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Cubs Need to Be Cautious

By Garrett Monaghan

While the Cubs wait to see what materializes in their efforts to deal Milton "Mr. Personality" Bradley this winter, they're also shopping around for a full-time center fielder. The Cubs were initially interested in Curtis Granderson, but balked at Detroit's asking price; and were then rumored to be interested in Mike Cameron, but were out-bid by the Red Sox. Now the Cubs are focusing on a trio of free agent outfielders: Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and Marlon Byrd.

If the Cubs end up signing any one of these players, there should be an investigation into Jim Hendry's mental status. None of these guys are very good. Let's start with Ankiel.

Yes, Rick Ankiel has made a great comeback after his pitching career collapsed. Yes, he's a gamer. Yes, he's left-handed. That's about all he has going for him, however. Ankiel's strikeout rate has risen in each of the past three seasons, his batting average has dropped, and he's an awful defender no matter where you put him. It's possible to say that Ankiel's numbers last year were off due to an injury sustained running into a wall, but he wasn't doing that well before the injury anyway. Ankiel might have some value as a backup, but he shouldn't be an option for the Cubs.

Scott Podsednik shouldn't be an option either. He had a rebound year in 2009 after three consecutive miserable seasons with the White Sox and Rockies. Podsednik's only real tool is his speed; and at 34, it's unlikely that tool is going to be around for long. More to the point, Podsednik has primarily been a left fielder, and his career defensive numbers in center are terrible. Frankly, the Cubs are probably more likely to get better production out of Sam Fuld than they are out of Podsednik. There's no reason this guy should ever put on a Cubs uniform.

Hendry's primary interest seems to be in another former Ranger, Marlon Byrd. Byrd set career highs in almost every offensive category in 2009, hitting .283/.329/.479 with 20 home runs and 89 RBI. That's the good news. The bad news is that between 2008 and 2009, Byrd's walk rate fell by half, his OBP dropped from a robust .380 to a Soriano-esque .329, his strikeout rate increased, and his defense took a big step backwards after he started playing center full-time. Byrd would face a lot of the same problems as Bradley, moving from a hitter-friendly American League ballpark to a more neutral National League location; and like Bradley, he's 32 and unlikely to get any better.

Even in the short-term, I don't really see any of these guys helping the Cubs substantially. None of them provide even adequate defense in center, they're all on the downhill side of their careers, and they're all older and more expensive than any of Chicago's in-house options. Frankly, we'd almost certainly be better off seeing how well Sam Fuld holds down a starting job than sinking millions more dollars into another lousy outfielder.

On the flip side of things, I think the Cubs should definitely be interested in Pittsburgh's recently non-tendered closer, Matt Capps. Capps' release by the perpetually dimwitted Pirates has been one of baseball's more bizarre off-season moves. Capps had a major down year in 2009 after posting excellent numbers in 2007-2008, and he hasn't been completely healthy the last few seasons. On the other hand, he's only 26, has had some success at the major league level as a closer, and isn't going to be terribly expensive. As a low-cost, low-risk investment, Capps could potentially be a great fit as a set-up man to Carlos Marmol. There's a lost of interest in Capps, but he apparently loves Chicago, so it seems like he's there for the Cubs' taking if they feel like it. Rather than wasting the money on an aging outfielder who is sure to disappoint, I'd rather see the Cubs take a chance on a young reliever with some upside.

Of course, these are all moot points until we find another address for Milton. Until the Cubs know how much of Bradley's salary they'll have to eat, don't expect to see anything else get done.

1 comment:

  1. The Cubs need to get over their aging, free-agent veteran syndrome. This type of player gets a three+ year contract and produces for about half of the contract period if you're lucky. Unless you are an arrogant idiot who can afford to overpay and overstock like the Yankees forget it.