SportsMonday: Don't Be Dusty, Dale

Now we'll find out whether Dale Sveum has any Dusty Baker in him.

There were several ways Baker drove fans crazy. (One was his insistence on batting one of his fastest players in the No. 2 spot in the lineup no matter what. If he had a veteran who could move and put down a bunt every once in a while he was batting second no matter how bad his on-base percentage. Neifi Perez forever!)

The part of the Baker managerial manifesto we are addressing today has to do with playing time for veterans. During his tenure with the Cubs, Baker was well-known for his unwillingness to put experienced players on the bench when it was time for younger players to step up to bigger roles.

And the question now is, how will Sveum handle similar circumstances?

The by-far best part of this past weekend for the Cubs was the fact that Junior Lake hit the ground slashing, and then running. But veteran center fielder David DeJesus will return from a rehab stint in the minors sooner rather than later and then playing time for Lake could be hard to find.

Sveum said what Cubs fans wanted to hear at the start of the weekend, noting that Lake was going to play as long as he was up with the Cubs. And he acknowledged that sometimes young players are so good they force teams to keep them in the majors even if the original plan had them heading back down to the minors for more seasoning.

Lake made a great first impression with a double and a steal of third during his first inning with the big club. He knocked out a couple more hits before he was through during the Cubs' 3-1 win over the Rockies on Friday.

But Lake's inexperience, especially in center field, where he hasn't played since turning pro, was on display in the series finale. That was when he launched the terrible overthrow that led directly to the Rockies' fourth run and would have resulted in a fifth had the ball not trickled into the dugout

The bottom line is, the Cubs will need to keep Lake in the lineup somewhere if he keeps hitting - even if it upsets the likes of DeJesus. The veteran outfielder has been solid for the Cubs but he will return to the team with a .260 average and .318 OBA. Those numbers simply aren't good enough to justify a spot in the lineup just about every day.

Of course, plenty of outfield playing time would open up if the Cubs managed to off-load Alfonso Soriano in a trade before the deadline (July 31), but it says here Soriano isn't going anywhere. He doesn't really want to go (and can veto any trade), and even if he was open to a trade to a contender (the sort of transaction that he vetoed last year), the Cubs almost certainly wouldn't be able to get back much of a prospect or much salary relief.

Meanwhile, there is the infield. A fan has to wonder how much longer Sveum will keep sending Darwin Barney out to play second every single day. Barney's average has now plummeted to .224 in 299 at-bats this year and that flat-out isn't good enough for a major league second baseman. The guy plays great defense but the time is coming for the Cubs to trade some of that defense for possible better offensive production from a prospect - maybe even, wait for it, Junior Lake! Lake, after all, started out in the minors as an infielder. Time to shake things up, Dale! You don't have to wait for Theo to make trades!

And most importantly, you don't have to defer to mediocre veterans.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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