Derrek Lee, at the end of this season, will have given seven seasons to Cubs fans, with two playoff appearances. There aren't many Cubs of recent vintage who can say they've done that. He's had two outstanding seasons (2005 and 2009), one very good one (2004), two injury-comeback years that were decent (2007 and 2008), a season lost to that injury (2006), and this year, which isn't looking very good, unless somehow he has a hot August and September. Even if that happens, D-Lee's 2010 is going to look like 2007 or 2008, not 2005 or 2009.
The Cubs wanted to trade Derrek Lee, presumably to pick up a prospect or two and get some salary relief. Lee exercised his 10-and-5 rights and rejected any trades this year. We have already discussed this event to death here and the point of this post isn't to rehash that -- so let's not.
The point is that I think October 3 will end Derrek Lee's tenure with the Cubs and they'll be looking for a first baseman. There is no obvious -- or even non-obvious -- choice in the Cubs' farm system. The club wants to get younger, and we have already seen the beginnings of this with the recalls of Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner and the development of Tyler Colvin into an everyday player.
I've mentioned Royals minor league first baseman Kila Ka`aihue here a number of times. Follow me past the jump to find out why I think Jim Hendry should call up Dayton Moore -- whether now or later -- to deal for Kila and give him the regular first base job for the Cubs in 2011.
In 2008, Ka`aihue, then 24, had a monster season split between the Royals' Double-A team, then at Wichita, and their Triple-A affiliate at Omaha. He hit .314/.456/.628 (yes, that's not a typo: a 1.084 OPS) with 37 HR, 100 RBI and 104 walks with only 67 strikeouts. He got a September callup to the Royals where he went 6-for-21, hit a homer and drew three walks in 24 plate appearances.
He was perfectly positioned to take over the KC first base job in 2009; the Royals' main first baseman in 2008 was Ross Gload, who is a serviceable backup. It was a textbook example of how a team brings a prospect up, watches him dominate every level, and then slides him perfectly into an open slot.
And then the Royals did something that's almost unfathomable. With this outstanding hitter ready to go as a major league starting player, they traded Leo Nunez to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs.
Mike Jacobs hit 32 HR and drove in 93 runs for the 2008 Marlins, but hit .247 with a .299 OBA and struck out 119 times with only 36 walks. He was exactly the wrong type of player to swap for -- a mid-range power hitter coming off the best year of his career, which was only good, not great.
Nunez became the Marlins' closer and Jacobs... sucked. He hit .228/.297/.401 with 19 home runs, and the Royals released him at the end of 2009. Yep, just outright released him, which means they gave up a useful relief pitcher for nothing. Meanwhile, Ka'aihue, who had figured he'd won the job, got sent back to Triple-A where he had nothing to prove, and... sucked. He hit .252/.392/.433 with only 17 HR, but still a ton of walks -- 102. He didn't get a September callup. He had slid down the Royals' depth chart.
This year, he appears to be a man on a mission. In 91 games at Omaha he's hitting .324/.468/.603 with 23 HR and 77 RBI, and has drawn 86 walks while K'ing 66 times. If you think he's just Micah Hoffpauir redux, you'd be wrong -- in that huge year Micah had at Iowa in 2008 where he had 25 HR and 100 RBI in 71 games, he walked only 17 times. Ka`aihue, on the other hand, is an on-base machine with power. His defense has been criticized at times, but he'd be no worse than Adam Dunn there (and probably better), and be a lot cheaper dollar-wise. Signing Dunn would give the Cubs great offensive production, obviously, but would cost money that the Cubs might spend better elsewhere.
Ka'aihue isn't young any more -- he'll be 27 in March -- but I think the Cubs could install him at first base next year and have a good, cost-controlled hitter for three or four years, at least. Also, he hits lefthanded. Haven't the Cubs been looking for a lefthanded power bat for the last couple of years?
How to get him? I imagine the Royals would be looking for young pitching. They don't seem real interested in giving him a chance; mired in last place, they're playing Billy Butler at first base. Butler is a decent player, but Ka'aihue is a better hitter right now, and much more of a possibility to be a future star. The Cubs could select a couple of pitchers from among a group including John Gaub, Craig Muschko, Christopher Carpenter and Jake Muyco, or, if the Royals want pitchers with major league experience, offer them Jeff Stevens, Jeff Gray, Mitch Atkins, Blake Parker or J. R. Mathes or a combination of the above. I'm really just throwing names out there -- I hope some of you who know the system better could put together a package that could bring Kila Ka'aihue to the North Side.
Getting a hitter like this would save money and allow the Cubs to perhaps sign or trade for some pitching help, or keep Ted Lilly.
Get it done, Jim. It could be done now, or groundwork could be laid for acquiring him when the season is over. I'd like to see him manning first base at Wrigley Field no later than next April.