Why didn’t the Red Sox trade Jackie Bradley Jr. at the deadline?

When the dust settled on the MLB trade deadline Monday evening, there was only one pending free agent left on the Red Sox’ roster.

The last man standing was Jackie Bradley Jr.

Brandon Workman and Kevin Pillar, the other pending free agents with any perceived trade value, had been sent to the Phillies and Rockies, respectively. With the Sox’ 12-22 record putting them well out of the playoff picture with 26 games to play, there was little reason to hang onto players who are going to hit free agency after the season anyways.

But surprisingly, Bradley never got dealt. And when the Sox’ released their starting lineup on Monday against the Braves, Bradley was in there, hitting seventh and playing center field.

According to an industry source, the Red Sox were open to dealing Bradley but couldn’t get the return they wanted and held onto him through the 4 p.m. ET deadline.

He’ll play what could be the final 26 games of his eight-year Red Sox’ career before he hits the market and turns the reins over to his agent, Scott Boras.

“We love Jackie,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said after the deadline passed. “That shouldn’t be news. He’s been here a long time, he means an enormous amount to this organization. Me, personally, not having known him as long, I’ve still come to regard him so highly and see what an incredible person he is. We know he’s a good player. We’d love to have him here for a long time.

“That was the case months ago, it was the case yesterday, the case today, the case tomorrow. I don’t think there’s anything to read into that today, but that shouldn’t be news, it’s how we’ve always felt about Jackie.”

The most obvious possibility is that the Red Sox want to sign Bradley long-term. But Bradley has been vocal in the past about how the Sox never made him an extension offer.

Still, the Sox took a big gamble by tendering him a contract this winter in his fourth and final year of arbitration. The salary agreed to was $11 million, a big number for an inconsistent hitter, even one as good defensively as Bradley.

Even at the time there was some surprise around the industry that the Sox didn’t trade Bradley or release him instead. The entire baseball world knew the Red Sox were looking to cut salary, and Bradley’s $11 million could’ve been easily avoided by non-tendering him with no penalty to the team.

By offering him a contract, they put themselves further behind in their quest to get under the luxury tax threshold. And instead, they had to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers to accomplish their goal, all but assuring they’d be a mediocre team in 2020.

What if they traded Nathan Eovaldi and Bradley instead? They would’ve saved $27 million. And how much was Betts owed this year? You guessed it, $27 million.

Of course it’s not that simple because they also saved $15 million a year on the Price contract. But the point is, things would’ve been a lot easier for the Red Sox had they never offered Bradley a contract this winter.

It stood to reason that in the pandemic-shortened season, Bradley could’ve carried the team. He was hitting the cover off the ball in preseason workouts. He started the year red-hot. And we’ve all seen what Bradley can do when he’s hot.

It just didn’t happen. He entered Monday hitting .242 with just two homers and a .646 OPS, which would be the lowest OPS of any season for him since 2014.

And so the trade deadline came and went without Bradley’s name hitting the ticker. Dozens of players were on the move as teams eyed the 16 playoff spots as an opportunity to go for it. Nobody would pay up for Bradley.

Bloom was asked why it’s worth holding onto a player who is about to hit free agency when the team isn’t playoff-bound.

“It’s easy to look at it and say, ‘well, just turn this player into future value,’” Bloom said. “I don’t think it’s ever that simple. I think there are things players bring to your team, to your organization, that go beyond just that value that you can put in a spreadsheet, and I think there are a lot of different things to balance with that. …

“We care about our environment. We care about the atmosphere here. We care about having a competitive environment, something where players can grow through going out there every day looking to win, and that’s something we’re going to try to maintain regardless of where we are in the standings.”

This could be a simple case of Bloom valuing Bradley higher than 29 other teams value him. And if that’s the case this winter, perhaps Bradley will get a new deal and will be roaming center field again for the Red Sox in 2021.

Andrew Benintendi has largely disappointed and hasn’t played much center field. Betts is gone. Alex Verdugo looks more like a corner outfielder, and a good one. And center field prospect Jarren Duran is still a year away.

Bradley keeps surviving. Maybe he’s just destined to be here.

More: Why didn’t the Red Sox trade Jackie Bradley Jr. at the deadline?