The Red Sox seem to be using the term “roster configuration” a lot these days.
After they released Jackie Bradley Jr., the only above-average defensive outfielder on their active roster, manager Alex Cora went on WEEI and said the decision was about “roster configuration.”
As ridiculous as it sounds, the fact is the Sox decided that Jaylin Davis, a 28-year-old with just 33 career big league games and a .247 average in Worcester, was going to help them more than Bradley, a Gold Glove center fielder who, despite his road struggles, is hitting .288 with 14 doubles in 45 games at Fenway Park.
It’s hard to make sense of the move, but regardless, it brings up some important conversation topics.
Was roster configuration at the core of the decision to trade Christian Vazquez to the Astros, a team that the Sox will almost certainly have to get through if they’re going to make a Cinderella run towards capturing the American League pennant?
That decision was about stockpiling prospects, and not elite ones, but depth guys who will fall into the teens and 20-somethings of the Sox’ prospect rankings.
It’s the same reason they acquired Bradley in the first place. The Brewers were so interested in shedding his salary that they threw in a couple of fringe-level prospects to get it done.
The idea to upgrade the outfield defense was a good one; the Red Sox were terrible at catching the ball last year and it was a noticeable problem right on through October. The problem, of course, is that the Sox had to get rid of Hunter Renfroe in the process and never replaced his offensive production.
As of writing this, the Sox rank 29th in WAR (0.5) and 25th in OPS (.662) from the outfield position in 2022.
Roster configuration hasn’t exactly been the Sox’ strong suit.
The problems at first base have been well-documented — their .623 OPS at first base is worse than every team but Ben Cherington’s Pirates, who are in a full-on rebuild — and the issues are only going to get deeper this offseason, when they’re set to lose Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Kiké Hernandez, Kevin Plawecki, Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha and Matt Strahm, among others, to free agency.
The prospect pipeline that Chaim Bloom has been trying to build is getting deeper, but has few players who look like impact players in 2023. First baseman Triston Casas is the only one we can safely predict will make substantial contributions next season.
Which means this winter, “roster configuration” will once again be a phrase you’ll hear a lot about.
Bradley deserved better than to get his release in August, just after the trade deadline, though he’ll likely sign on with a contending team in need of a defensive outfielder and require only the league minimum salary to do so.
He was an exemplary citizen since the Red Sox made him the 40th overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft. He was a regular at charity events, an easy fan favorite, a dazzling sensation in center field and a streaky hitter who looked like Bryce Harper for three weeks each year, including in the 2018 AL Championship Series, when he earned MVP honors for his work against the Astros.
It’s uncertain what happened to him over the last two years, when he’s been among the worst offensive regulars in the game. Still, at a time when defense is being valued higher than ever before, there’s a roster spot for Bradley on almost any team in the big leagues.
Just not the Red Sox, who evidently think they’re good enough without him.
It’s another hit to the fanbase, which has watched so many favorites go out the door since 2020. Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brock Holt join Bradley and Vazquez, among others who won a title for the 2018 Red Sox but are no longer in the organization.
Teams can’t stay together forever. That’s just the business. But this week’s decisions to move on from Vazquez and Bradley are just the start of what could be a total makeover for the franchise over the next six months.
The window on this team’s opportunity to compete is closing. And with it, some of the Red Sox’ most beloved players are on their way out.
Tough times ahead.