What We Have
Xavier Nady (Eligible for Free Agency) – After the Derrek Lee trade to Atlanta, Nady played the majority of the time to close out the season at first base. There has been talk of moving a guy like Tyler Colvin to first, but his glove in the OF is a lot more valuable at this point than a move to a position fielders go to die.
Nady had a good experience in the field at first. He had just one error in his time there this season. In his career, he’s an above average guy at the position. The issue becomes his bat and his price tag. At 31, he’s probably looking at one more potential pay day. The question is if he did enough this year to give someone enough confidence in him to pay that big contract. My guess is that he didn’t. That gives the Cubs the option to at least approach him to see what his salary demand is. He made $3.3 mil in 2010 so you’d have to guess that he’d command about that again. He has shown in the past that he can hit for power and a decent average. He’s not an all star type player, but for a position that sorely needs warm bodies, he may be a possibility work investigating for the short term.
What is on the Horizon
Be afraid. Be very afraid. We use this section to highlight a few names in the system that may have a future at the position.
Bryan LaHair – He’s eligible to become a minor league free agent unless he’s added to the 40 man roster or agrees on another minor league contract by the 4th day after the World Series. He spent half his time in AAA playing LF and the other half playing first base, but the majority of his time in the minors has been at first. He’s a guy that has wallowed around in the minors, spending the majority of his days at the AAA level but never getting a legit shot at the Majors. In 2010, he hit .308 / .385 / .557 with 25 HR and 81 RBI for the Iowa Cubs. It’s clear that he has some power, and he does hit from the left side as well, which is something the Cubs covet at that position.
Micah Hoffpauir (Pictured) – Believe me, I hate including him in this section just as much as you hate reading his name in this section. The system is just that bare at this spot. Hoffpauir actually had the 2nd highest OPS among qualifiers in the system behind LaHair. He’s a year younger than Nady and has shown he can play both first base and the corner OF spot. As far as production at the Major League level, there are two schools of thought on him. Either you subscribe to the Hoffpauir that hit fairly well in 2008 and 2009 or you are a believer that 2010 is a better estimation on who he is. I tend to lean toward the school that believes he’s not a very good hitter at the Major League level, but that’s not to say I’m right. I’d certainly love to be wrong. Like LaHair, he’s a question mark with potential upside, but probably not a guy you wanna use as a long term solution.
Ryan Cuneo – I don’t know much about him other than the fact that he was selected in the most recent draft for the Cubs in the 20th round out of the University of Deleware. He spent time between both rookie levels (Boise and Arizona) and hit a respectable .296 / .363 / 486 combined. He didn’t hit for a lot of power in college his first two seasons (7 HR total), but grew into his power his Junior and Senior year, combining for 33 HR in those two seasons. He’s definitely not a guy that can be a piece to the puzzle next year, but he may be someone worth keeping an eye on.
Honorable Mention (Just cause I like them) – Blake Lalli and Rebel Ridling
Notable Names Available via Free Agency
Lance Berkman – His power numbers have taken a pretty steady decline since his career year in 2006 and he didn’t really show much after being traded to the Yankees. He’ll be 35 next year so the length of contract wouldn’t be long. I’m curious to see if the Yankees make a play to bring him back.
Adam Dunn – This is the elephant in the room. Some people here want him and some want no part of him. Where do you stand? Of all the players on the free agent market for this year, Dunn is definitely the top of the class along with Paul Konerko. The Cubs are in need of a big power bat to protect guys like Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd.
Aubrey Huff – He signed a one year, $3 mil deal to play with the Giants and had a real nice bounce back year after a disappointing 2009 that saw him traded from the Orioles to the Tigers. I don’t know what it would take to get him or if San Francisco will even let him go to free agency to begin with. What I do know is that he’s driven in at least 85 runs in 6 of the last 8 years. He hits for power and hits from the left side of the plate. He’s probably the most serviceable option that isn’t really a crap shoot but also won’t break the bank on this list.
Nick Johnson – Want a guy that just flat out knows how to get on base? Johnson’s your man. A career OBP of .401, he’s posted an OPS over .400 five times in his career. He’s not going to drive the ball out the park with any regularity, but he knows how to hit. He’s a below average fielder otherwise I’d compare him a lot to Mark Grace.
Paul Konerko - If there was a better time for Konerko to essentially have a career year, I can’t think of it. At 34 years old, Konerko had the type of year that will force the White Sox to have to re-sign him. Right? He’s one of the faces of the franchise and showed he can still put up big numbers. I don’t know what type of contract he’s going to command. He’s made $12 mil for the last few years so you’d have to imagine it will be more than that.
Derrek Lee – I put him on here to be kind, but the fact remains that Derrek Lee isn’t coming back. He served his time here and I don’t think Hendry would go that route again.
Adam LaRoche – Power lefty that can hit 20+ HR with an average that usually hovers in the .270 range. He’s got the potential to regress into the player we’ve seen up until 2009. I’m a little leery of going with LaRoche, but I’d accept him on the team.
Carlos Pena – This guy can flat out hit the ball out of the ball park. Unfortunately, that’s all he does. Last year his average was under .200, despite the fact that he hit 28 HR. He joins Mark Reynolds (2010), Mark McGwire (2001) and Rob Deer (1991) as the only players to ever hit more than 25 HR in a season while hitting under .200.
Joe’s Best Course of Action
This is a position that must be addressed in free agency or via trade. We simply cannot go into the season with either Nady, LaHair, or Hoffpauir as the main option. We don’t necessarily need to spend big money on a guy like Dunn or Konerko, but we need a bat and this is the other position I see where the bat can be acquired. I’d like to see the Cubs make a serious run at Adam Dunn. If not Dunn, then I go hard and heavy toward Aubrey Huff and look for him to be a guy that help this lineup. Dunn instantly offers the protection for Ramirez and Byrd that these other guys just can’t bring. He’s got to be the priority if we can get him at a reasonable amount of years. I’m not going more than 5, and no more no trade clauses.
As for the backup option, someone like LaHair or Hoffpauir should have enough talent to fill that role while also playing some in the OF to spell one of those guys when needed as well as to keep their bats sharp considering the fact that whoever the starter is, they’ll be playing 145-155 games. I’d probably be inclined to give the job to Hoffpauir to lose in Spring Training and go from there.
Three Questions for Discussion
1. If you had to go all in with one of LaHair, Hoffpauir, or Nady as the starter without going to the free agent market to address the need, which one would you gamble on and why?
2. Would you re-sign Derrek Lee to play first base?
3. Assuming the Cubs are going to the free agent market to address this need, which player to you target and how would you rank the others in order of priority?