In stunning late night trade, Red Sox re-acquire Jackie Bradley Jr.

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Dec. 2—With minutes to spare before the expiration of baseball's collective bargaining agreement and the start of the sport's first work stoppage in more than two decades, the Boston Red Sox capped off a whirlwind day by bringing back former outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in a stunning late night trade.

The Red Sox traded outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Bradley Jr. and prospects Alex Binelas and David Hamilton. That move came hours after Boston also signed free agent starting pitchers Rich Hill and James Paxton, addressing several needs ahead of a lockout that will freeze all baseball activity for the foreseeable future.

Bradley Jr. previously spent eight seasons in Boston and is widely regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders in team history. He spent this past season with the Brewers, where he remained a defensive ace but struggled badly at the plate, batting .163 with a .497 OPS.

Speaking to reporters in a late night Zoom call, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said he would defer to Alex Cora on how Bradley and incumbent center fielder Kiké Hernández should be used, but noted that having multiple options is never a bad thing.

"True center fielders are hard to find and we feel we now have two of the best at that position," Bloom said. "What he brings to this roster is a very hard thing to find."

Renfroe leaves Boston after one highly successful year. The right fielder was signed for $3.1 million and delivered 31 home runs, 96 RBI and a league-leading 16 outfield assists. He was arbitration eligible and was expected to earn a raise to around $7.5 million this coming season.

The two prospects acquired in the trade are both highly regarded. According to MLB.com, Hamilton ranked No. 16 in the Brewers organization and Binelas ranked No. 17. Hamilton is a 24-year-old shortstop who earned a promotion from High-A to Double-A this season, and Binelas was Milwaukee's third round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. The 21-year-old corner infielder quickly earned a promotion to Single-A and proceeded to hit .314 with a 1.014 OPS in 29 games.

In addition, the two pitchers signed on Wednesday could both factor into the team's starting rotation at some point down the road.

Hill, despite now being 41, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The lefty made 31 starts split between Tampa Bay and the New York Mets and posted a 3.86 ERA over 158.2, numbers that would have made Hill the second most effective starter on last year's Red Sox team after Nathan Eovaldi. Hill signed a one-year deal reportedly worth at least $5 million.

The Milton native is entering his third big league stint with the Red Sox and projects to fill Eduardo Rodriguez's old spot in the rotation.

Paxton is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be available until at least midseason next year. The lefty only threw 1.1 innings in 2021 before undergoing surgery and just 20.1 innings in 2020, but prior to that posted a sub-four ERA in each of his first seven big league seasons, including a 3.82 ERA with the Yankees in 2019.

According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Paxton signed a one-year deal worth $6 million with a two-year club option that could pay him up to $36 million if picked up. He also has a conditional player option for 2023 if that club option isn't picked up, in which case he'd earn $4 million in 2023.

Once Paxton is healthy the Red Sox will have a plethora of starting pitching options. In addition to incumbent starters Eovaldi, Chris Sale and Nick Pivetta, the team is also expecting Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, newcomer Michael Wacha as well as Hill and eventually Paxton to factor in.

How things eventually shake out at spring training remains to be seen, but even if there are more moves to come after the lockout, the Red Sox went a long way towards assembling their 2022 roster on Wednesday.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.