The Giants are reportedly interested in trading for Jackie Bradley, Jr.

It’s not as ridiculous of a rumor as it seems.

From the Department of Rumors That Make Sense, we have Jon Morosi reporting that the Giants are interested in Jackie Bradley, Jr., a slick defensive center fielder who can hit a little bit. He’s young, cheap, cost-controlled, and talented, which ticks off all of the boxes the Giants are looking for in their search to replace Denard Span.

It’s all those qualities that make it extremely unlikely that the Giants can meet the price the Red Sox will demand. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope, though.

First, explore what kind of player Bradley is. He’ll be 28 last year, and his career OPS is .726. Last year, his OPS was .726. There’s something of a pattern, it would seem.

Except that raw OPS doesn’t tell the whole story, because if you average out his last three seasons, he’s been good for a 107 OPS+, which is really, really good for a player who is a sublime defender in center field. It’s how he was worth nearly three wins last year, despite being roughly as productive with the bat as Hunter Pence.

Bradley is under contract for three more years, and he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason. MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll get roughly $6 million, so he’s not exactly a low-cost prospect, but he’d be a heckuva lot cheaper than Lorenzo Cain, and he’s likely to age far better.

Bradley would fit what the Giants are looking for. One caveat is that he’s a left-handed batter, so he probably wouldn’t hit 26 home runs again. But he has the athleticism and glove the Giants desperately need in center. Don’t focus on what he can’t do (hit .290 with 35 homers) and focus on what he can do (catch baseballs all pretty-like). Then factor in that he was a fine hitter in 2015 and 2016, with the potential to do that again, and I’m in. It would be a risk, but the rewards would be very real.

The other caveat is that the Red Sox don’t have to trade him. Like every other team, they love young, cheap, and talented. They have three fantastic defensive outfielders, which seems like a lot of fun, and they can have them all for the next three years, at least. Why would they screw that up?

Because Bradley would be the domino that falls if the Red Sox achieve one of their other offseason goals. They’re rumored to be interested in J.D. Martinez, who would push one of their outfielders out, and Bradley is clearly more expendable than Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi. They’re also rumored to be interested in Giancarlo Stanton, and I am absolutely HERE for what talk radio would be like if the Giants were involved in a three-way deal that netted them Bradley and allowed another team to get Stanton.

Here’s something that’s been kicking around my head for a bit, though. In Jon Heyman’s free agent predictions, Eric Hosmer is projected to get at least $160 million over 7 years, which seems like, oh, $100 million too much. Hosmer is a nice player. He is not a $160 million player. Yet here’s an article from Heyman that suggests the Red Sox are likely to target Hosmer.

Let’s compare Hosmer to a mystery player named Brandon Belt. Wait, I wasn’t supposed to give that part away, but, whatever. Hosmer’s unadjusted statistics make him worse than Belt.

Average season, 2012 to 2017
Hosmer: 578 AB, 18 HR, .282 BA, .344 OBP, .435 SLG
Belt: 425 AB, 15 HR, .271 BA, .362 OBP, .465 SLG

That’s without adding the context that Belt played in one of the toughest parks that left-handed hitters have ever seen. When you add that in, it’s why Belt has been worth more than seven wins over Hosmer in their respective careers, despite the disparity in playing time. And don’t forget that Belt’s missing at-bats are because morons won’t stop hitting him in the head, which is hardly his fault.

What I’m getting at is that the Red Sox would probably love to pay Martinez and Belt a combined $225 million instead of shoveling a lot of that to Eric Hosmer. I’m not saying that Belt for Bradley makes sense from the Giants’ perspective — yeah, sure, trade one of the only guys who can hit home runs, you dorks — but that there is a fit from the perspective of the Red Sox.

And if the Giants have the chance to get that center fielder and free up some money, maybe they do it?

Don’t yell at me about Belt, people. I’m on your side. This is a not sayin’/just sayin’ situation. If the Giants have a short-term plan at first with a long-term belief that Chris Shaw is the way of the future, it’s not unlikely that Belt could be one of the trade chips.

It’s also possible that in their talks with the Giants regarding Stanton, the Marlins have become smitten with a couple of prospects, even if they haven’t become smitten enough to make the trade. Rather than the Red Sox emptying their farm to have the Marlins pay down Stanton’s salary, maybe they’re more keen to open the outfield spot and have the Giants help share the prospect load.

The point is that there are paths to a Giants deal for Bradley that don’t include a traditional prospects-for-established-player swap. The Red Sox wouldn’t be interested in that, anyway, but if they’re keen on adding 50 homers, this might be how they do it.

Maybe the Giants should just skip these steps and go straight for the 50 homers? Just a thought from someone who isn’t expecting a dividend check from the team.

But the rumor here is that the Giants are interested in Bradley, who is kind of the Brandon Belt of the Red Sox: streaky, underappreciated, and good. There are ways for the Giants to get him, even if a lot of them would be painful. Like most rumors, this one will probably float away and be forgotten. It’s not ridiculous, though. There’s a lot here that would make sense in retrospect after a trade was announced. The dots are basically connecting themselves.

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