Bradley a major risk/reward player for Cubs

January, 5, 2009
01/05/09
7:01
PM ET
Finally, after nine seasons of an injury-filled, controversy-laden career, Milton Bradley got his big payday. Beginning in 2009 he's a Chicago Cub, which will be his seventh big-league franchise in 10 years, after he signed a three-year deal worth $30 million.

Two questions now surround the annually questionable slugger: Will contract security spoil him? Better yet, will he stay healthy long enough for it to matter?

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Milton Bradley
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire Milton Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage last year, but only played 126 games.
Bradley managed 126 healthy games played in 2008, the second-most in his career, and only one time did he play more, when he logged 141 in 2004. In his seven full seasons in the majors -- 2002 to 2008 -- he has averaged exactly 100 games played. That means that while Bradley has been a productive hitter when he has been able to take the field, batting a respectable .280 with an .827 OPS in his career, he has only actually been able to take the field a little more than 60 percent of the time.

That's a poor percentage.

There's another troubling aspect to Bradley's performance: His 2008 was great, yes, but it was largely ballpark-generated. In 57 games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Bradley batted .358 with 16 home runs, 43 RBIs and a 1.145 OPS; on the road he was a .290-6-34-.872 hitter in 69 games, much closer to his lifetime rates.

Granted, Bradley did prove his ability to hit anywhere in his brief stint in San Diego in 2007, batting .299 with six home runs and a .977 OPS in 23 games at Petco Park, which is considered one of the most extreme pitchers' parks in baseball. But that's a small sample size, and still not quite the caliber of what Bradley put forth in 2008, a season that placed him an impressive 85th on the Player Rater.

In short, Milton Bradley is the ultimate risk/reward fantasy performer.

Ask yourself this: Are you feeling lucky? If you are, by all means, pick Bradley as perhaps a third or fourth outfielder, something generally priced in the low-teens in terms of rounds in the draft. He'll probably bat his usual .290, a number he has matched or exceeded in four of the past six seasons, hit just shy of 20 home runs and play in about 100 games. Anything more than that has to be considered the product of exceptionally good fortune … or favorable wind conditions at Wrigley; such things can be annually unpredictable, though.

Not that those are poor fantasy numbers, not at all. Bradley will slip in every draft to a point where he's well worth selecting. But when a high-risk performer comes off of a contract year in which he managed 25 percent more games played than his career norm, the fantasy masses tend to get overzealous with draft-day pricing of the guy.

Look at it like this: A healthy Bradley might be capable of another No. 85 Player Rater ranking, and some people might evaluate him accordingly. Think back to a year ago, come draft time, and Bradley, in spite of the prospect of Rangers Ballpark and his contract-year status inflating his numbers, was on average picked 285th -- 200 spots later than where he finished the year -- in ESPN drafts. Have fantasy owners as a whole really developed this much trust in the volatile Bradley?

So what's the answer to the question: What's Bradley's appropriate draft position? Somewhere in the middle, though as a frequent Bradley risk-taker, I'll lean much closer to the No. 85 than the 285 rank. Presumably, he'll fall short of the top 100 in 2009. And it's that worst-case scenario that has me hedging my bets enough to rank him more middling. Say, 150ish.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball, football and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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