I'm Still Game

In November 2009, I wrote a post here defending the rumor that the Rays were interested in the troubled soul of Milton Bradley. Nearly one year later, I am still on board with Bradley putting on a Rays uniform.

Last year, both the Rays and the Cubs had bad contracts in the form of Pat Burrell and Milton Bradley. Burrell is finally off the Rays payroll but the Mariner now own a portion of Bradley’s bad contract while the Cubs are paying the rest of it. Despite the change of location, Bradley still piques my interest for the Rays as he should come at just the type of discount the club is looking for this off-season for a few reasons.

One – he’s coming off an injury that ended his 2010 season in August and required a routine arthroscopic knee surgery to fix. Secondly, and more importantly, the Mariners hired Eric Wedge as their new manager. Bradley and Wedge have a very bad history together from their days in Cleveland. So far, Bradley has said all of the right things:

Whatever took place was six or seven years ago and I’m over it. He was a disciplinarian and I felt our team lacked discipline last year. Hopefully, he instills some of that.

That said, given his history of mood swings, who knows what can happen in the Cactus League that could change what will certainly be a very delicate situation.  According to Cot’s, Bradley is due $12m in 2011 but the Cubs are responsible for $5.5 of that meaning whoever owns Bradley in 2011 is responsible for $6.5m. At that rate, the Mariners are either stuck with him, can trade him to a team while eating a significant portion of that deal, or can simply release him – the same type of situation the Rays struggled with for the early part of this season with Burrell.  The Rays could offer something of value to the Mariners to get them to pay a portion of Bradley’s deal, perhaps either Kelly Shoppach or Dioner Navarro.

The Mariners’ 40 man roster currently has four catchers on it: Adam Moore, Rob Johnson, Guillermo Quiroz, and Josh Bard. Moore is the only one of any true value; Bard and Quiroz will likely be non-tendered while Johnson has not shown any ability to hit major league pitching.  After the stunt Navarro pulled in the post-season by going home when he was left off the 25-man roster, there is zero chance he is in the picture for 2011 and not something the Rays could demand much from the Mariners in a negotiation. Shoppach, however, has some value despite his struggles in 2010 and in the post-season.

Shoppach was one of the catchers Eric Wedge had during his tenure with the Cleveland Indians and as a former catcher, Wedge knows the value of  a veteran catcher. Additionally, Shoppach had this to say about Wedge upon learning of his firing by the Indians in October of 2009:

“I’m disappointed,” Shoppach said. “He’s taking all the blame. He always has for us. He has never thrown any of us under the bus. I have nothing but respect for him.”

A straight-up trade of the two would add $3.5m to the Rays payroll as Shoppach is due $3m for the 2010 season. Adding payroll for a player whose offensive numbers are in a three-year decline is a risky move but Shoppach’s salary is an expensive endeavor to pay a back-up catcher that is only used against left-handed pitching. That kind of move was doable in 2010 when the Rays could expand payroll but now that they are cutting costs, they are better served finding a right-handed hitting catcher who will play for less that can face tough lefties while John Jaso figures out how to hit them such as Yorvit Torrealba or Rod Barajas.

Before completely balking at the prospect of Milton Bradley, consider the fact that he was on pace with Carlos Pena from 2007-2009 in wOBA and was not that far behind Pena in 2010 despite Bradley’s awful 2010 in Seattle. Even with the awful season in Seattle, he has still been more productive than Willy Aybar who is due $2.2m in 2011 (click image below for full size)

The Rays have $5.5m committed to Kelly Shoppach and Willy Aybar for the 2011 season while the Mariners have $6.5m committed to Milton Bradley. If Mariners’ management decides that it is not worth the risk to have Bradley and Wedge together for the 2011 season, the Rays could offer Shoppach straight up for Bradley and buy out Aybar’s final year at $0.275m. In doing so, the Rays would be cutting $5.2m from the projected 2011 payroll while adding $6.5m – a net gain of just $1.3m. The move would give the Rays a veteran bat with as much upside as he has risk and a potential trade chip for July should the Rays not find themselves in contention while freeing up some rather costly salaries for back-up roles that offer no upside.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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4 Responses to I'm Still Game

  1. ramedy says:

    I know the Rays will always be in the market for players with red flags such as injuries, but I have yet to understand the appeal in Bradley. He’s only played 130+ games once in his entire career – a few of those are headcase related, but plenty more are due to injury. And after playing in hitter-friendly Texas in 2007, his OPS has declined in the last two years (both under his career average).

    Potentially declining talent, injury history and of course the various mental shenanigans – those are just way too many red flags for me. I can’t believe there aren’t better options out there, even for the Rays.

  2. Playing in Seattle certainly hurt his numbers and going from Texas to Chicago did a number on him as well. I think he is slightly better than what he did in Chicago but not the deadbeat he was in Seattle this year.

    Another guy I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at is Nick Johnson.

  3. ramedy says:

    Nick Johnson I would wholly support. His OBP prowess definitely fits the profile for the Rays.

    Amusingly enough, Johnson and Bradley’s career SLG percentages are identical; but Johnson’s career OBP of .401 is very sexy and fits the Rays’ profile just fine. It’s funny too that his career splits are actually better vs. LHP, so the fact that he bats from the left wouldn’t be a big issue.

    I’d also love it if he had a successful and relatively injury-free season for us a year after being a bust for the Yankees.

  4. Rick says:

    I don’t want to pay money to watch and cheer for Milton Bradley.

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