The Bradley Effect
This past week, the Cubs finally dealt the ever-cranky, overpaid, outfielder known as Milton Bradley. Bradley, who was owed $22 million over the next two years, was a massive disappointment in Chicago. While, he actually ended up hitting for a league average OPS, the bigger problem was his attitude. When he didn't hit early on, his mood soured, the fans and media turned on him, and he became the dreaded "clubhouse cancer".
While Cubs fans everywhere rejoiced at the departure of Bradley, the Cubs didn't exactly get much for him. Jim Hendry ended up taking on an even bigger albatross, as the Cubs took on Carlos Silva and his bloated contract, which is actually worth more than Bradley's. As you'll recall Silva was a decent pitcher in Seattle, before totally tanking the last two years with ERA's of 6.46 and 8.60, spending a lot of last year on the disabled list. While Silva is basically a replacement level pitcher these days - a guy who could make a turnaround, but who in his current state is not a major leaguer - Milton Bradley is still an above average hitting outfielder. With the Mariners transfer of $9 million to the Cubs and the fact that Silva was owed $3 million more than Bradley, the calculus on the trade was the following:
2 years of Bradley = 2 years of Silva + $6 million
or, if you prefer,
2 years of Bradley - 2 years of Silva = $6 million
If we assume that Silva is now a replacement level pitcher who would sign for league minimum on the open market, that would place Bradley's effective value at $3 or $4 million per year. But surely, Bradley is worth more than that. Even if he repeats his disappointing 2009 performance, in which Bradley earned just 1 WAR, he still would be a bargain considering that the average team had to pay $6.5 million to net a 1 WAR player last year. Given that the Mariners will be paying an effective salary of $3 million, Bradley is a steal.
So why were both teams happy about the deal?
Back in September, I talked about Bradley in an article about clubhouse chemistry, and calculated that teams seemed to consider an extreme clubhouse cancer's attitude worth about -1.5 WAR at max. Given this, the Cubs placed Bradley's value at around zero. Getting $6 million bucks for a player you consider worthless isn't a bad move at all.
However, it's likely that Bradley's attitude is valued very differently by the Cubs than the Mariners. With the Cubs, he's already shown he can't fit in with the other players, the front office, and the media - hence the -1.5 WAR attitude. Meanwhile, Bradley's attitude is an unknown for Seattle. Perhaps he will fit in fine and his attitude won't be a major problem. Or perhaps, he will be as big of a problem as he was in Chicago. But given that it's an unknown, Seattle probably values Bradley's head at -.5 WAR rather than -1.5 WAR. This gives Bradley more value to the Mariners than the Cubs and allows both teams to be happy with the deal. The Cubs unloaded a worthless player (to them) for $6 million, and the Mariners got a good hitting outfielder for a song.
Supposedly, Seattle has all of the things he needs to thrive - a small market media with a large clubhouse. However, the biggest determinant of Bradley's attitude is likely to be Bradley's own production. If after two months, Bradley's numbers resemble what he did in Texas, look for the media and Seattle fans to laud him for how much he has matured and improved his attitude. If his numbers look like they did in Chicago, then it will be a stormy tenure in Seattle.
While the Cubs may be happy with the deal, it seems that they should have gotten more for Bradley. Seattle got a good player for very little, and it's surprising that other teams didn't bid up the value for Bradley to give the Cubs a better deal. Part of the problem, was that given Hendry's handling of Bradley at the end of last year, they absolutely had to move him and everybody knew it. Hendry saw chance to gain cash for Bradley and he took it. However, Seattle is getting a steal of a deal. How Bradley performs this April and May may well determine how much of deal they actually get.