Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is joining the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-year, $24 million deal. He has played his entire career in Boston. Associated Press

Just 17 months ago, the Red Sox had one of the best outfields in baseball in Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, a homegrown trio that helped make up the core of their 2018 championship team.

Now, they’re all officially gone.

After a longer-than-expected wait as a free agent, Bradley finally has a new team. The longtime Red Sox center fielder is joining the Milwaukee Brewers on a two-year, $24 million deal, according to multiple reports early Thursday morning. Bradley would have the right to opt out after one year and $13 million, allowing him to become a free agent after this season.

It marks the end of a long, complicated winter for the 30-year-old Bradley, who became a free agent for the first time in his career after eight seasons with the Red Sox but remained on the open market two weeks into spring training. It was puzzling, especially to those close to him.

“The fact that Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t have a job right now is absolutely mind-boggling,” longtime teammate Matt Barnes said last weekend. “To me he’s the best defensive center fielder in the game, a guy who has won multiple World Series and absolutely needs to be on a baseball team right now.”

Bradley’s agent, Scott Boras, expected something “very grand” for his client and said at the start of the winter that teams were not only interested in the center fielder because of his elite defense, but intrigued by his offense, which has long been inconsistent, after a pandemic-shortened season in which he batted .283 with an .814 OPS over 55 games.

The Red Sox stayed in the mix and remained in touch with Bradley throughout the winter, as Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom continued to hope that a reunion with the longtime center fielder would be a fit. But the price tag was seemingly too high. Instead, the Red Sox will move forward with an outfield that includes Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero, with Verdugo likely replacing Bradley in center.

Jackie Bradley Jr., shown on June 28, 2012, played 61 games for the Portland Sea Dogs in the 2012 season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Bradley’s Red Sox career will be remembered fondly. After being drafted in 2011, he burst onto the scene and made the Opening Day roster in 2013, a season that saw him go back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket. As he worked through offensive inconsistencies, Bradley eventually latched on as the everyday center fielder, becoming one of the game’s elite at the position.

In 2016, Bradley had one of his best offensive stretches as he hit safely in 29 consecutive games, a streak that tied Johnny Damon for the fourth-longest in franchise history. That helped him earn his first and only All-Star selection. Bradley was a critical piece of the championship run in 2018, winning ALCS MVP after hitting three big home runs and providing his usually stellar defense, which was rewarded after the year with his first career Gold Glove.

His career numbers include a .239 batting average, .321 on-base percentage. 732 OPS, 98 homers and 376 RBI.

There was a sense of inevitability for Bradley as last season concluded, as he knew he was about to become a free agent. When the Red Sox played their final home game of the season, Bradley arrived to Fenway Park much earlier than usual, knowing it could be his last one there in a Red Sox uniform.

Bradley didn’t know what was next, but a few days later, he reflected on his career and his journey in what seemed like a farewell press conference. He didn’t rule out the possibility of returning to Boston, but talked about how his looming free-agent decision wasn’t just about him, but for his family – his wife Erin, his daughter Emerson and his son Jackie, who was born in December. But he was also betting on himself, and certainly cherished his decade-long run in Boston.

“I put a lot of belief in myself, and that’s second to none,” Bradley said. “I’m always going to believe in myself more than anybody believes in me. And I had some great times, too. Great moments. And that’s things that I will never forget. … It’s been a great ride.”

Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr.

All three members of the Boston outfield trio that led the team to a World Series championship in 2018 – Andrew Benintendi, left, Mookie Betts, center, and Jackie Bradley Jr. – are now all playing elsewhere. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

This move continues the Brewers’ offseason emphasis on defense.

The Brewers already added former St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, a Gold Glove winner each of the last two seasons. Wong signed a two-year, $18 million contract with a 2022 team option after the Cardinals declined to pick up their $12.5 million option on him.

Bradley’s addition seemingly gives the Brewers four potential starters for three outfield spots. The Brewers already have 2019 Gold Glove center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who opted out after playing five games last season but is back in spring training camp now. Christian Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, is set in left field.

Milwaukee also brings back Avisaíl García, who usually has played right field but took over in center last year after Cain’s exit. García batted .238 with a .659 OPS in 53 games last season but had a .796 OPS with 20 homers two years ago with Tampa Bay.

Since the NL is expected to go without a designated hitter this season, the Brewers would seem to have a surplus of outfielders accustomed to starting, unless they make another move in the next few weeks.

Bradley has played center for 781 of his 873 career games, though he has made infrequent appearances at the other corner outfield spots. Cain has played center in about 90% of his career games, though he also has made 157 appearances in right field.

Bradley and Yelich are left-handed hitters, while Cain and García bat from the right side.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report


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