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Milton Bradley update

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During the off-season, when the Cubs traded Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva, I thought it was a bad move to cap all the bad moves, mainly because the Cubs had already destroyed whatever was left of Bradley's value on the market that he had not destroyed himself.

But, that Silva deal is looking better by the day. Not only has the seemingly good-natured Silva pitched quite well, but Bradley is up to his old tricks, supposedly walking out on his new team before asking them for help dealing with stress.

I'd like to think the Cubs did everything they could to help Bradley on and off the field last season. He didn't always make it easy, and where they might have failed, I hope Seattle can help Bradley salvage something of his career.

The Byrdman cometh

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This just in: The Cubs have signed Marlon Byrd, the free agent outfielder whose name has lingered almost since the end of last season as a possible replacement for Milton Bradley. Byrd has talent, a decent hitter and good fielder (only 3 errors in 142 games last year), one of those guys who has always been kind of clutch (.285 BA w/RISP lifetime), which should make him popular at Wrigley. Plus, he's coming off the best season of his career in Texas, which came under the hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Cubs signed weeks ago.

What's not to like? Well, Byrd is 32, and his batting average has gone down the last three seasons as his playing time increased in Texas (His career highs last year were for homers--20--and RBIs--89--while he hit .283, south of the .307 he recorded in 2007.) He's also a righty, which I never cared about much before last winter, when the Cubs used righthandedness as an excuse for getting rid of Mark DeRosa. Now, the Cubs have taught me to care, but they bring in a righty to replace a switch-hitter (Bradley). The Cubs supposedly were looking at lefties Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, so what happened there? They lost out on Curtis Granderson, too, but it would have been nice to see the Cubs take a look at other lefty free agent outfielders like Johnny Damon or Randy Winn.

Still, if the Cubs get .275, 17 HRs, and 80 RBIs out of Byrd, and if he doesn't once fling a live ball into the bleachers with 2 outs, he'll be an offensive upgrade over Bradley (He could actually play centerfield while Kosuke Fukudome moves back to rightfield). Though, to clarify, those numbers would make him an upgrade over the Bradley of 2009. If you look at career stats, it looks an awful lot like a downgrade. At least, he's got a better glove.

Of course, there are intangibles: Maybe Byrd is a "good clubhouse guy." It is looking more likely that the Cubs will need those types of players in 2010 as they continue to take a pass on the big-time free agents. They have also been jilted this off-season by the likes of reliever Matt Capps, who felt like last-place Washington was a better destination than Chicago. The team that is shaping up for next year certainly doesn't look very much like the 97-win team of 2007, or even the 2nd place team of 2009.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that Carlos Zambrano could be trade bait, though the Cubs have denied it and Zambrano reportedly has been against waving his no-trade clause. Unless the deal is for at least two even-keeled, proven winners, I can't imagine the rumors will amount to anything.

Milton's gone

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Yes, it has been a while. I would say that I was staging a silent protest until the Cubs unloaded Milton Bradley, but that isn't the truth. Both of our teams have made some minor deals in recent weeks, though nothing that was close to what they needed to do.

Before the Cubs traded Bradley a few days ago to Seattle for over-ripe pitcher Carlos Silva, I had come to terms with the Cubs keeping Bradley for next season. As many of us--but apparently not Cubs GM Jim Hendry--realized when Hendry suspended Bradley near the end of the season, unloading Bradley during the off-season was going to be tougher than previously thought (and it was already going to be tough).

The only potential trade before the Silva deal was the possible exchange of Bradley for power-hitting Tampa outfielder Pat Burrell. That would not have been a great deal, as Burrell had a horrible 2009 in Tampa after two previously strong years with Philadelphia, but Burrell has at times shown plate patience and the type of HR-RBI potency that could be rediscovered in Wrigley Field. The problem was the Cubs would have had to throw in money. Amazingly, they actually got money in the Silva deal that they could apply to a free agent signing elsewhere, but as a pure baseball move, the Silva trade stinks. But, the Cubs really only wanted the money anyway.

Once promising, but now looking over-the-hill and with injury problems in his recent past, it's hard to imagine Silva paying off. Meanwhile, had the Cubs kept Bradley, at least they know his minimum contribution still involves a very good on-base percentage. Though I called for Bradley to be dumped last season, I thought the Cubs could get a decent prospect from a desperate team in play-off contention. Instead, they went about this all wrong, keeping him through the second half of last season and then basically labeling him as damaged goods by suspending him right before the end of the season. Then, they couldn't do much during the off-season until they got rid of him. That they actually got money in this deal could help them now sign one or two other players, but who's left? Oh, right, Marlon Byrd. Not Chone Figgins, Curtis Granderson or even Mike Cameron. Well, maybe Rudy Jaramillo, new Cubs hitting coach/former Texas hitting tutor of Byrd's, can get another career year out of him.

Interestingly, proven winner Johnny Damon is suddenly available as a nice solution for centerfield, but don't expect the Cubs to go after him. Another high-priced signing of an old free agent could be enough to sink Hendry--even if this one sounds much more attractive than the Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome or Alfonso Soriano signing.

I'll be back soon to size up all of the Cubs and White Sox off-season moves so far...

Fickle about Figgins

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As we move a little deeper into off-season action, it might be getting more apparent that neither of our Chicago teams will make a strong case to sign speedy, multi-position free agent lead-off man Chone Figgins.

One school of thought has it that the Cubs won't make a run on Figgins because that already have too much committed salary (around$120 million) for next year, and probably will have to commit even more to re-signing other players who have filed or are expected to file for free agency--Rich Harden, Reed Johnson and John Grabow being some examples. The Tribune reported that Harden and Johnson already filed for free agent status.

I think the Cubs should wave good-bye to both at this point. While Harden is spectacular in short stretches, he doesn't go deep enough in most games. His health issues have lessened, but that makes his 4.00-plus ERA for the 2009 campaign even more troubling. Maybe the Cubs could go after a non-glitzy bottom-rotation known for relaiability, like Joel Piniero, who was great for the Cardinals in '09. As for Grabow, the Cubs need the southpaw in the bullpen.

Johnson has a lot of defensive value and the scrappiness factor that so often defines winning teams, but he is already 32. If the Cubs do unload Milton Bradley and don't sign another outfielder (Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir aside), Johnson probably would be worth keeping. I'm back to suspecting the Cubs may keep Bradley, despite the reports of interest in him elsewhere. The Cubs may assume the worst is over with Bradley, though it's hard to believe that until we see it.

The Cubs seem indecisive about offensive contributors/defensive liabilities Fox and Hoffpauir, which make me think we will see another season of spot duty for both, though there is potential that an American League team could make an offer for Fox (a potentially great DH) that the Cubs won't be able to refuse. All of this, plus new owners, suggests no Figgins for the Cubs.

The Sox, meanwhile, might be more interested in giving Jordan Danks an outfield job than spending money on Figgins. I wouldn't mind taking a gamble on Danks (who may feel at home with his brother in the dugout) and keeping the resurgent Scott Podsednik as an insurance policy, but it sounds like the Sox don't have much interest in re-signing Pods (visions of 2006, I guess).

Signing Figgins would end all outfield questions (except whether or not Alex Rios actually will hit next year). But, the Sox might making signing a new DH a higher priority, unless Carlos Quentin moves into that role. though that again would heighten the need to sign a player like Figgins.

Decisions, decisions...

Suspending belief

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Milton Bradley was suspended for the rest of the season after taking almost all season to find the limit of Cubs GM Jim Hendry patience. Good move, I guess. It really doesn't matter at this point after they spent too much time trying to salvage something of value from the wreckage caused by the collision of his hitting slump and his attitude.

I'm actually a little surprised that it happened at this point. Won't suspending him now before the season is over and talking to everyone about what a jerk he is actually make it even harder to trade him than it would have been before? If the Cubs had shipped him out a couple months ago, they probably wouldn't have gotten much and still would be paying his salary, they could have claimed "it just wasn't a good fit," and that they were just trying to "do the right thing" for Bradley, etc. Now, they will in effect be saying, "This guy's a cancer. You want him? And, by the way, can you give us a player of modest value in return?"

Good luck, Jim. Or, maybe it will be another GM trying to make that move...

It seems like Bradley's suspension also opens the door for him to make more accusations about the Cubs and their fans. I'm surprised we haven't heard anything yet.

Summer stays, patience fades

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It was a beautiful day for a crosstown, make-up game, but the home team felt none of the sun, nor any warming adulation from the fans. The White Sox beat the Cubs 5-0 Thursday to formally end the Crosstown Classic North series from back in June.

How differently things looked then for the Cubs. Yes, there were injuries and players sunk into slumps at the plate (some things never change), but the Cubs had a stunning comeback win against the Sox back in June that looked at the time like it might launch them into a much-anticipated run of victories that would result in a division title.

Now, the division title is all but mathematically lost, and the wild card is only marginally more attainable. The Cubs were booed left and right Thursday as the sun and late summer warmth failed to mellow the crowd. The fans now seem to come only to boo and make plans for their post-7th inning stretch social calendars, but the darn Cubs keeping inviting them to do nothing more. Fielding miscues by Alfonso Soriano and others let the game slip away, and each strikeout by Cubs hitters (there were 9, including 3 by Al-So and 2 by Milton Bradley) were met with boos that seemed to build to the shower of ill affection that met Al-So's game-ending K.

The Sox, meanwhile, now in third place and clinging to the hope offered by division match-ups later this month, had to do almost nothing to win this one except run the bases without tripping. The highlight of the game to my mind was the nice throw DeWayne Wise made to nail Jake Fox at the plate in the 7th inning when it was still 1-0 Sox (Should we call it "The Throw" or "The Assist"?) Carlos Torres als had a great start, pitch 7 innings with 6 Ks and no walks, though the Cubs made it easy for him.

Amid the boos, Cubs fans may be somewhat under-appreciating a club that is still in second place, still has a winning record, and won 2 of 3 against the Mets and Astros before Thursday's crosstown loss. We would have been just fine with 67-65 and a shot at the postseason a few years ago. But, who wants to hear that when you were promised another division title (promised it, at least, by last year's amazing success)?

Mr. Unhappy

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The Cubs need to get rid of Milton Bradley, the sooner the better. I was half-expecting this would happen before the Sept. 1 waiver deadline, though that's increasingly unlikely. Will he be traded during the off-season? Bradley has been playing very well lately, but it's becoming clear he uses his own unhappiness and the hatred he claims to feel from others as fuel.

He has said he faces racial hatred daily at Wrigley Field, which is a sad accusation that must be taken seriously--though as Steve Rosenbloom noted recently, it's hard to address the problem when Bradley pulls it into the spotlight, but doesn't take it seriously himself.

Does it actually happen the way Bradley said? Undoubtedly, there are a few idiots out there whose criticism of poor play becomes racially-tinged, and who might tell a joke with a racist punch line in front of dozens of other people around them in the stands. Some of us might vocally object, but most of us silently protest and maybe we should start speaking up. It probably happens in all ballparks, not to mention everwhere in America--something that having an African-American President doesn't automatically cure, even though we would like that to be the case. Wherever and whenever it happens, it's unforgivable behavior, and the Cubs should do more to investigate than simply tell Bradley not to listen.

However, it's also true that the vast majority of fans don't take part in such behavior. Bradley decided to label all of us racists, which is unfair and makes it harder to enjoy this already hard-to-enjoy season. Being a fan is a two-way relationship. You appreciate the players, applauding a great effort and booing a poor, under-achieving, and you want to have a sense that they appeciate your appreciation and know that your criticism will pass as their own effort improves.

As a participant in many fantasy baseball leagues, I have liked Bradley as a hitter for many years. He has always had a real knack for getting on base and driving in runs and even stealing a base or two. That's what the Cubs saw, too, when they signed him at a time that other teams probably were afraid to sign him because of his past confrontations with umpires, other players and the media. Some people might argue to cut Bradley now or trade him because he hasn't played up to par, but the fact is that he is now playing up to his potential. Is it enough to bring the Cubs all the way back and win the division or capture the wild card? Those ships probably have sailed too far toward the horizon to catch now, but you've got to applaud Bradley's effort either way, and if he wasn't earning his salary before, he is earning it now.

Yet, it makes me sad that while I watched him--and applauded him on--the other night when he went 4-4, he wasn't feeling my appreciation at all, and in fact felt the opposite. I guess we are both unhappy, and if he will be happier somewhere else, the Cubs should make that move possible ASAP regardless of how well he continues to hit.

The case for keeping Milton Bradley

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There was a rumor in the last few days--now shot down by just about everybody--that the Detroit Tigers were looking to acquire free agent disappointment Milton Bradley from the Cubs. I think most people have viewed Bradley as basically untradeable at this point unless the Cubs are looking for nothing better than a set of steak knives. Heck, that's what I thought.

In any case, there won't be a trade, apparently, and after seeing Bradley sometimes succeeding/still essentially struggling in the last several games, I'm starting to like the idea of keeping him. Why? Three little letters: OBP.

Bradley's on-base percentage going into Sunday's game was .377, the second-best of any player on the current roster (second to Aramis Ramirez). With 44 walks, Bradley has only six fewer walks than team leader Kosuke Fukudome. I think that, used pretty strategically, which Lou Piniella has begun to do by limiting Bradley's left-handed at-bats against righty pitchers, Bradley could be a very valuable contributor down the line even if he continues to hits around .250 (at .246 now)--as long as he keeps the BBs coming and keeps that OBP at a healthy level.

Bradley's current .131 spread between his batting average and OBP is a remarkable stat. Without Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, among others, hitting well, it may not amount to much, and when Bradley was slumping along with Lee and A-Ram was out with his shoulder injury, Bradley's few walks and a whole lot of nothing otherwise wasn't acceptable.

But, now, it's another cog, an important one, in the run-scoring machine that the Cubs finally having running smoothly. And, if Bradley starts to hit a little more--let's just say the Cubs visit to first place today, could be a long-term visit.

Bombs away

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Four homers brought some life to the Crosstown Classic South Friday, though the game will be remembered more for the dugout-clubhouse verbal altercation Lou Piniella and Milton Fradley got into in the 6th inning that resulted in Bradley being told to "go home," according to Lou.

Don't expect Bradley to stay home though, unless he's planning on retiring. The incident happened after Bradley threw his helmet after flying out and allegedly busted another water cooler (I think the Cubs players need to start bring their own water bottles to the games with their names on them, like you see in Little League).

I'm guessing this was a tension release on the part of both Bradley, who is still slumping, and Pinella, who basically was called a wimpy wuss in the newspaper yesterday. We'll see, but Piniella claimed Bradley would be in the line-up today.

The incident overshadowed the Cubs' perilous 5-4 win, which included all the Cubs's scoring on 2 homers, a Jake Fox 2-run shot and a Geovany Soto 3-run dinger. Fox homered in his second consecutive game and is making a brilliant case for more playing time when interleague play ends and the line-up loses a hitter. Could Bradley be the one to pay the price? Soto was revealed as a one-time pot smoker (What else is there to do during the World Baseball Classic?), and seems to be a new man at the plate with the burden of secrecy off his back. He has homered twice in three games (He only got 1 AB in the homerless game), and 4 times in his last 8 games.

Of course, it would not be a Cubs game if Carlos Marmol didn't try to give it away. He walked 3 men in the 8th inning, and gave up a single (though it should have been caught by the napping Alfonso Soriano) and a 2-run double by Jim Thome. Sean Marshall relieved him with the bases loaded to face pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, and when Marmol arrived in the dugout, he threw his glove hard against the wall, but was not reprimanded by Lou as far as the TV cameras could tell. Marshall threw one pitch to A.J., who grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Perhaps feeling left out of the post-game gossip, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called out A.J. for having a "bad at-bat" swinging at the first pitch. There certainly is a case to be made that A.J. occasionally attempts to do too much when he's looking for a big hit, though you shouldn't send him up there expecting patience. He has only 12 walks this year, and only 180 in his entire career (that's about 1.5 seasons' worth of walks for Thome, to put it in perspective).

Thome was the big contributor for the Sox, with 3 RBIs, including a homer off Cubs starter Randy Wells, who now has recorded a win in his last 2 starts after much earlier frustration. Jermaine Dye also had a solo shot, but the Sox otherwise showed only a glimmer of the energy that produced 16 runs in the previous 2 games against teh Dodgers.

Meanwhile, Jose Contreras actually pitched pretty well for a guy who gave up 5 runs (4 ER). He struck out 8 and only walked 1 in 7.1 IP. The homer by Geo in the 7th was the obvious big mistake, though it came after Paul Konerko botched a difficult-but-playable grounder that could have nabbed at least 1 out. Contreras also appeared to have a back problem, though he didn't come out of the game, and not much was made of it later.

I started writing during the 8th inning of today's Crosstown Classic North game that the Sox had completed the sweep (sort of--the series won't officially be over until September). I either jinxed the Sox, or turned around the luck of the Cubs, depending on how you want to look at it.

The Cubs won 6-5, today, literally minutes after being down 5-1 and exhibiting again that they could not drive in runs even with a man on 3rd and no outs. It all happened in the bottom of the 8th. Milton Bradley struck out for out No. 2 while Micah Hoffpauir waited on 3rd and Alfonso Soriano, who moments before proved he was still alive by notching a basehit, waited on 1st base. Bradley was walking around the dugout with his bat still in his hands and his helmet still on, so stunned he may have been by his and other hitters' inability to convert baserunners into scoreboard digits. Then, almost at the instant the TV picture returned to the home plate, Derrek Lee, the one Cub who has been on a tear, plunked a 3-run homer into the basket. Moments later, Geovany Soto added a solo shot to tie the game 5-5.

And, suddenly, there was life... Reed Johnson started the bottom of the 9th, score still tied, with a single, was moved over to second on a perfect bunt by Andres Blanco, and scored the game-winner on a bloop single by Soriano. Yes, boys, it's that easy.

I literally had been very near giving up on the Cubs for the year, as dramatic as that sounds. Now, I'm going to wait until at least tomorrow. Prior to Lee's homer, I was just sick of things not working, and sick of Lou Piniella's What-am-I-supposed-to-do stance, which yesterday evolved into an I'm-about-to-do-something-but-not-quite-yet stance. I didn't see where Lou had any options, unless he moved Soriano to 2nd base to get the hotter, younger bats of Jake Fox and Micah Hoffapauir into the outfield. Bench Kosuke Fukudome for Johnson? Sure, but the problem has been that not enough of the dots have been getting connected on offense. It almost hasn't mattered how much talent allegedly was behind those dots.

That was happening again in the 8th inning until the consecutive homers, and I'm not sure everything was fixed by those miracles. We'll see. The changes that may need to be made might be in Jim Hendry's hands, rather than Lou's.

So, the Cubs earned a split with the White Sox after the Sox cruised to a 4-1 victory yesterday. They still looked great today, with Gavin Floyd silencing the Cubs and The Missile, Chris Getz, Gordon Beckham, Brian Anderson and Paulie all contributing timely hits today. Getz also unfortunately contributed a poorly-timed error to allow Hoffpauir on in the 8th. And, the bullpen that I've felt would come to be the Sox' second-half charm blew it today, though the loss was really on the hands of Scott Linebrink, who struck out Bradley, but then gave up the consecutive homers.

It's hard to tell how good the Sox are from this trip to Wrigley--they are 31-35. Yesterday, the used great fundamentals and a little power plus a knockout performance from John Danks to beat up on a Cubs team that looked broken down completely. Sox fans should take more from the last two impressive victories against the slugging Brewers than these two contests. While I'm hoping Hendry is going shopping, I'm hoping Kenny Williams is staying home at least a little longer.

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