Bauman: Bradley trade seems mandatory
Move can be tricky with Chicago boasting little leverage
INDIANAPOLIS -- The average Major League team's offseason is measured by the kind of players it obtains. The Chicago Cubs' offseason will be measured, at least in part, by the kind of player it jettisons.
There is no doubt that the outfielder in question is talented. He led the American League in on-base percentage in 2008. That was a big attraction for the Cubs. But on the other side of it, there was the well-established fact that Bradley had been a center of controversy at almost all of his Major League stops. And because of the controversies, there were a lot of stops.
Bradley didn't hit in the first half of 2009 for the Cubs, but after his bat came around, his deportment deteriorated. At one point, he summed up his Wrigley Field experience as encountering hate. The Cubs eventually had enough and suspended him for the remainder of the season on Sept. 20.
A defense of Milton Bradley would require an abiding belief that he has been the victim of racial prejudice in Montreal, in Cleveland, in Los Angeles, in San Diego, in Chicago, etc. Eventually, you would wind up arguing that there has been a conscious conspiracy to ruin Bradley's career. And you would have to argue that this conspiracy extends not only through most of baseball but through most of North America.
You don't want to argue that position, because it would be refuted on a daily basis by each and every non-Caucasian baseball player who may have encountered prejudice along the way, but who has competed, succeeded, prospered. No, this is probably more about Milton Bradley than about the rest of the world. And it is also about the Cubs, believing that Bradley would be a model citizen simply because he told them that is what would happen.
Now, with bridges burned, and probably still smoldering, on both sides, a trade of Bradley seems mandatory. The Cubs still owe him $21 million over two years. In any deal, they will probably be expected to pay a chunk of that, maybe a very large chunk.
Despite Bradley's ability, most teams will want nothing to do with him. There has been reported interest in Bradley expressed by a few teams, including the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rangers had Bradley in 2008, which was probably his quietest year in the Majors. The Rays are managed by Joe Maddon, who believes he can manage anybody.
But what can the Cubs get in return for Bradley at this point? Trading partners know that the Cubs are in a situation in which they have little leverage. They are trading a player they suspended. It is not as though they can give Bradley a really good recommendation.
In a possible trade with Tampa Bay, there is speculation that the Cubs would get Pat Burrell. That would get rid of Bradley, but it wouldn't make the Cubs better on the field. Burrell is a sub-standard defensive player to the point where his best position is designated hitter. He is also coming off a sub-standard year as a hitter.
What the Cubs really need in the outfield is a genuine center fielder. Manager Lou Piniella addressed this issue in his managerial media session at the Winter Meetings on Monday.
"The outfield situation, we're going to need an outfielder," Piniella said. "You can talk about different ways to go at it, but I think the approach that probably makes the most sense is the center field situation."
The supply of qualified center fielders who might be traded to the Cubs shrunk by one on Tuesday. The Detroit Tigers sent Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees as part of a three-team deal.
Granderson would have been something very close to an ideal fit for the Cubs. He has speed and power. He is an excellent defensive outfielder. He is in his prime. And he's a Chicago-area guy. Maybe Granderson was really too good to be true for the Cubs in this case.
Still, there are other viable alternatives. Free agent center fielder Mike Cameron is like the anti-Bradley. He is a superior defensive player, who hits with power, even though he strikes out frequently. But he is also a solid citizen and a natural leader. Other players gravitate to him and look to him for leadership. And he has another built-in advantage, having played for Piniella in Seattle.
"Mike Cameron, as a player and a person I have the utmost respect for him, there's no question," Piniella said. "I had him in Seattle and got along with him very well. He's a guy that he can play. He likes to play.
"But as far as him with our team, you've got to talk to (general manager) Jim Hendry about those things. That's his area. But Mike certainly is a real good ballplayer."
The general manager in this case is required to not only find another very useful outfielder, but in addition find a productive way to get rid of Bradley.
This is no easy task. But the alternatives would be giving Bradley the boot and getting nothing at all for the $21 million, or Bradley and the Cubs joining together in a lifetime peace pact, insuring tranquility, stability, serenity between the team and the outfielder. No, that latter notion is not a particularly likely outcome.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.