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A Combustible Clubhouse?

Milton BradleyThe only thing that might stop Jack Zduriencik from making a deal on Christmas day are all the other GMs stopping to open their stockings. As if Cliff Lee wasn't enough this week, he flipped Carlos Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.

On paper, the deal is miraculous. Bradley had a down year in 2009, but draws walks at prolific rates, and has proven over the course of his career that he can hit. If healthy and happy, Bradley is a legitimate force in the middle of the M's lineup.

Over the course of Bradley's career, those health and happiness have been huge ifs though. It's hard to forget when he tore his ACL in San Diego as he was restrained by manager Bud Black from going after an umpire. Even a person who does not value clubhouse chemistry at all would be worried about Bradley's attitude. He is about as combustible as they come.

On top of that, it has become clear that Cliff Lee was surprised by the trade. It is just as clear that he really liked Philadelphia, and wanted to stay there.

So, did the Mariners just add a disgruntled pitcher, itching to leave at the end of the season, and couple him with the biggest clubhouse cancer baseball has seen in a long time? Or, have they added two key pieces they can ride all the way to October?

There is a case to be made for both scenarios. For now, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Here's why.

First of all, why wouldn't Cliff Lee be disappointed in the trade? He just went to the World Series with Philadelphia, after being on an Indians team that was going nowhere. Then, the Phillies approached about a contract extension. He had his eyes set on many deep October runs in Philadelphia.

All of sudden, Lee is shipped to the farthest outpost in Major League Baseball. He doesn't know much about Seattle, as he has said. What he knows is that he is leaving a situation he liked a bunch.

That's what I've heard with Cliff Lee's remarks. He hasn't said much about Seattle. What he has expressed is how much he liked Philadelphia, and he wouldn't have chosen to leave. That makes perfect sense.

There is ample room for Lee to like Seattle, especially if the team wins. That's no guarantee that he will stay, but there is a distinct possibility that he could. Everyone, including Cliff Lee, will get a feel for those odds as the season unfolds.

Even if Lee hates Seattle, he is a true professional, and is a season away from a big pay day in free agency. Lee will perform to the best of his ability no matter his feelings about the city and situation. I am not worried about him.

Milton Bradley, on the other hand, is a well-documented problem in lots of the places he has gone. He seems quite mercurial and volatile, to the point that nobody probably has a true idea what he will do.

We do know this though. The M's coaching staff features a couple people who worked with Bradley when he was in Oakland and Texas, the two places he did not really cause problems. Jack Zduriencik also says that Bradley is very excited to be in Seattle. All indications are that Bradley will walk into a clubhouse excited to have him, and a situation he is excited to be in. The relationship will get off to a mutually good start. I think most places Bradley has gone, he has been met with reservation (and probably for good reason). However, that only seems to feed Bradley's problems.

Milton will probably be high maintenance, but the Mariners are loaded with guys capable and willing to do what it takes to keep him in good spirits. There are legitimate reasons to believe that Bradley will be happy and productive with the Mariners. Again, that's no guarantee, but a whole bunch better than hoping for lightning in a bottle.

Not that trading Carlos Silva for a shot in the dark would have been a bad idea. He had no spot on the Mariners. Milton Bradley could be a very useful player. Still, it is alarming that Bradley's personality was deemed so destructive by the Cubs that they were willing to ship him away straight up for arguably the worst contract in all of baseball right now.

We will find out how it plays out. At this point, is there a more intriguing team heading into 2010 than the Seattle Mariners? Between Lee and Bradley, this team went from a nice story, to a developing story, to maybe THE biggest story (Yankees and Red Sox not withstanding, of course). Hopefully it's one with a happy ending.