The Winter Meetings in Orlando have been stalled by Cliff Lee, however, the Cubs have managed to find their first baseman for the upcoming season. Carlos Pena has agreed to a one-year contract worth about $10 Million.
Jim Hendry was running out of options as the search for a first baseman intensified. Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston, Lance Berkman was signed by the Cardinals, and Adam Dunn will join Paul Konerko on the White Sox. With available Free Agents dwindling, Hendry had to do something, something fast. Hendry has been talking to Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche, but has decided to go with former Tampa Bay, first baseman, Carlos Pena.
Pena is the top defensive first baseman in this year’s free agent market. He is a Gold Glove Award winner. Despite his offensive struggles, Pena still managed to hit 28 homeruns last year. He only batted .196, which has some Cubs’ fans nervous, but by coming to Chicago, Pena will have the opportunity to work with Cubs’ Hitting Coach, Rudy Jaramillo. A change in his batting approach should improve his swing. Poor hitting is fixable, especially when a hitter is willing to learn and make adjustments. With a one-year deal, Pena will be motivated to make vast improvements to increase his market value next year. I think Jim Hendry made the right decision by signing Pena. In my humble opinion, Carlos Pena will be a good fit for the Cubs. He will improve a defense that struggled last season, he adds a left-handed power bat to the middle of the line-up, and he is a leader in the club house. The Cubs are in desperate need for all of those things. While I have criticized Hendry for not making any moves up to this point, I will admit that he has done the right thing in signing Pena. He will be a welcomed addition.
In other news, the Cubs have shown interest in some pitchers this week. According to MLB Trade Rumors http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/chicago_cubs/index.html, the Cubs have had discussions concerning Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, and Brandon Webb. There are talks of a trade with the Rangers for Chris Davis, a potential power-hitter, and Darren O’Day, a side-armed reliever with an ERA under 2.00. It has also been reported that the Cubs are shopping Tom Gorzellany around to create an opening in the starting rotation.
Good news! The Winter Meetings are starting to heat up, but the Cubs are just getting warmed up. I can’t wait to see what happens next. With pitching a top priority, look for Jim Hendry to target a pitcher to solidify the starting rotation next.
The Free Agent frenzy is about to begin. The Cubs have some holes to fill and first base is first on the list for Jim Hendry. Let’s explore the options and find the right fit. I have some suggestions that might make sense, so listen up, Mr. Hendry.
Since the trade that sent Derek Lee to the Atlanta Braves, Xavier Nady took over at First Base. Now that Nady has become a Free Agent, the Cubs have a glaring hole at First. With First base open, the Cubs have been considering moving Tyler Colvin to First, a position he hasn’t played since college. On the surface, it seems like a good idea. The transition would allow Colvin more playing time, but considering he hasn’t played the position in quite some time, it would require a lot of extra hard work and practice to make a successful conversion. This may take some time. Until then, the Cubs would probably be better off finding a suitable veteran player that will fit in with the Cubs’ game plan. That means, of course, signing a Free Agent.
Let’s consider the options that are available on the Free Agent Market. We’ll try to determine who is the best fit for the Cubs,
First, there have been many rumors surrounding the Cubs having interest in Adam Dunn. Here you have a left-handed slugger with a ton of power. Dunn is tops on the list if the Cubs are seeking a clean-up hitter. He has the power to hit 40-50 homeruns a year. For Fans of the long ball, he’s your guy.
But is he the best fit?
Adam Dunn has a downside and the negatives may outweigh the positives. Up front, Dunn will be asking for a 4-5 year deal worth upwards of 40 million dollars. That is another high priced, long-term contract that the Cubs may not have the resources or the desire to entertain. In addition, Adam Dunn strikes out a ton. Do the Cubs really want a player with a high ratio of strikeouts? Offensively, that is a huge weakness. Also, he has no speed on the basepaths and figures to clog the bases with his inabilty to take the extra base. Finally, Dunn lacks defensive prowess. He has struggled since converting from the outfield to first and the Cubs do not need any defensive liabilities. Sure Dunn can hit the homerun, but does it outweigh the negative factors? I think not. Adam Dunn is NOT the best fit for the Cubs.
It has been reported that Jim Hendry, the Cubs GM, is looking for “… the likes of a Nick Johnson“. This really puzzles me. Why? Nick Johnson did not play much last year. He spent the season on the DL after having wrist surgery. Besides, when he did play, he was nothing more than a DH. He didn’t even play first. When he did in the past, he wasn’t anything special. His offensive numbers weren’t very good either. I don’t know why Hendry would have an interest in an injured player like Johnson. The Cubs acquired Xavier Nady after he had surgery and that didn’t exactly work out did it. In Nady’s defense, he might actually be healthy in 2011 and have a better year. The Cubs may consider bringing Nady back but it is doubtful since they really want a left-handed bat to balance the line-up.
The biggest name that surfaces among Cubs’ Fans is Adrian Gonzalez, but the San Diego Padres have picked up their 2011 option and for now, will stay in San Diego.
Gonzalez has expressed a desire to play in Chicago, but won’t hit the Free Agent Market until next year. Whether he will become available at the trade deadline is unknown at this time. Also, he is having shoulder surgery so it may take a while to bounce back. When healthy, Adrian Gonzalez is arguably the best First Baseman out there. He is a hitting machine, plays great defense, and is my personally favorite for the job. Unfortunately, at this time, AGon is unavailable, unless the Cubs can work out a trade, but it is unlikely. The Cubs have others on the radar. Who?
To narrow down the field of first basemen, let’s focus on the left-handers that will add hitting prowess in the middle of the line-up.
The San Francisco Giants were World Series Champions this season and were led by first baseman, Aubrey Huff, who will now be a Free Agent. Huff is a lefty and he is consistent, year in and year out. He hits around .300 and has power.
Aubrey Huff is a proven leader in the club house and on the field. In my opinion, Huff had a lot to do with the Giants’ success this year. He was a valuable piece to winning. Aubrey Huff was a bargain when San Francisco acquired him. He may be one of the best options for the Cubs, provided the Giants’ don’t want to keep him around. If he becomes available, I would sign him. He adds leadership that the Cubs definitely need.
Adam LaRoche is a possibility, but in my opinion, he is a better back up than a starter. He has average numbers, both offensively and defensively. The Cubs could sign him to an average contract, but I think they may be dissapointed by his production. I think he is over-rated to say the least. He would be a last resort.
Lance Berkman doesn’t make any sense. He is getting older and his offensive numbers have declined dramatically. He would want too much money and would fail to deliver the punch that he once had. Not a good fit.
Some Chicago Fans like Paul Konerko, but he is right-handed and doesn’t fit in well with the game plan. Not really a good idea, although I admit, he is a good player.
Carlos Pena is another, but he batted under .200 this past season, not exactly the offensive production that the Cubs are looking for.
There are several others that I will not mention, mainly because they have too many question marks, are either declining or simply don’t provide the offensive fire power or defense that the Cubs need at firstbase.
Finally, I have a suggestion for Jim Hendry.
Consider Victor Martinez. Here is a switch-hitting, explosive bat that provides a .300+ batting average with a great deal of power. While he considers himself primarily a catcher, Martinez also plays firstbase. Here is my suggestion.
Sign Victor Martinez. HE CAN PLAY FIRSTBASE AND BACK UP CATCHER. He not only brings a switch-hitting bat for the middle of the line-up, he can double as Geovanny Soto’s back up catcher. Victor Martinez brings a valuable commodity, VERSATILITY. If there is a downside to VM, it is that he is looking for a 4-year deal. Even still, he would be worth it, in my opinion. Here is something else to consider, when Victor Martinez has catching duties, Tyler Colvin could gain valuable experience playing First base, backing up Martinez. It would make for a smoother transition. In addition, the Cubs would have TWO versatile players in their line-up, Victor Martinez AND Tyler Colvin.
In my assessment, the Cubs have two very good options that I would encourage Jim Hendry to consider. While Tyler Colvin should increase his versatility and practice playing first, he has not proven himself there yet. So I have narrowed the field down to Aubrey Huff AND Victor Martinez. Dollar for dollar, they possess the most value. Both are consistently good, providing strong numbers and a strong presence in any line-up. Adam Dunn pales by comparison and so do the others. If the Cubs’ Front Office is paying attention, I hope that they would seriously consider Huff or Martinez. Both would bring a lot to the table. Both would be good fits for the Cubs.
Let the Free Agent frenzy begin.
Next blog: I will tackle the Pitchers in the Free Agent Pool.