What To Do With Milton Bradley
When the M’s acquired Milton Bradley, the thought was that they were getting a guy who could hit, and they would have to deal with the personality issues that would inevitably arise. And he did have some early in the year. However, since going through his two week leave of absence, there hasn’t been a single incident with Bradley acting out, either on the field or off of it, as he’s been a model citizen for the last two months – even as the team loses games hand over first and the guy he respected most on the team left during mid-season. Since mid-May, Milton Bradley really has been on his best behavior.
He also hasn’t hit at all.
Since returning from counseling, Bradley is hitting .201/.285/.335, a bad line for a middle infielder, much less a DH. It’s not like he was tearing the cover off the ball at the beginning of the year, but he was at least drawing his normal amount of walks and showing some power. He’s walking less than ever before, striking out more often, and he doesn’t have an extra base hit since July 1st. For Bradley, this is the mother of all slumps.
So now, the Mariners have almost exactly the opposite of the guy they thought they were getting. They have a low-maintenance teammate who isn’t performing instead of a high-strung malcontent who causes trouble for opponents on the field and his managers off of it. And, with 2010 down the drain and 2011 looking like a long shot for contention, the question of what to do with Milton Bradley becomes one the team has to answer.
He’s under contract for 2011, so they can bring him back next year if they’d like to. They won’t be able to move him, so their only real alternative would be to cut him and eat all of the money he’s still owed. Given his track record, it’s hard to imagine that he’s actually done as a major league hitter, so it makes some sense to keep him around and hope for a rebound, given that they won’t get any of their money back by releasing him. And yet, he still comes with a decent amount of baggage. Even though he’s been well behaved since May, there’s always the chance that he blows up again. Teams are willing to take that risk when he’s hitting. When he’s not, though, what’s the point?
Factoring in his 2010 performance and combining it with his prior history, ZIPS projects Bradley to be roughly a league average hitter going forward. That’s a lot better than he’s been, but still nothing to write home about. It’s essentially the baseline for a DH. If a guy who doesn’t play the field that often can’t hit better than league average, he won’t be in the majors for very long. Bradley can play an okay-ish left field, so he’s more valuable than some of these DH-only types, but you’re still not going to want him to play left all that much, considering the presence of Michael Saunders.
At DH, the team could probably get similar expected production from a younger guy making the league minimum. They could certainly find a guy who could be expected to hit about league average who wouldn’t come with Bradley’s history of off field problems. But, considering that this is probably the best behaved he’s ever been, it seems a bit unfair to cut him for past transgressions now, when it appears that he’s made a legitimate effort to keep himself out of trouble.
I honestly don’t know what the team should do with Milton Bradley. I can see arguments for cutting him loose and giving his playing time to someone who might have a future with this organization, and I can see arguments for keeping him around and hoping he finds some of the thump that he had a couple of years ago. It’s not an easy decision, but it’s one the Mariners will have to make this winter.