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2010 Leadoff Spot

By Garrett Monaghan

With Alfonso Soriano mercifully and permanently removed from leadoff duties; there's been some debate recently over what the Cubs will do for a leadoff man in 2010, with rumors of potential free agent signings flying freely and speculation running rampant. Chone Figgins' name has been bandied about quite a bit, although as I wrote in my last post, I don't think he's a good long-term fit for the team. Fortunately, the Cubs have some good internal options within the organization for filling this important hole in the lineup.

Kosuke Fukudome is, on the surface, the most logical option to leadoff for the Cubs in 2010. He's hit .288/.412/.459 when leading off this season, and he clearly feels most comfortable hitting at the top of the order. Fukudome's ability to wear down opposing pitchers early and willingness to draw a walk make him in most ways a perfect fit in the leadoff role. The one glaring knock against Fukudome is his baserunning. He's a miserable 6-for-15 in stolen base attempts this year, despite having decent speed. The Cubs have traditionally favored speed over patience in the leadoff spot (see Corey Patterson and Felix Pie for details there) and I think the organization is a bit befuddled now that they're faced with a player in exactly the opposite mold. Fukudome's baserunning this year might be a fluke, but it's going to hurt his chances of leading off regularly in 2010.

Ryan Theriot is the next most obvious choice to leadoff, and he's a substantially better base stealer than Fukudome. Theriot's .303/.342/.367 career line leading off isn't bad, although he hasn't shown Fukudome's patience. The Cubs have tried to tinker with Theriot's approach at the plate this year, encouraging him to try and hit for more power, and it's lead to a marked increase in his strikeout rate. If they leave him alone and let him work the count and hit the ball to right field, I think his OBP would show a drastic improvement. Theriot is one of the team's few stolen base threats, and his speed plays well leading off. However, Theriot is also about the only guy on the team who can bunt which, combined with his ability to hit the ball the other way, also make him perfectly suited to hitting second. Personally, I'd be inclined to leave Theriot alone in the second spot.

The dark horse candidate for the leadoff spot, and possibly the best overall choice in the organization, is Sam Fuld. Fuld has a better blend of speed and patience than either Theriot or Fukudome, and he's been excellent in the limited playing time he's gotten with the big league club this year. Fuld doesn't swing and miss much, and he's well above average in fouling pitches off when he's down in the count. The problem, of course, is finding him consistent playing time in the overcrowded and under-performing Cubs outfield. If the Cubs can free up a spot for him, Fuld could make a terrific lead-off man.

I'd be strongly opposed to the Cubs pursuing a free agent lead-off man, partly because they have good in-house options, but mostly because Jim Hendry's free agent signings tend to backfire badly. The Cubs would be best served by finding Fuld some playing time, and letting him set the table for the big boys lower in the order.

1 comment:

  1. The Cubs need a strategy they can stick to for more than two years at a time. P.S. Overspending for maxed-out free agents is not a strategy. Clear out the front office first and foremost. You're right about Fuld - right now he is there best outfielder and lead-off man. He probably would have been all year if Pinella had had any sense.