Sosa Traded to the Birds
Orioles, that is.
Well, if you've been paying attention since about the last day of the regular season, you knew this day was likely to come. It seemed as if the day Sosa left early on the last day of the season was the last straw for the Cubs organization. (I guess never coming to Spring training on time, avoiding the annual Cubs convention, forcing the Cubs to choose between he and Mark Grace, his corked bat, and his premature hopping were A-OK.) As someone else mentioned on a message board - it's going to be harder to hate the Cubs without Sosa and Alou around. (I said harder, mind you.)
And the Cubs, of course, find themselves with some offense to replace. Last year, Alou and Sosa combined to hit 74 home runs - 31.5% of the total hit by the Cubs. They also drew 124 walks (25.4%), drove in 186 runs (24.6%), scored 175 runs (22.2%), and hit 57 doubles (18.5%). That's a lot of lost production lost in just one year from two players.
Of course, the Cubs are not going to just sit on their hands and head into Spring training without making an attempt to address their corner outfield production (or lack thereof.) Rumors in Chicago have the Cubs looking into signing Jeromy Burnitz or attempting to make a trade for the likes of Aubrey Huff. If the Cubs head into the regular season with one of these guys plus a platoon of Todd Hollandsworth and rookie Jason Dubois, will it be enough?
Jerry Hairston 100 (received in the Sosa trade)
At a glance, it appears as if by making a trade for Huff, the Cubs could replace the hitting of Alou in their lineup on an OPS+ basis. But will they replace the production lost from both corners, even if they can pry Huff away from Tampa Bay? At a glance - it appears unlikely.
The Current Suspects
Hollandsworth had a great season last year, posting an OPS of 939 over 167 plate appearances. But there are plenty of reasons to consider his season a fluke. It was his 2nd best OPS season ever, with his best coming in Colorado (surprise surprise). Over his career, his OPS is only 784 - with the bulk of his at-bats coming in Los Angeles, which is of course a pitcher's park.
His career OPS+ is only 101, making him essentially a league average hitter. He's only been above average twice over the last 5 years - last year, and his Colorado season in 2001. He's only been a regular three times in his career, and has only posted above average numbers one time in those chances when he posted a 114 OPS+ as a 23 year old in LA. There is a slight bit of hope for Cubs fans, though. Against right handed pitchers over the last 3 years, Hollandsworth has an 832 OPS over 700 at-bats. Of course, he's also only had 25 home runs, 109 runs, 100 RBI, and 71 walks to go with 146 K's. Not a bad track record for a guy coming off the bench. Not a good track record for a guy that may be starting 120 games against right handed pitching.
His potential platoon parter, Jason DuBois, had a cup of coffee with the Cubs last year. Rather than looking at his major league stats, I took a look at what he did in the minors. Last year in AAA Iowa, Dubois hit .316/.389/.630 with 31 home runs and 99 RBI over 386 at-bats. I'm no expert on prospects, let alone Dubois, but it looks as if he's always been a high power hitter, but a guy who gets on base due to hits rather than walks. He's never drawn more than 57 walks during a professional season - but he's never had more than 443 at-bats, either, due to shorter seasons. His 2005 ZiPS projection, via Baseball Think Factory, is .272/.345/.500, giving him a predicted 845 OPS. Let's assume that means he can hit lefties to the tune of an 875 to 900 OPS (yes, that's a flat out guess on my part.)
Jeromy Burnitz is attracting attention from the Cubs....why again? Well, I'm not exactly sure. He did have a bit of a revival last year. Of course, he was playing in Colorado. He posted a 916 OPS last year with 37 home runs, giving him his first 900+ OPS season since 1999. In 2003, splitting time between the Dodgers and the Mets, Burnitz managed a 786 OPS with a .299 OBP. Yes, that's right - he failed to reach base 30% of the time. On the plus side for Jeromy, he has hit 31 or more home runs in 6 of the last 7 years, which would help replace some of the lost power in the Cubs lineup.
Aubrey Huff is one of the best hitters that most people have never heard of. Stuck in Tampa Bay, he has been well above league average in each of the past 3 seasons, posting the Devil Rays top OPS in each of the last 2. Huff has a career OPS+ of 119 and is only 28 years old. I guess the question is - would the Devil Rays actually want to trade the guy? Rumors have the Cubs interested, but what good does that do if the Rays aren't? Huff, a left handed bat, only played 9 games in the outfield last year, spending the bulk of his time at 3rd, 1st, and DH. His career high in home runs is 34, but Tampa Bay is a pitcher's park. He would likely see a power spike if he were to end up playing half of his games in Wrigley Field.
Then there is Jerry Hairston, Jr. Here's a guy that I was hoping the Cards would pick up to start at 2nd base, as he posted a .378 OBP last season in limited playing time. There is a small chance that Hairston could end up starting for the Cubs in a corner outfield slot this year. Or even in a longer long shot, I suppose Walker could end up in a corner, with Hairston at 2nd. This seems somewhat unlikely to me, however. Maybe the Cubs will be interested in having a guy that can get on base and steal a few bases. Only time will tell.
Here are a few more stats to take a look at.
2004 Win Shares
2004 Win Shares Above Average
Basically, the Cubs are going to be hard pressed to replace the production that Alou provided to the 2004 Cubs (soft skin and all.) Huff would be the best choice to replace Alou, if the Cubs can find a way to get him. But even Huff would be hard pressed to replicate the season that Alou put together last year. If they end up with Burnitz instead....well, he might at least be nicer to the press. (Not that Stone and Caray are around this year to annoy the team.)
Sosa will be easier to replace, with the platoon of Hollandsworth and DuBois likely being able to match his 2004 numbers - albeit, with less power likely.
Most interesting of all to me is the fact that - unless the Cubs pull someone out of the hat that there are no rumors of them getting, they are once again going to have an offense that is built of guys that do not draw walks. The most walks Huff has ever drawn in a season is 56. Burnitz has drawn 99 walks in a season, but not since 2000. Over his career, he only averages 75 walks every 162 games, and he hasn't drawn more than 58 walks in a season in each of the past 3 years. Compare that with the current Cub regulars.
Walks (Career Highs)
C Michael Barrett - 40
1B Derrek Lee - 98 (68 last year)
2B Todd Walker - 52
3B Aramis Ramirez - 49
SS Nomar Garciaparra - 61
CF Corey Patterson - 45
Not a lot a career patience displayed by the team that finished 14th in the NL in walks last year. If the Cubs replace Alou (68 walks, 1st on Cubs) and Sosa (56 walks, 3rd) with the likes of Huff and/or Burnitz, they are likely to finish the 2005 season last in the NL in the walk department. And that, my friends, does not translate into a good offense without a lot of luck.