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Bradley saga dominates conversation on Day 1 of GM meetings

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry used to face a barrage of questions this time of year centering on all the big names he would be interested in adding during the offseason. This time, he’s facing a steady stream of questions asking about the one name everyone knows he must subtract.

Until he’s gone, Milton Bradley continues to be Problem No. 1 for the Cubs and Hendry.

Which brought this question to mind Monday during the first day of the general managers meetings at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport: Is there any scenario in which Bradley could return to the Cubs in 2010?

”He’s on our roster and until he’s not on our roster, that’s how you have to look at it,” Hendry said. ”A lot of people have had worse exits at the end of the year than that and they return.

”The goal is to do the best we can to put a good club on the field by spring training. Until people aren’t here, as a general manager, I approach it like they are here. And that’s what you deal with.”

Bradley still belongs to the Cubs, but all ties were basically severed when Hendry suspended Bradley with 15 games left in a lost 2009 season. Bradley got no sympathy from his teammates. His manager called him a piece of crap — though in much harsher terms. And his general manager made it clear he wanted the talented right fielder nowhere near his team in September.

Such a harsh sendoff would be hard enough for the normal player to forget and suddenly play nice by the next February. But Bradley is no ordinary player. He’s the same guy who arrived at spring training last February with a chip on his shoulder after the Cubs did something as outrageous as give him a three-year, $30 million contract.

So, no, there is no way Bradley ever wears a Cubs uniform again — unless he is pulling a practical joke. And Cubs sources say there is no way they are releasing him and eating the $21 million left on his contract. A trade is the only answer and the Cubs suggest a surprising number of teams are showing interest.

The question remains how many of those teams will stay interested when Hendry tells them he is not picking up the heavier end of the remaining price tag. You get the feeling — after so much trade activity the last week — that if there was a Bradley deal to be made, it would have been done.

Hendry says he has not talked to Bradley since sending him home, but he has had several conversations with Bradley’s agent, Seth Levinson.

Is the Bradley saga becoming a distraction?

”Not at all,” Hendry said. ”We’ve got our plan for the offseason. Obviously, that takes its own twists and turns. It has always been a very straightforward situation with [the media]. Some of the best deals we ever made we ones we didn’t really anticipate or prepare for. And some of the things that we really had our heart and soul set on, and targeted, haven’t worked out as well as we would have liked, too.

”We have some ideas on how to get going, and hopefully, we’ll follow that plan in the early stages.”

One of the Cubs’ plans is to move Kosuke Fukudome from center field and back to right field, the spot formerly occupied by Bradley.

By the way Hendry was talking about Fukudome returning to his preferred position, there didn’t seem to be a scenario that included Bradley in right field.

”It’s something we talked about,” Hendry said. ”I think he’s a tremendous defensive player in right, and doesn’t feel quite as comfortable defensively in center, so that would be ideal. But that being said, you don’t have Willie Mays on your radar yet to play center, either.”

The next question beat again on the Bradley drum.

”He’s still with us,” Hendry said. ”Other people have had some major hiccups along the way and come back. He is on your roster until proven differently.”

But it’s clear Hendry can’t get his offseason going until he gets rid of his case of hiccups.