There are many different reasons for why teams trade their popular players.
Sometimes it’s as simple as having too many good options for too few spots on the team, as was the case when the Phillies traded Jim Thome to make way for Ryan Howard in 2005.
Sometimes a small-market team can’t afford to keep its star player, or a mediocre club swaps its biggest name for a package of prospects who could help them contend in the future—like when the Indians traded Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez at the Trade Deadline in 2009.
Most of these fire sales aren’t taken lightly. Even if a player has been known to be on the trading block, the news of his departure is disheartening. Team officials are (or at least appear to be) sorry to see him go, and even fans who understand why the trade was necessary feel a sense of loss.
It’s extremely rare for team officials to flat-out declare that they want a player off their team. And yet, that’s exactly what the Cubs have done with Milton Bradley.
After signing a three-year, $30 million contract a year ago, Bradley capped off a disappointing 2009 campaign with a media rant about his hatred of the city of Chicago. The outburst was just the best publicized of a long series of incidents that cemented his label as a cancer in the Cubs’ clubhouse.
It’s neither a secret nor a surprise that Jim Hendry and his associates desperately want Bradley out of their hair.
Which is why he is probably the best bargain in the entire trade market.
He wasn’t much of an offensive threat last season, hitting .257/12/40 in 124 games, though he maintained his trademark plate discipline (.378 OBP). In addition, he was hampered by both injuries and the fact that—as he put it—“everything is…just negativity” in Chicago.
But to judge him based solely on last season would be misleading, and, in the words of John Locke, “He that judges without informing himself to the utmost that he is capable, cannot acquit himself of judging amiss.”
In 2008, Bradley hit .321 with 22 homers in just 126 games. He’s just one season removed from leading the American League in OBP (.436) and OPS (.999). He had similarly high numbers (.402 and .907) the year before, and has impressive figures over his 10-year career (.371 and .821).
In hindsight, $10 million a year was a bit generous. But, isn’t it a little early to put him in the same write-off category as Vernon Wells and Pat Burrell?
Think of all the teams who could use him—it doesn’t take much brainpower to come up with a pretty long list. The Mets are known to be in the hunt for an outfield bat. The Angels have demonstrated a similar need by their interest in Jason Bay, and the Cardinals will have a big hole to fill if they don’t re-sign Matt Holliday.
And, of course, there are the Giants, whose only legitimate hitter is part-bear (Pablo Sandoval).
Now, I’m not saying his attitude isn’t a problem. As an Indians fan, I’ve experienced Bradley’s hypersensitivity, and I wouldn’t want to bring him back to Cleveland. I’ve skewered him for his temper here. And here. And here. And here. And here (my favorite of all my articles). But, I digress.
His temper isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw. Maybe his new manager could add yoga or meditation to the team’s training routine. His new team could give him a bonus if he sees a psychologist every week.
All he needs is a little bit of mellowing out—he doesn’t have to be Rondell White. Some of the best players in baseball history have been jerks (see “Cobb, Ty” and “Bonds, Barry”).
Because Hendry is so desperate to get rid of Bradley, a shrewd GM could probably acquire him for a throwaway player. He could probably even get the Cubs to eat a good portion of his salary if he plays hard-to-get.
Some team will probably realize what a great opportunity this could be—hopefully, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”
As usual, the Cubs will get screwed. The only question is, “by how much?”