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Buster Olney on M&M: Jackie Bradley Jr. ‘looks like he’s going to be [Red Sox] version of Derek Jeter’

03.27.13 at 1:52 pm ET
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ESPN’s Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday to talk about Jackie Bradley Jr. and his expectations of how the AL East will shake out this year.

Olney said he expects Bradley to start the season in Boston, although he doesn’t believe that’s the best move for the Red Sox since it could cost them or hurt their chances to retain Bradley in the long run.

“What gets brought up constantly in their conversations, I would guess, is, look what happened to the Braves when Jason Heyward was a rookie,” Olney said. “They start the year with him and they make the playoffs by one game. You look at the Angels last year, who didn’t start the year with [MikeTrout, and they went 6-14, scrambled back and fell short because they had played the first month without him. There are other examples of that, and that’s why my guess is they’re going to start the year with him on their roster.”

Although he thinks waiting to bring Bradley up is the smarter move, Olney said he thinks Bradley’s personality, as well as his play, will benefit the Sox significantly.

“He is a blessing for the Red Sox, in terms that they have this type of player with this type of personality at the beginning of the year,” Olney said. “He’s so mature. He looks like he’s going to be their version of Derek Jeter, he really does. I don’t mean as a player — I mean in terms of being able to handle things when he gets up.”

In a crowded, tough-to-predict AL East, Olney is picking the Red Sox third, behind the Orioles and Rays and ahead of the Jays and Yankees.

“I think you literally could pick the names out of a hat and come up with plausible scenarios every single time,” Olney said. “After wrestling with it and being around the Yankees, I’m picking them last in the division. I just think they have too many issues with that lineup. I’ve got the Red Sox third. I’ve got the Orioles first. I think they have a lot more pitching depth than we’ve been giving them credit for.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox coverage, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

On Jackie Bradley Jr: “I would not start the year with him. I would say right away, he’s going down to the minor leagues. I think that’s what they should do, because his agent is Scott Boras. He’s almost certainly not going to sign a team-friendly deal in the first couple years of his career. He’s probably going to become a free agent, and why not back that up by a year? That’s a decision that involves dollars, and if you’re the Red Sox and it’s nine games in April, you’re probably going to forget about it by June.

“He certainly is prepared as a player with that walk/strikeout ratio. Some of that reminds you of [DustinPedroia when he was in the minors. But I do think when you look at the best-run teams in baseball, and in particular the Tampa Bay Rays, they always adhere to the service time clock, because it’s the best way to run a business, to make sure that their players are productive and they’re absolutely cost-efficient when they’re on the clock. I do think that if you wait the nine games and call him up, again, by early May, no one is going to remember that.”

On whether this year is the end of a Yankee dynasty: “I will still argue that 2001 was the end of the Yankee dynasty, from that [PaulO’Neill, Tino Martinez team. But I do think we’re seeing a shift where they are at a crossroads now. I think Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, is being very deferential to Derek Jeter and very polite, in saying things like, ‘Derek is confident that he can be back in April.’ Guys, he hasn’t played more than five innings at shortstop in an exhibition game. When you watch him run, he’s dragging a leg. He’s not close to being full speed.

“Brian has said that they’re not going to put him on the major league roster until he demonstrates he can play at shortstop in back to back days. I don’t think he’s even close to that. He’s a 38-year-old guy, and people around baseball respect him so much, but the bottom line is, he may never be the same defensively at shortstop, coming back from a major ankle injury. I’m just beginning to think that they’re not going to get a whole bunch out of him this year. When the season opens, the players who were responsible for 201 of their 245 homers last year will not be available to them, due to either departures or injuries.”

On the Orioles this year: “When I came down to spring training I was absolutely prepared to pick the Blue Jays to win the division, based on what they’ve done in the offseason. Then I went to Orioles camp. One, you sort of realize that, you know what, they didn’t have everything go great last year. They did great in one-run games, but they didn’t have a whole season of Manny Machado, and now they do. He certainly changed their defense. The other thing, too, is they have so many high-end type pitchers in their camp that you know that they’re at least going to have the option to change. Dylan Bundy will probably be up this year at some point. Kevin Gausman, the number 4 overall pick last year, he’s had a great spring training. [MiguelGonzalez, they’ll have a full season out of him. They have a lot more pitching than we think.

“When I was around the Blue Jays — major, major questions about their bullpen. I think the Red Sox are going to have a good bullpen, Yankees are going to have a good bullpen, Orioles, Rays are going to have good bullpens, and that’s a real problem for Toronto and that’s why I’m picking them fourth.”

On the Red Sox pitching: “You should be encouraged, because no one ever doubted whether or not Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz had talent, it just hadn’t manifested itself as much as it had in the past. I really wondered about this x-factor about the Red Sox going into spring training. I have never been around a group of employees who were more unhappy in any business than they were last year. [Now] they’re going to work, they like John Farrell, they feel good about things.”

On his World Series prediction: “Just to remind everybody, I had the Rays beating the Diamondbacks last year, so I’m an idiot. I find the predictions to be the most useless thing we do, and maybe the most fun thing we do. I see the Nationals beating the Tigers in the World Series. I think the Nationals far and away have the most talent in baseball and I’ve heard from a number of general managers where they look at the Tigers as being the most talented team in the American League. They have shored up their defense in right field with Torii Hunter. Omar Infante, the rotation looks good, this kid Bruce Rendon had a great outing yesterday. He looks like he’s going to be able to be a closer at some point this year. That is a great team.”

On the Tigers getting Torii Hunter: “They were, according to metrics, the worst defensive team in baseball and he still is an elite right fielder. If you look at some of the numbers for how he hit last year, especially at his age, it’s possible his numbers will come down, but that’ll be more than offset by what he does defensively. Victor Martinez is back and he looks great, and he is so much in the middle of things again. Behind Miguel Cabrera and behind Prince Fielder, guys like Delmon Young just didn’t get things done. Now you drop Victor Martinez into that lineup? [whistles] It’s a completely different look to that team.”

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