Thursday, January 11, 2007

Two Solutions for Center Field

Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports is reporting that the Cubs are interested in adding either Steve Finley or Darin Erstad to play CF until prospect Felix Pie is ready to assume the position. He also suggested that the Cubs could sign Bernie Williams to play CF and mentor Pie.

Finley is 42-years old and played last year with the San Francisco Giants. He hit .246 in 139 games with 6 HR and 40 RBI. He is a career .272 hitter with 303 HR and 1165 RBI.

The 32-year old Erstad only had 95 at-bats last year with the LA Angels. He hit .221 with 0 HR and 5 RBI. For his career, Erstad is a .286 hitter with 114 HR and 625 RBI.

Although Finley is 10 years older that Erstad, he may be physically more able to handle the rigors of playing every day in CF. Finley has kept himself in excellent shape while Erstad has suffered from several injuries, including an ankle injury that required surgery and kept him on the sidelines for most of 2006.

The idea of having Williams mentor Felix Pie is Rosenthal’s idea, not Jim Hendry’s. It appears that Rosenthal was just making a suggestion and that the Cubs do not have an interest, at least not right now, in Williams.

There are two legitimate solutions to the Cubs CF situation in 2007 and neither of them involves Finley, Erstad, or Williams. The first option is playing Jacque Jones in CF. He may want to be traded, but the Cubs need to do what is in the team’s best interest. Jones is a cost-effective solution for CF and he can do a good job out there for the entire year in the event Pie isn’t ready for primetime in 2007.

The other solution is for the Cubs to trade for a CF that will play there every day and into the future. Pie is one of the Cubs top prospects, but he is not guaranteed to be a successful MLB player. Corey Patterson, Jerome Walton, and Tuffy Rhodes were all can’t miss outfielders who missed. If the Cubs have the opportunity to add someone like Carl Crawford (or even Andruw Jones), they should jump at the chance. I hope Pie turns out to be a great CF, but there are no guarantees. So why risk the future of the team on an unproven prospect?

These are the only two scenarios the Cubs should be pursuing. Adding Finley, Erstad or Williams to play CF is unnecessary and all three options have too much downside and not enough upside. There’s no reason to take the risk.

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Okay, I'm not saying this is the solution for the Cubs CF opening. I'm not even saying it is a good idea. Here's what I know: The Braves are interested in trading Andruw Jones. Jones is in the final year of his contract and the Braves do not believe they will be able to afford to keep him past 2007.
I also know that the Braves have expressed interest in Rocco Baldelli, the D-Rays CF. The D-Rays are open to trading Baldelli, but it doesn't appear that the Braves have the young pitching that the D-Rays would want in exchange for him.
The Cubs do have young pitching. In fact, although the saying is that you can never have too much pitching, the Cubs currently have more pitchers than they have places to put them. What if the Cubs were to put together a package of young pitchers to go to the D-Rays. The D-Rays in turn would send Baldelli to Atlanta and the Braves would send Jones to the Cubs.
For the Cubs, they would get at least one year of Andruw Jones before he becomes a FA. They would also have the first shot at re-signing him. The Braves would get something of value for Jones before he goes off and signs with another team in 2008 and the D-Rays would get the young, inexpensive pitchers they want. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Well, maybe not great. If this deal would work, why wouldn't the Cubs just trade with Tampa Bay for Baldelli? He's not as good as Jones, but he's younger, less expensive, and he's signed through 2008 with two years of club options after that. Plus, even though he may not be as good as Jones, he's no slouch. In 92 games with TB last year he hit .302 with 16 HR and 57 RBI. His OBP was .339 and his SLG was .533. Hmm, maybe the Cubs should just work this deal with TB and cut Atlanta out of it.
The other reason not to do the deal for Jones is that the Cubs will be giving up two or three arms for what could turn into a one-year rental of Jones. That's what happened with Juan Pierre and I don't think anyone was too happy about that deal once it was over. Dealing directly for Baldelli would cost the same two or three young arms, but the return would be a CF that would be around for the foreseeable future.
Okay, I've actually talked myself out of including Andruw Jones in the deal. But I do like the idea of going after Baldelli. And the Baldelli trade idea supports another point I made earlier.
Who knows for sure what kind of player Felix Pie is going to be? Will he ever be as good as Rocco Baldelli is now? Does it make sense to look for ways to keep CF open for when Pie is ready or would it make more sense to get a guy like Baldelli who is already getting the job done. Sure, if you go with Baldelli you risk the chance that Felix Pie could really turn into something special. On the other hand, the Cubs thought Tuffy Rhodes, Jerome Walton and Corey Patterson were really going to be something special and none of them turned out to have the type of career they were projected to have. Personally, I've talked myself into Baldelli.


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