Milton Bradley in Blue and Teal

Seattle’s star-inhaling, soul-exhaling off-season gained the Mariners praise throughout the baseball community. General Manager Jack Zduriencik combined obvious moves (like giving Felix Hernandez a contract extension and trading a stack of B+ prospects for Cliff Lee) with some inherently risky gambles. Those moves now have the Mariners in position to not only compete, but also to win the American League West this season. Such a premise seemed impossible just 12 months ago.

Acquiring Milton Bradley qualifies as both an obvious move and a risky gamble. Getting out from under Carlos Silva’s mammoth contract (and equally mammoth – as in, extinct – pitching ability) could’ve meant taking an equally poor contract in exchange. Instead, the Mariners received what could become a relative bargain – if Bradley can stay sane and healthy.

Second-year manager Don Wakamatsu has gained a reputation as a handler of diverse personalities and masseur of egos. The M’s also hope the presence of Ken Griffey Jr. as designated tickler and upbeat presence will help soothe Bradley’s volatile temper. The Mariners will accept injuries that happen in the heat of battle. What they don’t want are lengthy suspensions caused by their underestimating Bradley’s unique personality.

Enough about the mental aspect of things though, let’s talk about the quantifiable. Just once in the past five seasons has Bradley topped 500 plate appearances. The past couple years ranked among his most durable, though. After appearing in 126 games with the Rangers (just 20 as an outfielder) in 2008, Bradley nearly matched – and if not for a suspension, would’ve surpassed – that total while playing 109 games in the outfield.

The M’s plan to give Bradley playing time both in left field and at DH. The presence of Ryan Garko, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and even Griffey, there’s enough alternatives that Wakamatsu can get really creative if he so wishes. Still, Bradley’s the cream of that crop, a switch-hitter with a line of .289/.398/.483 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in the past three seasons, with 61 home runs, 206 runs batted in, and 22 steals.

Bradley currently holds a B-Rank of 224th, a nod to injuries depressing his counting stats. Other factors are also conspiring against Bradley’s fantasy value. First, he turns 32 in April; the recent success of outliers like Barry
Bonds and Mariano Rivera aside, baseball players still peak most often
before their 30th birthday, with every subsequent year raising the risk
of injury, declining performance, or both. He’ll also now play half of his
games at Safeco Field, one of the toughest parks in baseball on hitters, doubly so on right-handed hitters with power, given the park’s spacious dimensions in left-center field. (Just ask Adrian Beltre.)

On the plus side, Bradley should see plenty of at-bats from the left side of the plate, where park factors aren’t as harsh and where players like Raul Ibanez and Russell Branyan have found success in recent years.

Bradley deserves ample consideration in AL-only and shallower mixed leagues. If he bats high in the order, he could see ample RBI opportunities behind speedy OBP machines Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins. You can also get strategic in how you handle Bradley on your fantasy team. Drafting Bradley, then hedging with another outfielder with a little less ability but more durability, should allow you to get the best of his production, without taking a major hit in the event of an injury or – yes, we have to say it – possible suspension.
 
It’s easy to see why general managers – both in fantasy and real life – are willing to give Bradley additional chances. His upside is too good to push aside completely. But if you’re planning on drafting him, do what the Mariners plan to do: Handle with care.

– R.J. Anderson

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