Is Milton Bradley’s Bat Worth The Hassle?

Milton Bradley had a fantastic season last year for the Rangers, hitting .321/.436/.563 and leading the AL in OPS, worth 4.5 Wins Above Replacement ($20 M) according to FanGraphs.  For this he was rewarded by the Chicago Cubs with a 3 year, $30 M contract – despite mostly being limited to DH in Texas and having a reputation as a malcontent.  Well Milton’s offensive took a step down form his ’08 line (which was partially fueled by a .396 BABIP), and has been routinely criticized in Chicago for hitting just .257/.378/.397. He’s also been suspended for the rest of this season due to his attitude. The Cubs now seem like they’ll be looking to send Bradley packing this off-season.  How crazy would I have to be to suggest that the O’s look into a deal?

For one, the Orioles have repeatedly said that they want a right-handed middle-of-the-order bat.  For his career, Bradley (a switch-hitter) has batted .306/.387/.497 from the right side (and a none too shabby .266/.365/.431 from the left side). I wouldn’t expect him to put up a .423 wOBA like last year or a .405 wOBA like the year before – something closer to the .360 area from 2005-06 might be reasonable though. Especially since Milton’s still walking a lot (14.4% of the time) and may have been a little unlucky with his HR per flyball rate this year (12.2% in ’09, 15% career and 21.2% last year).  Even given that he’s had a bad season, Bradley’s .345 wOBA would still rank 4th on the Orioles (tied with Nick Markakis), behind Nolan Reimold (.365), Luke Scott (.357), and Brian Roberts (.356). If he bounces back even a little next year he’d be one of the biggest threats in the O’s line-up, and one of four switch-hitters to boot.

Secondly, the Cubs are going to be eating salary to make a trade and aren’t going to be looking for much back in return. If he’s a 2 WARish player each of the next couple of years, Bradley should be worth his contract.  Since it’s doubtful the Cubs could even come close to just giving him away, I think they’d pay half his salary and take a C- prospect*. That’s a deal you make – on paper – 10 times out of 10.

* Some word is, that the Cubs may be willing to take on as much as $18-19 M from what’s left on Bradley’s contract.  I don’t know if I quite believe that. I think there’s maybe a 5% chance that they actually release him.

So is Milton Bradley worth the headache?  If the O’s could get him at $8-10 M in surplus value over two years (worth $21 M, pay $10, $0-2 M for the prospect) is that something they should consider? I know they talk about good clubhouse guys and team chemistry, but what kind of price-tag are they willing to put on that? I definitely don’t expect them to even think about it, but the O’s do have a good relationship with the Cubs.  They could always see how low the Cubs will go and if they can get Bradley for a song, keep him on a short leash – that is, if his behavior is detrimental to the team, suspend him in June instead of September (or just release him). The Orioles have to get some talent from somewhere – they gave Albert Belle a chance, and he rewarded them with a .297/.400/.541 line in his first season with the club. And then, as far as I know, he magically disappeared and was never heard from (or about) again.