Change-UpDecember 06, 2009
The Problematic Cubs Outfielder
By Patrick Sullivan

The Chicago Cubs have an outfielder who tends to miss games due to injury, flashes brilliance, makes a lot of money and struggles with his attitude from time to time. His name is Alfonso Soriano. He turns 34 in January. In the last two seasons, Soriano has managed to hit just .260/.323/.476 in 226 games played. His defense in left field is suspect. Few players in baseball enjoy more job security.

Milton Bradley had an off year in 2009. With a career .450 slugging percentage and coming off of a career high .563 number in 2008, you can understand why Cubs fans were frustrated with Bradley's lack of power. Still, Bradley managed a .378 on-base percentage and netted out as an asset to the club on the field. He wasn't worth his contract in 2009, but he helped the Cubs win baseball games more than he hurt them. The Cubs cannot say that same thing of Soriano's 2009 season. Yet, probably because he has a more favorable contract and dozens of other reasons beyond me, by all accounts, the Cubs seem determined to move Bradley and not Soriano.

When the Cubs acquired Bradley after his career season in 2008, they knew precisely what they were getting. They knew he had the ability to get on base and hit with a lot of pop if he could stay on the field. Anything approaching his 2008 campaign could have put them over the top. They also knew of his past. They knew he was emotional and complex. They also knew he was sincere. Here's Jim Hendry at the announcement of Bradley's signing:

"As we left the restaurant and stood on the curb waiting for the driver ... [Bradley] said, 'I know it's going to take some time and you have some work to do, but I want to be a Chicago Cub if you want me,'" Hendry said.

Hendry was moved by this. So much so, that he felt comfortable looking past Bradley's occasional meltdown and offering him a lucrative multi-year offer.

And here's Bradley:

"I don't feel like everybody is against me anymore," Bradley said. "I really felt like that in the past, and that I had to watch my back about everything, and I learned you have to trust somebody at some point. In Oakland, I had great teammates [and in] San Diego, Texas. Once I got around good guys who all they wanted to do was support and play with you and be a friend, I felt that love. Anybody, all they want is to be loved.

"My whole life all I tried to do was fit in places. I felt like I finally fit. Getting elected to the All-Star team last year by the players was a complete honor. A lot of that changed me. I just felt more comfortable being more open and letting people know who I am."

So there it is. He wants to be loved. When he hasn't felt "loved" in the past, he has reacted very poorly at the first signs of adversity. No question, Bradley bears responsibility for all of his past transgressions, but he also has shown that in an environment of acceptance and happiness, he can thrive. But at this point, at 31, Bradley is a known quantity.

When an employer looks to add to its workforce, it's hiring criteria rests on two components: ability and fit. Ability is straightforward. Does he/she interview well? How's the resume? Can they sell? Can they program? Are they innovative marketers? You get the point.

Fit is a bit more complicated. In a hands-off environment, can the individual thrive autonomously? In a more micro-managed organization, will the prospective employee be able to conform? The calculus runs deeper still. If the fit is there, maybe you make tweaks in your style. Maybe you have a candidate that could make such an impact, you decide it's appropriate to handle that employee differently than others. On the other hand, maybe the individual's working style and personality align so perfectly with your organizational culture that you can look past a mediocre resume or lackluster interview.

In this regard, in the Human Resources department, the Cubs failed miserably with either their acquisition of Milton Bradley or their subsequent handling. Either they knew that they would have to go to great lengths to make him comfortable once they brought him on board and just failed, or they signed him thinking he would be an excellent fit. It's impossible to know.

It's not too late. Imagine the impact a press conference from the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis would have if the Cubs, with Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella at the podium, said something to the following effect:

In January of this year, we acquired one of the very best players in baseball in 2008. He failed to meet our expectations on the field in 2009, he failed to meet his own expectations as well. We also think that we could have done a better job of fostering a productive environment for Milton. In 2010, that all changes. We cannot wait to welcome Bradley back to the Chicago Cubs. We urge our fans to do the same.

There is no way to know what kind of impact this would have on Bradley's play, but I know this approach would be better than eating salary and trying to pass him off for pennies on the dollar. Moreover, instead of handing Soriano a lineup spot for 2010, at least take other teams' temperature on him as well. I recognize his contract is far more burdensome than Bradley's - he's owed $18M annually through 2014 - but spilled milk is spilled milk. And Soriano is far more problematic for the Cubs than Bradley is.

Bradley is younger than Soriano, projections (at least CHONE) have him looking like a good bet to outperform Soriano, and the market for Bradley is thin thanks to teams appropriately questioning whether Bradley would make for a good fit. In this light, the Cubs would be smarter to try and move Soriano at all costs than they would be trying to move Bradley.


As a Cubs fan, I can tell you that we would LOVE to move Soriano. Thing is, absolutely no one would take him unless we pay a large portion of his contract, and in that light, it's worth giving him another year to see if he can get it back together before cutting our losses. Bradley is much more moveable and moving one or the other is a necessity if we want to move Kosuke Fukudome back to right and improve the outfield defense.

(And maybe UZR had Bradley as a plus defender, but... he's not. Anymore. He used to be, but no longer is he an asset in the field.)

With respect to Soriano and Bradley, if the former is owed $18M per season through 2014, why would you get rid of him "at all costs," which would suggest eating his entire contract, if need be? Granted, he's coming off a subpar year but he had a bum knee (which has been scoped) and his BABIP was a career low. At 34, I wouldn't expect him to bounce back to his career norms, but I think it is reasonable to assume he will put up rate stats closer to 2008 than not (and even better counting stats if he regains his health and plays in 120 or more games). He's always been an excellent baserunner and, until last season, a plus defender in left field. My guess is that the Cubs would have to eat more than half of Soriano's contract and perhaps much, much more if they got a meaningful player in return.

Bradley is nothing more than a DH at this point in his career. He never should have been signed by a NL team. He either hadn't played much in the field or played it well since 2004 when he was with the Dodgers. He is no longer a good baserunner either. The bottom line is that Bradley was a bad fit for the Cubs from the get go. The league, maybe even the team, the position, the amount of money, and the number of years made no sense at all. As great as his 2008 season was, it was an aberration. I was lucky enough to draft him on my fantasy team that season with "lucky" being the operative word. He DH'd, played in a hitter-friendly ballpark, and stayed relatively healthy, partly because he DH'd! But he has always missed a lot of games, owing to time on the DL, nagging injuries, or suspensions. I realize Bradley is a productive hitter but think he is not nearly as valuable overall as his rate stats might suggest.

The bottom line is that Bradley is a pain in the ass who might make sense for just a handful of AL teams and only on the right terms (short contract with as little guaranteed money as possible).

i totally agree with rich. this signing was scary when it happened and as the season progressed it was just silent head-shaking all the way.

I think the biggest issue for me is just how incongruous the treatment of Soriano and Bradley are by the Cubs. I understand that Bradley has his share of personal issues, but the Cubs should have been prepared to deal with those.

Looking forward to 2010, Bradley is a great bet to outperform Soriano and he's a lot cheaper. And yet, the Cubs seem willing to bend over backwards to rid themselves of Bradley.

If Soriano is the player Rich indicates he is, then the Cubs should probably be able to shed themselves of at least $30-40M worth of future obligations while getting something decent in return. Then they could retain the services of the better player with the more favorable contract (Bradley).