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Catching Up Is Hard To Do
by Derek Smart
I'm not going to make a big deal of my recent lack of activity (I've tried that a couple times already in recent months, and fat lot of good its done me). Let's just say I feel Jon's pain when it comes to the impact of work responsibilities.
What this means for me is that I have to make an adjustment. Because I do my best work in the mornings, and the time to spend on ancillary pursuits (sadly, yes, that's what this is) simply isn't there within that timeframe anymore, I have to figure out how to do this in the couple hours between toddler wrangling and sweet, sweet sleep, which is where I've been falling down.
In the end, all I can tell you is that I'm going to be working on making this little beast viable in and at the time I have at my disposal, and if those of you who still regularly stop by have any patience left - and I can't say I'd blame you if you don't - I'd just ask a little bit more while I make a more concerted effort to get my bearings in what is a fairly new configuration to me. I thank you in advance, and now that the naval gazing's out of the way, I've got some catching up to do.
As I write this, the clock is ticking on the Cubs' exclusive negotiating window with Aramis Ramirez, and if the Brain Trust can't feel the hot breath of other clubs' anticipation singeing their neck hairs, or hear their feet splashing in the pools of drool flowing freely from the wolfy jowls on the other side of the door, they are as insensate as the block of wood I often fear is their intellectual equal.
The interesting part of the history here is that, as I understand it, the arrangement that led us to this point was essentially a compromise between the two sides - the opt-out clause given by the team in exchange for the player not pursuing a guaranteed five-year deal.
In general, avoiding such massive commitments is positive, and in the environment in which the original deal was signed, I think five years for Ramirez might have seemed excessive and terrifically risky. However, with hindsight as our friend and bosom pal, the idea of locking up Ramirez from ages 27-31 seems positively divine, compared to that of nailing him down from, at the very least, 29-33 (if not to 34 or 35), and at a far heftier price to boot.
This whole episode makes the guest post by Rich Lederer in the contract's immediate aftermath seem positively prescient, and while I was certainly not thrilled with the deal at the outset, I didn't have Rich's level of distaste for the risk imbalance inherent in both this and J.D. Drew's deal - which not coincidentally, has also been scrapped for the possibility of greater green. Not that it does anyone any good now, but Rich couldn't have been more right about this type of agreement, and one can only hope that the teams who have felt their sting this offseason have taught themselves and the rest of the league a lesson in risk management.
Speaking of Drew, I know he's injury prone, and we all get understandably twitchy about that sort of thing, but to my mind, if the moment he opted out of his Dodger deal you didn't feel a ripple in the Force and start having visions of J.D. patrolling Wrigley's center field for 8170 56 games a year, there's something not quite right with you.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Cubs will get anywhere near him, just that they should consider it. When he became available, he instantly moved to the front of the line of center field options on the market, and with the teams obvious issues there, combined with Drew's skillset - a perfect fit for what ails this team, with his ability to consistently get on base, and even hit for solid power - and the sorry state of the rest of the available options, not looking into what it would take to get him to Chicago would be malpractice.
It might be too costly - giving him much, if any, more than what was left on the rest of his extant contract seems a wee bit nuts - but the idea bears investigation, and I only hope the gents in the front office see it that way too.
Speaking of injury risks, I'm torn on the Wade Miller deal. I like it as an upside play, but in the context of the Cubs' current starting staff, it's little more than a down payment on a wish. If there's one thing this club should have learned last season it's just because something is possible, doesn't mean it's in the least bit likely.
Yes, it's possible that Miller is a passable fourth or fifth starter who stays healthy and effective for the balance of the season, it's even possible that he gives you 150-180 innings of well above average work, but there's no way it makes even a modicum of sense for the team to count on getting a single frame out of him, which means that there's still a gap on the roster that either needs to be filled internally or through the market.
I guess my point is, that while I like the idea of Miller's potential, if the Cubs don't proceed with the rest of their offseason as if Miller doesn't exist, they'll be setting themselves up for a repeat of last year's abject horror.
Those of you paying attention will see some inconsistency in the way I look at the Miller and Drew situations, and you wouldn't be terribly wrong. Or even wrong at all. In fact, you're probably dead on.
My only defense is that a) I've always had a thing for Drew, for whatever reason, and b) that even in years when he hasn't been able to play in more than 100 games or so, Drew's been productive while he's been in there. I don't think it's unreasonable to pencil in a .280/.390/.490 line for him, and getting that out of center field would be a huge boost, even if it's only for around 400 plate appearances. Drew's production is a known quantity, it's how often he plays that's in question.
Miller's question marks come on both the production and durability side, which makes his availability and utility much more problematic. It would be one thing if you could count on a 3.50 ERA with solid peripherals with the only point of contention being where within the 100-200 inning continuum he would fall, but you can't. He could be anywhere from 3.50 to 6.50, and really, anywhere from 1 to 180 in innings.
Miller is a complete wildcard, while Drew is only a partial one, and I'd add that the Cubs would likely have an easier time finding an outfielder solid enough to take the 200 PAs that you have to plan on Drew missing every year - Jose Cruz Jr., perhaps? - than you would garnering a spare starter to take Miller's skipped frames.
I'm not saying it makes great sense, but it is the way I'm thinking about it at the moment.
I'm not going to get into speculation about whether or not various Japanese pitchers will find their way into a Cub uniform, but if one does, it will at least make me take notice. There's nothing like curiosity about an unknown quantity to get my attention, and I imagine there would be a decent amount of novelty value for many fans.
Which brings me to this bit of concern: are the Cubs going after these guys because they think they'll help them win, or because they figure they can get more marketing value out of this type of deal than they can by signing, say, Miguel Batista? Thus is the state of my cynicism, folks.