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December 2009 Archives

The Byrdman cometh

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This just in: The Cubs have signed Marlon Byrd, the free agent outfielder whose name has lingered almost since the end of last season as a possible replacement for Milton Bradley. Byrd has talent, a decent hitter and good fielder (only 3 errors in 142 games last year), one of those guys who has always been kind of clutch (.285 BA w/RISP lifetime), which should make him popular at Wrigley. Plus, he's coming off the best season of his career in Texas, which came under the hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Cubs signed weeks ago.

What's not to like? Well, Byrd is 32, and his batting average has gone down the last three seasons as his playing time increased in Texas (His career highs last year were for homers--20--and RBIs--89--while he hit .283, south of the .307 he recorded in 2007.) He's also a righty, which I never cared about much before last winter, when the Cubs used righthandedness as an excuse for getting rid of Mark DeRosa. Now, the Cubs have taught me to care, but they bring in a righty to replace a switch-hitter (Bradley). The Cubs supposedly were looking at lefties Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, so what happened there? They lost out on Curtis Granderson, too, but it would have been nice to see the Cubs take a look at other lefty free agent outfielders like Johnny Damon or Randy Winn.

Still, if the Cubs get .275, 17 HRs, and 80 RBIs out of Byrd, and if he doesn't once fling a live ball into the bleachers with 2 outs, he'll be an offensive upgrade over Bradley (He could actually play centerfield while Kosuke Fukudome moves back to rightfield). Though, to clarify, those numbers would make him an upgrade over the Bradley of 2009. If you look at career stats, it looks an awful lot like a downgrade. At least, he's got a better glove.

Of course, there are intangibles: Maybe Byrd is a "good clubhouse guy." It is looking more likely that the Cubs will need those types of players in 2010 as they continue to take a pass on the big-time free agents. They have also been jilted this off-season by the likes of reliever Matt Capps, who felt like last-place Washington was a better destination than Chicago. The team that is shaping up for next year certainly doesn't look very much like the 97-win team of 2007, or even the 2nd place team of 2009.

Meanwhile, rumors abound that Carlos Zambrano could be trade bait, though the Cubs have denied it and Zambrano reportedly has been against waving his no-trade clause. Unless the deal is for at least two even-keeled, proven winners, I can't imagine the rumors will amount to anything.

The Sox are shaping up

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I have been neglecting the White Sox lately, not even finding time during the busy holiday season to comment on the Juan Pierre trade. It's partly because I'm not as worried about the Sox. I was hoping they would land a key free agent or two, and they have disappointed to some degree by passing on big names and settling for the nostalgia signings of Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones. However, I feel like the Sox, unlike the Cubs, are at least addressing their top need areas in one way or another.

Here's who they added:

Juan Pierre, LF: The 2010 team will be faster with a proven lead-off hitter. Nothing against the resurgent Scott Podsednik, but Pierre is faster. He's also a better lead-off man and hitter overall, and a better glove, though he may have one of the worst outfield arms in MLB history (Someone needs to tell The Missile to run further out into left-field for cut-off throws). Honestly, I wish the Cubs never got rid of Pierre, who started very slowly with them in 2006, but eventually led the National League in hits that year. He's definitely not Chone Figgins or Bobby Abreu, but is an upgrade over Pods and more of an everyday option that Dewayne Wise.

Omar Vizquel, SS: One of the all-time greats, the Venezuelan shortstop should be a good fit with his Venezuelan, one-time SS manager. Despite his age, he's a proven competitor who provides an obvious defensive upgrade in the infield.

Andruw Jones, OF: A laughable, but low-risk acquisition. If the Sox have 45 losses at the All-Star break, this signing over other free agent outfielder options will haunt them, but if Jones hits 20 HRs as a back-up or DH and makes a few good plays in the field, this signing will look like a big win. Still, would have been nice to land Hideki Matsui...

Mark Teahen, IF: Some decent power, fielding and overall positional flexibility. The trade, in exchange for Josh Fields and Chris Getz, allows Gordon Beckham to move to 2nd base, so it is actually an upgrade at 2nd over Getz, as well as an upgrade over any other option the Sox would have had at 3rd once they committed to move Beckham to 2nd.

J.J. Putz, RP: The Commish, a rapid Sox fan, has hated Putz for reasons stemming from where he drafted him in our fantasy baseball league in 2008, when Putz began a run of injuries and poor performance. But, Putz (allegedly pronounced like "puts." and not "putts" or, well, "putz") is a former star closer, and a nice choice as a set-up man and potential back-up option for the shaky Bobby Jenks. He could hardly have more problems than he has had the last two years, which I realize is not a great endorsement, but on the whole a bullpen led by Jenks and Putz looks like a pretty good way to follow a starting five that will be the best asset of the 2010 Sox.

So, in my estimation, the modestly-modified Sox have done better than the do-little Cubs this off-season so far. The Sox may be done making moves, and the Cubs are possibly barely started, but there's good reason to believe the Sox will field a better team in 2010 than they did in 2009, while the Cubs, despite cutting dead weight like Kevin Gregg and cancerous growth Milton Bradley, will have to truck in some January fireworks if they hope to have the same said of them.

Besides, the Sox are just looser and more fun, as this recent story about their fantasy football league highlights. A.J. Pierzynski alone has more loosey-gooseyness, to coin a possibly non-existent phrase, than the entire jittery Cubs organization.

Milton's gone

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Yes, it has been a while. I would say that I was staging a silent protest until the Cubs unloaded Milton Bradley, but that isn't the truth. Both of our teams have made some minor deals in recent weeks, though nothing that was close to what they needed to do.

Before the Cubs traded Bradley a few days ago to Seattle for over-ripe pitcher Carlos Silva, I had come to terms with the Cubs keeping Bradley for next season. As many of us--but apparently not Cubs GM Jim Hendry--realized when Hendry suspended Bradley near the end of the season, unloading Bradley during the off-season was going to be tougher than previously thought (and it was already going to be tough).

The only potential trade before the Silva deal was the possible exchange of Bradley for power-hitting Tampa outfielder Pat Burrell. That would not have been a great deal, as Burrell had a horrible 2009 in Tampa after two previously strong years with Philadelphia, but Burrell has at times shown plate patience and the type of HR-RBI potency that could be rediscovered in Wrigley Field. The problem was the Cubs would have had to throw in money. Amazingly, they actually got money in the Silva deal that they could apply to a free agent signing elsewhere, but as a pure baseball move, the Silva trade stinks. But, the Cubs really only wanted the money anyway.

Once promising, but now looking over-the-hill and with injury problems in his recent past, it's hard to imagine Silva paying off. Meanwhile, had the Cubs kept Bradley, at least they know his minimum contribution still involves a very good on-base percentage. Though I called for Bradley to be dumped last season, I thought the Cubs could get a decent prospect from a desperate team in play-off contention. Instead, they went about this all wrong, keeping him through the second half of last season and then basically labeling him as damaged goods by suspending him right before the end of the season. Then, they couldn't do much during the off-season until they got rid of him. That they actually got money in this deal could help them now sign one or two other players, but who's left? Oh, right, Marlon Byrd. Not Chone Figgins, Curtis Granderson or even Mike Cameron. Well, maybe Rudy Jaramillo, new Cubs hitting coach/former Texas hitting tutor of Byrd's, can get another career year out of him.

Interestingly, proven winner Johnny Damon is suddenly available as a nice solution for centerfield, but don't expect the Cubs to go after him. Another high-priced signing of an old free agent could be enough to sink Hendry--even if this one sounds much more attractive than the Bradley, Kosuke Fukudome or Alfonso Soriano signing.

I'll be back soon to size up all of the Cubs and White Sox off-season moves so far...

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