While all of us are awaiting Thanksgiving dinner and the Cubs to trade Milton Bradley (not necessarily in that order), I thought I'd start an occasional series on players who might otherwise fly under the radar who I think could help the Cubs in 2010.
Obviously, this wouldn't be one of the "sexy" free-agent signings that the Cubs have had in the past -- and given the player payroll constraints, they're not likely to have one of those this offseason. But there were plenty of holes in the Cubs' offense last year, particularly on the bench, that need to be addressed. The 2008 Cubs had a productive starting lineup and a solid bench, and that's one of the reasons they led the National League in runs scored. The Cubs need to solidify the bench as well as answer the obvious questions (such as how and where Bradley will be dealt and who will be acquired to replace him).
It's pretty clear to me that Micah Hoffpauir is exactly who a lot of us said he was -- a Quadruple-A player, someone who can dominate at the Triple-A level but is exposed in the major leagues. Getting extended playing time in 2009 due to injuries, Hoffpauir hit .239/.300/.427 and hit so poorly from June 1-August 2 (.179/.216/.357) that he had to be sent back to Iowa, returning to Wrigley Field with the Iowa Cubs on August 9 and joking that he just wanted to pick up a pair of pants he had left in the clubhouse when the Cubs left on a road trip. Plus, Hoffpauir will be 30 years old on March 1; I think he's had his proverbial 15 minutes.
Chad Tracy, who is only a couple of months younger than Hoffpauir (he'll be 30 on May 22), looked like he was on his way to becoming a solid major league regular after having 20-HR seasons in 2005 and 2006 and OPS of .911 and .794 in those two seasons. After the 2006 season the Diamondbacks signed him to a three-year deal worth $13.25 million, with a $7 million club option for 2010 (and a $1 million buyout). Almost immediately, Tracy got hurt -- he had a rib injury, an oblique injury, a knee injury that required surgery at the end of spring training in 2008, and a couple of minor injuries including another oblique. Here's a list of all of his various DL stints.
His production, naturally, tumbled; he never had any semblance of regular playing time over the last three years and his OPS of .695 in 2009 was the worst of his career. On November 5 the D'backs declined his option and paid him the $1 million buyout.
Nevertheless, after Tracy came back from the last injury in September, he hit pretty well in a small-sample-size 31 plate appearances, drawing six walks and hitting a pair of doubles and another pair of homers.
Tracy can play 1B, 3B and the corner outfield spots. No one's asking him to be a superstar or even a starting player. But playing part-time, if he's healthy, he'd be a fine addition to the Cubs' bench -- and he hits lefthanded, which should please Lou Piniella. He'll probably never get back to his 2005-06 level of production, but he doesn't need to -- just be a good option off the bench, and provide a real backup third baseman, something the Cubs did not have in 2009.
I'd offer him a one-year deal with protection for the team if he spends too much time on the DL, and possibly an option year that would vest with a certain number of plate appearances. He's the perfect choice to replace the unproductive Hoffpauir.