has much to offer. He was a two-time NCAA champion at South Carolina, a first-round draft pick, a World Series champion, a Gold Glove winner, a postseason hero, and an All-Star.
He’s also known the lows of being released and now coming off the bench for a last-place team and hitting .156 over 85 plate appearances.
At 33, Bradley is still a young man in real life and baseball is a chapter he’ll willingly close the book on when the time comes.
“I want to enjoy my family, travel, play golf, and just relax,” Bradley said. “I have plenty of things I enjoy outside of this game.”
Bradley is roughly a year away from 10 years of major league service time, a rare distinction for a player and a lucrative one given that it fully vests them in MLB’s pension plan.
“That was never really the goal,” Bradley said. “It’s a cool thing to have, but it was never something where I said, ‘Man, I have to get 10 years.’ If it happens, great. If not, that’s fine. I’ll be OK.”
Bradley had a roller coaster tenure with the Red Sox. He unexpectedly made the team out of spring training in 2013 but lasted only 12 games before being demoted.
After a series of starts and stops, Bradley became the everyday center fielder from 2016-20, a player defined by blistering hot streaks and Arctic cold slumps at the plate, but also one whose defense was consistently jaw-dropping.
Bradley left the Sox as a free agent, signing a lucrative two-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, only to return in a head-scratching trade before the 2022 season then being released in August.
“Good times and some bad times. It’s all part of it,” Bradley said. “Everyone’s life is like that in whatever business you’re in. How it ended in Boston, that’s not something I think about.
“I’m not going to sit here and complain. You keep moving forward. Only [Chris] Sale and [Rafael] Devers are still around from that ‘18 team, right? But I’m not surprised. Things always turn over in this game as people move on or decisions get made. It’s all part of it.”
Bradley maintains close ties with Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts, the bond they formed as outfielders still a strong one.
“We still hang out and talk to this day, and Markus and I go back a long time to when we first got drafted,” Bradley said. “I love seeing those guys. We had a great time playing together. It was special.”
But when asked what baseball memories he’ll tell his grandchildren about years from now, Bradley gave a surprising answer.
“Nothing,” he said. “I won’t talk about baseball once I’m done with it. I’m not bitter; I just have other interests. Baseball was fun but I liked it for what it was at the time.
“I have other things I want to do with my life.”
That could mean living in Spain or Argentina for a time so his wife, Erin, and their three children can experience another culture. Or perhaps taking on some kind of role at South Carolina.
“Spain intrigues me,” Bradley said. “I’d love to see my kids get that opportunity. I think living in a place where they learn a new language would be great. I wish I could have done that at their age.”
Bradley was long a topic of fervent discussion among Red Sox fans. He had defenders and detractors, both with valid points. As valuable as he was, he could have been even better.
But as he looks to the future, Bradley has no regrets. He’s made $55.5 million in baseball, helped win a World Series, and has a locker full of memories, even if he doesn’t plan to brag about them.
“Baseball doesn’t owe me anything,” Bradley said. “I had a great time and I still am. But when it’s over, I’ll have a lot of life to live.”
Red Sox missing some old friends
Former Red Sox starters Nate Eovaldi (Rangers), Rich Hill (Pirates), and Michael Wacha (Padres) are a combined 13-6 with a 3.49 ERA over 26 starts with their new teams.
Eovaldi in particular has been excellent, going 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA over nine starts and 60⅓ innings. He had a streak of 29⅔ scoreless innings come to an end on Wednesday against the Braves. Eovaldi left the game after seven innings with a 4-3 lead before Atlanta came back for a 6-5 victory.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox rotation went into the weekend 16-17, 5.27. The Sox already have used eight starters.
Eovaldi, Hill, and Wacha all became free agents after last season. To different degrees, all three were hopeful of returning, but it didn’t work out as the Red Sox signed Corey Kluber and showed faith in their internal options.
Now the Sox are left hoping Chris Sale and James Paxton can stay healthy and that Kluber isn’t on an irreversible slide after allowing 28 earned runs on 43 hits and 15 walks over his first 39⅓ innings.
That Kluber is scheduled to face Wacha in San Diego on Sunday afternoon isn’t necessarily a referendum on how the Sox built their rotation, but it still is interesting.
Maybe a rotation built around Sale, Paxton, Brayan Bello, and Garrett Whitlock can succeed. But not retaining Eovaldi in particular looks like a mistake, especially after he showed he was healthy at the end of last season.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ The Sox and Dodgers essentially swapped designated hitters in December.
The Dodgers signed 35-year-old J.D. Martinez for one year and $10 million. The Sox signed Justin Turner, 38, the next day for one year and $15 million, or two years and $21.7 million if he picks up his option for 2024.
It looks like a win so far for the Sox. Turner has a .795 OPS and played 97 innings in the field, which aids in his having a 0.8 bWAR.
Martinez has a .786 OPS, has played 15 fewer games because of a back injury, and hasn’t played the field. His bWAR is 0.0.
▪ The Sox are in the middle of a 23-game, 28-day stretch without playing any divisional foes. Their first game against the Yankees is June 9 in New York.
The new schedule format is good in the sense that every city will see the top players at least once every two years. But the rivalries will suffer a bit.
▪ Jorge Alfaro was hitting .340 with 27 RBIs and a .932 OPS through 34 games at Triple A Worcester. The 29-year-old, righthanded-hitting catcher has the right to opt out of his minor league contract on June 1, and again on July 1.
The Red Sox wouldn’t seem to have much use for Alfaro. Connor Wong and Reese McGuire have handled the catching duties well and Rob Refsynder has been an effective platoon bat from the right side.
Given how well he has hit, Alfaro should be able to find a role as a bench player in the majors. He’s not a very clean receiver, but he has a strong arm and can play corner outfield and first base if needed.
▪ It has become trendy to compare the 2023 Red Sox to the 2013 team because they have so far defied modest expectations after bringing in a number of new players.
That’s a bit of a stretch. The ‘13 team was built on a foundation of high-end talent with players such as Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia already in place.
Yes, free agents Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Shane Victorino all were pleasant surprises. But it’s not a straightforward comparison to this season. The ‘23 Sox are a younger, less-expensive team that has overachieved in a different way.
Raleigh makes Fenway history
Seattle’s Cal Raleigh hit home runs from both sides of the plate on Monday night, something no catcher had ever done at Fenway Park. Not even Jason Varitek, the player Raleigh grew up idolizing.
Raleigh was born and raised in North Carolina but comes from a family of Red Sox fans. His father, Todd, is from Swanton, Vt., and is the former coach at Western Carolina and Tennessee. Jeff Raleigh, an uncle, led a large group of family members from Vermont to Fenway for the game.
“You forget how special he is because he’s in the family. I’m so happy for all of his successes, and it was a great experience to be at the game in Fenway. This is a gift to the family,” Jeff told Ruthie Laroche of the St. Albans Messenger.
Raleigh hit 27 home runs last season, the most among catchers in the majors. He also was a Gold Glove finalist. The two homers at Fenway traveled 872 feet.
“It’s special here,” Raleigh told reporters. “It’s really cool. I haven’t thought a lot about it, but it’s kind of surprising that Varitek never did it. But it’s super cool, and I guess I get to say that I did that.”
Varitek signed a jersey for Raleigh last season.
Drew Pomeranz has not appeared in a major league game since Aug. 10, 2021. The 34-year-old lefthander tore a flexor tendon that day, which required surgery. A minor league rehabilitation assignment a year later lasted only five games before Pomeranz was shut down again. He tried again in April and this time it was only three games before the process was stopped. The plan is to try again later this season. “It’s been a long time, but I’m doing everything I can to pitch this season,” Pomeranz said. His four-year, $34 million contract with the Padres expires after the season but Pomeranz plans to keep playing. “I have a 2-year-old-son who loves baseball and I want to share it with him,” he said. Pomeranz was with the Red Sox from 2016-18. He was on the roster for the 2018 World Series but did not appear in any games. “That season was such a great experience,” he said. “Playing in Boston was special because people really care about baseball there. You don’t get that everywhere.” … Fare thee well Aníbal Sánchez, who announced his retirement this past week. Sánchez, 39, was originally signed by the Red Sox in 2001 out of Venezuela. He and Hanley Ramirez headlined a package of four prospects sent to the Marlins in 2005 to land Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. The Sox got the 2007 World Series out of the deal. Sánchez went on to play 16 seasons with four teams and win 116 games. He finished up with the Nationals, helping Washington win the 2019 World Series … Through Friday, the Blue Jays and White Sox were the only teams to have used five starting pitchers all season. The Rays (11) and Marlins (10) had the most … Boston College outfielder Jake Alu was the 723rd player taken in the 2019 draft and signed for $10,000. The 26-year-old defied the odds by making his major league debut on May 9 and appearing in four games with the Nationals … Mariners righthander Bryce Miller allowed one earned run over 19 innings in his first three career starts. No Seattle pitcher had done anything like that since Felix Hernandez gave up two earned runs over 21 innings 2005 … Rookie infielder Gunnar Henderson went into the weekend hitting .197 with a .711 OPS for the Orioles. But they see his 26 walks and 11 extra-base hits as a sign of good things to come. That Baltimore started 28-16 allows general manager Mike Elias to have patience with Henderson. “His at-bats are better than what the statistics show,” a rival evaluator said. “He could have a big summer.” … Rich Hill faced Miguel Cabrera for the first time on June 15, 2005, at Wrigley Field. Cabrera doubled. They met up again on Wednesday at Comerica Park for what is likely the last time and Cabrera was 0 for 2 against the lefty. Cabrera is 8 for 21 against Hill with four walks and eight strikeouts. But the 43-year-old Hill had the satisfaction of outracing the 40-year-old Cabrera to first base to record an out in the second inning … Aroldis Chapman took a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Royals to be a setup man for Scott Barlow and has excelled, averaging 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings over 18 appearances. Chapman has given up some hard contact but still averages 99.5 miles per hour with his fastball. He’s almost sure to be traded by the deadline … Bad Bunny, the wildly popular rapper from Puerto Rico, is slowly becoming a force in baseball. He’s one of the partners of Rimas Sports, an agency that is an arm of the Rimas Entertainment record label based in San Juan that has offices in Miami, Venezuela, and Colombia. Rimas has Blue Jays infielder Santiago Espinal on its roster and recently signed Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez. Most of its other clients are prospects for the moment … The Padres aren’t playing well on the field but they are a success at the box office. San Diego drew 112,304 fans for a three-game weekday series against the Royals and has averaged 38,278, fifth most in the majors … All the best to Steve Lyons, who is home in California recovering from disk surgery in his neck … D’Angelo Ortiz, David’s son, hit .328 with a .721 OPS over 48 games for Miami Dade College in his freshman year, helping the Sharks finish 34-16-1. He’ll play for Brewster in the Cape Cod League, which starts up June 10 … Happy birthday to Andrew Miller, who is 38. Miller retired in March after a 16-year career that encompassed seven teams, including the Red Sox from 2011-14. The tall lefty was a struggling former first-round pick before going to the bullpen in 2012 with the Sox. He excelled, aided significantly by the advice of mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury. Miller had a 2.68 ERA and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 years as a reliever and made 29 playoff appearances, allowing four earned runs over 38⅔ innings. Miller changed how teams view relievers with his ability to go multiple innings in high-leverage situations. He also was an influential member of the Players Association and an eloquent spokesman about issues around the game.