When the Brewers signed Jackie Bradley Jr. this offseason, they envisioned an enormously productive and deep outfield with the demand for each outfielder getting more at-bats than the Brewers had to give.
Instead, centerfield almost looks like a need at the Trade Deadline as Lorenzo Cain has battled injuries and struggled to a .223 average and .672 OPS while Jackie Bradley Jr. has been even worse.
Through 60 games, Bradley has an abysmal .153/.226/.270 slash line with a 37 OPS+. He’s struck out over 32% of the time and has a sub-.500 OPS. Bradley has more than 200 plate appearances, plenty enough for a significant sample size.
While there was hope Bradley would heat up at the plate as the season went along, so far that has not been the case. Bradley had six total hits in the month of May, and has matched that total halfway through June, but it still hasn’t been a productive month. Bradley had 18 hits in April, and in the month and a half since, he only has 12.
Bradley’s struggles are going to cause problems for the Brewers outfield, not only in 2021, but for next season as well.
Without worrying about deferred money, the Brewers are paying Bradley $6.5MM for this season, the first of a potential three year deal. Bradley has a $9.5MM player option for next year and a $12MM mutual option with an $8MM buyout for 2023.
The way Bradley is playing, there is no chance in hell he would choose to opt out of his contract this offseason. So the Brewers are going to be stuck paying Bradley $9.5MM for 2022.
Also in centerfield, Lorenzo Cain will enter the final year of his contract in 2022 and will be paid $18MM. So that means the two centerfielders will more than likely be back next year and the Brewers will pay them $27.5MM.
Meanwhile, Avisail Garcia‘s guaranteed years are up after 2021 but he has a $12.5MM club option for next year. Garcia has been hitting well, and could push for an All-Star bid if his hot streak at the plate continues. Garcia may be playing his way into his club option being picked up after a rough 2020 season.
But, will the Brewers choose to go with four highly paid outfielders for another season? Especially when all four of them will see their salaries increase and their production level overall has taken a dip? Tyrone Taylor has proven himself to be a capable big league outfielder, but getting above the fifth spot on the depth chart will be difficult with all these guys making much more money still on the roster.
If Bradley decides to opt in for 2022, the Brewers may be in a situation where they have to decline Garcia’s option, even though he was more productive, and watch him leave in free agency.
It remains to be seen the full financial impact of the shortened season with no fans last year and the season with limited capacity for the first half of this season. The Brewers showed they could get creative in getting deals done this winter in deferring money to future years.
But the Crew’s young core is getting more expensive every year. Brandon Woodruff will enter his second year of arbitration next season, and Corbin Burnes will be in his first year. Both are in line for big pay raises and possible extensions while Josh Hader will also get more expensive after a dominant start here in 2021.
Narvaez would be in line for a raise in his final year of arbitration. Willy Adames and Adrian Houser will also be entering their first years of arbitration.
It sounds almost ridiculous, that the Brewers would be in a spot where they have to dump the more productive Avisail Garcia and keep the so far less productive Jackie Bradley Jr. but if everything continues on this trajectory, that’s where we’re heading.
They could choose to keep Garcia anyway, but his option turns into a mutual option if he gets enough plate appearances this year, which he’s on track to do. Should he want to come back and the Brewers want him back, then that’s a ton of money to pay four starting outfielders and then Tyrone Taylor has another year where he’s ready for an opportunity, but he won’t get one. That would also eat into the Crew’s payroll flexibility to make other improvements to the roster, namely the corner infield spots, and pay their young player the raises they will earn.
The success of Garcia paired with the struggles of Bradley puts the Brewers in a very tough spot. We’ll see how it all plays out the rest of the year and where things end up, but this is looking like a recipe for trouble. Hopefully Bradley can get going offensively and get on a hot stretch for a month or so and salvage the season.
Milwaukee chose to be aggressive in attacking what they believed to be a market inefficiency with signing JBJ this spring, but to this point it has backfired.