The Royals announced that they have signed outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league Spring Training.
Bradley, 33 next month, has spent the past decade as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He has career tallies of 74 Defensive Runs Saved and 58 Outs Above Average, in addition to a grade of 53.2 from Ultimate Zone Rating. All three of those totals place Bradley in the top 10 among all outfielders in the game, dating back to his 2013 debut.
His offensive contributions have been less consistent, however. He seemed to have a breakout with the Red Sox back in 2015 and 2016, hitting .262/.345/.489 over that stretch for a wRC+ of 119. But over the next three seasons, he settled in as a below-average hitter. From 2017 to 2019, he hit .234/.318/.409 for a wRC+ of 90. That was 10% below league average for that stretch but he still proved valuable given his work on the grass.
Bradley then had a well-timed spike in 2020, just as he was about to reach free agency. He slashed .283/.364/.450 that year, leading to a wRC+ of 118 and a two-year, $24MM contract with the Brewers. Unfortunately, Bradley’s offense has nosedived since the moment that deal was signed. He hit just .163/.236/.261 in 2021, 37 wRC+, and then was flipped back to Boston for 2022. The return to familiar environs didn’t help much as he continued to struggle, got released and then signed with the Blue Jays. Between the two clubs, he hit .203/.255/.311, a slight bounceback to a wRC+ of 56 but still far below league average. Despite all those struggles at the plate, JBJ can still go get in in the field. He was worth 5 DRS, 8 OAA and 6.0 UZR last year, despite making only 98 starts.
The Royals traded from their center field depth this offseason, sending Michael A. Taylor to the Twins for some minor league pitching. That seemed to open up the spot for Drew Waters to get an extended audition, but he recently suffered an oblique strain and seems poised to miss the start of the season. Manager Matt Quatraro said at the time of the Waters injury that Kyle Isbel will “get every opportunity to grab that spot,” but Bradley’s presence in camp will give the Royals a glove-first veteran fallback option.