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Cubs and Theriot Playing Hardball

By Garrett Monaghan

With Carlos Marmol's agreeing to a $2.125 million contract on Thursday the Cubs now only have one remaining arbitration-eligible player, shortstop Ryan Theriot. Theriot made $500,000 last year, and is asking for $3.4 million, with the Cubs offering $2.6 million. At latest report, the two sides are not close to reaching an agreement, and are expected to go to arbitration.

The Cubs have prided themselves on not going to arbitration with any player since Mark Grace in 1993, and with good reason. The arbitration process can generate some pretty unpleasant feelings between a player and his club, as the player basically has to sit and listen to arguments why he shouldn't get paid. Why then have the Cubs decided to play hardball with their starting shortstop?

If the Cubs don't think Theriot's worth the money, even for a year, they're sadly mistaken. Theriot posted a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 2.8 last year, comparable to Orlando Hudson's 2.9. Hudson just signed a one-year deal with the Twins for $5 million, and it wouldn't be totally unreasonable for Theriot to be looking for something in the same range. Using Fangraphs.com's 'Dollars' rating, which translates WAR into a monetary measure of a player's value, Theriot was worth approximately $12.7 million last year and $14.1 million the year before. I'm obviously not suggesting that Theriot could (or should) get that kind of money, merely that the Cubs have gotten excellent value out of The Riot the last couple of seasons, and would still be getting an excellent value out of him with a decent raise.

If the Cubs are expecting uber-prospect-du-jour Starlin Castro to take Theriot's job during the season and don't want to be paying Theriot good money to set on the bench or play second; they're seriously deluding themselves. Yes, Castro appears to be very good, particularly for his age, but there aren't many teams in baseball worse at evaluating and developing positional talent than the Cubs; and any team that counts that heavily on a 20-year old shortstop who hasn't played more than half a season at AA is courting trouble. Castro could turn out to be great, and I can understand the Cubs' not wanting to sign Theriot to a long-term deal because of him, but it's too early to go burning bridges without having a better feel for how Castro is going to turn out.

The bottom line here is that the Cubs are making a mistake by letting their negotiations with Theriot go to arbitration. Whether he's playing short or second base in 2011; Theriot's a solid player, a fan favorite, and apparently a good guy to have in the clubhouse. Given Hendry's history of handing out bloated contracts to aging, talentless bozos (Soriano, Fukudome) and basket cases (Bradley) it'd be nice to see the Cubs pony up the money for one of the few nice surprises to come out of their minor league system in the last decade. Instead of fighting tooth and nail over $800,000, it'd show a lot of class on Hendry's part to give Theriot a pat on the back and a raise; particularly now that the Cubs are out from under the yoke of corporate ownership. Show a kinder, gentler, smarter side for once guys. Give the man a raise!

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