Jim Hendry's wooing of outfielder Milton Bradley began under the unsuspecting noses of his fellow general managers two months ago during their annual meetings at a swank seaside resort in Southern California.
The Chicago Cubs GM slipped away to drive 40 miles north for a stealth dinner in Los Angeles with Bradley and his agents, Sam Levinson and Keith Miller, and both sides came away smitten by the idea that Bradley would be a great fit in Wrigley Field.
Bradley would show up a month later at the winter meetings in Las Vegas, where he made a strong impression on the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Cubs were never far away. And on Tuesday, multiple sources confirmed, the Cubs and Bradley reached agreement on a three-year, $30 million contract.
The deal is pending a physical, which Bradley is expected to undergo late in the week, and the Cubs are not commenting until then. But they are satisfied that the 30-year-old switch-hitter is fully recovered from the knee injury that limited him to primarily a DH role last season for the Texas Rangers. They also have no qualms that the behavioral issues that plagued him earlier in his career will resurface.
"He was a good teammate in Texas,'' one club source said.
Bradley wore out left-handed pitchers in 2008 – his 1.127 OPS against lefties was the highest in the American League and was eclipsed only by Albert Pujols (1.233) and David Wright (1.179) in the National League – but the Cubs, top heavy in right-handed bats, were most in need of what Bradley can bring from the left side. Bradley led the AL with a .436 on-base percentage in 2008, and 12 of his 22 home runs came from the left side.
Of the Cubs' 184 home runs last season, only 51 were struck by left-handed hitters, and the Los Angeles Dodgers exploited the Cubs' dearth of left-hand bats in their divisional playoff sweep by throwing exclusively right-handed pitchers.
The Cubs looked at other right-field candidates, but Bobby Abreu (who is still seeking a three-year, $48 million deal, according to one National League executive) priced himself out early, especially given his modest home run numbers (an average of 17 a season the last three years).
From dessert on, Bradley was the Cubs' No. 1 target.
The addition of Bradley means Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome enters spring training as a high-priced platoon player. Fukudome, who is beginning the second year of a four-year, $48 million deal, was an early season sensation with the Cubs but slumped badly at the end, batting just .188 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in the last two months. He'll begin camp platooning with Reed Johnson in center, while spelling Bradley in right.
Felix Pie, once the team's most highly regarded prospect, will battle for a job as the fifth outfielder. Pie is out of options, meaning the Cubs cannot send him to the minors without passing him through waivers, and he undoubtedly would draw interest from a number of clubs.
The Cubs cleared salary for Bradley by trading pitcher Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Luis Vizcaino, a deal expected to be announced Tuesday, and by moving utilityman Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, with DeRosa's place being taken by Aaron Miles, a free-agent signee from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Still to be determined is whether the Cubs will make another run at San Diego Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, and how the pending sale of the Padres to a group headed by Jeff Moorad, the former super agent who became managing partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will impact negotiations. Hendry has not spoken in some time with Padres GM Kevin Towers, who under present ownership has a mandate to dramatically slash payroll. The Cubs and Padres appeared close to a deal for Peavy in Las Vegas, but the Padres backed away, leaving the Cubs convinced that someone over Towers' head pulled the plug.
A Moorad-led ownership group may be disinclined to part with Peavy, the team's most valuable on-field asset, or at least might want to delay a decision until the team has changed hands.
The Cubs believe sinkerballer Derek Lowe is too expensive but will continue to explore pitching options. They return four formidable starters in Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly. It's conceivable they are done until spring training.
- Milton Bradley