PLAYER TO WATCH
After a miserable one-season stint with the Cubs—during which he hit only 12 home runs in 393 at bats, clashed with manager Lou Piniella and G.M. Jim Hendry, and was suspended for the final 15 games for saying that he understood "why they haven't won in 100 years here"—Milton Bradley vowed not to think about baseball over the winter. He focused on his fantasy football team, and behind Peyton Manning and Maurice Jones-Drew he won the Cubs' league. But he has yet to be paid—something about his being accused of making illegal transactions. "Of course," he says, "if I'm involved, there's controversy."
A Dec. 18 swap for underperforming starter Carlos Silva gave Bradley, 31, a fresh start with the Mariners (his eighth franchise in 11 seasons), a club that features two aces (Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee) and the majors' best defense. But Seattle desperately needs the Bradley of 2008 vintage (when he had an AL-best .999 OPS with the Rangers) to bolster an offense that scored the fewest runs in the AL last season.
The Mariners expect Bradley to thrive in their cohesive clubhouse ("We want Milton to be Milton," says general manager Jack Zduriencik), and—two spring ejections notwithstanding—Bradley is buying in. "Everything's upbeat, everything's positive," he says. "I'm glad to be playing baseball again. Glad to show up to the field again. Feels great." If he does more hitting than sulking, the Mariners should too.
One-run games played by the Mariners in '09, most in the majors. Depending on your point of view—one-run success is often considered a function of luck—Seattle was good or fortunate. The M's went 35--20 in one-run games; their .636 winning percentage was by far the majors' best.
Signing Chone Figgins upgraded the top of the Mariners' batting order, giving them a second high-OBP player to pair with Ichiro Suzuki. The M's are giving away some of the value of the two players, though, by leaving Suzuki in his traditional leadoff spot while batting Figgins second. Generally speaking, a player who gets more hits should bat behind a player who draws more walks because hits are more valuable than walks with a runner on base. In the case of these two players, it's an even bigger mistake to not do so because of Ichiro's skill set. His unique approach at the plate makes him a better hitter with runners on (.336), and especially in scoring position (.340), than with the bases empty (.331). The Mariners will score more runs with Ichiro's singles moving Figgins first to third and second to home than they will with Figgins walking Ichiro to second.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Don Wakamatsu
2ND SEASON WITH MARINERS
7 10 4.84 1.59
5 4 3.74 1.18
3 4 4.13 1.28
3 38 2.52 1.16
3 1 2.80 1.09
*Triple A stats
SOUND EFFECT Seattle needs Bradley's bat to be noisier than his mouth.