GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 27, 2013

Sox option -- don't start year with Bradley Jr. at Fenway

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — The same poll question is appearing on almost every Boston sports website:

Should Jackie Bradley Jr. make the Red Sox Opening Day roster?

A) Yes

B) No

I pick B, which might sound bizarre because I’ve said before that the Red Sox keep some prospects in the minors too long while other teams such as the 2012 Baltimore Orioles — who promoted 20-year-old Manny Machado without any Triple-A experience — have benefitted greatly from promoting and relying on young talent.

Let’s face it: The 2013 Red Sox are a long shot to make the playoffs. It’s more crucial now than ever to keep an eye on the future.

Bradley Jr. — along with Xander Bogaerts, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes — is a big part of Boston’s future.

Therefore, Boston GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell should agree that it is in the best interest of the organization to keep Bradley in a Red Sox uniform for as long as possible, meaning through at least the 2019 season and not just 2018.

The Red Sox could get an extra year out of Bradley by assigning him to Triple-A Pawtucket to start this year and promoting him to Boston on April 11 or later.

“The major goal for all organizations is to develop impact players that an organization has control of during their prime years,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett told The Eagle-Tribune last year.

Crockett is right. The fundamental goal — for both big and small market major league teams — is to build from within before turning to free agency and to keep homegrown players in the organization for as long as possible at a reasonable salary.

Boston needs Bradley in his prime for seven years, not six.

A player is granted free agency for the first time if he is not under contact after his sixth season. A player completes a full major league season when on the big league club’s active roster for 172 days during one season.

Opening Day for the Red Sox this season is April 1. The team’s final regular season game is Sept. 29. That calculates to 182 days. So if Bradley is promoted April 11 or after, then 2013 won’t count as a full major league season for him.

It also should be noted if a player is optioned to a minor league team for fewer than 20 days, he is credited with major league service during that period.

So if Bradley makes the Opening Day roster, he would need to spend 20 or more games in the minors at some point to delay his free agency until 2019.

Translation: Have some patience people. What is 11 days and nine games in the big scheme of things? Keep Bradley in Pawtucket for the first week and a half and keep him in the organization an extra year.

The Red Sox have been criticized in recent years for making the popular decisions rather than the right ones. It seems having Bradley in the Opening Day lineup is a popular decision as several local columnists and radio hosts have called for Bradley to be with Boston on April 1. Boston undoubtedly could use his bat with David Ortiz on the disabled list to begin the year. The Sox also could use his glove in left field. He’s a tremendous defensive outfielder.

Sure, the Red Sox could start Bradley in Boston to begin the year with the idea of optioning him to Pawtucket for 20 days after Ortiz returns.

But say Ortiz returns in early May and at that point Bradley is hitting .310 with a .380 on base percentage.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable for Bradley to begin the year in Triple-A than to send him down if he’s in the midst of helping the big club win games and feeling comfortable against major league pitching?

It also obviously wouldn’t hurt for Bradley to receive some more at-bats in the minors, too. We’re talking about a guy who batted .315 with a sensational .430 on-base percentage last year during his first full professional season but who hit just .229 during the final full month.

Bradley felt fatigued as last season progressed.

“I felt like I was prepared for it physically,” he said. “Mentally, it wore on me — just knowing it was a lot more games.”

Bradley said he is better prepared for the grind this year, but again, a start in the minors would benefit. It would better for him to start strong in the minors than possibly start off struggling in the majors and maybe need to be sent down to Pawtucket even before Ortiz is ready to return.

Yes, Bradley is tearing up the Grapefruit League. He is a legit talent. But spring training stats don’t translate to regular season stats because often times hitters are facing minor league pitchers.

Bradley, for example, went 2 for 4 with a double against the Yankees this past week but his hits were against Vidal Nuno and Mark Montgomery, neither of whom have major league experience.

“It’s such a huge growing process, and it starts on Opening Day, not here,” Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes told ESPNBoston.com recently.

“Because, unfortunately, on Opening Day everybody is hitting zero. You don’t get a jump start because you’re having a good spring.

“Just about every vet hits about .110 in the spring and goes off in the season,” Gomes added. “I’ve seen tons of dudes who’ve had lights-out springs and then it’s this and it’s that. Sometimes it’s vice versa: They have a lights-out spring, the season starts, and they keep running.”

Spring training stats are deceiving. After all, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers was batting .270 in 37 at-bats this spring as of Saturday. Superstar center fielder Matt Kemp of the Dodgers was hitting .182 in 33 at-bats as of Saturday. I’m all for the Red Sox promoting Bradley — but only after 11 days in Pawtucket and then only if he is hitting well against Triple-A pitching.

With Ortiz sidelined, the Red Sox have other options beyond moving Gomes to DH and going with Bradley in left field for the first 11 days — and nine games — of the season.

If I was Cherington I’d put catcher Ryan Lavarnway and outfielder/first baseman Mike Carp on the Opening Day roster. That way, the Red Sox would have three catchers and then could rotate Carp, Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in and out of the DH position.

But I’m not Cherington, so we’ll all have to wait to see what he does. One thing is for sure: All all eyes are on both Bradley and Cherington with Opening Day less than a week away.