The Problematic Cubs Outfielder
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.
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.