SweetSpot: Milton Bradley

Mariners' offensive outburst overdue

June, 3, 2012

Another game, another double-digit Mariners outburst on the scoreboard? This makes it three in their past four games, and while it’s way too soon to talk about the Mariners offense terrorizing anybody, after scoring 31 runs in their last two games in Texas and then 14 in their first two in Chicago, things are certainly taking a turn for the better in terms of Mariners offense.

In Saturday's 10-8 victory over the White Sox, Ichiro Suzuki ripped two home runs, Michael Saunders avenged his Friday night game-losing error to rap out four hits (including a homer) and Justin Smoak’d his team-leading 10th shot into the cheap seats.

Has sad-sack Seattle suddenly busted out to become a slugging powerhouse? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, one of the benefits of breaking out on offense is that you get the twin benefits of getting to take your chances against the bottom of a bullpen -- giving your batters more opportunities to hit against guys who aren’t the best starters, relievers or anything in between -- and you force opposing managers to use multiple relievers on consecutive days ... and not every fireman has his A-game working without rest. If anything, in the age of the seven-man bullpen, your chances of catching a reliever at less than his best improve, as busy skippers run through every guy they’ve got.

So how are the Mariners doing it? It isn’t simply a matter of finally coaxing Ichiro out of the third slot and having him bat leadoff, although getting his limited power output out of a slot usually associated with cashing in baserunners with extra-base sock can’t hurt. His reputation for incomparable batsmanship aside, Ichiro has only plated 11.9 percent of his baserunners, behind four other regulars plus Alex Liddi, John Jaso and Casper Wells. This isn’t a recent development -- last year, Ichiro ranked behind six other regulars, not to mention Milton Bradley and Jack Cust, both of whom didn’t last the year in Seattle because they didn’t do enough on offense to outstrip their assorted liabilities.

It also isn’t a matter of putting Chone Figgins back on the bench or getting Mike Carp and Miguel Olivo back from the disabled list, or even of riding the hot hand and sticking Kyle Seager in the No. 3 hole, although all of those are good things. Certainly, the Mariners are also enjoying the benefit of seeing Smoak and Dustin Ackley get on track and deliver the way that they’re expected to, especially relative to expectations for a pair of former top prospects. All of these things are helpful, all worthwhile, but perhaps not all crucial, not by themselves.

Instead, perhaps the Mariners are benefiting most lately from the three of the most important words in performance: location, location and location. That’s because getting away from Safeco Field is important, not least this year. Exacerbated by early-season injuries? Perhaps. And what about the Mariners getting dragooned into yet another MLB junket to cash in on the bounty of letting Opening Day occur in Japan -- which, considering MLB’s nine-digit payoff from licensing and more from Japan, has its incentives? Whatever the reasons, the Mariners' hitting rates at home are beyond awful: just .193/.278/.305 in their triple-slash stats.

After Saturday’s four-pack of clouts off Gavin Floyd in the Cell, the Mariners have hit 39 homers on the road in 33 games to the 12 they’ve managed in their 22 contests in front of the home folks. They’re now slugging .423 on the road, better than 100 points higher than at Safeco.

How unlikely, improbably, and unsustainably awful is the Mariners’ .584 team OPS at home? It would be the lowest home OPS in the era of divisional play (1969 to the present) if it lasted. Only two teams have ever finished a full season below .600 in OPS, the 1972 Padres (.586) and the ’72 Rangers (.595) -- not a Padres team playing in Petco, and no Astros team playing in the infamous old Astrodome managed it. These are raw and unadjusted OPS marks, of course, and both the Pads and the Rangers were pre-designated hitter.

However, unlike this year’s early-season pleas for fence-shifting in Miami, that’s just the way it is: The Mariners play in a pitcher’s park, and they’ve long since gotten used to it, because it has been true, year after year. Inevitably, they’re going to go home, and the bats will cool off -- somewhat, but not all the way down to a sub-.600 OPS. The Mariners’ home woes are unsustainably awful, unless they decide to put Figgins back in the everyday lineup or the like.

When the Mariners get back to Seattle on Friday to host the Dodgers, Padres and Giants in the latest spin with interleague entertainment, we’ll see if they bring their hitting gloves back with them. But even with Safeco’s well-earned rep as a pitcher’s park, if one thing is sure, you can probably bet that they will.

Yoenis CespedesJohn Rieger/US PresswireNow that he's back, Yoenis Cespedes must be happy to see third base, right?
I'm 99 percent sure Milton Bradley has played his last game in the major leagues. The Mariners designated him for assignment today, meaning they'll release him in 10 days when nobody makes a deal for him.

And why would they? Bradley is hitting .218/.313/.356. He hit .205 last season, and after a weekend of seeing several balls drop around him for hits, the Mariners had seen enough of Bradley attempting to play left field. Considering he probably brings fewer intangibles to the table than any player in the majors, this was an easy decision.

The Mariners can finally close the door on the disastrous Carlos Silva signing, one of the worst contracts in history. Ex-GM Bill Bavasi signed Silva to the ill-advised $48 million contract before the 2008 season, and Silva delivered five wins, a 6.81 ERA and several extra helpings of postgame meals during his two terrible seasons. The M's dumped him to the Cubs for Bradley in an exchange of most unwanteds, and Bradley merely showed that he could no longer hit.

Thanks to the emergence of Michael Pineda and Justin Smoak, the Mariners haven't been awful so far, sitting at 16-19 and only four games out of first place. But they're desperate for offense, thus the moves with Bradley and fellow outfielder Ryan Langerhans. Seattle's left fielders are hitting a collective .194 with three home runs, their center fielders .172 with three home runs. And I guess it goes without saying that their right fielders don't have a home run.

With Franklin Gutierrez still recovering in the minors from his stomach ailment, they called up outfielders Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero. Both are power-hitting, high-strikeout, low-average, mediocre defense players who will probably struggle in the majors, but at least they're younger. In a few weeks, the M's will likely call up Dustin Ackley to play second base, jettisoning Jack Wilson or Adam Kennedy.

Wilson and Peguero aren't the long-term solution to left field, but at this point, Mariners fans will take anything over Milton Bradley.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.
Felix HernandezMatthew Emmons/US PresswireLooking for a reason for the offensive decline? Look at the young arms, led by Felix Hernandez.

One of the big stories of April was the continued decline in offense across the majors. Scoring last season was at its lowest level since 1992 and the major league batting average in the opening month of this season was .251, the lowest April average since the .249 mark of 1992. Teams scored an average of 4.29 runs per game, lower than 2010’s season average of 4.38.

The common refrain heard last season was: See? Testing for steroids and other PEDs works.

To which I say: Not so fast, my friends.

For example, in 2006 (the fourth season of drug testing) the major league average was 4.86 runs per game and 1.11 home runs per game -- totals higher than many seasons of the so-called steroid era, including the final pre-testing year of 2002 when teams averaged 4.62 runs per game and 1.04 home runs per game. In 2009, scoring was still 4.61 runs per game and home runs at 1.04 per game.

There are many possible reasons that go into the declining offensive levels, including -- but not limited to -- reduced PED usage; better defense; new pitching friendly ballparks since 2008 for the Twins (Target Field), Mets (Citi Field) and Nationals (Nationals Park); cold weather (this April); poor quality of wood; and more consistent strike zones from umpires.

If you ask me the other explanation is rather simple: We have lots of good young pitching. The past few seasons have seen an extraordinary number of hard-throwing, polished young pitchers reach the majors and dominate.

The following starters are currently 25 or younger: Felix Hernandez, David Price, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Kershaw, Yovani Gallardo, Tommy Hanson, Jhoulys Chacin, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Britton, Michael Pineda, Jaime Garcia, Daniel Hudson, Rick Porcello, Brian Matusz, Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto.

Other starters whose rookie seasons were 2006 or later include: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, John Danks, Chad Billingsley, Cole Hamels, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Max Scherzer, Jered Weaver, Josh Johnson, Ricky Romero and Adam Wainwright.

Crediting decline in offense solely to a decline in PED usage dismisses the talent of those names.

Compare those guys to the top 15 starting pitchers in 1996 who were 25 or younger (based on Baseball-Reference's WAR stats): Andy Pettitte, Ismael Valdez, Brad Radke, Jose Rosado, Pedro Martinez, Steve Trachsel, Felipe Lira, James Baldwin, Scott Karl, Darren Oliver, Joey Hamilton, Chad Ogea, Willie Adams, Frankie Rodriguez, Mark Thompson.

These were -- in theory -- the best young pitchers in 1996. No offense to Felipe Lira or Scott or Frankie Rodriguez, but they obviously didn’t exactly have the ability of Felix Hernandez or David Price or Clayton Kershaw. It’s a simple snapshot example of one reason why offensive levels remained high through the late 1990s and into the early 2000s -- there just wasn’t much good young pitching reaching the majors. And, again, before saying it’s easier to pitch in the post-PED era, the offensive of levels in 2006 -- when today’s current young pitchers were reaching the majors or climbing their way up through the minors, weren’t so different from 1996:

1996: 5.04 runs per game, 1.09 HRs per game, .270/.340/.427
2006: 4.86 runs per game, 1.11 HRs per game, .269/.337/.432

A bit startling, isn’t it? It should make you rethink the impact PEDs had on the game. I’m not saying they didn’t have an affect, but I believe their impact is wildly overstated and misbelieved.

As a final note, a key reason we have so many good young pitchers right now is that organizations do a much better job of keeping young pitchers healthy, both in the minors and at the major league level. Here’s one simple example, looking at the number of games of 120-plus pitchers by starters 25 or younger:

2010: 30
1996: 96
1991: 163

Old-schoolers may not like these pitch counts, but it’s a big reason we can hope all these exciting young pitchers will have long, successful careers. Not that today’s hitters want to hear that.


Atlanta at Philadelphia

Friday: Derek Lowe vs. Cliff Lee

Saturday: Jair Jurrjens vs. Roy Oswalt

Sunday: Tommy Hanson vs. Cole Hamels

The Braves have outscored their opponents by 20 runs, but have just a 14-15 record to show for it. The offense continues to struggle, ranking 14th in batting average and 15th in on-base percentage in the NL entering Sunday. Brian McCann leads the club with a .299 average but has just three extra-base hits and Alex Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla are all hitting less than .235. They already digging a hole against the Phillies and Marlins. It won’t get any easier this week, with the three games against Lee, Oswalt and Hamels, not to mention Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum of the Brewers.


Wednesday: Zack Greinke (first start) vs. Tim Hudson (3-2, 3.48), Brewers at Braves

Greinke makes his Brewers debut in Atlanta against the veteran ground ball specialist. If Marcum’s first six NL starts are any indication, look for Greinke to post some big numbers. Marcum’s ERA is 2.21, his hits per nine has dropped from 8.3 with Toronto in 2010 to 6.9 and his strikeouts per nine has risen from 7.6 to 8.3. Hudson has the fourth-best ground ball percentage among starters so far and has allowed just one home run in 41 1/3 innings.


1. Carl Crawford drove in the winning run for the Red Sox, singling in Jed Lowrie with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Seattle 3-2 and avoid a sweep. Dustin Pedroia led the charge out of the Boston dugout to mob Crawford, with Red Sox players celebrating like he’d just won them the pennant. As Peter Gammons said on NESN, Crawford is one of the most respected and well-liked players on the team and you know his teammates felt extra joyous it was Crawford delivering the hit. He had a bloop single earlier in the game, improving his season line to a still-woeful .168/.215/.238 … but maybe this will get him going.

2. Andre Ethier extended his hit streak to 27 games, another reminder of one of Billy Beane’s ill-fated decisions, when he traded Ethier to the Dodgers after the 2005 season for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. Bradley did help the A’s win the AL West title in 2006, although he played only 96 games that season. Ethier, a second-round pick by Oakland out of Arizona State, had hit .319/.385/.497 at Double-A Midland, but had suffered a stress fracture in his back in 2004 and some scouts doubted his power potential. Kudos to Ned Colletti, in one of his first deals as Dodgers GM.

3. Alfonso Soriano leads the majors with 10 home runs after hitting four in his past four games. His all-or-nothing approach, however, is symbolic of the problems with the Cubs’ offense. Soriano is hitting .258 with a poor 24/3 SO/BB ratio, his on-base percentage is a dreadful .277. Only the Giants and Astros have drawn fewer walks than the Cubs. Soriano, once a 40-steal guy, doesn’t have a single stolen base. Only the Braves have fewer steals than the Cubs’ six. And while Soriano has 10 homers, no other Cub has more than two.


My rant is against the baseball gods. What do they have against third basemen? Ryan Zimmerman, the heart of a Nationals team that is only one game under .500, is out another six weeks or so with his torn abdominal muscle. Pablo Sandoval, off to a terrific start for the Giants, broke the hamate bone in his hand and will be out 4-6 week. David Freese of the Cardinals, hitting .356, broke his hand on Sunday. Kevin Youkilis is battling a hip problem. Alex Rodriguez was hitting .370 eight days ago but is now down to .274. This is on top of Evan Longoria missing most of the season. So, I implore the baseball gods, you’ve made a point: Leave the hot corner alone.


Insert Matt Garza

February, 2, 2011
A prospect is a prospect until proven worthy at the big league level.

As a Cubs fan, I have never been so happy to see prospects, promising ones at that, get traded in such a flurry. As a matter of fact, this is the first time in recent memory that I can remember my beloved Cubs trading away the future for the present.

Chris Archer … gone. Hak-Ju Whatever-Your-Name-Is … gone. Traded away for Matt Garza, a former Tampa Bay Rays starter with some youth left to boot! Did I mention he was good?

Before this move, the Cubs seemed determined to stick with their homegrown talent at any cost. Names like Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Corey Patterson were once prospects of gold! It appeared that championships were waiting to be picked off like a snoozing runner with a big lead at first. It was as if the Cubs’ brass hoped one of those prospects could be the next Ernie Banks or Greg Maddux so it could end this century-long streak and do it with their own talent, discovered in-house, by their own people. For a period of time this seemed to be the game plan on Chicago’s north side. Nobody wanted to give up the next Ernie Banks for, well, the next Ernie Broglio.

Insert the Matt Garza trade. He will get one of the top three spots in the Cubs’ rotation for the coming season. Don’t get me wrong, Wrigleyville. I’m not trying to predict greatness, but the move does give the Cubs a certain validity in the NL Central. The real question won’t be what he does on the mound, but what he does for the rotation as a whole. Even a pedestrian effort could bear fruit in year one!

With Garza’s acquisition, a certain amount of strain is removed from Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. Two above-average pitchers (on their good days) carrying a rotation is a stretch, and before the Garza trade, your Cubs rotation looked like a head case; an injury waiting to happen (the reason we have Dempster is because of his an injury-riddled past); and a guy (Carlos Silva) that another team couldn’t wait to get rid of for Milton Bradley, followed by two doses of young, unproven talent. One word: Yuck!

With Garza, the clouds seemed to part. If he gives the Cubs 200 innings this year, which many believe he is capable of, then the gray skies become blue … Cubbie blue! Zambrano continues his form from his 8-0 effort in the second half last year, Dempster proves the injuries are in the distant past and keeps forging his path of consistent, not dominant, but consistent stuff, and Silva becomes a nice back-of-the-rotation starter.

If Garza can win 10 or more against the AL East, what can he do against the NL Central? Does anybody remember what Ted Lilly did when he came over to the division?

This leaves one spot for a new guy. A young gun in need of some nurturing, but one who has the stuff to be good. A “get your feet wet at the back of the rotation” guy. Who could it be? This is where it gets fun!

Now, if only Carlos Pena can hit above .250 …Chet West contributes to View from the Bleachers, a blog about the Chicago Cubs.

Chet West contributes to View from the Bleachers, a blog about the Chicago Cubs.

Podcast: Baseball Today

May, 6, 2010
Eric Karabell gets Rob Neyer's opinions on Milton Bradley, Ernie Harwell, the AL East and Dave Duncan, who Neyer believes belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Seattle needs Bradley (who blames Chicago)

March, 4, 2010
Tyler Kepner on what the Mariners are hoping to get from Milton Bradley:
If he leads the league in O.P.S., as he did for Texas in 2008, the Mariners could be very good. But injuries have shadowed him, and he hit .257 with 12 homers and 40 runs batted in last season for the Chicago Cubs, who were eager to unload him. The Mariners are Bradley’s eighth team in 11 seasons.

“Two years ago, I played, and I was good,” Bradley said. “I go to Chicago, not good. I’ve been good my whole career. So, obviously, it was something with Chicago, not me.”

He added: “Just no communication. I never hit more than 22 homers in my career, and all of a sudden I get to Chicago and they expect me to hit 30. It doesn’t make sense. History tells you I’m not going to hit that many. Just a lot of things that try to make me a player I’m not.”


That is what the Mariners hope. Unless they trade for a big hitter (and how about that, the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez trains right here at the Peoria Sports Complex), they will count on Bradley to be their primary slugger in Don Wakamatsu’s batting order.

“We made the deal because we were looking for someone to hit in the middle of our lineup,” said Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, who acquired Bradley for pitcher Carlos Silva. “Milton fit that spot. We like what goes on here. We have a lot of faith and trust in Don. He allows players to be who they are, and that’s all we want Milton to do: come here and be a productive player for us, and have fun. That’s the environment we want to create.”

It's Bradley's comments about Chicago that are getting all the attention, as blaming a whole city for injuries and ineffectiveness seems hardly befitting a 31-year-old professional.

Then again, nobody ever accused Bradley of being a mature 31.

I would rather focus on Zduriencik's comments. I agree that the Mariners need some punch in the middle of their lineup. I agree that Bradley could provide that punch, if healthy. What I can't figure out is why Zduriencik believes Bradley will actually be productive when the M's are setting him up for failure.

Of course I'm referring to Bradley's supposed position: left field. Bradley has played 100 games in the field just twice in his career: 138 games in 2004, 109 games in 2009.

When it comes to Bradley's well-known, umm, issues, perhaps management figures that Ken Griffey Jr. is the cure for whatever ails Bradley's psyche. Which is the wonderful conundrum: Griffey seems to have performed a suplex on the DH slot, which is obviously Bradley's best (only?) position.

Zduriencik knows all this better than I do, and figured he didn't have a lot (i.e., Carlos Silva) to lose. I agree. But there's a reason the projection systems are relatively pessimistic about the Mariners this season: runs. As in, not scoring enough of them. The Mariners might allow fewer runs than anybody in the league, and also score fewer than anybody.

Actually, that's what they did last year. They probably won't do either of those things this year; the mean is a powerful magnet. But as the roster now stands, the M's look like a pretty good bet for .500 but not a lot more.

Friday Filberts

February, 12, 2010
Lincecum's locked up, Damon's going to get his money soon ... How am I supposed to keep coming up with material between now and Milton Bradley's first trip to the Disabled List? My first best efforts:

* Here's Part 5 of Baseball Prospectus' rollout of SIERA, their new pitching metric. Kudos to BP for major transparency (and if you really want to geek out, there's a fantastic ongoing discussion of SIERA here).

* What happens when a baseball writer puts on the gear and catches a two-time Cy Young winner? Find out for yourself (especially if you're a Mets fan, because there's some good news for you in there).

* It's officially official: Truck Day is stupid.

* Bill Baer just might care about the Hall of Fame again ... if the voters elect (officially retired) Frank Thomas when he first becomes eligible.

* Corey Hart won his arbitration hearing, which isn't a big deal, financially; he and the Brewers were $650,000 apart. But he wasn't real good last season, and in fact he's been real good just once, in 2007. Which makes me think that was an outlier, and that Hart might never again be better than average (especially for a right fielder). Which surprises me only because he was so good in Triple-A.

* There's a list of 100 names I need to know, and Stephen Strasburg is No. 31? I'd better really study up on those 30 guys ahead of him.

* Nomar Garciaparra in the Hall of Fame? No, no, a thousand times no. Yes, his rate stats are Hall of Fame gaudy (for a shortstop, anyway). But the playing time -- and thus the value -- just isn't there.

* We no longer have an annual Sporting News Baseball Guide -- that went the way of the Dodo and the Labrador Duck a few years ago -- but SABR's Emerald Guide to Baseball is a worthy replacement ... and it's free!

M's and Cubs swap headaches

December, 18, 2009
Boy, talk about trading headaches. Larry Stone:

    The Seattle Mariners have found a way to get rid of one of their last lingering problems. According to major-league sources, the club is on the verge of trading Carlos Silva, who still has two years remaining on the four-year, $48 million contract given him by former general manager Bill Bavasi before the 2008 season, to the Cubs in exchange for outfielder Milton Bradley.


    I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround. He went 4-15, 6.46 in 2008, and was 1-3, 8.60 in eight games in '09, spending most of the year on the disabled list. Bradley, at least, is healthy and can be very productive when he's focused and happy. They have faith that manager Don Wakamatsu will be able to foster a good relationship with Bradley, as Texas manager Ron Washington did, and that he will contribute to an offense that needs what Bradley, at peak performance, can offer.

    Worst case, they can always cut him -- the M's probably weren't going to get anything from Silva any way, so that money was lost regardless. Best case, they have a motivated, resurrected offensive performer to stick in the middle of their lineup. The Cubs had been trying all winter to trade Bradley, talking most seriously with Tampa Bay and Texas, but to no avail -- until now.

Brilliant. Again.

Jack Zduriencik, I mean. The Mariners, at little or no additional financial expense, have traded a player who might be quite useful for a player who almost certainly will not be useful. Yes, baseball's a funny game. Silva's still a relatively young man, and might again pitch effectively someday. But considering that Silva's been terrible in each of the last two seasons, and that Bradley was great in 2008 and decent in 2009, doesn't this seem like an incredibly lopsided deal, talent-wise?

There's only one thing I don't quite get ... Where is Bradley going to play? We know he's best suited to DHing, because of the injury-prone nature of his physiology. But the Mariners already have a DH, a 40-year-old man named Junior. Now, 40-year-old Junior shouldn't play much because he's not much good anymore. But one wonders what will happen if Bradley's not healthy enough to play left field.

Anyway, that's a better problem to have than spending another $25 million on Carlos Silva.

Would Bonderman for Bradley help Tigers?

October, 9, 2009
Patrick Hayes' prescription for the Tigers? Trade for Milton Bradley, and give him the right-field job. Sign free agent Justin Duchscherer. Oh, and give a couple of Gerald Laird's plate appearances to prospect Alex Avila.

Wait, what? Milton Bradley in right field? Really? Yes, really:

    Right Field: The outfield needs a makeover, and it's going to start here. Trade Jeremy Bonderman to the Cubs for Milton Bradley. Both make roughly $10 million per year. Bradley is signed for one more year than Bonderman, but the Cubs are desperate to get rid of him, so it's conceivable they'd pay that final year if the Tigers take him.

    Jim Leyland is known for working well with head cases. Gary Sheffield didn't produce in Detroit, but he didn't make waves either. So what you say? Well, in NY he was calling Derek Jeter "not all the way black" and Joe Torre a slave master. He's had nothing negative to say about his Detroit tenure. Bradley is not as crazy as Sheff, this can work.

    Before signing with the Cubs, Bradley had a career-year in Texas, with a .999 OPS. Once he escapes the racism in Wrigleyville and comes to the more laid back environment in Detroit, he'll be just fine.

Maybe that "racism in Wrigleyville" link is supposed to be sarcastic, but if you actually read the story you'll find that nobody's got any evidence for any sort of racial abuse being heaped on Bradley at Wrigley Field. Leaving aside the intangibles, though, I'm fascinated by this notion that Milton Bradley might be someone's every-day right fielder for some extended stretch of time.

He's been in the majors for 10 seasons. He's started more than 110 games in the outfield exactly once. Players don't generally get healthier as they age; in fact, they generally get less healthy. Which doesn't mean the Tigers couldn't use Bradley. Hayes has slotted Magglio Ordonez as the Tigers' DH, but he's not a terrible outfielder and could simply continue playing right field.

Would adding Bradley and Duchscherer really make a difference next season? Probably not. Even if Bradley stays healthy enough -- physically and emotionally -- to play 140 games and the Duke gives the Tigers 175 good innings, the Tigers would still need a bit of luck to reach the 90 wins it will likely take to capture the AL Central. The basic problem is that in 2010 the Tigers will spend $50 million on Ordonez, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson ... and only one of those fellows is likely to be more than just moderately useful.

It's not easy to win that way, particularly without a great deal of creativity. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will surprise us.

More on Bradley suspension

September, 22, 2009
Shocking news: the Players Association might appeal Milton Bradley's suspension. You know, because there's very little precedent for suspending a player for two weeks for popping off to a few baseball writers. If there's an appeal the Cubs will probably lose, and in fact I suspect Bradley will simply be reinstated before season's end to forestall any appeal.

In the end, it's not going to matter much. Bradley wants out and the Cubs want him out, so whether he shows up again before season's end is mostly irrelevant. If there is an appeal and Bradley does win, though, it'll be seen as a victory of sorts for both him and the union. And thus a loss for Jim Hendry and the Cubs. Which I suspect would be just fine with Joe Sheehan:

    In something of a surprise, the Cubs have suspended Milton Bradley for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. There are about two weeks left in the season, so in the midst of the big pile-on, I'd like to ask one question: Who the hell has ever been suspended for two weeks for what they said to the media? This is a severe and unwarranted overreaction, a cynical public-relations ploy designed to curry favor with fans and the media and distract both groups from a Cubs season that is ending with a whimper.


    Hendry can do this because he's the general manager of a team that woke up on Sunday 11 games out of first place and seven games out of the wild-card race, effectively eliminated from contention. Let's be very clear that this suspension would not be happening if the Cubs had continued their late charge to the fringe of the race, or if they had any kind of chance of making the postseason. Let's also be very clear that this suspension would not be happening had Bradley's stats been comparable to last year's. Bradley isn't being suspended because of what he said; he's being suspended because he did so with a .240 batting average and the Cubs are buried in the standings.

I hate to disagree with my friend Joe. This time, though, I'm going to.

Oh, not about that last bit. Not completely, anyway. Joe's probably right: If the Cubs were playing well and contending for a spot in the World Series derby, it's not likely that Bradley would have been suspended. But I think it's a leap from saying that Bradley's been suspended while the Cubs are playing poorly to saying he's been suspended because the Cubs are playing poorly.

Bradley's been suspended because of his behavioral issues. This is no secret. It's no secret now, nor was it a secret when Jim Hendry committed $30 million to Bradley for three seasons. So, yes: most of the blame for this whole fiasco rests on Hendry's shoulders. You give a man with a history of uneven performance and personality $30 million ... What do you think is going to happen?

Mostly, though, I think Joe misses the mark when describes Bradley's suspension as "a cynical public-relations ploy." Are we to believe that Hendry convened a meeting with the Cubs' crack PR staff, and after a round of intense discussion everyone agreed to send Bradley home for the rest of the season?

Maybe. I don't really believe that, though. I believe this was little more than an emotional reaction to a truly distressing situation. A human reaction. Can you really blame Jim Hendry for wanting to get Milton Bradley away from his club? If Bradley wasn't doing anything to help your team, would you want him around? Wouldn't you look for any good excuse to get him out of your sight?

Of course, you're not a general manager. One might argue that a real general manager shouldn't behave so rashly as this. But when you're making a list of mistakes that Jim Hendry's made with Milton Bradley, this one definitely doesn't top the list.

What's to be done with Milton Bradley?

September, 21, 2009
Al Yellon runs through all the gory details of Milton Bradley's suspension, setting up this big finish:
    The final words, since this is my site, go to me. As noted above, this move was doomed to fail from January 6, the day it happened, for both on- and off-field reasons. It's almost certain that Milton Bradley has played his last game in a Cubs uniform, and for that I am glad. He's been a distraction and did not produce on the field. Why would you want a guy like that on your team? The situation is somewhat comparable, though more extreme, to the situation seven years ago involving Todd Hundley, also signed as a big-name free agent and who had the same production and complaining problems, although he simply complained TO the media, not ABOUT them, and didn't affect his teammates as negatively as Bradley has.

    Jim Hendry was able to turn Hundley into two productive players who helped the Cubs win the NL Central in 2003. Perhaps he can perform the same thing with Bradley; it's been suggested by some that the Cubs might be able to send him to Toronto for Vernon Wells. Though Wells' contract is almost as onerous as Alfonso Soriano's, I'd do it. There's at least a chance that Wells will return to previous levels of production, and the alternative is probably simply to send Bradley home and pay him for doing nothing.

    I never rooted against Milton Bradley when he was wearing a Cubs uniform. Had he produced, he would have helped the Cubs win games and that would have been a good thing. But starting from the injury in Milwaukee and the brief suspension that resulted from his tirade in his first Wrigley Field at-bat, Bradley was never a good fit for the Cubs, either emotionally or in the lineup. I'll be very happy when this chapter in Cubs history is just that -- history.

Committing $30 million to Milton Bradley was obviously risky because he's started more than 100 games in the outfield just once in his career. Committing $30 million to Milton Bradley was obviously risky because he's displayed serious behavioral issues throughout his career.

The sum of those risks meant Bradley was worth perhaps a one-year contract for $8 million -- hey, why not take a chance on a guy coming off a fantastic season in the American League? -- or maybe even a two-year deal for $15 million. But three years and $30 million? Madness. I didn't like the deal when it happened, and I terribly underestimated how awful it would be. (Meanwhile -- as Dave Cameron points out -- to make room for Bradley the Cubs dumped Felix Pie ... who's now thriving with the Orioles.)

It's true that Hendry convinced the Dodgers to give him two decent players -- Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros -- for Todd Hundley, who was coming off a couple of lousy seasons. But 1) Karros was coming off a couple of lousy seasons of his own, and 2) Grudzielanek had just posted a .301 on-base percentage, and 3) in addition to Hundley, Hendry relinquisted a decent prospect in Chad Hermensen (who never panned out, but still).

More to the point, general managers are generally smarter than they were in 2003. Yellon's got a good point about Vernon Wells; at least he doesn't get suspended twice per season. I just wonder if any general manager -- let alone a GM whose job seems to always be in danger, like J.P. Ricciardi -- will be willing to take Bradley, regardless of the circumstance. Almost no player with any demonstrated talent is untradeable, no matter what his salary; we've seen this proved many times over. But Bradley might actually be one of those rarities. Either way, the Cubs are going to take a big financial hit. And there was never any good reason for it.

Podcast: Neyer on Bradley, MVP race, more

September, 21, 2009
Rob Neyer reacts to the suspension of Milton Bradley and shares his opinion on the MVP and AL Central races.

Revisiting the Bradley-Ethier deal

September, 18, 2009
As Andre Ethier piles up big hit after big hit, it's only natural for A's fans to look south and wonder what might have been, as Ethier is a product of an Oakland farm system that's not been real productive in recent years. At least not when it comes to hitters of Ethier's caliber. Of course, Ethier went to the Dodgers in a now ill-remembered trade for Milton Bradley, as Athletics Nation's baseballgirl remembers in some detail:
    We remember Milton Bradley for all of his dramatic moments during the season and the playoffs, and it has been widely accepted that he lead the A's to their postseason berth, but the numbers simply don't bear that out. Bradley only played in 96 games in 2006, hitting .276 with 14 home runs (one very dramatic one on AN Day), 52 RBIs, an OPS of .818, just ahead of his replacements; Jay Payton .743 and Bobby Kielty .743. In fact, Milton Bradley only once in his whole career played over 130 games in a season, only once hit over 20 home runs, and only once has had over 70 RBIs.

    In contrast, Andre Ethier has been an absolute stud for the Dodgers the last four years; he is also the walk-off rival of Marco Scutaro, except with the career .294/.364/.495 line instead of Marco's .266/.337.385. In the very season he was traded, Ethier played twenty more games than Milton Bradley did, batted 30 points higher, with almost as many home runs, and a 30 percent higher slugging percentage. In his rookie year!

    As an A's fan, who really questions the A's scouting system (Ethier is one of the rare offensive players from the A's system to be legitimately great, since Tejada? Chavez?), these numbers were painful to look up. As much as I enjoyed 2006, I don't want to think about what Ethier has done, or what he'll continue to do in his career. And somehow, looking at his 2006 numbers, and knowing that he could have had those numbers for us, it makes it worse. It's one thing if he was in Double-A during the playoff run. Instead, he was in the league, and actually outperformed his replacement. Ouch.

Remember, process over product. While today we can't really explore the real process that led to the trade -- what was Billy Beane thinking, really? -- we can look at the players as they were, then.

As baseballgirl notes, Bradley hadn't exactly established himself as a superstar, or even a star. He'd played more than a 101 games just once, and exited the 2005 season with a .269/.350/.426 career line. His behavioral issues were already well known. He was, on the other hand, a fine defensive outfielder.

Meanwhile, at the time of the trade, Ethier was 23 and hadn't yet played in the majors. His most impressive play had come during the previous season, when he batted .319/.385/.497 in the hitter-friendly, Double-A Texas League. I don't mean to diminish his accomplishments, and those numbers did suggest a future major leaguer and perhaps a pretty good one. But going strictly by the numbers, there simply wasn't any reason to believe that Ethier would outperform Bradley in 2006.

Which, by the way, he didn't. Not quite, once you've factored in defense. Bradley was the better player in 2006. But he was just a little better, and the A's probably would have finished ahead of the Angels even if they'd installed Ethier as their every-day right fielder on Opening Day and left him there all season.

But, again, it would have been very hard for them to have known that at the time. Looking ahead just one season or even two, Bradley was the better bet. Which apparently is all the A's were playing for. And in the long run, the A's didn't come away empty-handed, trading Bradley (and some cash) to the Padres for relief pitcher Andrew Brown, who pitched effectively in limited action last season (but hasn't pitched at all this year).

All in all, the process probably worked about as well as it could have. The A's did get the better player and they did win a division title. Would they rather have Ethier now? Of course. Particularly because none of their other outfield prospects -- and they had a few of them in 2006 -- have really panned out. But when you make a deal with the devil, you have to figure that eventually a balance will come due. And sometimes it's particularly painful.

Cubs' Bradley up to old tricks

June, 26, 2009
Hey, at least they won the game:
    Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella and Milton Bradley had words in the dugout after the right fielder's at-bat in the sixth inning of Friday's game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, several sources told ESPNChicago.

    Bradley, who was not injured, according to a Cubs spokesperson, was removed from the game.

    Bradley was spotted in street clothes heading to the players' parking lot, the Chicago Tribune reported. Sources confirmed to ESPNChicago that Bradley has left the park.

    Bradley has had trouble getting his offensive game together this season. The $30 million man has been stuck on 16 RBIs since June 12. Before the game, Piniella said he and hitting coach Von Joshua had given Bradley some tools to get out of his slump.

    Bradley went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Friday's game before being removed after his at bat in the sixth inning.

Leaving aside Bradley's contract -- he's still got $24 million coming, if he can somehow play 75 games this season -- there's one really good reason for the Cubs to tolerate his shenanigans: Sad as this may seem, they sort of need his "production."

Sure, his .746 OPS is terribly disappointing, but it's better than those of third baseman Mike Fontenot, catcher Geovany Soto, and left fielder Alfonso Soriano (who still has $100 million coming to him).

As good as it might feel to just release Bradley -- which might, by the way, save many millions of dollars -- the Cubs really can't do that unless they figure out who else is going to play right field and give them at least a modicum of production from that slot.

Considering all their other problems, I doubt if that's a high priority at the moment.