BALTIMORE — Wearing a Blue Jays t-shirt and team-branded workout shorts, longtime Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. sat in the visitors dugout at Camden Yards Tuesday afternoon and answered questions about the team that had finally landed him.
Granted, the scale of the acquisition isn’t quite as large as it would have been a couple of winters ago, when the Blue Jays showed interest before he landed with the Brewers on a two-year, $24 million deal, or even last off-season when the Blue Jays looked into acquiring him from Milwaukee.
The two-time World Series winner is in the midst of a down season at the plate during which he’s hitting .210 with a .578 OPS in 91 games with Boston. But even at 32 years old, Bradley’s a strong defensive outfielder, and after being released by the Red Sox last week, he was looking for a new place to play. Before long, the Blue Jays came calling.
“It all happened quickly,” Bradley Jr. said. “I’m excited to be here. It’s a great team and a contending team that’s done a lot of great things this year.”
The addition of Bradley Jr. to the Blue Jays’ outfield mix also raises some interesting questions about how the Blue Jays will use the new acquisition and what it means for others on the roster. His skillset is similar to that of Bradley Zimmer, who remains on the roster, meaning two of the Blue Jays’ 26 roster spots are now going to glove-first outfielders.
“It’s another one to add to the mix for sure. Great track record and he’s familiar in this division,” interim manager John Schneider said. “We love his defence and his speed and his versatility. At this time of year, you just want to have as many options as you can. We’re excited to have him.”
While Zimmer’s been used primarily as a bench player of late, Bradley Jr. could see some starts, according to Schneider. While the Blue Jays certainly aren’t counting on Bradley to be a 20-homer hitter anymore, he strikes out less frequently than Zimmer (20.0 per cent strikeout rate vs. 38.4 per cent).
“Every year’s a challenging year,” Bradley Jr. said when asked about his hitting. “You go through a lot of different things. I haven’t had the offensive year that I wanted, but it’s a fresh start and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Late in games, the Blue Jays could even push for lockdown outfield defence by using Zimmer in centre and Bradley Jr. in right. As Schneider said, “That’s a pretty good setup if you’re playing for defence.”
George Springer did some fielding drills Tuesday afternoon as a way to stay active after receiving an anti-inflammatory shot in his right elbow, but he has yet to accelerate his hitting and throwing programs. As such, there’s a window for Bradley Jr. to make an impression. Given the chance to compete for a contender and play in a city he enjoys, he took it.
“I’m actually a pretty touristy guy,” he said. “I’ve been inside the Casa Loma, been around the city a little bit, been in the CN Tower, took my dad up there and had lunch. I’ve been to the Ripley’s (Aquarium). I’ve been to some nice restaurants there as well. I like to go around and see different things.”
Eventually, the Blue Jays will have to decide how to handle a group of outfielders that also includes Whit Merrifield, Raimel Tapia, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez. As the example of Sergio Romo shows, the Blue Jays won’t hesitate to part with veterans who don’t produce. But maybe Bradley Jr. contributes, in which case the Blue Jays would have to figure something else out. Designate Zimmer for assignment? Create a reason to put him on the injured list? Something else?
Those decisions can wait a bit, though. For now, the Blue Jays will welcome Bradley Jr.’s defence and experience.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “They’re a very talented group and I’m excited to help in any way I possibly can.”