The Cubs have a dilemma.
As the offseason approaches, General Manager Jim Hendry faces a number of difficult decisions about the future of his team. The 2009 team has a number of weaknesses, and the ability to throw money at the problem, even if he indeed has that ability, will not count for much.
Some of the additions he will need to make to make the Cubs competitive in 2010 will be by subtraction.
Among these, the most intriguing, and perhaps most important, is the question of how Hendry will address the Cubs' logjam of corner outfielders, and the subpar outfield defense that situation has created.
The 2009 Cubs essentially fielded a right fielder in center, a left fielder in right, and a DH in left; that is a fatal combination when the ace of the staff has extreme fly-ball tendencies (Ted Lilly has a higher rate of flies relative to grounders than anyone but the Angels' Jered Weaver over the past two seasons, according to baseball-reference.com).
To ameliorate that situation, the Cubs will try to acquire an outfielder better suited to the most important spot, center field, over the winter. Carl Crawford of the Rays has the speed to cover those pastures, as does Chone Figgins, who will become a free agent. It is important to note, however, that both men would be playing out of position.
If the Cubs fail to get either, they could turn the job over to Sam Fuld, whose defensive wizardry has already made him a folk hero in Chicago, and who gets on base enough to replace that skill in either Bradley or Fukudome.
Whatever course Hendry chooses, though, the Cubs need to move one of their highly-paid outfielders, and the guess here is that no one will be much interested in Alfonso Soriano's remaining five years and $90 million. Thus, it comes down to the central question of this article: Of Bradley and Fukudome, whom should the Cubs deal?
One consideration to be made in analyzing this debate is that Fukudome, who will make $26.5 million through 2011 on his current deal, has a no-trade clause built into that deal. Media sources reported last winter that he likely would be willing to waive that protection, but it's possible that his second year stateside, and the improved fortunes with which he has met during it, have changed his mind.
Nor is Bradley an ideal trade candidate, from a seller's perspective: His $21 million commitment over the next two years, a disappointing (though still fairly productive) season at the plate, and the rumors of clubhouse unrest that follow him wherever he goes make him a rather less valuable commodity than he was last winter, when Hendry signed him to lucrative long-term deal.
See my article, "The Curse of the Scapegoat," for more on media treatment of Bradley in 2009.
Still, assuming Fukudome could be convinced to surrender his no-trade provision, either would be movable, and Hendry should be able to pull off a deal involving either without getting entirely fleeced.
Fukudome would fit well in San Francisco, where right field is a definite need position, or in a platoon with Matt Diaz in Atlanta. In either case, the Cubs would find themselves eating a hefty chunk of his $13 million for 2010, and only slightly less of his $13.5 million in 2011.
Bradley, who was wooed by Tampa last offseason before signing with Chicago, still could be well-suited to that club, and could therefore be part of a deal for Crawford. The Cubs would eat less money in this scenario, since Crawford will make $10.5 million if traded to Chicago next season, himself.
The Yankees also could have interest: Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Xavier Nady all are free agents at season's end. They, of course, would pay the greater part of Bradley's remaining money themselves, but a trade there would probably net the Cubs the least of any I have proposed.
Ultimately, Bradley will probably be the one who goes. Hendry has shown a willingness to bend to media outcries against players in the past, as evidenced by his trade of Sammy Sosa in the winter of 2005.
Moreover, Fukudome is a stellar defender in right field, to the tune of about a win and a half per season above average, while Bradley scrapes by as just above average.
If the Cubs believe Alfonso Soriano's offensive skills will return in 2010, Bradley's advantage in the power department will not save him a place in Chicago. It seems his days here are numbered, regardless of the reason one chooses to focus on.
Fukudome, by contrast, can probably get comfortable somewhere near the top of the Cubs' order. The only question that remains, is whether Cubs fans will be comfortable with that choice by this time next year.