Bradley and his contract will haunt Hendry 'til the day he's no longer Cubs GM
An inflated consciousness is incapable of learning from the past and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead. -- Carl Jung
CHICAGO -- You could poll 100 Cubs fans walking out of Wrigley Field -- if there are any real Cubs fans still going to games -- and ask them about the terms of Milton Bradley's contract, and 75 would know, by rote, that he was signed for three years and $30 million. That's a pretty high number for a player coming off a career year and expected to hit in the middle of the order who had never hit more than 22 home runs (last season), had never driven in more than 77 RBIs (last season) and had played more than 100 games just four times, despite making his major league debut in 2000.
The other 25? Their answers would be unprintable. All of them would follow with a variation of this phrase: What the $#8& was Jim Hendry thinking?
Of those mythical fans, barely a handful would be able to recall the full contract given to any other Cub, even the wildly compensated Alfonso Soriano, who signed for $136 million over eight years. But Bradley's three-for-30 deal will stand the test of time.
When you pay a guy $175,000 per RBI, he'd better drive in a lot of runs. Bradley drove in 40 this year, which given the fact that he hit .205 with runners in scoring position, is almost impressive. (If you really want to get sick, check out his averages in different two-strike situations.)
When Hendry gets relieved of his general manager duties one day, maybe sooner rather than later, that contract will make the top five paragraphs in his farewell story. It will make the wire stories and will be used as a figure to prove Hendry had it coming. Bradley's contract is the near-unanimous worst free-agent deal of 2009, although it hardly makes a ripple compared to big deals given in recent years. It's the easy scapegoat for a disappointing season.
By all accounts, Bradley is a talented baseball player, but his problems are well-known. For whatever reason, maybe it's competitive stubbornness, Hendry's inflated consciousness couldn't rectify that Bradley was a bad fit from the get-go, from his history with the media to his inability to stay healthy to his overall personality. He is a person unhappy with the demands and limitations of being in the public eye, which is incongruous with his chosen profession.
Even as it became evident that Bradley was a bad choice, Hendry's hands were tied, but he finally got fed up enough to make a public stink about his ill-tempered outfielder to suspend him this week for the rest of the season. Along with Bradley's bilious public remarks, it's been reported that he disrespected a coach and said that Old Style is a terrible beer. (Just kidding on that last one.)
Aside from last year's relative calm in Texas, Bradley never has found a baseball home, bouncing from team to team, seven in all. He got his real start in Cleveland, after Montreal, which drafted him in the second round in 1996, shipped him to the Indians in 2001 for Zach Day. But he wore out his welcome after two seasons and one unhappy spring training.
How miserable was Bradley in Cleveland? He couldn't even get along with the team's MLB.com reporter, a guy who could have been his media Sherpa, an opinionated, experienced Cleveland native named Justice B. Hill. Hill told me he stopped talking to Bradley after the player once snapped at him about scheduling a Mother's Day story interview in spring training, of all things.
" Some people are so angry and carry such baggage with them that you have to let them go, they're not worth saving," said Hill, who has written about Bradley in his blog, Justice Is Served. "Bradley is not worth saving until he saves himself. Because it's always someone else's fault. Someone always didn't do right by Bradley."
Hendry had reason to worry about Bradley's impatience with the media. In 2004, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he called a reporter an Uncle Tom during the playoffs; and in 2008, while with Texas, he had to be restrained from confronting a Kansas City Royals TV broadcaster for supposedly issuing unflattering remarks about Bradley.
Hendry knows that the cramped confines of the Cubs' clubhouse and the sometimes large, always inquisitive media horde make for some uncomfortable scenes, and not just for guys like Bradley. The media poisons the environment that players must exist in, if only for the allotted time the reporters are present. Ultimately, it was a newspaper interview given to the Daily Herald's crack Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles that got Bradley his early vacation. Days before, he'd started an argument with a group of reporters.
But let's be honest, if Bradley had had more RBIs than, say, Mike Fontenot, his relationship, past and present, with the working media would be a nonissue.
But Bradley's lousy on-the-field performance, coupled with the team's nosedive into mediocrity, is reason No. 1 new owner Tom Ricketts should put Hendry on notice whenever he takes over the team.
Unlike White Sox GM Kenny Williams, who may have soured his reputation as a shrewd, fiscally sound talent evaluator when he picked up the remainder of flailing Alex Rios' exorbitant contract, Hendry has no relationship with his new owners, aside from a shared knowledge of good Omaha restaurants.
Hendry has three years left on a contract that was signed in October and goes through 2012, but I think if Ricketts has to eat the majority of Bradley's contract to get him out of town, he might not be so hesitant to do the same to his general manager and bring in some new blood.
There was talk when Ricketts finally got approved by the Cubs' current owner, Sam Zell, that he would bring in Sandy Alderson, the ex-Marine who has run the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres and has worked for Major League Baseball. He has served as a mentor to a number of baseball executives, including current A's GM Billy Beane. The Cubs will have to keep their $100 million payrolls to stay competitive, but the recent blank-check days are already gone, as Hendry knows all too well from this past offseason.
And this is a problem, because Hendry hasn't shown the ability to find bargains on the open market aside from rehabbing pitchers such as Ryan Dempster. Hendry has built a good reputation in baseball circles, coming up as a minor league talent evaluator. He earned his rise to power with the Cubs, and he's made no small number of good deals, mostly by taking advantage of financially distressed teams, like the Athletics, Pirates and Marlins (who have fleeced him as well). But the man who brought you Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, two true Cubs greats, and Ted Lilly, also once rented Juan Pierre, who cost the team two young pitchers, and paid Kosuke Fukudome $48 million and Bradley $30 million, as so-called answers to his team's problems du jour. He overpaid Dempster, as nice a guy as you'll meet in baseball, and limited his financial flexibility in search of that elusive World Series appearance.
Since there is no time-tested Cubs Way, aside from finding different ways to lose, Hendry has had difficulties of late identifying players who can succeed with the team. This offseason's moves, stifled by money limits and a failed chase at Jake Peavy, were glaringly bad.
Rarely does a GM take an oh-fer in the offseason while spending a little money, but that's what happened. He signed Kevin Gregg to a one-year, $4.2 million deal, Aaron Miles to a two-year, $4.9 million contract and gave Aaron Heilman $1.625 million for a year. That's almost $11 million wasted, right there.
The Cubs paid Luis Vizcaino about $3.5 million (including his buyout clause) to go away this past spring, while the guy for whom he was dealt, Jason Marquis, has 15 wins for Colorado. Aside from Marquis, who was expendable and expensive, Hendry's most noted move was trading Mark DeRosa for three minor league pitchers. DeRosa, as it has been repeated ad nauseam, loved playing for the Cubs, loved the media and did pretty well on the field.
Aside from Miles' career year in 2008 with St. Louis, those four have hardly had the kind of careers to engender an invitation to join the two-time division champs. Heilman was reviled in New York and Gregg had a history of blowing saves with Florida. Vizcaino has had some good seasons, but he's not the kind of guy any sane man would pay $3 million.
Hendry had a jock's aversion to dwelling on the past when making these deals. You know the idea, forget about yesterday, worry about today. Maybe he thought the allure of playing at Wrigley Field would somehow fix the real-world problems of these players.
The Cubs' Opening Day payroll was around $138 million (according to Cot's Contracts), and the Cubs have more than $108 million committed to their top seven players for next season and $80 million in 2011. Manager Lou Piniella recently groused to retiring Dayton Daily News reporter Hal McCoy that the team's financial limitations, with the Tribune Co. in bankruptcy, hampered his ability to win:
"We couldn't do a thing, not one thing," Piniella told his old friend in McCoy's blog. "The team was in bankruptcy proceedings just before the sale, and we couldn't spend one cent. Not one penny. And we haven't hit all year."
So, what about 2010, Piniella's likely swan song in Chicago? How will Hendry spin off Bradley back to an AL team? The Rangers are in real financial trouble, as Tom Hicks and Major League Baseball try to find an ownership group to buy the team. Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays would take him, but the financial whizzes that run the team surely would ask the Cubs to eat the majority of his contract.
How will Hendry improve a team that faded badly in August and never really clicked? He will have to get creative, and I'm guessing he'll have to be frugal. No more drunken-sailor spending sprees like before 2007.
I'm on board with Hendry returning for at least one more season, not that Ricketts has asked me, but I'm curious about how he'll improve a team he put together himself.
It's not just Milton Bradley, who shouldn't be the scapegoat for this lost season. There are a slew of important decisions to make, from whom to keep (Rich Harden?) to whom to pick up (Chone Figgins?). I don't know about you, but my confidence in Hendry, like the Cubs' checkbook, is closing faster every day.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.