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First base is a much maligned position. Some have called it the easiest spot on the field. Hard to argue, though ask Mark Grace how easy it was to handle all those erratic throws from Shawon Dunston. You don't really notice first basemen until they make one of those fancy scoops of a an errant throw or make a diving stop and manage to toss to someone covering the bag. Of course, you do notice them when they hit, and many first basemen can hit and hit for power. Granted, it's not a glamour position, nor have many first basemen advanced to the Hall of Fame. Only ten have been inducted and the most recent was Eddie Murray, who last played in 1997. Some players are moved there because they can no longer function in the outfield, third base, or catching.
Some though, are originals - and very good ones. And today's crop just might be the best of the bunch. For openers, there is Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Todd Helton, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney.
Then there are the pillars of Chicago. Paul konerko and Derrek Lee have provided fans here with stellar play; Konerko for the last 11 years and Lee since 2004.
And both could be gone by July or, at least, by the end of the season.
What will we do without them? Don't think for a moment the respectful general managers of the Sox and Cubs haven't been mulling over that question for a while. Finding solid first basemen isn't as easy as the position supposedly is to play. And finding ones who are left-handed hitters is even more difficult.
It's exactly what both teams could use.
Aren't the Cubs a top-heavy right-hand hitting team? Didn't they seek balance when they bought into Milton Bradley? (Geez, I really hate to mention his name again). Won't they be looking for that left-hand hitting bopper who can make a difference?
Won't the Sox do the same since they launched Jim Thome? Having a left-hand hitter who could play first and or DH would still allow Ozzie Guillen to play roulette with the DH spot.
Did anyone say Adrian Gonzalez? Jake Peavy did. The newest Sox ace told CBSSports.com: "I want Adrian to be my teammate over here."
What Sox fan wouldn't - even if it meant the end of the Konerko Era on the South Side?
And what Cubs fan wouldn't want Gonzalez - even if it meant the end of the Lee Era on the North Side?
Over the last four seasons, Gonzalez has averaged 32 homers and 100 RBI playing in Petco Park, the toughest yard to hit a homer in. He's also batted .285 with an OBP of .369 and an OPS of .903. And he's a two-time Gold Glove winner.
But getting him here would come at a very hefty price. He's not a free agent, meaning both teams would have to mortgage some high caliber young talent.
I don't believe the Sox would part with Gordon Beckham. Actually, I think they would be nuts to. But they appear to have more in reserve than the Cubs. And GM Kenny Williams has never been bashful about trading future prospects to get what he wants.
Counterpart Jim Hendry has hotshot shortstop prospect Starlin Castro waiting to blossom at Wrigley Field. No way is he going to sacrifice him.
And while the Cubs have three other prospects in the top 100, they might not have the ready-made players the Sox do, such as John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez. And remember, guys like Tyler Flowers and Daniel Hudson could also be used as bait. I'm not suggesting any of them would go, but some of these players would certainly flavor the pot for Gonzalez.
But Gonzalez isn't the only left-handed hitting first baseman who might be available. What if the Sox decided not to trade anyone and went after Adam Dunn to make him their full-time DH?
Dunn is currently playing some first for the Washington Nationals but he's an absolutely brutal defensive player. But can he hit!
Over the last six years, Dunn's numbers compare favorably with Gonzalez's. He doesn't hit for average; only .252 to .285, but he's averaged nearly 41 homers and 101 RBI. And he'll turn 31 this season while Gonzalez will be 28 in May.
Both teams could go after Carlos Pena or Lance Berkman, who become free agents at the end of the season. But while Pena's power numbers are holding in Tampa, his batting average fell to .227 last season. (He did win a Gold Glove in 2008.) Since his agent is the notorious Scott Boras, you can all but cancel him from the Sox's list.
Berkman may be fading. But while the switch-hitter fell to.274 last season - 25 points off his career average - and drove in only 80 runs, the Astros also happened to score the third-fewest runs in the National League. Berkman did hit 25 homers and could be an attractive alternative for Lee for the next several years. He wouldn't look to shabby in a Sox uniform, either.
Of course, both teams can wait for Prince Fielder, whose two-year contract with the Brewers is up after the season. Because he remains arbitration-eligible, the Brewers will still control his rights, but not his weight nor a weighty price tag that could exceed $15 million. Trade rumors have followed Fielder because the Brewers might not be able to afford to keep both him and Ryan Braun.
Want a stab at Ryan Howard? The Phillies only owe him $19 million this year and 20 the next!
Maybe the Sox and Cubs should re-sign Konerko and Lee and forget the whole thing.
George Ofman is now with WGN radio after a 17-year run with The Score. He also blogs for ChicagoNow under the banner That's All She Wrote.
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Posted on Nov 26, 2021