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Signed CF-L Jim Edmonds to a one-year contract for the balance of the 2008 season; optioned CF-L Felix Pie to Iowa (Triple-A). [5/14]

There’s something sort of remarkable about one of the league’s best offenses being worked up over its one last almost-unproductive lineup spot, but here we are, with the Cubs scraping up the odds and ends of what’s left of Jim Edmonds, perhaps to sow them, perhaps in hope that the monster that used to chew them to bits will become their center-field myrmidon. There wasn’t a lot to suggest that Edmonds had anything left when he was discarded to the Padres, so it isn’t any easier to play make believe and say that he’ll be able to help out now. Even so, the local spin-doctoring is that perhaps Edmonds will still be able to cover the ground in center now that he’s in Wrigley instead of in the wide-open spaces of Petco; maybe so, and maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t guarantee that there’s anything left in his bat. Given the questions over whether or not Edmonds can do anything, and given the team’s relatively solid outlook on offense, this isn’t a case of gilding the lily, it’s slapping on a gray-bearded graffito to what might have been a work of art.

Regardless, it’s a bit silly to get worked up over how Pie “failed,” because he didn’t. Failure might be the operative term, but it was a failure by management-by Jim Hendry, by Lou Piniella, by the organization, and perhaps by a few thousand squealing teens worked up over Reed Johnson‘s socks and soul patch-but not by Pie. How could he fail? He got consecutive starts in only two little globs on the young season: a four-game stretch to open the year, and a three-game stretch in Cincinnati from May 5th through 7th. In both instances, he only went hitless in the last game of those stretches, and both times, that oh-fer was rewarded with multiple games and days out of the starting lineup. Yeah, that’s a great way to get the kid going. Absolutely brilliant. Since Edmonds was released on the 9th, Pie got exactly one last start; again, he got a hit.

If anything, I think claiming Edmonds has less to do with Pie, and more to do with an unwillingness to deposit Reed Johnson in his proper place without having someone famous enough to make it non-controversial. Edmonds used to be good, after all, and a media market and fan base obsessed with the failures of Corey Patterson (or Jerome Walton, for that matter) in the same way it used to wail about Gary Scott can be easily placated by something that recalls another event from the past, ten years ago-the Cubs’ pickup of Gary Gaetti. It’s an obvious comparison, especially given that we’re talking about former Cardinal stars with post-season glory in their past, and it worked out nicely enough back then. But Gaetti wasn’t as physically banged-up then as Edmonds is now, and had long since come back from the stretches when he looked truly cooked, which is something Edmonds hasn’t really done to anyone’s satisfaction so far.

Regardless of the balance of hope and fear that the past has inspired, what’s frustrating here is that the Cubs were scoring runs, but it wasn’t enough for them-they had to blame somebody for something because they’re not winning handily. This is supposed to be “the year,” in that uniquely Cubby millenarianism that seems to get worked up every few years or so. Pie, like Rich Hill, is a lot easier to blame-being optionable-than bad management decisions like Jason Marquis or Jon Lieber in the rotation, or the sudden conviction that Reed Johnson is a tremendous speed player and a near-regular center fielder, as opposed to a solid fourth outfielder who can help out when you have a lefty-hitting regular or two in the starting lineup. As a veteran caddy for Pie, he made great sense, but as the guy who’s going to wind up playing a lot of center when Edmonds can’t-which is certain to happen-as well as his platoon partner and pair of fresh legs, Johnson doesn’t really work. It takes the doubly uncertain proposition of Edmonds’ value on offense and defense and pairs that up with the equally uncertain proposition that Johnson can play center more than once in a while or hit right-handers well enough to make a solid frequently-used reserve. Johnson as the caddy for Pie could have worked; Johnson as the caddy for Edmonds makes for too much Reed Johnson, and no guarantees that Edmonds is worth the playing time.

Nevertheless, there’s a decent pair of branches on the decision tree that sprouts from this particular decision. First, there’s the off chance that Edmonds has something left in the tank, and keeps Johnson pinned in a reserve role he’s better suited for. That’s fine, and if you were a franchise that didn’t have a prospect as interesting as Pie to plug in to a lineup already well-stocked with veteran talent, it would make perfect sense. Edmonds notionally gives the Cubs the chance to put the veteran lefty power source in the middle of the lineup, push Kosuke Fukudome up to the second slot, and let them get Ryan Theriot down at the bottom. It’s an interesting proposition, to be sure, especially if you buy the suggestion-as I do-that chains of overwhelmingly complicated contingency overrule the sabermetric “truism” that lineup order doesn’t matter. It could work; we’ll see.

If it doesn’t, that brings us to the second possibility, which is that if Edmonds does flop, get hurt, or-as Agent Rogersz would suggest-“just explode, natural causes,” Pie is only a few cornfields away, and he will have the benefit of punishing the PCL, again, with the benefit of the regular playing time that his organization’s leadership failed to give him the first few times around. And if then, and only then, the Cubs are finally ready to keep the commitment they should have been observing from Opening Day onwards, they won’t be any worse off than they would have been had Edmonds shown them some slender shadow of the superstar he once was.

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