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Cubs trying hard to trade Bradley; latest word on Halladay, Gonzalez

CHICAGO -- The Cubs are trying hard to dump the perennially malcontented Milton Bradley here at the GM meetings, as it isn't just manager Lou Piniella who didn't connect with him in his season here. Apparently, several key members of the team -- including Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano -- barely speak to Bradley.

"I don't think they dislike him. But Milton's a unique guy who doesn't fit in, like the oddball kid in class,'' one Cubs-connected person said.

"He doesn't try to fit in. The other guys tried to take him in, but he's one of those kids that simply doesn't want to be part of anything,'' one Cubs person said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that a Bradley blowup with now-deposed hitting coach Von Joshua preceded his two-week, end-of-the-year suspension, a fitting end to a dreadful year. So if anyone on the Cubs is suggesting that they might keep him, they're kidding themselves.

"They're going to get rid of him,'' one NL exec said. "No way he can go back.''

The question is: Who'll take him?

The prime candidates could be the Rangers and Rays, though the Giants are mentioned as a possibility, as well. Bradley thrived his one year in Texas, when he got along with manager Ron Washington and only one major blowup occurred. Giants manager Bruce Bochy is said to feel better than most about Bradley, as well.

"[Bradley] needs to go to some place small, like Kansas City or San Diego,'' one GM said.

The Rangers, who seek a right-handed hitter and are the most obvious team to have had a positive experience with Bradley, would probably take the 31-year-old outfielder if the Cubs paid a vast majority of the $21 million remaining on his crazy contract. Texas appeared willing to give Bradley $6 million for one year last winter, but if they are would pay $5 million for two now, that would mean the Cubs would only have to eat $16 million of the $21 million.

The Cubs are looking at other teams that have players with similarly bad contracts, such as the Rays (Pat Burrell), Giants (Aaron Rowand), Angels (Gary Matthews Jr. -- though Chicago appears not to have interest in Sarge's son), Royals (Jose Guillen) and Mets (Luis Castillo). If the Cubs took Burrell, though, "We'd have to trade him,'' one Cubs person said, pointing out that Burrell is a DH at this point.

While the Mets need an outfielder, one Mets person wisely said they could never take Bradley in New York.

One rumor had Bradley being talked about in a three-way deal with Castillo and Toronto's Lyle Overbay. But that sounds like a Cubs daydream, as the Jays are said to have no interest in Bradley. Beyond that, it's hard enough to deal Bradley in a two-team deal, much less one that involves three teams.

Baseball people seem to believe that of the two superstar players available in trade -- Roy Halladay and Adrian Gonzalez -- Halladay is more likely to be moved for a few important reasons, such as:

1) He's eligible for free agency after this year, whereas the Padres have Gonzalez for two more years.

2) He makes $16 million to only about $5 million for Gonzalez, who has $10.25 mil over two remaining.

3) He wants out of Toronto.

In an especially weak free-agent starting-pitching market, Halladay, 31, would draw interest from several teams, and with a new GM in Toronto (Alex Anthopoulos replaced J.P. Ricciardi), the whole game could change. It isn't known how Padres GM Jed Hoyer or Anthopoulos will handle their respective situations, but it is interesting to note that both cases are being handled by new GMs. "Sometimes new GMs like to put their stamp on a team,'' one competing GM said, speculating that that could mean the two players could be more likely to be traded.

But Hoyer didn't sound in any hurry to trade Gonzalez, saying, "He's a great player with a great contract who's a fan favorite.''

The San Diego Union-Tribune suggested that Gonzalez, 27, would be traded "sooner rather than later,'' and mentioned as proof that he wasn't on the Padres' sales brochures. But that was still a somewhat nebulous prediction, and it doesn't appear that Gonzalez is especially close to being moved yet. As of late Monday night, for instance, it didn't seem that the Red Sox, one of the prime candidates to pursue Gonzalez, had even spoken to San Diego.

While many competing executives see the Red Sox as the favorites to retain star left fielder Jason Bay, such a deal wouldn't necessarily prevent Boston from considering big trade options, including Gonzalez. But when they do speak to San Diego, it won't necessarily be easy to make a deal. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein said that knowing new Padres GM Jed Hoyer, who just left Boston's front office, won't necessarily be a benefit to make a trade. "We look for the same things in players,'' Epstein said. "It's sometimes easier to make a deal if there are disparities in how players are valued.''

The Red Sox are known for being among the most aggressive procurers of talent, especially young talent. But Epstein said on Monday that they weren't necessarily motivated to try to match the Yankees' vaunted lineup, and pointed out that they still finished third in runs (behind the Yankees and Angels). Some see Halladay as a logical target for them instead.

The Red Sox are also thought to have made the best offer for Halladay last summer -- one Red Sox exec suggested they believe now that they may have actually offered "too much'' -- but many people here at the GM meetings point out that the price tag should be lower with Halladay a half year closer to free agency. Boston is believed to have offered Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden, Nick Hagadone and a position player, but Masterson and Hagadone went to the Indians for Victor Martinez, which executives say could complicate things further.

It's no surprise that the Mets could join the Red Sox as teams looking at both Halladay and Gonzalez. Either would fill a major need. While they have considered finding a right-handed hitter to platoon with Daniel Murphy at first base, there aren't too many good right-handed platoon options. "We have to find a way to slug,'' Mets GM Omar Minaya said.

They could also use Halladay, as their pitching is "in shambles,'' one competing exec said. However, yet another exec said, "the price will be higher on Halladay than it was on [Johan]Santana,'' suggesting that the Mets would have to gut their system to have any chance. Similarly, a Padres person didn't rule out the Mets based on their thin farm system but conceded "it wouldn't be easy'' to make a deal with them for Gonzalez.

The Dodgers and Mariners were among other teams to take a look at Gonzalez in the summer. Meanwhile, the Phillies, Dodgers, Rangers, Brewers and Angels are among teams that could be candidates for Halladay, though the Dodgers and Rangers currently have ownership issues and it can't be known how they may impact their winter pursuits.

The National League champion Phillies will definitely take another look at Halladay, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, but of course will try to avoid the troubles they encountered in those talks last summer before they gave up and instead acquired Cliff Lee, who made a major impact. Last summer the Jays wanted top young pitchers J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek, plus prospects Dominic Brown and Anthony Goss, according to the Inquirer. But if Philly believed that was too steep last summer, they aren't expected to consider such a deal this time, not with Halladay now only a year from free agency.

One superstar who isn't going anywhere soon is pitcher Felix Hernandez. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said, "Felix is our property for two years, and we're looking forward to having him beyond that."

The Yankees are expected to make a play for top free-agent pitcher John Lackey, as was reported here on Monday, and there are indications that they are considering something in "the range of A.J. Burnett,'' which means $82.5 million over five years. Lackey is better than Burnett in many ways. But, considering a diminishing appetite for big contracts among other teams, one competing GM opined, "If the Yankees do that, they'll get him.''

Beyond Lackey plus outfielders Matt Holliday and Bay, the market is one of the weaker ones in years. Some very needy teams (i.e. the Mets) are generally unenthused about the market, especially from a starting pitching standpoint. "Some years are better than others,'' is the diplomatic way Mets GM Omar Minaya put it.

The starting pitching drop-off is steep after the 31-year-old Lackey. Some executives see a continuation of last year's market -- only worse. After some very good contracts to top players, some players were deeply disappointed by a lack of interest, especially late.

While baseball is thriving, most teams don't seem anxious to spend big bucks on non-superstar players.

"It's going to be a very, very, very bad market,'' one GM said. "The top guys will get paid -- Lackey will get paid, Bay will get paid, Holliday will get paid. The other guys will take a hit.''

Several more free agents in the "second tier'' will do fine, too, said another executive, as the teams that lose out for the big three free agents, will look to compensate. But beyond that next group, it could be a tight market for the bulk of the free agents.

The Mets, who are in dire need of at least one more starting pitcher, really don't seem to like the free-agent pitching list. One competing exec said, "They should go for Lackey.'' But Mets people are suggesting that they are leery of Lackey's alleged arm issues (though this doesn't seem to be a major issue to others).

The Mets do seem like Joel Pineiro -- a little, anyway. They have to be impressed by his recent performance, although they don't seem anxious to invest $30 million for three years on a pitcher who was released two years ago.

But, as one competing exec said of Pineiro, 31, "He's a completely different pitcher than he used to be. If you look at him and Oliver Perez, he's a much better investment than Perez.''

They also like Randy Wolf. They made a mistake to give Perez $36 million over three years rather than sign Wolf last winter, and they know that. So Wolf, 33, seems to be a possibility. But one Mets person wondered whether they missed their chance to get Wolf at a price "by a year or two.''

The Angels are trying to keep free agent and leadoff man extraordinaire Chone Figgins in the fold. They've been talking to him about a contract for two months, and Angels GM Tony Reagins said he's "hopeful'' that something can get done. Meanwhile, White Sox GM Ken Williams said Figgins is out of their price range.

Reagins said he doesn't expect to make a quick deal with free agent Vladimir Guerrero, but doesn't rule out one later. That possibility might depend on Guerrero not getting what he wants elsewhere first, then coming back to the Angels later.

Andy Pettitte has indicated to teammates that he is leaning toward returning to the Yankees for one more year. If they need it for further convincing, one of the Yankees' sales points will be that 10-15 more wins will aid his Hall of Fame candidacy.

• The Phillies are expected to try to lock up Cliff Lee, though with a year to go before free agency, they'll be looking at something less than nine figures.

• While the Phillies declined the option on defensively adept third baseman Pedro Feliz for $5.5 million, they're interested in bringing him back at a slightly lower figure.

• The Red Sox will still consider Alex Gonzalez after declining his $6 million option and also look at free agent Marco Scutaro for shortstop. They appear to have no interest in bringing back Orlando Cabrera.

• The Mets have some interest in free-agent catcher Bengie Molina, but apparently not in Yorvit Torrealba, who rejected a $4.5 million, two-year offer from the Rockies after they declined his $4 million option. Torrealba was the player the Mets agreed to sign for $14.4 million over three years two winters ago before they pulled the offer, saying that he had failed a physical. A grievance was filed, and that case is still pending. A happy ending would have the Mets giving Torrealba that deal, but that apparently isn't happening.

• Most people expect Jason Varitek to exercise his $3 million option to return to Boston as a backup after they declined the $5 million club option to keep him.

GarrettAtkins' name is coming up in trade talks. He is one of several players who is expected to be non-tendered, considering that he would probably duplicate his $7 million salary in arbitration.

Mike Jacobs is another player coming up in trade talks, as he is another non-tender candidate.

Orlando Hudson will leave the Dodgers as a free agent (the Mets and Nationals are seen as two logical landing spots), as he was displaced by Ronnie Belliard for the playoffs. Belliard could return to play second base, with Blake DeWitt the Dodgers' other second base candidate.

• Good for the Twins to run their payroll into the high $80 millions by exercising the $10 million option on Michael Cuddyer and trading for J.J. Hardy. They made the playoffs and are moving into a new stadium. Their spending shows that they may be moving into a new era, as well

Mark Cuban suggested that he might be interested in buying the Dodgers, who may have an ownership dilemma due to the divorcing McCourts, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Cuban later denied the story.) But Cuban never followed through on his alleged interest in the Cubs, and it is believed that any bid by him would not be looked upon favorably by MLB honchos.

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