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Still Some Good Outfield Defense Available

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The premier MLB free agents have all signed, but as we get ready to follow spring training, you might notice that you could make a pretty good defensive outfield from a few of the players that are still available.

That would start in left field with longtime Yankee Brett Gardner, who was expected to return there but has not signed with them yet. The Yankees' signing of Jay Bruce to a minor league deal may preclude Gardner's return.

Gardner saved one run with his defense in 2020, split between his primary position and center field. He hit only .223 in 130 at-bats last season, but he posted a .354 on-base percentage and a .747 OPS (MLB-average OPS was .740).

Longtime Red Sox centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. also remains available. Bradley followed up seasons in which he cost the Red Sox one and two runs in center field by saving five runs there in 2020. He’s had three seasons in which he’s saved at least 14 runs in center, the most recent in 2017. Bradley’s trademark is wowing fans with highlight-reel plays. He tied Kevin Kiermaier for the MLB lead among outfielders with 11 Good Fielding Plays last season.

Bradley said he adjusted his hitting approach to boost his batting average and that resulted in a .283/.364/.450 slashline last season. He’s a career .239 hitter, which may have some teams wondering if those most recent offensive numbers can have staying power.

In right field, Josh Reddick, who turns 34 this week, is still a free agent. He rated as a good defender from 2016 to 2019, saving between five and 11 runs at the position each season. He also had five home run robberies in 2019, tied for the most in a season since our tracking of them began in 2004.

But Reddick slipped both offensively and defensively from his usual standards in 2020, finishing with a .245/.316/.378 slashline and .693 OPS. He also cost the Astros four runs with his defense in right field.

Reddick isn’t the only right fielder of note still available. Yasiel Puig remains a free agent after not playing in 2020 (a positive COVID test scuttled a deal with the Braves). Puig saved as many as 14 runs in right field in 2017, but he combined to save only one there in 2018 and 2019. He hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs in 2019 and though many teams loom as interesting possibilities, none has come forward to sign him.

Lastly, SIS-favorite Jarrod Dyson is still unsigned. The 36-year-old Dyson has totaled double figures in Runs Saved five times, most recently in 2019 when he had 14. He cost his teams three runs with his defense in 2020, but he still brought value with his speed, stealing six bases in six attempts. His appeal is likely to a contending team that has room and a need for a pinch-runner or late-game defensive replacement.

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