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It Could Have Been Worse, But It Could Get Better
by Derek Smart
For those of you still incredulous that Neifi! will likely be starting a majority of the time in 2006, look on this and thank whatever power you thank when spared horrors beyond imagining that the Cubs did not go in this direction.
I've not seen terms reported anywhere, but for those who aren't ardent link followers, the Red Sox have chosen to fill their hole at shortstop with the badgood bad Alex Gonzalez, late of the Florida Marlins.
Granted, as they both bring similar levels of offensive incompetence, whether you think this is truly a "there but for the grace of God" situation, or just a different riff off the same sheet of music depends largely on whether you think Neifi! has significantly better defensive chops (you can find statistical evidence to support either contention depending on your source), but I happen to think he does, so even with the fact that Gonzalez was never really on the Cubs brass' radar, and the fact the Neifi!'s utility will be lessened considerably by his manning the keystone, I'd still rather have the guy we have than the one the Red Sox settled for.
But, perhaps we won't have to live with that Pyrrhic victory. What the Red Sox have done, by choosing to use Andy Marte to acquire Coco Crisp for center field and then signing Gonzalez for short, is effectively remove the only seemingly major player for the services of Julio Lugo from the market.
The Cubs have been involved in similar discussions, as has been widely reported, but with the D-Rays apparently asking for Marte to do a deal with the Sox, I'd figured that the asking price would be too high. However, that may not be the case any longer, now that Marte and the Sox themselves are out of the picture.
I know it smacks of pipe dreaming, particularly since the D-Rays still seem willing, even under different leadership, to keep their pricier veterans and perhaps collect draft picks during their free agency next offseason rather than ship them off for second-rate goods, but even so, this development has to make it more difficult for Tampa to exact the highest possible price in trade, which could present an opening for the Cubs.
Such a deal would be the best shot the Cubs have at fielding a middle infield that was not only good defensively, but useful offensively as well. This requires a leap of faith that Dusty would start Cedeno and Lugo together should such a deal come to pass, but I'm willing to jump if it happens, because if I jump now, I know there's nothing but cement collisions in my future. At least with Lugo on board there's a possibility, however small, that someone will remember to fill the pool.