The Sox and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom are taking this transition slowly.
Monday marked the final day for teams to tender (or non-tender) arbitration-eligible players and the Sox stayed relatively quiet, non-tendering infielder Marco Hernandez and lefthanded reliever Josh Osich. They tendered the contracts of all 27 remaining unsigned players.
The Sox’ most intriguing news centered around their center fielder, Jackie Bradley Jr.
Evaluators on other teams speculated that the Red Sox might consider non-tendering Bradley — a decision that would have made him a free agent — at a time when his projected salary through arbitration could rise above $10 million.
While Bradley’s defense has been consistently excellent, his uneven offensive performance — which yielded a .225/.317/.421 line with 21 homers last season — led to questions about whether the Sox might part ways with the center fielder at a time when they have a stated goal of trimming payroll by more than $30 million. Had that occurred, some evaluators speculated, Bradley might have struggled to match his arbitration salary through free agency but likely would have fielded multiyear offers. The Sox would make such speculation irrelevant by tendering Bradley.
That doesn’t ensure the 29-year-old Bradley’s return next year, however. The Sox still could explore trades, and there could be a market for him — though with a return capped by the question of whether his salary might be large for his anticipated performance.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that Bradley’s 2019 numbers were dragged down by his early-season struggles in the wake of offseason swing adjustments, something that led to soaring swing-and-miss and strikeout rates through the first month and a half of the season.
From May 20 through the end of the year, in 109 games, Bradley hit .252/.342/.504 with 21 homers. Over that stretch of more than two-thirds of the season, he underscored that he can be a valuable player, albeit one for whom the career-long quest for consistency remains unfulfilled.
“I’m not satisfied,” Bradley said in the final days of the season. “I’m not where I want to be. I just feel like there’s still more.”
Hernandez had a shot to make an impression once the Sox were out of the race in September of last season. Both manager Alex Cora and assistant general manager, Eddie Romero were bullish on the young infielder’s talent and his potential ability to play multiple positions.
Additionally, he could have been a replacement for Brock Holt, who is now a free agent. Hernandez, on the other hand, had three more years of control.
“He’s a guy that we’re counting on,” Cora said at the end of last season. “He can run. He can put pressure on the defense. We do believe in him and we think that he’s a guy that can contribute.”
But, when given the chance Hernandez didn’t perform. In September, Hernandez hit just .169 in 60 plate appearances while striking out a whopping 23 times in that span. To add to his struggles at the plate, Hernandez didn’t play well in the field, oftentimes looking uncomfortable at second base, appearing as if the game was moving too fast for him.
The 2019 season marked the first time Hernandez was healthy after dealing with a shoulder injury for much of 2017-18. He’s playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but, so far he hasn’t performed their, either, hitting just .176 in 37 plate appearances.
The team claimed Osich off waivers last month from the Chicago White Sox. The Red Sox, perhaps, could bring Osich back on a minor-league deal. In 57 appearances for the White Sox in 2019, he set career highs in innings (67⅔ ) and strikeouts (61) while holding lefthanded hitters to a .171 batting average.