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Be Careful What You Wish For

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All over Cub fandom, many are clamoring for Jim Hendry to "do something!" to replace the bat of Derrek Lee.

First of all, you can't really do this. Lee is one of the best hitters in baseball. Replacing a bat like that, not to mention the quiet leadership he's said to give the ballclub, is well nigh impossible. It's not even possible to have someone like that on the roster on the bench -- how could you? If a hitter's that good, he's not going to be sitting on someone's bench.

Further, even if you wanted to do something on April 24, three weeks into the season, what general manager isn't going to be licking his chops trying to rip you off? Hendry says he's been contacted by other GM's, but that they have been from:

teams trying to "eliminate" players for financial or other reasons, but nothing of any substance.

That article goes on to say:

The Cubs could be interested in veteran Arizona first baseman Tony Clark, but Clark's two-year contract could make the Cubs think twice before giving up prospects for him. He plays no other positions and wouldn't be needed when Lee returns. Hendry denied a published report the Cubs have made inquiries to Kansas City about Mike Sweeney.

Exactly. And why would you want Sweeney anyway -- he hasn't played 140 or more games in a season since 2001, so he's an injury risk too, and further, he's primarily a DH, and has been recovering from a hand problem this season, currently hitting .179.

But the best cautionary tale can be found in the curious 2001 Cub courting of Fred McGriff. To remind you of the circumstances, the 2001 Cubs had a serviceable 1B in Matt Stairs (who they ought to have kept to this day, incidentally), but when starting LF Rondell White went down with an injury, another bat was needed -- considering that LF was being inhabited by, among others, Delino DeShields and Todd Dunwoody. (Even Corey Patterson started two games in LF for the 2001 Cubs.)

McGriff became a trade target, since he was in the final year of his Tampa Bay contract. Even then the Devil Rays were difficult to deal with, and it became more difficult because Tampa was McGriff's home and he made it clear he didn't really want to leave there. In the bleachers we started to call him "The Family Man" because he kept saying how much he didn't want to leave his family -- that seemed odd, since the acquisition at the time seemed like a two-month rental, and would bring him from last place to a pennant race.

It took several weeks, but the deal was finally made -- Manny Aybar and a PTBNL (who turned out to be Jason Smith -- who has this year turned into a decent bench player in Colorado) for McGriff. He arrived on July 29, with great fanfare, to play a Sunday night game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. He singled, scored and drove in a run and the Cubs won.

After that game, the Cubs were 61-43, in first place, 4.5 games ahead of the Astros.

That was about the high point of the season. The rest of the way, with "The Family Man" in the lineup, they went 27-31, and finished third. By that time, McGriff had bitched about all the day games at Wrigley Field, earning him a new bleacher nickname, "The Prince of Darkness". Oddly, his day/night career splits weren't bad: .874 OPS in day games, .892 at night. And his numbers in 2001 with the Cubs --.282/.383/.559 -- were pretty close to his final career averages of .284/.377/.509.

All that accomplished was MORE clamoring for the Cubs to keep him for 2002, which they did at the cost of $7.25 million, which was equivalent to about what Derrek Lee is getting per year these days. McGriff had a decent 2002 season, but the Cubs lost 95 games, and what I'll remember most about his season is Bruce Kimm's stubborn insistence on keeping him in the lineup till he hit his 30th HR -- in a game the Cubs wound up losing 5-4 to the Pirates -- so that he could have his tenth 30-HR season (and it took him a month to hit HRs #29 and 30, after hitting #28 on August 22). After that game, with a week left in the season, he pinch-hit only once. That was the height of selfishness -- with the Cubs far out of contention, Hee Seop Choi should have been playing every day.

The point of all of this is, as I have said before: this isn't fantasy baseball, where if you lose a player of Lee's stature, you simply go out and get someone, even at this early stage of the season. These are real people, with real jobs, using real money. To say Jim Hendry is "doing nothing" is simply ignoring reality.

Does it mean that the Cubs can't suck it up and win without Lee, as the Cardinals did last year when they lost Scott Rolen, Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker for extended periods? Of course it doesn't, and St. Louis did it with people like Abraham Nunez, John Rodriguez and So Taguchi filling in. Why can't the Cubs do it with John Mabry, Jerry Hairston and Michael Restovich?

Maybe they can't. But hollering for change after three games just isn't right. Unless you want to get stuck with the 2006 version of 2001's Fred McGriff.