Peter Gammons' newest piece at ESPN is on the growing appreciation of defense in baseball. He quotes one GM who says:
"I still believe that one of the factors that has hurt some of the good offensive free agents this winter, like Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn, is the concern about how many runs they give back defensively. There is a great deal more appreciation for defense than there was a decade ago."
He talks about smart teams choosing lower offensive forces (Carlos Gomez in MN, Elvis Andrus in TX, Jacoby Ellsbury in Boston, and Jason Bartlett in TB) who solidify the important defensive positions of SS and CF.
The Cubs, on the other hand, have chosen to stick with Ryan Theriot (possibly adding Aaron Miles also to the SS mix), who is average at best and decided both last season and again this off-season that they could not bear Felix Pie's bat in CF despite having the best offense in the NL.
So, the question I'm asking here is - how much do the Cubs value defense? A couple important points in considering that question:
1. The Cubs defense rated extremely well last year, with one system arguing them to be the second best defense in the ML. This probably comes as a surprise when you consider complaints about individual performances all around the diamond. Beyond Kosuke Fukudome and Derrek Lee none of the regular position players hold a top-tier defensive reputation (Edmunds used to, but no longer), and even Lee's reputation is often considered over-hyped, usually grading out as a little above average.
2. The Cubs were one of the teams to decide not to sign Abreu/Dunn, despite the fact that Abreu is a nearly ideal hitter for Lou's wish lists (patience, LH power, and speed). The move from Mark DeRosa to Mike Fontenot is one that would rate as a defensive improvement by some standards.
So what do we make of this conflicting data? One possible explanation is that the Cubs have been overrated defensively, possibly because the Friendly Confines are friendly to defensive scoring. David Pinto's PMR rating adjusts DER for the difficulty of the balls in play; his system downgrades the Cubs' defense from 2nd to 11th.
So, my questions for this post are two - how good do you think the Cubs' defense in 2009 will be and do you think Cubs' management values defense overall?