For anyone who listened to Joe Ostrowski and myself....I present Buster Olney's Blog on ESPN.COM. Glad I'm not the only baseball "expert" that thinks moving Derosa is a bad move.
Friday, January 2, 2009Cubs making offseason mistakes
The Cubs played 161 games, pitched 1,450.2 innings and had 5,588 at-bats in the regular season, and through all that, they were the best team in the National League, winning five more games than the NL East division winner, 13 more games than the NL West winner. The Cubs were a great team for six months.
And then, in a period of 96 hours in October, they were awful, getting swept by the Dodgers, the imbalance of their very right-handed lineup exploited by the L.A. pitchers. The Cubs went into the offseason devoted to adding a left-handed hitter, and if they complete their negotiations with Milton Bradley, on paper, their lineup will look more balanced; on paper, their lineup will look better.
But I'll be honest: I don't like the moves they've made at all. I think the flurry of moves has made them more vulnerable -- and in time they'll wish they had simply kept Mark DeRosa, an extraordinarily versatile and underrated player, rather than spending millions and millions on Bradley.
Look, Bradley is a fine hitter who is coming off an excellent offensive season with the Texas Rangers. In the summer in which he turned 30 years old, Bradley had a staggering .436 on-base percentage, hitting 22 homers with a .563 slugging percentage. A switch-hitter, he fared better against lefties than right-handers, but was excellent against righties nonetheless, batting .309 with a .415 OBP.
If he signs with the Cubs, there will be inevitable questions about his temperament and whether he's suited for Chicago, but all of that should be secondary to this larger concern: Bradley has had a tough time staying in the lineup. He is in his physical prime but played 283 games over the past three seasons. Last year, Bradley played in 126 games -- only the second time in his career he's played that many -- and of those, 20 were in the outfield. He has reached 100 games in the outfield just once in his career, and if the Cubs wind up signing him, they presumably will be asking Bradley to play 140 games in right field, perhaps some in center field.
Sources on the union side expect Bradley's deal with the Cubs to approach $10 million per season, for perhaps three seasons, which explains why Chicago has had to work to find financial wriggle room. The Cubs saved some money by trading Jason Marquis to the Rockies, and then scraped together more by swapping DeRosa to the Indians for three young pitchers -- each of whom has a chance to pitch in the big leagues, rival talent evaluators say, but the same evaluators say none of the pitchers is a Grade A prospect.
And one of those evaluators made the argument that DeRosa may have been the Cubs' best player last season. He finished third among the everyday players in on-base percentage, at .376, and was fourth in slugging percentage, at .481. He finished the season with a club-high 103 runs scored, partly because he's such a good baserunner. What he may have done best, however, was provide the Cubs average-to-above average defense at four different positions: second base, third base, left field and right field (he also played a game at first base and another at shortstop). If Aramis Ramirez came up sore, DeRosa could step in, and when Alfonso Soriano got hurt, DeRosa provided Lou Piniella flexibility to better cope with the problem, allowing him to shift DeRosa to the outfield and play somebody else in the infield. The Cubs are going to miss DeRosa in a big way next season.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry built that great regular season and doesn't need any advice from here. But I think there may be two other options that would have been better than unloading DeRosa and signing Bradley.
1. The Cubs could've kept DeRosa and re-signed Jim Edmonds to a low-cost contract to hold down center field at the outset of the season. That would buy time for the Cubs, as the year progressed, to search for a more reliable left-handed hitting outfielder, someone who has a history of being in the lineup more than Bradley, someone who might give the Cubs better outfield defense.
For example: If the Rays were to struggle in the first half of the 2009 season, it's possible (and this is pure speculation and nothing more) that they would entertain some trade conversations about Carl Crawford, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2010 season. If the Rays were not in contention in 2009, it would be better for them to deal Crawford in the middle of the upcoming season, rather than wait until the winter of 2009-10, if they can't re-sign him. Another possibility would be the left-handed hitter Brian Giles, because the Padres intend to weigh offers for him next season.
The Cubs seem to be in a rush to balance their lineup by Opening Day -- and given that their lineup won almost 100 games this past season, it seems like they had more time to find a better fit.
2. Rather than use the money saved on the Marquis and DeRosa trades to sign Bradley, the Cubs could've re-signed Edmonds and used the extra money to finish the proposed deal with the Padres for Jake Peavy. A Cubs team with a rotation of Carlos Zambrano, Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden might be better than a team without Peavy and with Bradley.
No matter what their lineup and rotation is when the season starts, the Cubs will be heavily favored to win the NL Central. The Brewers have huge holes in their rotation and at the back end of their bullpen, the Astros are trying to improve with nickels, the Reds appear to be swimming in place, the Pirates are reloading and the Cardinals need a return to form from Chris Carpenter, who hasn't been right the past two seasons.
But there will be days next season, and maybe next October, when Piniella might be wishing he had DeRosa available -- and maybe Bradley, as well.
Hendry said the decision to trade DeRosa was difficult, as Paul Sullivan writes.
In the aftermath of the Cubs' deals, Tom Krasovic speculates that the Peavy deal might get resurrected. I was told that isn't the case.