Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by Derek Smart
A new day is upon us, the first full day of the second post-Maddux era, and so it is time to take a good, hard look at the deal that sent him away and the gentleman that will be donning blue pinstripes in his stead.
My initial reaction to hearing of the deal - meaning that I'd heard Maddux went to the Dodgers without mention of other players involved - was actually excitement, for much as I might have enjoyed The Professor's return to Chicago, there's no doubt it was best for him and best for the organization that he spend the remainder of the season in the warm embrace of a potential playoff team, while the Cubs reaped in future talent the benefit of the prefix "Future Hall of Famer."
And that, of course, is where things started to go wrong.
What the Cubs acquired instead of talent that could theoretically help them next time they're good - which, for the record, I'll say is extremely unlikely to be next year, or even the year to follow - was a younger clone of a man already on their roster, another exclamation point to add to the pile. Yes, apparently, the looming shadow of Neifi!'s 2007 free agency threatened to leave the team devoid of defensive wizards with wiffle bats, so when presented with the opportunity to acquire some additional declarative punctuation, Jim Hendry jumped at the chance.
Or, perhaps I'm being unfair to this newest member of the fold. Perhaps this imposition of labels before a moment spent in uniform is a kneejerk reaction of the worst kind. Perhaps I should simply give the plan a chance to take shape. Or perhaps you should watch as I spin you tale of whiffs and woes. Let's compare the two men's first 2634 at bats or so (that being the number Izturis has in his career to date).
Neifi!'s numbers take him through nearly all of his age 27 baseball and occur entirely within the confines of Planet Coors, while Izturis will turn 27 in February, and has spent his entire career in Los Angeles' more difficult hitting environment. In other words, looking at this early work in each of their careers, it's not unreasonable to say that, at least offensively, they're the same guy, which also makes it reasonable to assume that, going forward, we can expect from Mr. Izturis something very similar to what Neifi! has done since that point in his career. Which is what exactly?
This is what he's done since April 7, 2001 (many thanks for this information to the wonder that is the Baseball Musings Day By Day Database), which is mere months from his trade from Colorado to Kansas City. Bear in mind also that this includes the ridiculous stretches of production from Neifi!'s early days in Chicago. Compare it to Izturis' career line in the previous table, and you've got a similarity too eerie to ignore. Yet, still, I hear the cries:
"Defense!" shouteth the contrarians, "You say nothing of his defense!"
Everything above is based on their work at shortstop (although, the Fans' Scouting Report is supposed to leave position out of the equation), and I even threw in the proverbial kitchen sink of defensive metrics - fielding percentage. I'd say the results are inconclusive, but in looking at everything, my gut is that Izturis is the superior defender, based more on the UZR and scouting report results than anything else. Still, there's no massive gap here, no cavernous crevasse to make me think that these two are anything other than twins from a performance perspective.
As I've said before, I have nothing personal against Neifi!, and similarly, I have nothing against Cesar!, particularly since he's only just arriving. And the truth is, I might enjoy the aesthetics of his glove work enough to excuse the lack thereof with the bat.
No, my issue is with the men who would value these players at levels so far beyond their actual worth. My issue is with the man who, when given the choice between a prospect or two and a proven mediocrity, will go with the mediocrity every time. In fact, would rather not make the deal for the prospects in the first place.
I wish Cesar! a ton of luck, and truly, I'll root for him to succeed and turn that exclamation point from derisive symbol to a well earned tribute. But if the man who brought him to town ever gets the axe, I won't cry a single tear.