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Rays are right to wait on Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley, who wore out his welcome with the Cubs after only one season in Chicago, is owed more money over the next two seasons than the Rays are willing to take on.

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Milton Bradley, who wore out his welcome with the Cubs after only one season in Chicago, is owed more money over the next two seasons than the Rays are willing to take on.

The cost of a shortstop is pretty easy to figure out. You start with Derek Jeter and work your way down the value scale.

The same is true at third base and centerfield and pretty much any position on the field. The value of most any ballplayer can be determined fairly easily by checking comparables at the same position.

Except, it seems, when it comes to Milton Bradley. Apparently, there is a scarcity of switch-hitting pariahs. And it looks like very few teams want to spend much money on baseball's most infamous example.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why the Cubs walked the lobby of baseball's winter meetings in Indianapolis with Milton's hat in hand. They tried to drum up interest on the West Coast. They chatted up GMs on the eastern seaboard. You get the distinct impression they were behind the rumors of mystery teams everywhere else.

Basically, the Cubs did everything they could to avoid Tampa Bay's offer.

I take that as a good sign. It suggests the Rays are low-balling the Cubs and, furthermore, it looks like they're not budging from their offer. And I'm guessing that's why you're seeing Chicago reporters chasing false rumors from here to there.

The Blue Jays were supposed to be interested. Until a team official said no. The Mariners were said to be in hot pursuit. Until a team official laughed off the rumor. The Athletics, Royals, Rangers and Tigers have all supposedly inquired.

And as fast as one team shoots down a rumor, another pops up in its place. Now this could mean one of several things. It could be that a lot of reporters are mistakenly connecting some loose dots. It could be that there's an unnatural amount of interest in a guy who has played for seven teams in 10 seasons. Or it could mean the Cubs are trying to create a buzz where one does not exist.

If that's the case, it's not going to work with Tampa Bay.

Rays officials understand there is a serious risk involved in acquiring Bradley. They are willing to take that risk in 2010 because they badly want to get out from under Pat Burrell's contract. They're willing to swap Burrell's nonchalance for Bradley's lunacy.

The timing, in this case, is perfect for the Rays. Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña are entering the final seasons of their contracts, and Boston is vulnerable in 2010 with aging stars such as David Ortiz and Mike Lowell eating up huge portions of the payroll.

But the Rays are not willing to take the risk in 2011. At least not for the $12 million in base salary (and several million more in possible incentives) that Bradley is owed.

The Rays have a figure in mind — and they're not saying what it is — that they will be willing to absorb in 2011. You would have to assume it is a fraction of what Bradley is due to earn. A small enough fraction that — should Bradley live down to his reputation — the Rays could cut him loose without strangling their payroll.

Is it $3 million they're willing to pay? Is it $6 million? Whatever it is, you can assume it is sufficiently low enough that the Cubs are desperately trying to find another suitor.

So Rays officials sit and wait.

And they try not to laugh too loudly when Boston supposedly enters the Bradley sweepstakes.

The Rays understand the Cubs are in bind. It's the difference between a team that would like to get rid of a player, and a team that absolutely, positively, ain't-no-way-we-can-go-to-spring-training-with-this-guy, must get rid of a player.

Which is why the Rays will not blink. They would rather have Burrell in 2010 and no payroll obligation in 2011 than to roll the dice with Bradley's full contract in both seasons.

Now this doesn't mean there is no room for negotiation. I could see a scenario where the Rays are willing to throw a minor-league prospect or a marginal major-leaguer in the deal in exchange for Chicago picking up the bulk of Bradley's salary. Or maybe they work a deal where the Cubs assume Dan Wheeler's $3.5 million salary in 2010, and his $1 million buyout in 2011.

But the financial risk is non-negotiable for Tampa Bay.

Maybe, from the Cubs standpoint, that makes the Rays unreasonable.

From this vantage point, it looks like the right way to go.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Rays are right to wait on Milton Bradley 12/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:01am]

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