KC Royals: Why the Jackie Bradley Jr. signing is no blockbuster

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Thinking, and sometimes dreaming, about Jackie Bradley Jr. playing for the KC Royals are things Kansas City fans used to do, especially and most recently after the 2020 season when he was busy testing the free agent market. Happily imagining Bradley, always an excellent defender, running down fly balls and liners in Kauffman Stadium's spacious outfield was easy to do.

But he sought his free agency fortune in Milwaukee, leaving his Kansas City fans nothing but wishful thinking until the Red Sox, to whom he'd returned after the 2021 campaign, released him last summer. Heard again was talk of him coming to Kauffman, but nothing came of it.

Now, however, and as of late Wednesday afternoon, Jackie Bradley Jr. is a Royal: the club announced it's signed him to a minor league contract. Naturally for a player of his stature, an invitation to spring training went along with the deal.

Unfortunate circumstances made news of Bradley's signing predictable. But don't think it's huge.

The KC Royals clearly believe Jackie Bradley Jr. can fill an immediate need

Recent injuries to three outfielders clearly led the Royals to acquire Bradley; there's no indication they had any interest in the 10-year big league veteran before Drew Waters, Brewer Hicklen and Diego Hernandez all went down with injuries. None will be back anytime soon: Waters and Hicklen are expected to miss several weeks, Hernandez three to four months.

That the Royals wanted to find at least short-term help became clear Wednesday morning when 610 Sports Radio's Cody Tapp reported they were seeking more depth in the outfield; whether they expected to have Bradley signed immediately is unknown, but they appear to have wasted no time securing Bradley's services.

And the price is right: Bradley's minor league pay won't be much and will increase only if he makes the big club. But is the move otherwise prudent?

It's a low-risk proposition, but chances of high reward are slim. Bradley's defense has always been excellent (it's surprising he's won only one Gold Glove) but he's never been a great hitter. He hit a combined .203 for Boston and Toronto last season, .163 for the Brewers the season before, and posted his career high of .283 in 2020 when the short season rendered statistics less than convincing. He'd never hit better than .267 before then and hasn't since. His career average is only .227, and he's exceeded 100 OPS+ only three times.

With all those things considered, Bradley probably isn't vying for a starting job. The Royals will give him his share of Cactus League looks, but don't expect him to replace MJ Melendez in left (especially because Bradley rarely plays the position), or Kyle Isbel in center. He could conceivably sneak into right field, but only if Edward Olivares hits miserably or gets hurt. And even if he does, Nate Eaton is probably a better fit there than Bradley at this late stage of the latter's career.

Then there's what the future holds: unless Bradley suddenly becomes a hitter he's never been, and barring injuries to other outfielders, the club probably won't have room for him once Waters returns, and he shouldn't block any of Kansas City's younger outfielders.

All that makes Bradley's value to the Royals obvious: he's a stopgap measure, a player to provide short-term depth and not someone the club should retain if it's not absolutely necessary.

So, don't think of Bradley's signing as a blockbuster acquisition. It isn't.

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