Bradley, Lueke, And Precedents
Obviously, most of the talk today surrounding the M’s is about Milton Bradley’s arrest. This can’t be how the M’s were hoping to kick off the new year, and the fact that it comes two weeks before FanFest has to be annoying to the organization – after all, they’re now faced with standing in front of a bunch of fans before his court date (February 8th), which leaves them in the uncomfortable position of having to say something without actually saying anything.
Beyond that, the Mariners have to figure out what they’re going to do with Milton now. At this point, I think most people expect the team to take some action that removes him from the team, whether that be suspension, a move to the restricted list (the same procedure they pursued last year when he took his leave of absence), or just an outright release. Given all of the questions about how Bradley would fit in with Eric Wedge at the helm, how he’d respond to a reduced role that left him as a part-time player, and his ability to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder given his injury history, this seems like a straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back, even if the charges end up being dropped. Pretty much every other organization that has ever employed Milton Bradley has reached a point where they determined his baggage wasn’t worth it anymore, and this is probably that point for the M’s.
If they just want to wash their hands of the situation and be done with it, they can just release him. It’d be the no-hassle way of dealing with the issue, as no one would really question the organization if that’s the path they decided to pursue. They’d have to eat the $12 million he’s owed for 2011, but it’s a sunk cost anyway, and it’s not like it’s all that hard to find a right-handed hitting outfielder who can get 250 plate appearances and avoid causing drama for everyone around him.
The other options would be a bit trickier, as they’d likely involve the team seeking some sort of reimbursement for the wages they’re expected to pay Bradley this year. Larry Stone has a great piece on the history of teams trying to void contracts with players over off-the-field legal problems. In general, it hasn’t gone very well, as the player’s association has been able to hold teams at bay when they attempt to declare that a player has forfeited his right to be paid. It is possible that there is language in Bradley’s contract that would allow the team to pursue this course in his specific situation, but there’s no way for us to know if that’s the case or not. There’s also another factor to consider for the M’s, and that’s Josh Lueke.
The team took a pretty big PR hit last year with how the Lueke situation was handled after he was acquired from Texas in the Cliff Lee trade, but since then, the team has operated in a way that suggests that they expect Lueke to remain a member of the organization going forward. Lueke’s situation is different in many ways than Bradley’s, especially in that his offense took place while he was not a member of the organization, but he spent time in jail for his offense and the Mariners are still willing to employ him (as of now, anyway). Given their decision to acquire Lueke (and subsequently retain him throughout the off-season), it would then be hard to convince a judge that Bradley simply being arrested for making a threat would constitute behavior that would prevent them from continuing to employ him.
Likewise, it will appear somewhat hypocritical of the Mariners if they cite this incident as a primary cause for his release, but continue to employ Lueke. On one hand, the organization certainly wants to be seen as taking a firm stance against abuse against woman, but making different choices as to Lueke’s and Bradley’s futures with the organization presents some problems. They have opted to note that Lueke deserves a second chance, but
Bradley has no noted history of abuse towards women that I can find Bradley has never been charged with any domestic abuse issues (though there was a 2005 incident where police were called to his home that I missed in my original research) and this charge – while serious – is not as extreme as what Lueke served jail time for. You can point to Bradley’s past problems getting along with coaches, management, teammates, and umpires as examples of why he’s run out of second chances, but all of those problems have been with men. If the organization chooses to release him on the grounds of violating a policy of abuse towards women, it will be hard to simultaneously justify Lueke’s continued employment. If one deserves a second chance, then it will be argued that so does the other.
In short, there is no easy clean fix here, unless the team decides to just take this as an opportunity to enforce a retroactive no-tolerance policy and release them both. I doubt that’s the path they’ll pursue, however. My guess is that we end up seeing Bradley placed on the restricted list, remain a member of the organization, and the team simply choose not to pursue an attempt to recoup his salary. He’d still technically be a member of the organization, but he wouldn’t be part of the team anymore. This is essentially what the Cubs did to Bradley at the end of the 2009 season, when they just sent him home to finish the year.
No matter what they do, however, they’ll be criticized from some angle.