Inside the Clubhouse: What are the Brewers planning for Jackie Bradley Jr.?

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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at how the Brewers plan to use Jackie Bradley Jr., how Jake Odorizzi might fit in Houston and more.

This is the way that the Milwaukee Brewers have operated under owner Mark Attanasio and president of baseball operations David Stearns.

They check in with every free agent, monitor their markets and attempt to pounce if they can complete a deal to their liking. They have done it in the past with Kyle Lohse, Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas. They (unsuccessfully) did it this winter with Justin Turner and Trevor Rosenthal. But they agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on a two-year, $24 million contract with a player option after the first year, pending physical, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Bradley, 31 in April, had been seeking a much longer contract this offseason, with Mike Puma of the New York Post reporting that he was “seeking a significant contract, perhaps beyond four years.” But his market proved largely stagnant even after George Springer signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, with the Brewers being among the half-dozen teams that considered Bradley this winter.

Bradley and his agent, Scott Boras, are optimistic his market would be stronger next winter if he opts out after this season. He would, health permitting, be the consensus top free-agent center fielder. For at least one season, however, he joins what is now arguably baseball’s best outfield in Milwaukee with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisail Garcia.

How Bradley fits in that outfield now becomes the most pressing question facing manager Craig Counsell and president of baseball operations David Stearns. Yelich is entrenched in left field. Cain “is our center fielder,” Counsell said, meaning that Bradley and Garcia will see most of their time in right field.

Bradley, however, becomes an important chess piece in Milwaukee. He can spell Cain, 34, when he needs a day off in center field. He is a significant upgrade in right field and further improves a run-prevention unit the Brewers are increasingly excited about after adding Bradley and Kolten Wong, two Gold Glove defenders. He also adds another left-handed bat in the lineup that will allow Counsell to maximize matchups, a skill that has helped the Brewers advance to the postseason the last three seasons.

Even for a player not known for his offense — Bradley slashed .239/.321/.412 in eight seasons with the Red Sox — the contract proves to be a steal. And it puts the Brewers squarely in the mix in the National League Central, even after the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Nolan Arenado.

The Brewers will need Bradley immediately after he passes his physical. Cain is expected to miss 1-2 weeks after straining his calf in batting practice, according to sources familiar with the situation. The injury has been deemed “very minor” and the team is optimistic it will not be a long-term issue, though they intend to be cautious ramping him back up.

If this scenario presents itself during the regular season, or if Yelich’s back flares up once again, the Brewers are now armed with the depth to withstand the potential loss of either player. It was something the organization had become increasingly worried about. But now, they can insert a player who hit .283/.364/.450 in 55 games last season whose 33 defensive runs saved in center field ranks tied for fifth in baseball since 2015.

The Brewers were rewarded for their diligence, and following through on a desire to improve. Despite a few question marks regarding third base and bullpen depth, the team appears done making sizable additions this winter. But with Attanasio and Stearns, a move should never be ruled out — especially if the team remains in contention in July.

An opportunity for Jake Odorizzi?

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently made the argument that Jake Odorizzi should wait to sign as the demand for starting pitching, at least in theory, increases as needs arise.

Perhaps that opportunity has already presented itself.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez recently suffered a finger injury that could require season-ending surgery, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Valdez is seeking a second opinion, though losing him for an extended period of time would be a massive blow to an Astros rotation that is already without Justin Verlander.

The fit between the Astros and Odorizzi, at least on paper, is strong. He overlapped with general manager James Click with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2013-2017. From 2014-2019, he posted a 3.88 ERA in 991.2 innings. He would give the Astros a much-needed veteran option alongside Zack Greinke while they look to compete in the American League West.

But the Astros were hesitant to pursue Jackie Bradley Jr. amid concerns about losing draft pick compensation if they exceeded the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. They are currently at $201.3 million, per FanGraphs, so it is possible they can structure a deal with Odorizzi that keeps them under that threshold. But even that could prove difficult.

The Astros plan to wait to see how long Valdez will be out before determining their next move. They want to maintain flexibility for future additions and could opt to go with in-house arms such as Forrest Whitley and Luis Garcia, meaning Odorizzi could remain unsigned even longer.

Prospects drawing early buzz:

Aaron Ashby, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers

When asked which prospect has turned heads the most this spring, one Brewers official did not hesitate to name left-handed pitcher Aaron Ashby.

“Ashby is filthy,” he said. “He’ll be in the big leagues this year.”

Ashby, 22, could be an important piece for the Brewers as they look for arms to eat innings. He throws five pitches, including a fastball that touches 97 mph, and recently added a sinker. He uses different motions in his delivery to mess with hitters’ timing. He has used both to overpower opponents this spring, striking out six batters in two innings pitched.

Shane McLanahan, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Shane McLanahan became the first pitcher in baseball history to make his major-league debut last season. The Rays believe that experience will only help him in 2021 and beyond.

McLanahan, 23, is expected to be a starting pitcher for the Rays once he is called up. He features a fastball that consistently hits 100 mph, most recently throwing a 102 mph fastball against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and has added a slider to his repertoire that one source close to the Rays described as “a legit weapon” that can keep opposing hitters off balance.

The Rays can get creative with how they eventually deploy McLanahan. They can use him as a traditional starting pitcher. They can use him as a piggyback in outings by veterans Michael Wacha, Chris Archer and Rich Hill as they look to keep them healthy throughout the 162-game season. They can use him in many different ways, but there is a strong belief inside the Rays organization that he could be their next homegrown star.

Around the Horn:

  • The Brewers and San Diego Padres have discussed Josh Hader in recent years, though the two sides do not currently line up for a trade, as Rosenthal reported.
  • At one point, the New York Mets thought they had a deal with Trevor Bauer. One of his agents, Rachel Luba, went on the Starting 9 podcast and revealed that he was ready to join the Mets after a merchandise mishap.
  • Free-agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes recently held a showcase for interested teams. One scout in attendance believes the 35-year-old is best suited for the American League as a designated hitter.

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