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December 18, 2009

Transaction Action

Playing Milton Bradley Games

by Christina Kahrl

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DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Designated C-R Dusty Ryan for assignment. [12/16]

An interesting development, because he might slip through waivers because of a market flooded with generally adequate right-handed-hitting catchers. There again, the general adequacy might be what inspires somebody to grab one set to make right around the major-league minimum.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Philip Humber and OF-L Shane Costa to minor-league contracts. [12/15]

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired OF-S Milton Bradley from the Cubs for RHP Carlos Silva and $6 million; re-signed OF-L Ryan Langerhans to a one-year $525,000 contract. [12/18]

Seattle's paying $27 million for right to employ Milton Bradley for two years and to delete one of Bill Bavasi's bigger mistakes... and it seems like a good idea. Really? Well, of course. First, they were already stuck for $25 million over the next two years with Silva, a pitcher the surgeon general had already recommended they avoid lest they strike team bean-counters and the odd over-50 fan dead from apoplexy. That was guaranteed dead space on the budget, money spent on a pitcher who would do nothing to advance the team any closer to the postseason, and nothing was the optimal possible outcome, whether that was having him on the DL, cutting him and hoping to recoup the major-league minimum if anyone claimed him-a big if-or if they sent him to Alpah Centauri as a goodwill ambassador for the Major League Baseball. Anything but letting him actually pitch, because that risked moving them in the wrong direction.

So put that way, they're getting Milton Bradley for two years for $2 million dollars, and they've repurposed a sink-worthy cost into a worthwhile risk. Bradley isn't going to repeat his 2008 season with the Rangers-that's one BABIP that really was certain to regress-but in Seattle, as in Texas, he's not going to be close to the center of attention and controversy, not when they've got Ken Griffey Jr.'s last spin and Ichiro Suzuki around as media magnets, not to mention King Felix, and this brand-spanking-new Cliff Lee over in that corner. Also, it's perhaps a smaller, subtler thing, but it's worth remembering how effectively the Mariners' media-relations team sheltered a younger Griffey, and if there's a legacy there, maybe that helps Milton be Milton on the diamond instead of in the headlines.

The other advantage to adding him to the Mariners given their current roster construction is that he's joining a team that doesn't have a set DH. I know, they have Griffey, but Griffey's not going to play every day, and you can expect the graying Kid will get a few starts in left field. If he's rotating between left and DH, can they get 110 lineup starts from him, or 140? Already tasked with the difficult responsibility of managing Milton, we'll see if Don Wakamatsu strikes the right balance as far as spotting Bradley 50-80 starts at DH, 40-60 times in left, and maybe 10 in right if Ichiro doesn't resume his run of 160-game seasons. Or maybe Bradley's only here 40 games before he gets hurt. Or clashes with teammates and management and is gone by July-if you already think in terms of how the roster spot was wasted with Silva, and Bradley makes enough of a nuisance of himself, it's an outcome you can't rule out altogether. Like the nuclear option, you just hope it doesn't come up, but the challenge for Jack Zduriencik and Wakamatsu will be proactive and see if there's any way to set Bradley at ease in his new circumstance, so that resorting to it never gets as close as it did in Wrigleyville.

Finally, we can turn to the truly happy and perhaps fantastic concept of what Bradley can do for a lineup. Because all the other stuff really does seem to get in the way of employing Bradley, it's not a stretch to call it fantasy, but it's one worth indulging. Bradley's walk rate shouldn't wobble too far from the 12-15 percent mark he's managed the last four years, and for a Mariners lineup that ranked last in the AL in walks, that's manna from heaven. Combined with switch-hitting and some power, that should provide a Mariners lineup with some help. The question is: how much power? As noted, he isn't going to repeat that .388 BABIP from Texas, and it takes a lot of faith in the powers of a happy Milton to think he'll get his ISO back up around .240, his clip from 2007-08. Still, morale's an issue we can't wish away, so while almost every other player in baseball wouldn't be the sort of player you'd assert is going to improve moving from the weaker league to Safeco, Bradley might be. Say he matches his career rate of .170, plus an OBP somewhere in the .370s, and that's a pretty serious offensive asset, before we even get into the M's absolute need.

The nagging question that so many are always ready to ask about Milton Bradley, though, is this: Could he do more? That's the wonderful thing about wishing upon Milton Bradley-as much as we're now all very familiar with the negative, sometimes he surprises you to the good. Then again, could he do less? Of course, he has, and it's almost certain that someday he will again. Only one team, Texas, has ever seen Milton Bradley leave and think fondly of him as he departed. But for $2 million to find out, while adapting a sunk cost to the adventure, the Mariners have created the possibility that they might just end up with enough offense to win the division. More will help, of course-they might still pursue Jason Bay and reduce Griffey to Designated Cheerleader, and they still need to get a first baseman. But as a way of creating hope from a roster spot and an expense where none existed, this is one bit of craziness well worth risking.


TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHPs Winston Abreu, Jeff Bennett, Joe Bateman, and Richard De Los Santos, LHPs R.J. Swindle, Jason Cromer, and Carlos Hernandez, and 1B-L Chris Richard to minor-league contracts. [12/14]
Signed INF-R Joe Dillon and 1B-R Ryan Shealy to minor-league contracts. [12/18]

There are a couple of semi-amusing things here, in a minor key. For those among us still harboring hopes for Ryan Shealy turning into something more than a first-base platoon's short side, I'm sure you're going over his latest landing. Me, I'm thinking Durham's shot at the Governor's cup is looking pretty good, what with Dillon, Richard, and Shealy to bop for the Bulls, so kudos to the Rays for keeping a top affiliate happy. The other semi-amusing thing is the Rays bringing back Winston Abreu after yo-yo'ing him over to the Indians and back in an exchange of epic desperation and pointlessness? Sure, as if Indians fans didn't have cause enough to bitch and Meloan.


TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed RHP Geoff Geary and MI-S Ray Olmedo to minor-league contracts; outrighted UT-R Esteban German and LHP Clay Rapada to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [12/16]

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Carlos Silva and $6 million from the Mariners for OF-S Milton Bradley. [12/18]

So, we all knew that Milton Bradley was going to be an ex-Cub, and everyone knew that we all knew it, and knowing that, nobody who knew much about anything was going to give anything up to get him, which Jim Hendry knew. Or found out, because, let's face it, he's not telepathic. So he wound up making a turkey swap, ditching one regret for another, and instead of winding up achieving any of the innumerable rumors involving the Rays for Pat Burrell, or the Rangers for a pan of brownies and a hug, he went with the most easily convertible currency possible: pitching.

Whatever Silva's for, if healthy, he's no prize. The contract's no cause for joy, even with a $6 million payoff to help defray the expense: $25 million, spread out as $11.5 million for 2010 and again in 2011, followed by an inevitable $2 million buyout of his 2012 option. Since Bradley was due $21 million, they've netted $2 million over the next two years, not much as such things go. The question, did they get anything beyond the $2 million and a re-purposed roster spot? In Silva's last full season in a rotation back in '08, his first and last as a Mariners regular, he produced a .396 SNWP, which is merely the worst-ever rotation starter season in Seattle Mariners history for a hurler with 150 IP. Keep in mind what that means: these are the Mariners, an expansion team, once upon a time a paragon of patsydom, and this man was their worst. Admittedly, Silva's a pitch-to-contact pitcher who probably wasn't helped much by the Mariners defense the team was at such pains to repair before 2009, but that can't be a good thing to have.

Even assuming he's fixable or adds a couple of ticks on his fastball in a bullpen role he's initially likely to be stranded in, at best we're still talking about a low-90s guy who doesn't fool people with it or his changeup; maybe relief work makes it easier for him to rely on his slider, as that's his best pitch. He's relatively effective at keeping runners close, so at least he has that going for him, but why play for peanuts when the guy on the mound's passing out cookies? Oh, and he's coming to the easier league, although if he's in the pen, it isn't like he's going to get the benefit of facing pitchers. However, it's worth nothing that there's a very real chance/threat that he could wind up in the rotation, because there's plenty of uncertainty in the unit, between Carlos Zambrano's decline, the question of whether or what Randy Wells can do for an encore, and the inconsistency of the currently penciled-in occupant of the fifth slot, Tom Gorzelanny. I suppose that's the double-savior role Silva might fill: making Wrigleyville safe from both the menace of Milton Bradley and the equally demoralizing menace of the odd Jeff Samardzija start.

The new dilemma is what this means for the Cubs' outfield, but we really sort of already know the answer: Kosuke Fukudome is going to right, which is why the Burrell rumor had about as much leg as Toulouse-Lautrec, and about as much attraction to the Cubs as a Caribbean Cruise with Hawk Harrelson. It seems unlikely that they'd really just run with Sam Fuld as their everyday center fielder, but I supposed it's possible, in that they'd wind up with a lefty bat and a guy who swipe a few bases, but with negligible power and an OBP that might bounce around .320, turning to Fuld would be like enlisting the lefty doppelganger of the Bobby Dernier experience. This lineup might be able to afford that if Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto and Mike Fontenot (in a part-time role) all bounce back, and if Aramis Ramirez gives them a full season. More likely, I expect this means they're calling Marlon Byrd's agent, which won't really improve matters much, but they just found $6 million, and that just gotta spent somehow, right? Milton who?

So now there's no more Milton Bradley; no doubt his games will go on, just on different boards. There's no consolation in having made him go away, and the question as to what they were thinking when, as Joe Sheehan put it last spring, they tried to make Milton do the things he cannot do simultaneously (play outfield, hit, and stay healthy). I don't think Hendry takes any special pride in learning that the hard, up-close way, even if his gamble that Bradley could be the first player to ever manage a jump from DHing in the American League one year to playing a full season in the outfield in the National.

The Cubs aren't the first team to have been burned by the Milton Bradley experience, of course. They're just the ones who spent the most for the rare pleasure of finding out they're not the right fit for this generation's Richie Allen. You can blame Hendry for making a mistake in trying to find what wasn't there in last winter's market at the point he'd swung into action, and land a premium bat from the left side to stick into the middle of the order; acting earlier to get in on Raul Ibanez wouldn't have guaranteed a happy result, however, since that still would have forced either the DH-ly Ibanez or the routinely frightening Alfonso Soriano to move to right field. But that option was already off the table in January, and taking that hit on defense, was one already implicit in their trying Bradley. Simply going for Adam Dunn is the big miss of last winter, but it's worth remembering that Dunn has managed to alienate and annoy his share of people as well. That wouldn't have helped them with Fukudome's limitations in center, however, but trying to peg what one decision you could undo to "fix" the Cubs' current situation and shunt them down the trunk of a much happier decision tree is a fool's errand; this far down the rabbit hole, these stories usually end with cries of "off with his head!"

So, the Cubs tried something crazy and expensive, and it wound up being crazy and expensive. The disappointment that they achieved in building up their fractious relationship with Bradley and then fracturing it is that, having decided he was a waste of a roster spot, they made absolutely sure of it by trading him for Silva.


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

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