With the Chicago Cubs front office, along with the new owner Tom Ricketts, in Arizona for the Organizational Meetings, the time has come to turn our attention to the off season. During this meeting, the Cubs will be putting together a game plan to prepare for the 2010 season. Among the discussions that will be held, will be which contracts of players the team wants to renew. One player that we know the Cubs want to bring back is John Grabow. The two sides have been discussing a contract or the past few days. Other players who may be brought back would include Reed Johnson, Kevin Gregg and Rich Harden. Several sources have stated that both Gregg and Harden will not be brought back. As far as Johnson goes, there hasn’t been much news on the Cubs plans for him, so stay tuned.
One of the more important decisions that will be made during the meetings, will be the exact figure for the Cubs payroll for the 2010 season. Unfortunately, with what we have learned, the payroll will not increase nearly as much as most fans would like to see. According to several reports, as well as straight from Ricketts’ mouth, there will only be a slight increase in payroll for the upcoming campaign. That slight increase, will likely bring the Cubs up into the $140 million range. Most of that increase, will be used by all of the escalating contracts that currently exist on the payroll. Once you add in the pay raises for the young arbitration eligible players, the Cubs will be left with only a few million left to spend.
However, the one topic that will be discussed at great lengths during these meetings, is what I will spend my time on today. What in the world are the Cubs going to do about Milton Bradley. Until the Cubs are able to figure out what their plans are for Bradley, they can not make another major move, outside of resigning their own players. There have been several rumored trades that have sprouted up all over the internet, as well as several papers. Cub fans have also had their voices heard on what they feel should be done. Some go as far to say that the team should just eat his whole salary and just completely cut him. All of these thoughts deserve to be looked at and examined. That is precisely what I intend to do. I am sure that I will miss one or two ideas, so feel free to add them in.
Lets look at the least likely situation first. For all of the fans who want Ricketts and the Cubs to just cut Bradley, and give him $21 million to just go away, think about what you are asking for. If the Cubs were to just cut him, sure, he would no longer be on the team, but that will not free up any money on the payroll. As a matter of fact, cutting him further limits what Hendry and the Cubs can do. Bradley will make $9 million next year, whether or not he plays a single out for the team. If the Cubs cut him, they still owe him the money that he will make. That $9 million will still be a part of the Cubs team payroll, so if Hendry can spend up to $145 million, he will be limited to $136 million once you take into consideration that $9 million is already locked in. Cutting him will basically mean that the Cubs will not be able to sign anyone in free agency. At least not without making some very creative trades to free up more money. So please, those who just want the Cubs to cut him, be careful what you ask you/. You may not like the end result.
What is more likely, is a trade. According to several reports, the Cubs have numerous teams who have an interest in trading for the disgruntled outfielder. Most of the trades actually do make sense when you break them down into a financial situation. The chances of the Cubs making a trade where they will save money, is very slim. What is more likely to happen, is a trade of one bad contract for another, which is the basis for every rumored trade which has popped up. The hope would be to make a trade without eating any of Bradley’s contract, and just to take on the salary of whatever player the Cubs would take back. Here are a few of the trades that have been discussed.
The first trade, would be the most talked about swap in which the Cubs would send Bradley to the San Francisco Giants for Aaron Rowand. Both the Giants and the Cubs want to get away from a player they signed. Rowand is still owed $36 million over the next three years, where as Bradley makes $21 million over the next two. This trade makes sense for both teams, as far as money goes. The Giants will save $15 million dollars alone over the three year period. One would hope that with the Cubs taking on the extra money, that they wouldn’t have to eat any of Bradley’s contract. On a year by year basis, the Giants would save $3 million the first year, the salaries match up in year two, and they would be clear of the $12 million on the third year of the Rowand deal. This works from the Cubs stand point, because they will get rid of Bradley, and getting a centerfielder back in the deal, allowing Kosuke Fukudome to return to his natural position of right field. The problem with this is, that while Rowand is a much better person, and a above average defensive player, his offensive stats lack anything to get excited about. If push comes to shove, I would take Rowand. This may very well be the best trade the Cubs will be able to make, where they aren’t completely screwed over financially.
Staying with the Giants, another name that popped up was Barry Zito. With the Cubs needing another starting pitcher, and the Giants desperate to get rid of him this could also be a match. However, the Giants would need to take on the entire contract of Bradley, and eat a good portion of Zito’s contract. With him still being owed $83 million over the next four years, the Cubs would be digging themselves into yet another deep financial grave if they assumed the whole deal. This is one trade I do not see happening, and the main reason is the money aspect. Just to pile on, Zito has gone down hill fast since he left Oakland, and hasn’t pitched anywhere near what would be acceptable for what he is being paid. The Giants would love nothing more than to get this contract off their books, but the Cubs would be doing themselves and their fan base a disservice if this trade is made.
Another trade which has gotten a lot of miles, is a trade that would send Bradley down to Tampa Bay for Pat Burrell. Both players had very disappointing years in 2009, and failed to live up to the expectations that were laid upon them when they were signed. An interesting note, is both Burrell and Bradley make $9 million in 2010, so you would figure the Cubs would likely have to eat the remaining $12 million that Bradley is owed for 2011. Burrell, if he is able to rebound into the player he was expected to be when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies would fill the void in the outfield, and give the Cubs the power bat they so desperately crave for the upcoming season. If the Cubs have to eat the overlap in salary, I can not see this trade being made, unless the Cubs are able to pull off another trade which would see Burrell landing elsewhere in a salary dump trade for low level prospects.
The Cubs could also make a trade, which would see them bringing back a player whom they had a few years ago. The Los Angeles Dodgers are apparently floating Juan Pierre to see if there are any takers. Both he and Bradley have two years left on their deals, with the difference in salary only being about $2.5 million. This would solve the Cubs leadoff situation, and give them the outfielder they would need once Bradley was sent packing. Pierre has had an up and down stint with the Dodgers, after being a complete failure for the Cubs. His value went sky high when Manny Ramirez was on suspension, by helping to carry the teams offense. This would not be a keen situation, at least not in my eyes. While the Cubs would get the leadoff hitter they desperately need, bringing back a player who has already failed here could be asking for disaster.
Speaking of trading for a former Cub, the Texas Rangers are trying to move Gary Matthews Jr. This would likely be the best fit for the Cubs from a financial standpoint. Matthews is owed $23 million over the next two years, Bradley will get $21 million. The contracts are nearly a perfect fit, but like with Pierre, why would you want to bring in a player whom you already had, who was a complete failure? Matthews has been a complete bust of a player every year of his career, except one. That was the year that he put up monstrous stats, which landed him such a lucrative contract with the Rangers. While Matthews would be a better fit in the Cubs club house, taking on a player who will not perform the way the team needs, would lead to complete disaster. This would be a trade just to get rid of Bradley, without having to eat much, if any money. This trade would not help the Cubs in any other way.
Over the weekend, a very unlikely trade possibility was brought up, in which the Cubs would receive highly over priced Center Fielder Vernon Wells. Much like with the Zito trade thoughts, the Wells contract is one the Blue Jays would love to get out from under. Wells is under contract for six more years and will make $107 million dollars. The contract alone would scare anyone with a brain off, as that is far more money then he could ever hope to earn. We would send two years of Bradley for six of Wells, and $86 million. Is getting rid of Bradley really worth taking an additional hit on payroll that will limit the Cubs ability to spend money in ways that are needed? I think not. Also note that Wells’ play is already on the decline. I would rather have Bradley to be perfectly honest.
None of these rumored trades appear to be all too beneficial for the Cubs as a whole. They would either take on a lengthy contract with an over priced player, or make a trade where the Cubs would have to eat a large portion of Bradley’s salary. Neither of those two situations are all too desirable, so their may only be one thing left for the Cubs to do. This move would drive most Cub fans crazy, and turn a lot of them against Ricketts almost immediately. However, the best thing for the Cubs to do may just be to keep Bradley in a Cubs uniform for at least one more year.
I know what you are saying, “there is no way Bradley can come back next year”. I fully agree, there is no way that Bradley can come back next year. Too much has been said from everyone involved for him to be wearing a Cubs uniform next year. When you take into account that he has gone on record saying that he hates playing here, along with half the roster speaking out against him, I can not see any way that Bradley comes back. Which is a shame, especially when you consider the alternatives. Cutting him or paying out a good portion of his remaining salary in a trade will limit what the team can do for the next two years, or beyond if you take on a longer termed contract like the Zito or Wells rumor. Keeping Bradley would be the best thing the Cubs could do, despite the animosity that will exist between teammates. Who says you need to like one another to play winning baseball though? The Oakland A’s from the 1970s hated one another, and they had a lot of success. If the bridges that were burned late in the season can be repaired, keeping Bradley would be the best thing for all parties involved.
These are just a few of the ideas that are floating around about Bradley. What the Cubs actually will do is anyone’s guess. Though, if I had to make a choice, I would keep him on the roster for next year. He played better than his numbers show, and he really started playing better once the Cubs put him in the second slot of the order. They would not be losing nearly as much money as they would if they traded him and had to take on another contract while paying off some of Bradley’s money. Since that is a very unlikely move, I would have to pull for the deal with the Giants and get Roward back in return. He isn’t the idea fit, but he may very well be the best player financially and performance wise the Cubs could get back. One thing is for sure though, other than re-signing their own players, nothing else can be done until they decide what to do with Bradley.