Milton Bradley

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:

Position Player Age PA AVG/OBP/SLG MLVr VORP
1B Dan Johnson 27 217 253/369/427 0.57 7.0
CF Mark Kotsay 31 69 250/304/344 -.172 -0.3
CF/RF Milton Bradley 29 71 306/380/468 .186 5.4
RF/1B/CF Nick Swisher 26 282 295/420/493 .267 24.1
DH/LF Jack Cust 28 146 276/425/578 .361 13.7
LF/RF Travis Buck 23 195 285/381/503 .211 13.5
LF Shannon Stewart 33 254 271/352/333 -0.84 2.3
DH/C Mike Piazza 38 112 282/339/379 -0.32 1.2

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)

5 thoughts on “Milton Bradley”

  1. I would probably have gone with a rotating-day-off/platoon assignment, given the flexibility they have, and the likelihood of injury (this was Bradley’s 3rd DL stint this year; I suspect he’s just never gotten healthy). Once Piazza comes off the DL, this problem gets harder if Piazza can’t catch half the time, but sufficient unto the day the evils thereof.

    Johnson, Kotsay, Buck, and Cust are lefties; Stewart hits righty, and Swisher and Bradley are switch-hitters. Cust can mash, but his defense is at best ineffective and at worst horrific. Stick him at DH and give him a day off against tough lefties, perhaps moving him to left in the right matchups. Against righties, Swisher, Bradley and Buck play the OF, with Johnson at first and Cust at DH. Against lefties, Swisher goes to 1B, Buck, Bradley and Stewart play the OF and Kotsay sits. The odd-man out gets another game whenever someone needs a rest.

    I’m sure that none of the players involved would really like it, but fundamentally, it’s about getting the best players on the field. Bradley was one of the A’s best players, and the likelihood that they’ll miss his bat and glove for the next three months is higher than I’d like.

  2. The problem with that plan is it means you’re carrying 7 guys for 5 positions, only one of which is a “skill” position. And since the A’s are carrying 12 pitchers, that leaves only 1 slot for a 2B/SS/3B backup, which is not really acceptable. (In other years they might have gone with 11 pitchers. Arguably they still should, even with Street and Duchscherer out. But since the A’s tend not to carry a true longman, they probably feel forced into needing 7 relievers.)

    The other concern, of course, is whether making players unhappy will degrade their performance, since what you want isn’t truly the best players on the field, but the best performance out of your players.

  3. I am baffled by the A’s continued fascination with Shannon Stewart. He does seem to have the skill of staying healthy. My guess is that they signed him, and then Buck played himself onto the team. Once they had to sign Cust, they created this logjam once everybody was healthy.

    I think that Stewart should have been traded and Bradley kept. This would have given Bradley the playing time he is evindently complaining about, and allowed the A’s to keep the better player, while having the flexibility to deal with injuries.

    Unless they don’t believe that Bradley can stay healthy. Be wary, whoever ends up with him.

  4. Wow. Interesting.

    I’d be happy if the Twins would take Shannon Stewart back now that he’s actually healthy (after two years of him riding the bench most of the time ‘cuz of foot issues).

    We’ve (Twins) been doing the platoon thing in left field and no one has lit the world on fire. They keep saying Rondell White will be back any day now, but they’ve been saying that since the second week of the season; it seems like every week there’s a setback. He’s our new Shannon Stewart only he hasn’t contributed nearly as much as Shannon did.

    I suspect the Twins are married to Rondell or Kubel out there or else someone from AAA (like Garret Jones). And then there’s the Torii Hunter issue and it’s not like the Twins really can afford anyone for next season. But for this season, I wouldn’t object to having Shannon back (or possibly even having Milton Bradley out there but then I fear the injury issue, Left Field appears to be cursed for the Twins in recent years).

  5. Laurel: I think the Twins are (and probably should be) committed to Jason Kubel in the near-to-medium term. The guy came back from a devastating injury, and it’s still not clear what he’s going to turn out to be. I’m kind of worried that he lost a lot of his power due to his injury, because he was awesome through 2004 in the minors, and has been merely okay-at-best since then. Jason Kendall suffered the same implosion after he broke his leg when he was still in Pittsburgh.

    On the other hand, Kubel’s only 25, so there’s still plenty of hope.

    I can’t really blame the Twins for letting Stewart go; he was really awful the last two years. The A’s have been pretty lucky that he’s bounced back the way he has.

    The Twins have a weird blind spot when it comes to hitters. They stuck with Rivas and Guzman for so long, and now they’re riding Nick Punto, who’s having an absolutely dreadful year. They overpay for guys like Stewart, but cut guys like David Ortiz. In a way they’ve turned into a pitching-and-defense team in the same mold as the A’s, but for entirely different reasons. The difference is that the Twins actually have the big boppers (Morneau, Mauer, and to some degree Hunter) but they’re surrounded (mostly) by scrubs.

    Oh, and when “Rondell White” is the answer, then it’s time to start asking better questions. šŸ™‚

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