When the Texas Rangers signed Milton Bradley this offseason, I was elated; Richie Whitt, not so much. At the time, I said Bradley could be an interesting trade chip, much like Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton were last year. And now that Bradley's having an all-star caliber season -- and another all-star meltdown following last night's win over the Kansas City Royals -- it's time for GM Jon Daniels to start looking for a buyer. Probably the sooner the better.
In today's market, signing a solid veteran to a one-year contract is really as low risk of a move a general manager can make. If your team emerges as a contender, that player could be the one that puts you over the top. If you aren't a contender, then the same player could be dealt to a contender looking for a boost. And if you can't get anything for the guy, a la Sammy Sosa, then he's gone the next season, and all you've risked is a little dough.
This is why inking Bradley to a one-year, $5.25 million contract was a smart signing by Daniels, as was giving one-year deals to Eddie Guardado ($2 million) and Jason Jennings ($4 million). Sure, Jennings was awful in six starts with Texas (0-5, 8.56 ERA) and is out for the rest of the year after season-ending surgery on his right flexor tendon, but four mil is a drop in the bucket for rolling the dice that he could have been somewhat effective.
Of course, Bradley and his .338 batting average, 14 homers, 20 doubles and 45 RBI has more than made up for Jennings, and Guardado has been solid in the bullpen. Now that baseball's Hot Stove is heating up, it's time to debate whether to try and get Bradley signed to an extension or waive buh-bye. And the decision is remarkably easy when you put yourself in Daniels' shoes.
Before becoming one of baseball's hottest hitters this season, Bradley's best season was in 2004 with the Dodgers, when he hit a career-high 19 bombs with 67 RBI in 141 games. Even in his best year, he managed just a .267 batting average with 123 strikeouts. Since his rookie year in 2000, Bradley has bounced from the Expos to the Indians, Dodgers, A's, Padres and Rangers. And in that time, he developed the reputation as a clubhouse cancer and a guy who just couldn't stay healthy, as 2003 was the only other year he played at least 100 games.
So now, at age 30, Bradley is suddenly Babe Ruth in the batter's box and Cal Ripken in the clubhouse? Apparently not, as noted in the ESPN report: "Milton Bradley stormed out of the Texas Rangers clubhouse after an 11-5 victory Wednesday night over Kansas City and bounded up four flights of stairs looking for Royals television announcer Ryan Lefebvre." Daniels got to Bradley before he could get to Lefebvre. Good thing.
There's too much to gain from dealing him. (Only, will anyone take him?)
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For example, desperate for an outfielder for last year's playoff run, the Indians parted with 23-year-old catcher Max Ramirez for 41-year-old Kenny Lofton. Lofton isn't playing baseball this year, while Ramirez is having one of the best seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .360 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI up north in Frisco.
And the Red Sox, looking for a bullpen arm for last year's playoff run, parted with David Murphy, Kason Gabbard and Engel Beltre for Eric Gagne. Gagne was a disaster in Boston and then signed a one-year deal with the Brewers, where he posted a mammoth ERA in 20 games this year before getting injured again.
Although I initially thought Murphy would be a good fourth outfielder, he's looking like a solid everyday player while making a run at winning Rookie of the Year with a batting average tantalizingly close to .300, 10 homers (two last night, including a grand slam), 20 doubles and 46 RBI. Gabbard has battled injuries, but at worst can be solid out of the bullpen, and the coup of the deal will likely be 18-year-old Engel Beltre -- compared by some scouts to a young Barry Bonds.
There will be plenty of teams looking for a bat as the deadline approaches, and Bradley will likely be the best one available. So, while it's been a blast, Daniels needs to work out a way to score more youth before Bradley goes looking to kick the ass of some other poor schmuck with a microphone.