Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
Replacing Alou and Sosa
by alex ciepley
Alright, we're talking here. Talking lots of home runs, lots of slugging points, lots of middle-of-the-order thunder scattered to both coasts. Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa were at the heart of the Cubs' lineup for the past three years. If Sammy was more valuable the first two years, Alou was better in the third.
Now it looks like both guys are history, leaving a pair of holes at the outfield corners. What will the Cubs be missing that they had last year?
Sosa's year, heavy on the homers but low on the OBP, was less valuable than his OPS makes it look. His on-the-field contributions shouldn't be particularly difficult to replace, and his off-the-field shenanigans won't be especially missed.
Alou, on the other hand, had a very good offensive year. Having Nomar around should make up some of the lost ground on offense, but it's still a mighty tasty chunk of hitting to fall off the cheese wagon.
I'm not clamboring for the return of Alou, though, or even shedding a tear that he's moved on. It's important to remember that Alou himself is rather unlikely to provide another year for a team like he did for the 2004 Cubs. Alou is old, and in his first two years with the Cubs he simply wasn't very good. I expect a pretty sharp decline, and I don't think it's going to be all that beautiful to witness.
The Cubs' remaining options in the outfield give one pause. Burnitz? Dubois? Holly? Hairston? These are the types of players the 2002 Mets put their faith in. That said, how much different would the 2005 Cubs look if they were simply trotting out Alou and Sosa for one more year?
I have no crystal balls, but thankfully the Internet is filled with wannabe Tiresiases. I've cobbled together a few 2005 projections from Baseball Prospectus, Ron Shandler, and folks at Baseball Primer. I believe every stat is park neutral, so the Burnitz forecasts aren't predicting what he'd do at Coors, but what he'd do at, I dunno, Pittsburgh. The projections are listed in order of sophistication and, presumably, accuracy.
PECOTA's my favorite of these, even if BP's fantasy product--based around PECOTA--royally screwed over my fantasy teams last year (thank you, disastrous Montreal park factors). PECOTA also, interestingly, not only thinks Burnitz wouldn't be a bad pickup, but actually forecasts that Burnitz and Dubois would produce at better rates than Sosa and Alou next year. That comes as a complete surprise.
The other systems spit out numbers more along the lines of what you'd guess from the ex-Cubs. A mild uptick for Sosa, a big decline in Alou's power. They also predict years out of Burnitz that somewhat resemble Sosa's 2003.
ZiPS likes Dubois even more than PECOTA does: both think he'd be a pretty good regular. Hollandsworth is all over the place, and Hairston is predicted to, well, hit like Mark Grudzielanek. And would you really want Mark Grudzielanek in right field next year?
What does all this mean? I'd venture that while the Cubs are likely to miss the numbers Alou and Sosa gave them last year, they may not miss the numbers the pair would have given them this year.
I suppose it is mildly reassuring that all this moving and shaking leaves the team in a similar place to where it would've been had they done nothing to their outfield but re-signed Alou. It's a step backwards nonetheless. Replacing "Alou, version '04" is perhaps the biggest offensive task facing next year's Cubs. And considering that the 2004 Cubs were no offensive juggernaut to begin with, it's a task worth fretting over.