Felix Pie made his major league debut yesterday and chipped in an RBI double. Full disclosure: I’m a fan on a number of levels. Pie’s a big-time PECOTA tout, as the system rates him as one of the best prospects in the game. He’s on one of my fantasy teams, which could badly use his steals. And though I took a year’s hiatus from rooting for the Cubs after their handling of Will Carroll’s story on Mark Prior last year, I watch a lot of their games and would like to see them do well. So, here’s hoping that Pie excels over the next week and a half while Alfonso Soriano remains on the shelf. The Cubs’ outfield picture needs addressing sooner or later, and a sufficiently hyped prospect might force the issue in some ways that the ordinary course of business will not.
These are the Cubs’ five primary candidates for outfied playing time, as sorted by their PECOTA-projected SuperVORP (basically, VORP with defense included). All projections are prorated over 650 plate appearances.
This is not a collection of junk. A league-average player will put up a VORP of something like 20 given a full season’s worth of playing time, so pretty much everyone is at or above that threshold. Cliff Floyd and Jacque Jones rate a bit below Felix Pie and Matt Murton, but they also have the platoon advantage against right-handed pitchers. All of the players (save Soriano, of course) have reasonable contract situations, either still in their reserve clause years or signed to a below-market deal. It’s very unclear what the proper allotment of resources is in the near-term.
In the longer term, however, the situation clears up considerably. The Cubs’ outfield of the future is Soriano in left, Pie in center, and Matt Murton in right, where Lou Piniella has played him the last two games because of concerns about Jones’s arm strength. With that in mind, let’s explore a couple of trade scenarios:
Jones to the White Sox for Mike MacDougal. Cross-town rivals generally do not like to trade with one another, but it’s hard to find a better fit. The White Sox are not hitting at all, and while players like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye should pick up the pace, the struggles of Darin Erstad (.171/.239/.244) were entirely predictable. Jones could either play LF, with Scott Podsednik set to shift over to center once he returns from the DL, or he could handle center himself, where he played fairly well according to Clay’s standards earlier in his career. MacDougal is signed to a good contract, and could easily become the Cubs’ best relief pitcher if Ryan Dempster scuffles again.
Jones to the Phillies for Jon Lieber. Aaron Rowand is off to a good start, but the Phils might still be seeking an alternative to Shane Victorino, who is getting on base but not hitting for power. Ex-Cub Lieber would provide a necessary upgrade over Wade Miller, and his tendency to pitch to contact and save the bullpen could be helpful for a team that has many pitchers that do just the opposite.
Jones to the Angels for Erick Aybar. Like the White Sox, the Angels are not getting a lot of productivity out of their corner spots for reasons that are entirely of their own making. Frankly, they could probably use any two of the Cubs’ outfielders. Aybar is not necessarily a future star, but having Cesar Izturis as your incumbent gives you license to experiment.
Floyd to the Yankees for Kyle Farnsworth. Okay, so this one is kind of a joke. It’s unlikely that Hendry is going to want to see Farnsworth’s name on the back of a Cubs’ uniform any time soon. But this one makes sense on paper, at least. Farnsworth has been demoted from his 8th inning role in New York, and Floyd could play first base, where Doug Mientkiewicz — do you detect a theme here? — is hitting no better than any reasonable person would have anticipated. Scott Proctor could be a reasonable proxy if the Cubs want a player with less baggage, though one suspects that the Yankees’ are skittish enough about Mariano Rivera’s durability that they won’t want to move him.
Murton to the A’s for Joe Blanton. If the Cubs insist on trading Murton rather than one of their veterans, this is the sort of return they should be looking for. Blanton is a guy who would benefit a lot from the move to the National League, and the A’s seem to grow pitching depth on trees and might be looking move him before his arbitration paydays start to balloon.
We’ve done your homework for you, Jim. Let’s start burning up those phone lines.