After a week of inactivity, the free agent dominoes appear to be falling. On the heels of the Tampa Bay Rays inking Pat Burrell to a team-friendly deal, Milton Bradley has come to terms with the Chicago Cubs on a three-year, $30 million pact. The erstwhile Expo, Indian, Dodger, Athletic, Padre and Ranger will now patrol right field for the Cubbies.
Turning 31 in April, Bradley is coming off of a monstrous offensive campaign in 2008. In 510 PA, the switch-hitter pummeled opposing pitchers to the tune of a .321/.436/.563 line, with a .423 wOBA that ranked fourth among all hitters. Only Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Manny Ramirez provided more offensive value to their respective ballclubs. Despite the significant penalty incurred by designated hitters from position adjustments (-17.5 runs per 162 games), Bradley was worth 3.7 wins last season. That level of performance was worth nearly $17 million to the Rangers.
While Milton is a truly outstanding hitter who draws walks by the bushel and hits for power, we should expect some degree of regression from his lethal ’08 season- his .396 BABIP is not sustainable. Marcel projects Bradley to post a .384 wOBA in 479 PA in 2009. If Bradley were to meet that reasonable forecast, he would be worth a little more than 20 runs above average with the stick.
Of course, the equation is not that simple. With Bradley shifting back to the NL, he must now dust off his glove and play a position on a daily basis. Bradley has endured more than his fair share of injuries over the years, and manning the outfield only figures to exacerbate his lack of durability. Over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he hit the DL for a sprained right knee, a strained left shoulder, a strained left hamstring (twice), a right calf strain and a strained oblique muscle. That doesn’t include the bizarre torn ACL that Bradley suffered disputing a call, either. He has topped the 500 PA mark just twice in his career: as a DH with the Rangers last season and with the Dodgers back in 2004.
Given Bradley’s extensive history of injury and the uncertainty surrounding his ability to play the outfield without triggering health problems, just what sort of deal did the North Siders get? Will Bradley’s powerful bat prove to be a bargain, or will Chicago develop buyer’s remorse?
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that Bradley averages about 400 PA and 100 games per season. Those are admittedly arbitrary numbers that could be argued, but it’s an attempt to account for the likelihood that Bradley will be unavailable for a decent chunk of time. If Bradley meets his Marcel projection of a .384 wOBA, he’d be worth about 17 runs above average offensively in 400 PA.
Calculating Milton’s defensive value is much less straightforward. He has been an above-average defender in the past, and has performed well in limited opportunities over the past two seasons. Let’s call Bradley a +5 run fielder. Pro-rating the positional adjustment (-7.5 runs per 162 games for corner outfielders) and replacement level (+20 runs per 600 PA), Bradley projects to be worth about 31 runs above replacement, or 3.1 WAR.
It has become increasingly obvious that this is very much a buyer’s market for clubs, so let’s keep last year’s $4.5 million per WAR figure. Using that, Bradley projects to be worth about $14 million on a one-year deal. Even accounting for the likelihood that Bradley hits the shelf with an ailment or two, he projects to be worth considerably more than his salary for the 2009 season.
Accounting for a 10% discount rate for a longer deal (risk-averse players tend to sacrifice a little coin to risk-neutral clubs in long-term pacts), a fair three-year deal for Bradley would come out to about $37.8 million. If Milton can stay on the field a little less than two-thirds of the time with the Cubs, his performance should outpace his salary.
A three-year deal for a player with a DL record similar in length to “War and Peace” is risky. But, the Cubs appear to have accounted for the probability of Bradley missing significant time, and seemingly got his premium bat at something of a discount. There’s no reason to expect Bradley to play anything resembling a full season’s worth of games, but he’ll be productive enough when he’s in the lineup to satisfy both the Cubs and fantasy owners. Luckily, fantasy folk don’t have to make a multi-year commitment. Expect Milton to mash when he’s in the lineup-just have a decent backup plan in place for his inevitable DL stint.
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