When we come to middle infield, we come to one of the most controversial spots in the Cubs’ roster. Lou Pineilla campaigned for Ryan Theriot to be an All-Star selection, even as statistics were showing Theriot to be one of the worst defensive SSs in baseball. For much of the year, BCBers debated the value of Theriot’s intangibles and bat. At the same time, the Cubs were blessed with andouble helping of legitimately All-Star level 2B bats in Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot.
What did we have in ’08?
Given the controversy, let’s start with some facts. Major League middle infielders don’t hit well. In 2008, ML SSs hit .272/.327/.391. ML 2Bs hit .276/.338/.409. One of the “top” free agent SSs will be Orlando Cabrera who hit .281/.334/.371 in a hitters’ park. Meanwhile, the Cubs had a good year collectively.
Mike Fontenot hit .305/.395/.514 for an OPS+ of 133.
Mark DeRosa hit .285/.376/.481 for an OPS+ of 120.
Omar Infante hit .293/.338/.416 for an OPS+ of 100.
Ryan Theriot hit .307/.387/.359 for an OPS+ of 95.
Ronny Cedeno hit .269/.328/.352 for an OPS+ of 76.
Among hitters with 200 PA, Mike Fontenot was 16th in OBP, Ryan Theriot 26th, and Mark DeRosa 44th. (Jerry Hairston Jr. was right there with Theriot, but let's not go there.)
Defensive statistics are controversial in themselves, which is part of the argument around Ryan Theriot. For my part, I can say that when I watch our middle infield, I think Fontenot and DeRosa are above average at 2B and Theriot’s range and arm at SS is well below average. He makes plays on the balls he gets to, but he extends innings regularly as shouldabeen-outs go past his diving glove.
There’s not much point talking about Ronny Cedeno, because he won’t be a starting Cub infielder in the next three years. Mostly, in terms of Cedeno, what’s worth talking about is his trade value. Comparing Cedeno’s numbers to Orlando Cabrera’s, you have to wonder if Cedeno will have surprising trade value. Possible trade destinations include San Diego, Minnesota, Baltimore, San Francisco, Oakland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Toronto, and Detroit.
What could we have in ’09?
Each of our non-Cedeno middle infielders is likely to fall back from their ’08 performances for different reasons.
Mark DeRosa will be 34. He’s been improving his OBP for the past 3 years, but he’s getting to the age where things could fall apart. I like DeRosa to continue his OBP but fall back on SLG to a little below .450.
Ryan Theriot (who will be 29) is a huge risk for falling back to his career numbers. Perhaps he’s finally broken through. I’m not a believer.
Mike Fontenot will start next season as a 28 year old (he was born in June) and appeared to be spotted well by Lou against pitchers he can handle. Perhaps he can put up a .300/.375/.500 line again if played similarly. His career numbers of .290/.369/.457 are a lot more likely and even then, Fontenot could fall back more yet. If someone is willing to trade for him as if he'll hit .300/.375/.500, I'd take the offer. Otherwise, we can put him to good use with our current 2B options, giving him another 300 PAs in concert with DeRosa or Theriot.
All three are trade candidates, especially as Hendry has already been connected with Brian Roberts and Orlando Hudson again.
Hudson will be 31 and is a premiere defender at 2B. It should be noted that he’s always played in a hitters’ park. His career away numbers are .277/.336/.411. If Hudson was a Cub, I’d hope for .280/.345/.425.
Brian Roberts will also be 31 and matched his 2007 line in 2008. If Roberts switches to the NL Central, I like him for the same line in 2009: .295/.375/.440.
Among the free agent SSs, there’s the enigmatic Edgar Renteria who seems to have trouble playing in the AL and has had some 2008DeRosa-like lines and some O.Cabrera-like lines. There might be Rafael Furcal who has a post all to himself, so I’ll pass by him for now. Then there’s Adam Everett who can’t hit but fields like a maniac.
What about trade prospects? The Cubs were interested in Julio Lugo before he signed with the Red Sox. Now, the Sox have Jed Lowrie (a switch-hitter) ready to take over for Lugo. Lugo hasn’t been hitting well since being traded from Tampa Bay. It would be nice if the Cubs could pry away Lowrie, but that I'd expect Epstein to keep the conversation coming back to Lou's boy, Lugo.
There’s the right-handed no-OBP, good fielding SSs in Khalil Greene and Bobby Crosby. You can hope their bats come alive if they get away from brutal home parks.
I’d like to talk to the Indians. Their incumbent is Jhonny Peralta who hits well but has a poor defensive reputation. They’ve talked of moving Peralta to 3rd and putting Asdrubal Cabrera in at SS. Cabrera hit horridly the first half of the season, then spectacularly the second half after a stint in the minor leagues. He’s a switch-hitter with a good glove. The Indians could potentially be willing to talk about either if we put one of our 2B on the table. Mark DeRosa is a great fit for them as they have holes at both 3B and 2B but also potential answers for those positions. Having DeRosa would allow them to cover those young player bets.
The Angels also have a plethora of SSs, each with problems. There’s Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis – switch-hitters with a little speed but questions on their bats. There’s also Brandon Wood, a once highly-touted prospect with power, but who will remind a lot of you of Felix Pie. I’ve long liked Maicer Izturis’ potential, although to be honest, I'm not sure he'd be that much different than free agent Nick Punto. Wood is unlikely to work well with Lou.
It’s hard to come up with a good plan for SS. Nevertheless, I’d trade Ryan Theriot now. There are always teams who overvalue the Legend of Sparkplugs. The Mets are looking at Orlando Hudson, but earlier in the year, they talked of needing an “ignitor.” Sell them Ryan Theriot! Maybe the Padres could be convinced that Theriot’s OBP would play in Petco as a 2B. Give them Theriot and Cedeno both! Maybe Andy McPhail could sell a Brian Roberts trade if Theriot was included – that would be a dream!
In the ideal world, at 2B the Cubs keep DeRosa, using him as a super-sub on the days Fontenot matches up well with the right-handed starting pitcher. Then, at SS, they dump Theriot, grab someone with fielding skill and bat upside. A combination of Bobby Crosby and Maicer Izturis would look nice to me.
What do you think?