When it develops its own players, a solid baseball organization also produces tradeable veterans. Tradeability is something of a foreign concept to Cub fans. It does not apply to high-profile flops, players you wish had never come in the door. Cub fans are quite familiar with players of that sort. Recent examples are Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley. Your wanting to trade them does not make them tradeable. An example of a tradeable player would be Ryan Theriot, a longtime hard-working, popular Cub in his prime.
As has been noted elsewhere, Jim Hendry recently seemed to put a time limit on the Cubs’ continued appreciation of Theriot, when he said, “He’ll be an important part of the club this year.” Sounds like this might be Theriot’s last season with the team. Are the Cubs mad at him, or disappointed in him? Not at all. They just don’t expect him to survive the scramble for middle-infield positions represented by Castro, Lee, LeMahieu, Flaherty and others. When the Cubs trade him, Theriot will be just turning thirty-one, a starter for four years, a player who in 2009 received more all-star votes than Derrek Lee.
When is the last time that rising talent on the farm exerted pressure on the Cubs to trade an established player in his prime? To ponder this question is to understand fairly comprehensively what has been wrong with this team all these years.
Hendry said recently on radio that
He thinks the system is much better now and believes it is in the top ten … thanks to the work done by Tim Wilken, Oneri Fleita and Jose Serra.
Serra is the scout in the DR who signed Castro. Very soon, Hendry will also want to acknowledge the Pacific-rim scout or scouts who lined up Hak-Ju Lee and other top prospects in Korea and Taiwan. Tim Wilken, the scouting chief and drafter-in-chief, has set an organizational goal of finding positional prospects who play up the middle. Wilken’s theory seems to be that players who are corner outfielders and corner infielders as amateurs lack the defensive skills to compete in the majors. Accordingly, the Cubs’ system is very strong up the middle. Not only Theriot (plus obviously Fontenot and Baker) but also Byrd and Soto will find themselves in a competitive environment where they are oddly dispensable, regardless of how well they are doing. (If the team has a better, cheaper option in the minors, doing the job well enhances your tradeability.) Josh Donaldson is still a catcher in Oakland’s system. Had the Cubs not traded him, he would be drawing a bull’s-eye on Soto’s back. But there are other good catching prospects in the major-league camp in Mesa this month. One of them will probably make the team, since as noted in a previous post, the Cubs are a team that needs a third catcher. Soto, meanwhile, arrived at camp early in the best shape of his career.
According to Cot’s, Aramis Ramirez has a no-trade clause that expires after the 2010 season. With Josh Vitters due to arrive in town as early as 2011, Ramirez would appear to be tradeable next winter. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, however, since Ramirez has an opt-out after 2010, which he should be able to convert, at a minimum, to a no-trade for the remaining two years of the contract. But put the contract aside: Ramirez should not be traded even if he could be. The Cubs can have Ramirez and Vitters in the lineup at the same time. They just have to say goodbye to Soriano after 2010 or 2011, and let Vitters or Ramirez play left field.
Full disclosure: I got this idea from Jim Callis’s projected Cub lineup for 2013, where Ramirez is at third, Vitters is in left, and Soriano is nowhere to be seen. I thought about this lineup for several minutes–and about the fact that Soriano will be paid $18 million in 2013 and in 2014, and also that Tom Ricketts had his eyes open when he bought the team and could not have intended for Soriano’s contract to weigh the Cubs down for five more years–and I thought, “Yes, it’s possible!”
The dollars that the Cubs have to eat as a result of McDonough’s Folly–John McDonough, Hendry’s boss at the time, is said to have added years and millions to the Cubs’ offer for Soriano–will be more palatable if they free up left field for Ramirez or Vitters.
I would not let Derrek Lee go, either. In past seasons I have lobbied for Lee’s dismissal, on the assumption that his offensive slide was irreversible. Lee turned me completely around in 2009 when he rediscovered the ability to do the same thing to fastballs middle-in. (Turn them completely around, I mean.)
As noted, Wilken doesn’t draft many slugging first basemen. Hoffpauir and Fox were holdovers from the previous regime. Wilken does seem to have picked a winner in Rebel Ridling, but that is just one prospect, who will start at high-A this April. Lee cannot be replaced in the foreseeable future.
With Lee and Ramirez anchoring the infield, and lots of fresh talent up the middle spilling over to the corner outfield spots, the Cubs can move forward confidently toward an interesting future.