Bradley’s replacement

The Cubs’ second biggest problem with Milton Bradley was his personality. Larger even than the chip on Bradley’s shoulder was his inability to fulfill the role of run producer, the proper role of a right fielder. Bradley ended the season (via suspension on September 20) with forty runs batted in and a slugging percentage below .400. He did maintain a healthy OBP, as ever, but his preoccupation with getting to ball four failed to satisfy the Cubs, who did not wish to utilize their $10 million-per-year right fielder as a top-of-the-order hitter whose job was to get on base ahead of more capable run producers. If your right fielder specializes in getting on base, who is supposed to drive him in, the second baseman?

Strange, then, that the second batter in the Cub lineup as currently projected for 2010 will be Kosuke Fukudome, the $12 million-per-year right fielder Bradley was hired to replace. Bradley had a terrible year only in the sense that he put up Fukudome-like numbers.

Bradley: 473 pa, 393 ab, 17 2b, 1 3b, 12 hr, 40 rbi, 2 sb, 3 cs, 66 bb, 95 so, .257/.378/.397/.775
Fukudome: 603 pa, 499 ab, 38 2b, 5 3b, 11 hr, 54 rbi, 6 sb, 10 cs, 93 bb, 112 so, .259/.375/.421/.796

Of the two, Fukudome was a little better. He did have 100 more at bats, so the RBI per at-bat was about the same. The Bradley number that is appallingly low is the 17 doubles that drag his SLG down 24 points below Fukudome’s. But overall, these are two hitters who should bat second or eighth in a good lineup.

Not much improvement in the starting right fielder, then. The Cubs know this, of course, and have acquired a proven run producer in Xavier Nady who is gradually expected to take over right field as his surgical right arm gains strength over the course of the season. The Cubs got Nady for one year at a nice discount because it is a rehab year for him; but his limited availability in the early months may fit the Cubs’ needs. The Cubs are in phase-out mode with Fukudome. They will want to get him a fair number of at bats before they push hard to trade him at midseason, when his contract will have a year and a half remaining. Traded or not, his days as a starting outfielder with the Cubs will end when Nady takes over in right. Next winter Fukudome will be tradeable, more or less. Trading him will be expensive but will finally free the Cubs from the second of three ball-and-chain contracts.

Meanwhile Fukudome will bat second and draw walks and wait for other hitters, including the second baseman, to drive him in. When Soriano, another corner outfielder, batted first, the Cubs were well served having a run producer like DeRosa, and to a lesser extent Baker and Fontenot, playing second base. Baker and Fontenot are not table setters, however. Who bats second when Fukudome is on the bench? This dilemma will arise the first time the Cubs face a lefty starting pitcher.

This analysis suggests that Starlin Castro, Andres Blanco, Darwin Barney and Matt Camp have a better shot than is generally acknowledged. It also suggests that Fontenot and Baker are less secure than many people suppose, although Baker at least has the defensive versatility to play third.

If someone like Castro (or Luis Castillo) does latch onto the “2-hole,” Fukudome will go to seventh. They can’t bat their right fielder lower than seven while they are showcasing him.

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