Not long before polarizing Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley was slapped with the longest non-drug-related suspension since Albert "Joey" Belle pegged Indians fan Jeff Pillar in the chest with a baseball nearly two decades ago, ESPN.com's Peter Gammons ignited a firestorm of fierce speculation with this September 14th chat session retort: "My guess is [Chicago] will eat some of Bradley's contract and send him back to Texas."
Over the next eight days, Bradley would proceed to (a) partake in a controversial Daily Herald interview that (b) Cubs players, fans and management uniformly perceived as an affront to the organization, prompting general manager Jim Hendry to impose (c) an unprecedented two-week suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team." His career in Chicago is effectively over, and the bridges behind him have been joyously set ablaze by those who have chosen to ostracize him.
That Bradley-to-Texas speculation is a virtual certainty to expand over the coming days, particularly now that manager Ron Washington has not-so-subtly articulated his desire to see Bradley return to the Rangers: "I wouldn't hesitate to get him. [...] I ain't never had a problem with Milton because I was always honest with him. If I didn't like what he was doing, I let him know. I didn't let anything fester with Milton. All Milton wants is people to tell him the truth, to be honest with him. He's no dummy. He knows when he's [screwing] up."
Why discuss the hypothetical re-acquisition of the Cubs' clubhouse pariah -- particularly right after a well-rounded 10-run, 15-hit road outburst on the part of a suddenly resurgent Rangers lineup? Since every good question deserves a better answer, here's a macro summary: according to StatCorner.com's park-adjusted team wOBA totals, the Rangers possess the fourth-worst offense in the American League at an unsightly 37.1 runs below average, which goes an awfully long way towards explaining why Texas isn't playing for a post-season spot right now.
Furthermore, Marlon Byrd is almost certainly departing in free agency (as is Hank Blalock), Josh Hamilton has degenerated into a huge question mark, Chris Davis ... well, I think you see the picture I'm trying to paint, that being one loaded with impending uncertainty. Insert Bradley as your everyday designated hitter, allow him to perform his OBP-inflating feats of magic and you are, in all likelihood, looking at a quick-n'-dirty one- to two-win boost for a probable playoff-contending team in 2010, which is anything but insignificant.
Hendry's reported eagerness to foist Bradley upon some risk-taking ballclub -- and defray much of the remaining $21 million left on his contract, which extends through 2011 -- is simultaneously helpful and problematic for Chicago; yeah, it's great that he's being proactive and taking charge and showing zero tolerance for any besmirchment of the good name of the Cubs, but he has now also crossed the Rubicon with Bradley and will be operating with minimal leverage in any trade discussions going forward. To that end ... could the Rangers even afford Bradley if they wanted to?
With the long-awaited vesting of Kevin Millwood's $12 million option for the 2010 regular season now in the books after his stellar seven-inning performance in Oakland on Monday evening, the Rangers have $27 million committed between Millwood, Michael Young ($11 million -- no, it's not $16 million as reported elsewhere; click here to find out why) and Ian Kinsler ($4 million), with another $11-12 million committed to a five-player contingent of arbitration-eligible players that comprises Josh Hamilton, Scott Feldman, Frank Francisco, Brandon McCarthy and C.J. Wilson.
Round out the Opening Day 2010 roster with a cavalcade of league-minimum players, and you're suddenly looking at a $45 million base payroll, which would be the lowest in the American League by a considerable margin and guarantee profitability during a watershed year for ownership. Finagle Hendry into eating just two-thirds of Bradley's contract and recouping a B-level prospect for his troubles, and you've got the makings of a deal that not only mitigates the cost to the organization, but also sharpens the quality of a team that's right on the verge of taking off.
Now, would such a deal act as a detriment to the Rangers' clubhouse? Is Bradley actually the ill-natured cancer he has been portrayed as in the Chicago newspapers? Would a second swim through Arlington end in a similarly violent fit of tears, profanities and door-slamming? All visceral issues that absolutely must be addressed. Objectively speaking, there's a good fit to be had here, but whether that will overpower any sentiment within the front office to leave Bradley the hell alone is another matter altogether.