In 2008, Alfonso Soriano was the 8th best LF in baseball. Kosuke Fukudome was about replacement level, not quite as good as Jay Bruce, but better than Gary Matthews, Jr., and we’re not even mentioning Austin Kearns. As a Cub, Jim Edmonds was the 4th or 5th best CF, depending on how much you think Curtis Granderson’s defense gives him an edge over Edmonds’ slugging. Reed Johnson was the perfect platoon partner. The Felix Pie experiment lasted 4 days, although he was looking better at the end of the season. Still, going into next year, Soriano could be the only one to come back.
I’m assuming Alfonso Soriano is not going to be traded. I think there are some potential scenarios where Soriano goes to one of the two LA teams or to SF. These are far-fetched and Jim Hendry can’t go into the post-season planning on them. If Soriano is going to be traded, it will have to happen fast. I don’t see it happening. Anyway, Soriano is a good player. ML leadoff hitters hit .275/.345/.415. Soriano hit .280/.344/.532; so, yes, his OBP is just average for a lead-off man, but his SLG is exceptional. We may not be able to count on him in the playoffs, but he will help us get there again.
I’m also assuming that Kosuke Fukudome is in Lou’s doghouse, a place which has been poorly named since doghouses have open doors and it’s possible to get back out of them. Either way, Kosuke is not likely to have a starting job on the Cubs in ’09. He and Pie could potentially battle for the CF job and that, in fact, might not be a bad use of resources. More likely, neither are on the Opening Day 25-man.
So, what could we have in the OF in ’09?
The way I see it, the Cubs have two types of hitters they are likely pursuing and two positions in the OF they likely want to fill. They want a Lefty Thumper who can hit 4/5 and they want a Lead-off Man, preferably lefty as well. The latter is slim pickings. Unless Ichiro becomes available (doubtful), we’re looking at Randy Winn or David DeJesus. Each could give us .010-.020 pts of OBP on Soriano with fair SLG. Each also has a downside which would make them a disappointment. There’s also less likely guys like Shane Victorino, Coco Crisp, Nate McLouth, and Reggie Willits. Conceivably, the Cubs could perceive Bobby Abreu as a leadoff man. I tend to think that Lead-off Man’s going to come in the middle IF instead of here.
As for the Lefty Thumper, there are a lot of options and three main strategies I see the Cubs could follow. There’s the Maddux’04 Strategy, signing an aging star who we wish we had a few years back. There’s the Cruz’03 Strategy, acquiring a young guy with upside, but who the manager may dislike and force you to dump for pennies on the dollar. Finally, there’s the Harden’08 Strategy, signing a top-shelf talent who has considerable injury risk.
The Maddux’04 Strategy seems most likely. Under this strategy, the benefit is the relative certainty for production with the risk of age-related disappointment. You tend to overpay and there’s little upside hope.
Raul Ibanez is a guy Hendry has reportedly wanted for a while. 37 next year, Ibanez has been supremely consistent during his time with Seattle, hitting .293/.358/.479 this year and much like that for the previous four years. That Seattle park is killer, but Ibanez’ numbers have only been better away in one year over the last five. So, maybe Ibanez could get that SLG into the .500s in 2009, but given his age, I wouldn’t bet on it.
One little hiccup on Ibanez is that Lou managed Ibanez before and when he did, Ibanez stunk. Under Lou’s supreme genius guidance, Ibanez hit .241/.296/.383 from his age 24-28 years. But, you know, that’s because Ibanez was an overrated prospect who was never going to hit or have a major league career.
Bobby Abreu is a younger Raul Ibanez with more OBP skill and maybe a tick less SLG. Abreu will cost more in both dollars and years. He may also not make it to free agency. If he does, it will be interesting to see which Hendry pursues between Ibanez and Abreu.
The Cruz’03 Strategy seems least likely. Under this strategy, you buy in on a former prospect who has disappointed or failed to reach his full potential. You buy low, but the risk is that you may not get a fully productive player; you may even get a disaster. Hendry actually used this strategy a lot under Dusty Baker, from Matt Clement and Aramis Ramirez on the successful side to Alex Gonzalez and Todd Hollandsworth on the not-as-successful side.
Jeremy Hermida is the top target here. He’s 24, has a ton of potential, and could easily have a better ’09 than any of the names we are discussing here, Soriano included. He also hit .249/.323/.406 in ‘08. He also has a history of J.D. Drew-like fragility. The Fish apparently aren’t asking for much.
Jody Gerut had a great 2008 (.296/.351/.494 at PETCO). He’s arb-eligible for the Friars; maybe they’d swap him, maybe they wouldn’t. With both Gerut and Hermida, you have to ask if Lou would work with them. Neither is expensive, however, and you could bring them both in, shuffle up the OF with Dome and/or someone else with potential and see what happens.
The Harden’08 Strategy is very possible and my preferred route if the Cubs double down on it. Under this strategy you shoot for the moon, risking it on players whose injury-tendencies could leave you with a choice between Sam Fuld or Micah Hoffpauir in CF.
If you go this route you have to look at Jim Edmonds. Could Edmonds do it again in ’09? I’m skeptical, but I can’t rule it out. He poured everything he had into an offseason regimen to reinvent his body to play in 2008. Is he going to do it again? Can he do it again? One of the interesting things you see when you look at Edmonds’ splits is that he really only had one good month of AVG – June. Otherwise he was struggling to get to .250. And yet, once he became a Cub, Edmonds was able to post astounding SLGs off very low AVGs. Edmonds still has the power. If he can keep his AVG up, he’s one of the best LH bats available.
Milton Bradley’s also out here. He’s another guy who Hendry’s had rumored interest in before. Bradley remains a big question mark because his career high games played is 141. His second best season was this past one where he hit 126 games. Other than that, he’s never played more than 100 games in a season. If the Cubs want to roll the dice on Milton Bradley’s game, I’d be excited, but I’d also have a back-up plan – or two. We could have that in Pie and/or Dome. That said, Dome’s an expensive guy to sit on the bench and Pie may not be an option to Lou.
But what if you signed both Edmonds and Bradley? Then you hope that at least one works out – and if both are healthy and productive come October, you’ve hit the jackpot. Keep a solid backup and hope for the best.
Finally, there’s one more option, one we’ve talked to death in other threads: Adam Dunn. I really don’t think Dunn is Hendry’s type. However, the one thing to point out on Dunn is he’s young for a free agent and may not require more than 4-5 years. Unlike Soriano, Ibanez, Manny, or Abreu, Dunn should maintain his bat through the duration of any deal he gets. He also could see his defense get even worse as he ages.
I haven’t really considered the right-handers, though there are some good ones, but that’s because I’m fairly certain Hendry’s not in the market for one. Reed Johnson could easily come back. If not him, we could see a Gabe Kapler or a Marlon Byrd. Maybe Baldelli. But I can’t believe we’re seriously considering Manny or Burrell. I’m also hoping Griffey’s not an option. He might be, though.
What do you think?