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March 3, 2009

Prospectus Today

Taking a Spin

by Joe Sheehan

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According to a report at MLB.com, Milton Bradley is set to return to the Cubs' lineup Wednesday afternoon as the DH. It will be his first appearance since February 26, when a problem with his left thigh forced him from a Cactus League game.

That's not a bad solution for March 4, but it won't do much for the team come April 6. The Cubs play six games in the regular season with the DH rule, and 156 without it. Coming off of a career season in Texas in which he got more than 80 percent of his plate appearances as the DH, Bradley will have to find his way onto the field much more than he has in recent seasons to justify the $10 million per-year commitment that the Cubs have made to him.

In a vacuum, Bradley appears to be exactly what the Cubs need: a switch-hitter, strong from the left side, someone who balances the lineup and provides excellent OBP and some power. Once a good defensive outfielder, he's slipped a bit in that regard due to a series of nagging injuries. However, the Cubs play home games in a park with a fairly small outfield, and with their high-strikeout pitching staff they rely less on their outfield defense than other teams do. The Cubs haven't prioritized outfield defense of late, and if they can make the postseason with an aged Jim Edmonds patrolling center, they can clearly suffer some mediocre range on the pasture.

Bradley, however, has no recent track record of staying on the field at any level of skill. Since establishing himself in the majors in June of 2002, Bradley has played in 62.6 percent of his team's games. He's played in more than 100 games just three times, and in more than 100 games in the field just twice. Let's repeat that: Milton Bradley has played in 100 games in the field just twice since becoming a full-time major leaguer. That, and not his temper, is the biggest reason to be wary of how this story ends. The Cubs have signed him to do something that he has little track record, and no recent track record, of doing. Bradley played 165 innings in the field in 2008; he played 480 out there in '07, and 803 in '06. Stop me when I get to full-time play. In 2005, he played 628 innings afield. You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a season in which Bradley stayed on the field for two-thirds of his team's innings.

That's why this signing was a mistake. It has nothing to do with Bradley's anger-management issues, ones that have defined his career. It has nothing to do with Bradley's skill set as a hitter. It has nothing to do with the money, which was in line with what Adam Dunn and Raul Ibaņez signed for. No, the problem is that the Cubs signed a player to do a job that he's not capable of doing. Signing Milton Bradley to be an everyday outfielder is like signing Mark Prior to make 34 starts, or trading for Carlos Delgado to be your catcher, or bringing in Will Carroll to endorse hair-care products. You're asking people to do things their bodies long ago stopped being able to do, and that's a recipe for failure.

In discussing Orlando Hudson, I'd mentioned the difference between chronic and traumatic injuries. Hudson suffered injuries on a head-first slide in 2007, and while reaching for a throw in 2008, neither of which reflect issues with conditioning or health. It's just bad luck, the kind that J.D. Drew and Jeff Bagwell have had in the past. Bradley, on the other hand, has a history of injury to many parts of his body that indicates a corpus that cannot hold up to the rigors of everyday play. It was a hand and a knee in 2005; an oblique strain, shoulder problem, and twisted ankle in '06; back and hamstring problems in '07, plus a torn knee ligament that ended his season; quad and wrist problems last year.

The day you sign the contract, everyone is optimistic. The day you come to camp, well, everyone's in the best shape of their life. Usually, you get to ride that wave for a while. Unfortunately for Bradley and the Cubs, reality has set in early, and there's not much they can do to run from it. The strong likelihood is that the team will be lucky to get a half-season of play from Bradley. That they didn't factor his health history into the decision to sign him-which certainly would have led to a decision not to sign him, given the absence of the DH rule in the NL-is a big mistake by a team that has avoided the big mistake in recent years.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Milton Bradley,  Quad-a

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ZeusIsLoose

I agree that Bradley is obviously not likely to play enough to justify his contract. I'd have been happier with abreu, or dunn.

He's basically replacing edmonds who only had 298 plate appearances in cubbie blue last year, I think it's possible/likely he can do that.

Sure, that's not how he's being paid. But in the end it's not going to be how many PAs Bradley gets, it's going to matter whether he's healthy at the end of the year, in the games that matter. I think the rest of the team is good enough to overcome this mistake.

I just wish they had kept Pie around for the other 350 PAs instead of signing gathright.

As a cub fan it's sometimes difficult to understand Jim Hendry's thought processes. For every move you think is great, he'll make a couple that are head scratchers.

Mar 03, 2009 11:11 AM
rating: 1
 
Richie

People will get frustrated with Bradley not being available, they'll start sniping about it, and truly being injured, he'll explode the 18th time he's called a malingerer. Take it out on the people around him, or in such an impressive fashion that they'll have to dump him.

Which puts paid to the otherwise workable plan (for a team this good) of just nursing him through until the post-season starts. Bradley may indeed be a post-season factor. It's just more likely than not to be for a team other than the Cubs.

Mar 03, 2009 12:15 PM
rating: 1
 
Aaron/YYZ

I'm still slightly astonished that he didn't go to one of the many teams in need of a DH and knock the snot out of the ball for a few seasons for good money.

Mar 03, 2009 13:23 PM
rating: 3
 
akachazz

I find it regrettable that the tremendous tagline that appeared under this article in my RSS reader is no where to be found on the actual article. For the benefit of the rest, it was as follows:

"Will Milton Bradley move the Cubs past `go` come October, or will he leave the team playing "Operation"?"

Mar 03, 2009 13:32 PM
rating: 4
 
evaldi

So who might get the additional playing time in the OF if/when Bradley goes down or Piniella sours on Fukudome? Assuming Reed Johnson is not the answer, then who?

If a trade is not worked then could Hoffpauir play RF? The consensus here seemed to be "No" but his bat seems like it would play.

Mar 03, 2009 13:47 PM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

The Cubs have avoided the big mistake? Since when? Hendry's track record is abysmal. The Cubs only won a weak division in 2007 because the Brewers folded; and only won an even weaker division last year because they got lucky with Harden and Dempster. Hendry knows nothing about player development and evaluation, nor roster construction and management. The man is a complete and utter moron.

The best thing the Cubs new owners could possibly do for their franchise is throw Hendry out his office window.

Mar 03, 2009 14:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Robert Flaxman

Hendry's not the greatest GM out there, and I would argue that the Juan Pierre trade was a "big mistake." That said, you can't just write off two consecutive division championships, even in the NL Central, especially given how many games they won last year (surely that's not all attributable to Ryan Dempster). Hendry also stole Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, two of the best trades the franchise ever made aside from the one for Sandberg. The minor league system hasn't brought up nearly as many good players as it probably should have, but that kind of organizational failure has really been going on for decades now; it's not all on Hendry. Great GM? No, but he's not exactly Jim Bowden here.

Mar 03, 2009 15:21 PM
rating: 4
 
ChuckR

I don't care for Hendry, either, and I certainly think that the Bradley 'mistake', should it turn out to be one, is only the latest of a series of horrible contract decisions. To wit: Fukudome (4/$48 mil), Marquis (3/21), and Soriano (8/$136), not to mention the dubious backloading of the Ramirez, Dempster and Zambrano deals. On one hand, the spending of money is a salve to the deep wounds that Cubs fans suffer. But the unwise spending of money - spending money for the sake of spending money - is just another cross to bear.

Mar 03, 2009 16:35 PM
rating: 1
 
Henry F.

Jason Marquis I think was what everyone expected and while that contract wasn't great, it wasn't horrible. Fukudome is only horrible in hindsight and that was a more inflated free agent market anyway. Soriano was just horrible, I'll agree to that. Signing Neifi after he hit .389 in 70 ABs was truly horrible, as was the Pierre trade. We must remember though the genius that was turning Todd Hundley's corpse into Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros before 2003. It hasn't been all bad.

Mar 03, 2009 22:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think signing Bradley would have been fine if the Cubs had kept DeRosa since DeRosa's versatility could have helped to cover for Bradley.

That being said, his knee injury from last year was a result of bad luck, so to speak.. as much as being tackled by your manager can come across as bad luck.

Mar 03, 2009 14:57 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Bad luck??? Who other than Bradley would put himself into a position such that his manager figures his best choice is to tackle him?

Mar 03, 2009 19:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Bill N

That's overstating it, last year they had the best 25 man roster in the NL. That depth didn't translate well to a best of five series unfortunately.

Mar 03, 2009 15:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

A best of five series involves a fair amount of luck. Even big slick loses 40% of the time.

Mar 03, 2009 17:15 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

A friend of mine just sent me this. I think it's apropos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rs7OagOu8ok

Mar 03, 2009 16:23 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hilarious! I was cracking up after the first minute.

Mar 04, 2009 01:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Ironhorse

Several of the guys above are close to suggesting the real cost of Bradley's contract.

I (Royals fan) recall my buddy (Yanks fan) walking into a grad student cafe the morning after the Yanks signed Danny Tartabull, the first "$5M per year player." John was gushing about the "five million." I said, "Ten million per year."

John asserted, "5 years for $25 million."

I replied, "Yes, and he'll play in half the games, so that works out to ten million. And for that, you and the Yanks can have him."

Without looking it up, I think Tartabull actually played in just over 60% of the games, just about the number Joe cites for Bradley.

For $20M per, Cubs fans, what other player(s) could you have acquired? This team is being managed like the unregulated banks about 5 years ago. The backloading and stacking of bad contracts will soon return the Cubs to subprime status.

Mar 04, 2009 04:10 AM
rating: 1
 
BillyB

That's a 15-yard penalty: unsportsmanlike conduct for attacking the follicly-challenged, Joe!

Mar 04, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 1
 
Squirrelmetrix

Don't forget about the no-trade clauses placed in nearly every free-agents contract. I'd say that the Cubs' window is this year. Beyond 2009, one of the NL Central teams will rise to the occasion. This team is going to be in shambles for a while with no farm system and all of these deals on the sour end. Which is why it will be so great once October comes around and the Cubs fall at some point in the playoffs.

Mar 08, 2009 18:25 PM
rating: 0
 
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