I was out of town last week, so I didn’t get the chance to rant about the Michael Barrett trade, but it should go without saying that it doesn’t improve the Cubs’ lot on the field. Before this season began, PECOTA had Barrett projected for a 20.7 SuperVORP — that includes a rather harsh deduction for his defense. Bowen’s projection, prorated over the same number of plate appearances, comes out at 6.0, which amounts to about a win’s worth of difference over the balance of the season. Now, if we re-ran the PECOTAs today, the deal would probably wind up being a little closer than that; Barrett, who has always had a weird development pattern, has underperformed his forecast, while Bowen has outperformed his. Nevertheless, it’s pretty unusual to see a team that retains a strong shot of making the playoffs volunteer to take a downgrade at a key position in the middle of the season.
I’m not even going to try and address the argument that Barrett’s problems in the clubhouse are worth more than that win that the Cubs are giving up on the field; I think that’s a silly argument, but it’s also one that’s not disprovable. What bothers me, rather, is that the Cubs’ have developed a nasty habit under Jim Hendry’s tenure of doing everything in their power to degrade a player’s value, and then trading him for pennies on the dollar. The mere fact that the trade seems almost palatable now is proof of this. If I had told you before the season began that the Cubs would deal Michael Barrett in mid-June for a backup catcher and a fringe prospect — and given up cash in the deal, I’d have been laughed out of the room. Instead, you could see the writing on the wall when Barrett started getting railroaded in the Tribune and the Sun-Times, and became the scapegoat for the Cubs’ sloppy play thus far this season.
This exact pattern has played itself out at least a half-dozen times over the past five seasons. It happened with Hee-Seop Choi. It happened with Mark Bellhorn. It happened with Sammy Sosa — I’ve never seen a city turn on a player faster than Chicago did on Sosa in the waning days of the 2004 season. It happened with Corey Patterson. It happened with Todd Walker. It’s on the verge of happening with Jacque Jones. The Cubs were fortunate enough to pick up Derrek Lee for Choi — though that deal was motivated by non-baseball factors on Florida’s behalf — but the only other player in any of those deals who is currently on the Cubs’ 25-man roster is utilityman Mike Fontenot.
You might argue that Hendry simply needs a better poker face — trade Jones when he’s your regular, then bring up Felix Pie — but I think there’s something deeper at work. The Cubs have a pronounced lack of self-confidence when it comes to their own decision-making abilities. The Cubs trade Michael Barrett because his defense sucks and he’s a little bit of an overgrown frat boy in the clubhouse? Barrett has always been that way. The Cubs trade Choi and Bellhorn because they strike out too much? That comes with the territory with those players. Alfonso Soriano’s defense was adequate in center field in April — but not in May? Pie wasn’t ready for the majors, and then he was, and then he wasn’t, and then he was again, and now he’s been riding pine again? The Cubs are that person that takes five minutes to figure out their dinner order, that spends the entire hour flicking through the channels on the remote control and never finding a program they like; they’re the person who takes a new job and is contemplating the next one two days later.
Let’s make a decision here, fellas — and let’s keep our chin up and see it through. One trait that distinguishes successful people in any industry is that they don’t do a lot of second-guessing themselves. The reason is because they had a robust decision making process in the first place; maybe a decision turned out poorly, but they remain confident that they evaluated it correctly based on the facts and circumstances at the time. But the Cubs, partly because they don’t understand sample sizes, will take the same set of facts and circumstances and come up with a different answer on Wednesday than they did on Tuesday.
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Two chances to chat about the Cubs and White Sox and everything else with me on Wednesday. Firstly, I’ll have my semi-regular chat on BP.com at 1 Eastern, and then at 7 PM, I’ll be over at Protrade to take questions during the Cardinals-Mets game. Hope to see some of you guys there.