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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Slammin' Sammy Says So Long

The big news this weekend for Cubs fans is that Sammy Sosa looks like he’ll be dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Jerry Hairston Jr. and a couple of minor leaguers, second baseman Mike Fontenot and pitcher Dave Crouthers. Reportedly, the Cubs will pick up around $6M of Sosa’s $17M 2005 salary. Some reports mentioned that perhaps Kyle Farnsworth might be part of the deal but that seems doubtful.

In analyzing the proposed deal, first it should be remembered that Hairston is a second baseman by trade not an outfielder. The O’s elected to use him in the outfield only because Brian Roberts has been pushing him every step of the way the last two years and finally won the job after Hairston broke his right ring finger in spring training. That was a repeat of 2003 when Hairston on May 20 broke his foot after landing wrong when fouling a pitch off of his foot.

After the 2004 season ended O’s GM Jim Beattie said in no uncertain terms that Roberts was the everyday second baseman in 2005. Apparently, manager Lee Mazzilli wanted Roberts to compete for the job but Beattie said no, which is understandable since Roberts did hit 50 doubles and steal 29 bases last year.

And of course Roberts hits like a second baseman (.261/.334//.371 career). Last season was his best in only 335 plate appearances (.303/.378/.397) but at age 29 (as of May 29th) I wouldn’t expect him to get any better. He has absolutely no power, average plate discipline, and is a poor percentage base stealer and so even in 2005 his Normalized OPS (OPS+) was only 100 (league average). Of course, he’d make a better backup infielder than either Jose Macias or Niefi Perez offensively, but it would be the height of irresponsibility for Cubs GM Jim Hendry to expect Hairston to play right field on a regular basis. And forget about installing Hairston as a leadoff hitter as is mentioned on the Cubs site. Todd Walker is by far the better candidate. Hairston will probably make around $1.7M in 2005.

Interesting stat from Cubs.com: "Last year, the wind blew in for 35 games, and the Cubs were 16-19 in those games, hitting 44 homers and scoring 165 runs. In the 39 games in which the wind was blowing out, the Cubs were 26-13, hit 81 homers and totaled 226 runs."

And all of this leads to the question of who will play right field for the Cubs in 2005? Losing both Alou and Sosa means that 74 homeruns have departed. The platoon of Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Dubois will be lucky to recoup 25 of those and so the right field slot becomes even more important. I doubt that David Kelton is the answer as he still appears unready and its doubtful that Dusty Baker would give a rookie much of a shot in the first place. To me this means that Magglio Ordonez has to be in the sites of Hendry and company. Ordonez is the only viable option left in the free agent market although Ordonez and his agent Scott Boros met with the Tigers last week. The only other option, since the minors have been pretty well cleaned out, might be deal one of the big three starters or Dubois which seems highly unlikely.

As for the minor leaguers mentioned in the deal, Fontenot is also a second baseman and former first round draft choice (2001). He hit .281 at AAA Ottawa last year with 30 doubles and 10 triples. He walked 49 times (.346 OBP) and struck out 111 times while hitting only 8 homeruns. He had a great 2003 season in AA hitting .325//.399/.481. He’s only 24, however, and could play a role in the future.

Crouthers, a 6’3” right-hander, was also drafted in 2001 and pitched at AA Bowie in 2004. He’s a hard thrower and struck out 138 in 140 innings while giving up 134 hits. He walked 68, however, and gave up 23 homeruns which gave him a 5.03 ERA in 27 starts and 1.45 WHIP. He seems to have regressed a little from 2003 when he was promoted to AA and pitched pretty well (1.22 WHIP). He’s probably a long shot at age 25 to be much of a contributor long term.

If this is the deal, in the final analysis the Cubs will pay $7.7M for a utility man (Hairston) in 2005 and the possibility that Fontenot can contribute down the line. That seems like a pretty high price to pay.

1 comment:

Ron Hostetter said...

Did you hear about the Royals and Sosa? It was reported that the Cubs were willing to pick up Sosa's entire salary this season in exchange for Affeldt and a prospect. Baird said no.