Monday, November 15, 2010

First base...your guess is as good as mine.

It's been a while since I actually wrote something about the team. Everything of late has been about the ballpark, the manager, the owners, or baseball in general.

So it's time for me to actually talk about the team to day and to talk about the most pressing need on the roster, first base.

For the Cubs, the question is they expect to seriously compete next year?

If that answer is yes, it reduces the options considerably. If that answer is no, then they open themselve up to a number of other possibilities.
Let's review what I thought about first base last year. As many of you remember, I was advocating trying to trade Derrek Lee at a time when his value was extremely high. In the end, the Cubs did trade Lee in mid-August and got a decent little haul for him. I also was pushing for the Cubs to move Aramis Ramirez over the first base. One big reason for that was that the 2009-2010 off-season offered a number of pretty decent replacements for Ramirez at third base on the free agent market (as well as the hope that Josh Vitters would be ready to go at some point soon).

This year, well, Lee is gone, the Cubs have a vacancy and Aramis is still at third. Aramis can't move. He must stay at third base. Josh Vitters is not going to be ready for at least another year (if ever) and the third base free agent (and trade) market is pretty weak this off-season. This results in Aramis being our best option at third base in 2011.

But back to 1st base...the Cubs have four options here.

  1. Use an internal player already on the roster
  2. Sign an aging player to a cheap, short term contract
  3. Sign a good player to an expensive, long term contract
  4. Trade for Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder

Ok, now let's look at internal condidates. Really, the two options here are Tyler Colvin and Micah Hoffpauir.

Two years ago I pushed for the Cubs to trade Derrek Lee and install Hoffpauir at first base. I was way wrong on that one. Early in the 2009 season, Hoffpauir was given a chance to play on an almost regular basis due to injuries that Lee, Bradley and Soriano had suffered, and Hoffpauir showed us nothing. It appears that Hoffpauir is nothing more than a AAAA player who will likely never be more than a really good minor league player for the rest of his life. Here's the problem, though. Hoffpauir is out of options. If he doesn't make the 25 man roster out of spring training, he will have to be released. This isn't a significant loss if it comes to that, but he has been a pretty good fill-in for the Cubs for a number of years now.

Now Colvin. Until the Cubs trade one of their two 8 figure salary outfielders, there really isn't a position in the outfield for Colvin to play. It appears trading Fukudome is the Cubs number one priority this off-season as far as shedding salary. Something else to keep in mind, though...the Cubs do have yet another outfielder in the minor leagues waiting for an opportunity in Brett Jackson. Jackson may still be a year out, but the Cubs are pretty high on this kid. The Cubs toyed with the idea of moving Covlin to first base after Lee left, but once Mike Quade took over, that plan was squashed. Colvin seemed to be a fairly decent outfielder but at time seemed to completely lose his concentration out there resulting some very costly errors. For me, I'd like to see Colvin stay in right field.

What about an aging free agent. Who fits in this category? Well the top name that comes to mind is Paul Konerko who is coming off a big season for the White Sox. Other names in the category include Lance Berkman and Nick Johnson. None of these guys will probably require a long term commitment. Johnson would likely be the cheapest but with the least reward. Konerko is probably the best bet and is probably the most expensive. Berkman appears to been in steep decline right now. If the Cubs had the money, I'd say go after Konerko for with a one year contract worth between $8 and $10 million, which would be in line with his general worth over the last 6 or 7 seasons (but not last season when he crushed the hell out of the ball). Berkman is the best in this group defensively...but nothing that will make much of a difference. 

Other possibilities include Lyle Overbay or Adam LaRoche.  In my opinion, why even bother getting these guys when you could just put Hufflepuff or Tylermania there.  LaRoche isn't too bad...but I just don't like him very much. 

The big name free agents look like this...

As we all know, Adam Dunn is probably one of the top overall free agent position players in baseball this off-season. Dunn's value as a player has always been diminished by his absolutely horrible play in the outfield. Believe it or not, his grades as a first baseman last year, the first season where he has a majority of his playing time there, were not horrible. Dunn has been a solid hitter for 7 straight seasons. His consistency is outstanding. His home run totals over the last 7 season go as follows: 47, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. If you bring him to Wrigley, you can pretty much pencil him in for 35 to 40 homers next season. Dunn will be 31 years old. That gives him probably 3 to 4 good years of production still. Dunn walks a lot, averaging over way over 100 walks a season for the last 7 years. On the down side, he strikes out a lot (many years pushing close to 200 strikeouts). His career OPS is .902. He doesn't ground into many double plays, and drives in 14% of the baserunners who are on base when he hits. (One can presume this is a bit low because he gets walked so often.)

Ok...enough about Adam Dunn. The other two players that the Cubs should be seriously considering in the free agent market are Aubry Huff and Carlos Pena. Huff is coming off of a very good year in San Francisco and they look willing to bring him back. This probably would mean he is going to be overpriced a bit. Carlos Pena is coming off of a down year for him. Age is an issue with Pena as he will be 33 in 2011 and his down year this past season might be a sign of things to come for him. Pena isn't much in the field, but Huff is solid at first base.

Off to trade options.  I hate the idea of trading for Prince Fielder. The Brewers need pitching which the Cubs have. The Cubs need a left handed power hitter like Fielder. Fielder is young. And he's fat. For me, I really want to shy away from a player like him because (and I have no statistical proof of this), these sort of large players tend to have a short life span as far as production at the plate. Fielder could be different, but I wouldn't count on that. Fielder becomes a free agent after next season. Scott Boras is his agent. Whoever signs him will have to pay him a ton of money and will likely need to give him 5 or more years. Even at Fielder's extremely young age (27 years old for the 2011 season), my gut tells me he would be a huge risk. He already made $11 million last year, and that will go up in his last year of arbitration eligibility. Fielder also is a player who tends to get off to very slow starts...and that is the last thing you want to do in Chicago because the fans will get all over you very quickly.  I don't want him.  I don't think he'd be a very good fit.  Besides, I don't think the Cubs can afford him right now anyway

So that brings us back to Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez doesn't hit for quite as much power as Dunn (though ½ of his games are at Petco Park). He walks almost as much as Dunn and strikes out about 1/3 as much. He's a good fielder.  In the end, this is the best player the Cubs could consider.  The problem is that Gonzalez isn't available right now.  The best guess is that the Padres will make him available (if they are out of contention) at mid-season in 2011.  When his contract is up, he will demand as much if not more than even Prince Fielder. 

So what should the Cubs do? 

It's really hard to say.  If you don't believe the Cubs are going to contend next year, you probably want to shy away from Adam Dunn.  If this is going to be a full rebuilding process, than wait things out. 

But this is the Cubs, and after 102 years of rebuilding, waiting things out is something that we, as fans, don't do very well.  I really don't want Prince Fielder on this team and waiting for Adrian Gonzalez could be risky, especially if the Padres don't put him on the market during the season and let him hit free-agency.  Assuming Albert Pujols doesn't hit the market in 2011, Gonzalez's price will be astronomical. 

That brings me back to Adam Dunn.  I don't particularly love this guy as a player, but he's consistant and he gets on base.  He probably won't be hugely expensive.  His defense at first base hasn't been horrible.  I say the Cubs should do everything possible to shed as much of Fukudome's contract as they possibly can and then go ahead and make a push to get Adam Dunn at $10 to 12 million for 3 to 4 years.  If that doesn't work out, then the Cubs stick with the internal candidates for a year and then try to get Gonzalez. 

Anyone have any other thoughts on this?