9:35 AM: While Duran’s promotion may well still mean a substantial reduction in Jackie Bradley Jr.’s playing time — and perhaps the end of his time in Boston — it appears that the precipitating factor for Duran’s return to the majors is not Bradley’s poor offensive output but Kiké Hernández potentially contracting a COVID infection. Per an updated version of the same story, Speier reports that Hernández’s initial tests have come back negative but he continues to exhibit symptoms indicating a potential infection. He is expected to remain away from the team until his symptoms abate and the Red Sox medical staff is confident he is not positive for COVID.
9:23 AM: After failing to keep pace with the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays in the first month-plus of the 2022 season, the Red Sox may be preparing to shake things up. Citing unnamed sources, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reports that outfielder Jarren Duran will join the big-league club at Fenway Park for tonight’s series-opening game against the White Sox. The corresponding move is not yet known.
It will be the second taste of the majors for Duran, who logged a meager .215/.241/.336 triple-slash in 112 big-league plate appearances in 2021. He’s off to a blistering .370/.460/.574 start in 63 plate appearances at Triple-A Worcester, however, and Sox brass will hope he can provide a boost to an offense that currently ranks 27th (ahead of only Oakland, Kansas City, and Cincinatti) with a team wRC+ of 82.
Even were they to continue rolling out the same lineup, the Boston faithful could probably expect some offensive improvement simply from reversion of the mean. Four Sox regulars — Trevor Story, Alex Verdugo, Kiké Hernández, and Christian Vázquez — have established track records of meaningful production and are not yet old enough for age to explain significant regression. It’s an ill-timed confluence of slumps to be sure, but there’s no reason to expect Alex Cora, Chaim Bloom, and Brian O’Halloran to do anything but watch and wait four those four to break out of their early-season swoons.
Much less likely to continue to see their names on Cora’s lineup cards are first baseman Bobby Dalbec (who faces from pressure from 22-year-old top prospect Triston Casas) and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., whose place Duran may well take as soon as tonight. After eight productive years in Boston (including an ALCS MVP performance and a World Series title in 2018), Bradley’s production cratered after signing a two-year, $24MM deal with the Brewers ahead of the 2021 season. He was traded (along with prospects David Hamilton and Alex Binelas) back to Boston for outfielder Hunter Renfroe just ahead of this offseason’s lockout, but his numbers have hardly rebounded. In 508 plate appearances between Milwaukee and Boston, the 32-year-old Bradley has slashed a measly .166/.239/.261, including just a .181/.253/.264 output this year; he’d slashed a much more palatable .239/.321/.412 across the eight seasons prior. These are, of course, hardly the numbers a team with championship aspirations expects from a regular, even one providing consistently high-quality defense in the wacky Fenway Park outfield.
As the corresponding move is not yet known, it’s unclear whether Duran’s call-up spells the end of Bradley’s time in Boston. Should the Sox choose to part ways with the beloved outfielder, they’ll remain on the hook for the roughly $8MM remaining of his $9.5MM 2022 salary, as well as for the entirety of the $8MM buyout of his 2023 mutual option. The team could also choose to send either seldom-used reserve Franchy Cordero (who has an available option) or one of the fourteen pitchers currently on its active roster to the minors. Regardless of what the move spells for Bradley’s future, though, Sox fans can probably expect at least a slight uptick in outfield production — just without a familiar face in the lineup.