Note To Rangers: Bring Back Milton

By Gil LeBreton
Updated: September 22, 2008

ARLINGTON, Tx. — Milton Bradley poured out his heart last week, as much as the chronically guarded Bradley will allow it.

He wants to take care of his mom, he said. He wants to be paid like “one of the elite players in the game.”

He wants, he said, “a long-term contract.” And if the Texas Rangers or anyone else only offer him a one-year deal, Bradley said that he’d be “fed up with baseball” and quit.

As the Rangers continue their slow slide toward the season’s end, their won-loss record seems destined to betray them. They will likely finish below .500 for the eighth time in nine seasons.

But for anyone who watched and followed the way they played before injuries and inconsistent pitching finally betrayed them, the 2008 Rangers have been anything but a disappointment. The team welcomed a new hero in Josh Hamilton. Questions were answered about certain players and coaches. The club’s next generation of stars began to emerge.

Bradley, for his part, will be remembered for his absences as much as his contributions. For one injury or another, he has missed 36 games this season. He was expected to be one of the team’s starting outfielders. Instead, Bradley has played only 20 games in the outfield.

He probably should have gone on the disabled list twice — during a June stretch in which he missed six of 12 games and in early August, when he was out for 12 of 17. But Bradley is stubborn. Manager Ron Washington usually let Milton decide when Milton would play.

When he did play, though, Bradley played with a fire that hasn’t often been seen by this franchise. If Bradley leaves, the Rangers will have to think about how to replace his intensity as much as his bat.

“There’s always going to be a negative knock on me,” Bradley said last Friday. “If they’re not going to talk about my attitude, or incidents, then they’re going to talk about my health.”

Bradley said that his injury history should not matter, contending that his season statistics rival what a healthy, full-season player would have posted.

But he should know better. It’s about the winning, not the statistics. If a player is going to miss 36 games each season, it can’t be overlooked in his contract.

Bradley is wrong about another thing as well. The fans and media in this market have not dwelled on his past troubles. He’s been more than accepted here.

He wants to come back, though Milton has accused the Rangers of dragging their feet about a new contract. He wants, he said, a long-term deal.

Two years, however, may be the longest that Bradley can hope for, and even then, the second year may not be guaranteed. He can expect the Rangers to mention the 36 games that he’s missed.

He may well be an elite player. I think he needs to be an everyday outfielder before he is considered that. But if Milton wants to argue his value, the club should have the right to factor in what not having an elite player for 36 games is worth.

As Bradley probably noticed, the Rangers need pitching. Any money spent on pitching in the off-season is destined to be applauded.

The club will have other designated hitter options, should Bradley not be re-signed. But none can bring what Bradley does, and none can match his presence as a cleanup hitter.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Rangers re-sign Bradley and exercise their $6.2-million option on Hank Blalock. That scenario is even more unfathomable if you believe, as most of us do, that Chris Davis’ future is at first base, not third.

It’s not hard to imagine, therefore, Bradley returning to the roles of DH/part-time outfielder and batting fourth next season. He’s earned a raise — to $8 million? — for that.

He is also worth taking the risk on a guaranteed second season. Consider it for Milton’s mom.

If Bradley gets hurt again and the contract begins to sour, blame us, the ones who remembered the 2008 season when Milton and Hamilton were the All-Star heart of the Rangers’ lineup and the future seemed so bright.

Don’t let the slow, familiar end of this season make you forget that.