Before the season started I wrote about the Battles of Spring and particularly the battle for the second base job at Wrigely Field.
In Chicago the situation is the reverse of that in Washington. In Mesa this spring you have three players who all actually want to play second base—well Neifi Perez may not prefer it and will likely log lots of time at shortstop if youngster Ronny Cedeno even stumbles a little and Dusty Baker relegates him to the bench. Incidentally, Perez was an impressive +20 at shortstop in 2005, ranking him fifth while his offense...well, let's not go down that sad road.
Todd Walker is the incumbent, having logged 93 starts there in 2005 while Jerry Hairston, Jr. started 36 games and Neifi Perez 18. So far this spring Hairston has been working exclusively at second base and getting some tips from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, while Walker has been slowed up by a knee injury suffered last September.
Well now all three are gone with Hairston dealt to the Rangers for Phil Nevin, Walker to the Padres for Jose Cerda and today Perez to the Tigers for 22 year-old catcher Chris Robinson who played in A ball this year. The Tigers and Jim Leyland apparently think Perez will help them fill the whole made by Placido Polanco's separated shoulder in mid August. Right.
But for Cubs fans finally the Neifi era has ended.
I especially liked these quotes from the MLB.com piece:
"It's no secret that when you're doing as well as they are and you lose an outstanding player like Polanco, we all know Dave Dombrowski was going to try to act quickly," Hendry said.
Hendry said they did not exchange names until Sunday. Perez and Tigers manager Jim Leyland were together in Colorado.
"Neifi did an outstanding job for us from the time we picked him up from the Giants," Hendry said. "He didn't get off to a great start this year, but has played well the last couple months."
So by "acting quickly" Dombrowski was able to snag Perez before he was wooed away from the Cubs by the other contenders. Oh, and in June, July, and August Neifi's OBPs were .300, .304, .242. Since tha All-Star break he hit .260/.296/.254. So I guess you could say he played well for...well, for him. In his defense all the Cubs quoted in the MLB.com article note what a great guy Neifi is and how much he's taught them - presumably on a subject other than hitting a baseball.
Robinson was a third round selection in 2005 and although he hasn't shown any power and has a poor strikeout to walk ratio (72/25) he's not Neifi Perez (or his $2.5M contract for 2007 or spot on the 40-man roster) and that's enough for right now.
If the Tigers use Neifi as he should be used, that is, sparingly and only for defense instead of as the first pinch hitter off the bench during his ride with Dusty, they'll be ok but God help them if they install him in the infield for the duration. And of course there's always next year and the realization that they've got an expensive utility infielder on their hands.
More on Robinson at The Cub Reporter.