PEORIA, AZ It has been a long, troubled winter for Milton Bradley. The Mariners left fielder worked to rebound from last summers arthroscopic knee surgery. Then he made headlines for being arrested Jan. 19 on a felony charge of making threats against his wife.
You wouldnt know that if you listened to the transcript of a brief chat Friday between Bradley and several members of the media. The ground rules for the talk included no questions about the knee or arrest.
So the questions about Bradley that most need answered will have to wait days or weeks (in the case of the knee) and months (in the case of the arrest as Bradley has been advised by his legal team not to talk about the case).
As Bradley said, “baseball is the easy part.
Hard to argue with that.
The Mariners certainly could use a healthy and productive Bradley this year. In 2010, he came aboard when Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik dealt away failed starting pitcher Carlos Silva.
Between leaving the team mid-game after being replaced mid-game by then-manager Don Wakamatsu, taking time off subsequently to deal with anger management issues and knee troubles that effectively wiped out the second half of the season and resulted in the need for arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 17, the Mariners never got a look at Bradley at the top of his game.
Really, no one has since 2008, when he hit .321 for the Texas Rangers with 22 homers, 77 RBIs and a league-leading .436 on-base percentage en route to starting the All-Star Game as the American League DH.
So he comes into camp with legal troubles not quite behind him. He has a March 9 meeting with the district attorney in Los Angeles awaiting him at a minimum and competition from 24-year-old left fielder Michael Saunders, one of the brighter lights in the ranks of up-and-coming Mariners, for the starting job in left field.
Bradley, however, doesnt see it that way.
“No one can compete with me, he said in a tone that was much more soft than the strident words would suggest, “when Im at my best. They pay me a lot of money because I can play.
Those last five words are, in all likelihood, the key to whether or not Bradley and his $12 million contract are back playing regularly for Seattle in 2011. Just ask manager Eric Wedge, with whom Bradley had an infamous falling out when both were in Cleveland in 2003. The Indians ultimately were forced to pick between manager and player, and Bradley was sent packing.
“If hes healthy, theres no question that Milton can have the greatest impact, Wedge said when asked about Bradleys competition with Saunders. “The first thing I asked him about when he got here (Thursday) was his health. We need him to be in a good place physically.
The talent is there, no question about it, for Bradley to be someone who can hit in the middle of the Mariner lineup. But he has to be at his best, and its going to be difficult if the knee isnt recovered from surgery and if jurisprudence is always lurking one step behind him.
Wedge and Bradley have talked several times since the former Indians manager came on board. Both say their previous head-butting was an eternity ago and both say they have no problem moving on.
Bradley on Friday made it sound like he was on Wedges P.R. team.
“Ive talked to him some, Bradley said. “Im glad hes here. We needed that discipline. We got a little lax last year.
Uh, yeah. Bradley was one of those, at least when he walked out on the club after Wakamatsu replaced him with a pinch-hitter mid-game. He came back less than 24 hours later asking Wakamatsu and Zduriencik for some time to deal with personal issues, which turned out to be attending anger management classes before he was allowed to play again.
He returned to active status several weeks later, but he was never able to contribute in a big way because of his bum knee.
Asked about the role he expects to play in the lineup this season, Bradley said that was an issue that concerned the media more than it concerned him, then added, “Im not trying to hit ninth.
Wedge may well see Bradley as a middle-of-the-lineup guy with his high on-base potential and occasional power potential maybe making him a No. 3 hitter in a lineup that doesnt have a true No. 3 guy. And while the Mariners went out to get Jack Cust, late of the As, as their DH, Wedge said Friday that Bradley, a switch-hitter, could see some time at DH in addition to playing left field. In that scenario, Bradley would get some at-bats instead of the left-handed Cust against left-handed pitchers.
“Well see how this plays out in spring training, Wedge said of the competition in left field. “There are lots of at-bats.
But not lots of time.
John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)