The A’s designated outfielder Milton Bradley for assignment yesterday. It was an unusual, unexpected move (Subrata‘s reaction when I told him in chat was “What the–?? Holy cr-p!”), since it means the A’s will have no leverage to trade him, and they’ll likely have to eat most of the remaining $4 million of his 2007 salary. Rightly or wrongly, I think A’s GM Billy Beane felt that he was backed into a corner due to a wealth of outfielders (which admittedly is a “nice problem to have”).
The A’s have had a lot of problems with injuries so far this year, and consequently they’ve done a lot of shuffling to actually have 3 outfielders available at some points in time. With Bradley having just come off the DL, that means all of their 1B/OF/DH players are available at once. So now what? Well, here’s who they’ve got, with their stats to date this year:
Even with Mike Piazza on the DL, you still have 7 players for 5 positions. Dan Johnson isn’t the best first baseman in the world, but he’s pretty good, and it’s unlikely that anyone but (maybe) Swisher would be willing to move to first base to displace him. Swisher is the team’s star, Cust has been a powerhouse at the plate and the team’s going to ride him until he stops producing, and Buck is young, developing, and hitting just as well as Bradley. They’re all going to play ahead of Bradley. And Stewart is signed to a corner-outfield-backup contract (he’s only being paid $1M this year).
Lastly, it seems clear that someone has to go, because carrying 6 outfielders is going to impact either the pitching staff or the infield backups, and it’s really more important to have backups for the infield than the outfield.
So the A’s conundrum basically comes down to: Bradley or Kotsay in center field? They’re both about equally good as defenders, they’re both likely to get hurt again (I think Bradley is riskier than Kotsay on that front), but Bradley’s almost certain to be the better hitter.
So why did the A’s choose Bradley over Kotsay? I believe there were two reasons:
- Bradley is a free agent after this season, being paid $4M for the year. Kotsay is in the first year of a 2-year, $15M extension. (See the A’s player contracts.)
- Bradley has a reputation as a troublesome guy in the clubhouse, having famously clashed with Jeff Kent when he was with the Dodgers. Now, clashing with Jeff Kent hardly makes Bradley unique, and it’s impossible to tell (from my standpoint as a fan) just how reflective Bradley’s reputation is of the man himself. But if the reputation is earned, then this might be a factor.
Between his injuries, his contact, and his personality, the A’s might have decided that it was better to go with Kotsay for the remainder of the season. With Swisher able to spell Kotsay in center field if necessary, the A’s are probably covered in the event of most further injuries.
So I suspect that the bottom line is that the A’s decided it was easier for someone else to deal with Bradley’s flaws – even if the A’s are paying his salary – than to demote or waive one of their other players. A harsh decision, but a defensible one, based on the evidence available to me.
Many other teams probably would have demoted Buck or Cust and held on to Bradley to get whatever production they could out of him, and perhaps a draft pick when he walks after the season. But the A’s are an unusual team, and they had an unusual problem. Did they make the right move? A lot of that will depend on whether Kotsay stay healthy and return his hitting to a productive level.
The A’s are in the thick of the wild card race, and trying to catch the surging Angels, so it’s not like this is a low-pressure decision; it could one that makes the difference between playing baseball or golf in October. But you gotta hand it to Billy Beane: He doesn’t flinch when it comes to making the tough calls. And that’s one reason he’s one of the best general managers in baseball.
(P.S.: It turns out that Jack Cust and I share a birthday, along with a slightly more storied player. They’re better hitters than I am, but I bet they don’t know Objective-C.)