Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Cubs Need Him - So Don't Ship Him!

I can't believe I find myself in agreement with Jay Mariotti, but he's exactly right folks:

I don't want to write this, you don't want to read this. But suddenly, this team can't afford NOT to have Sosa around, despite the baggage and inevitable distractions he'll bring starting his first day of spring training. If the Cubs had signed Beltran instead of making a half-hearted [edited for content, CJ], lowball stab, Sosa wouldn't be needed. If they'd chased J.D. Drew, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $55 million, Sosa wouldn't be needed. But Hendry has had a disturbingly quiet offseason, leaving his team without a reliable closer, a reliable left fielder and sufficient production to offset any Sosa departure. If he left now, the only hope would be Magglio Ordonez, who dearly wants to be a Cub. But much as I trust Maggs when he tells me his surgically repaired knee will be ready for the Cactus League, no one will know for sure until he and agent Scott Boras produce medical reports and let team doctors examine him and put him through extensive workouts. Even if the Mets or Baltimore Orioles rush in with a late offer, the risks of losing Sosa's offense now outweigh the gains of a happier, more cohesive ballclub.

Let's review a few facts. (1) Moises Alou, the team's leader in RBI's (106), runs (106), and HR's (39) is now playing for his father in San Francisco (and btw if you don't think that acquiring Alou is going to go a long way toward ensuring the Giants win the West you're confused, deluded, or both). Also, this former Cub also hit .293/.361/.557 for the season and (among the regular starters) was second only behind Aramis Ramirez when you take his Onbase Percentage Plus Slugging Average (.919 OPS). That's a big hole to fill folks.

(2) Sammy actually was hitting pretty well before the infamous sneeze that sent him to the DL (he was hitting .320 in the Month of May), and by the end of the year he still finished 4th in RBI's (83), 3rd in HR's (35), 5th in runs (69), and 3 rd (among regular starters) in OPS (.849). Yes, he struggled when he returned from the DL - but he still finished near the top in those statistics that measure offensive value. I was as critical of him as anyone, but let's be realistic - even with Sammy's reduced numbers from last year - they are still formidable numbers to have to replace.

(3) When you consider that this club's offense was frustratingly anemic for most of the year even with Alou & Sosa (team leaders in offensive production) - what do you think the result will be next year without both of them?! Maggs (if healthy) could replace Alou, but if you also dump Sosa, you now have another large hole to fill. Is the rookie Jason Dubois going to knock in 83 RBI's, 35 HR's, and put up an .849 OPS? Perhaps (although it seems highly unlikely to me) - but that's an awful big risk and by no means certain! Remember how frustrating this team's offense was last year? Well let me tell you - Losing 2 of our offensive leaders isn't going to help, that's for sure - unless you replace them with people who are equal or better than those who left. Maggs can replace the value lost by Alou's departure - but I don't see anyone who can adequately fill Sosa's shoes if he's shipped. Further, this discussion also fails to take into account the possibility that Sammy will have a season that more closely approximates his pre-sneeze form than his post-sneeze form (I have said repeatedly that I think Sammy will have a good year).

And by the way, all of this assumes that the Cubs can and will sign Magg$. I am growing increasingly concerned that his accursed agent is about to drive the price up to levels that the Cubs will refuse to pay - just as he did with Carlo$ Beltran. And if the Cubs don't acquire Magg$ - this ball club's offensive punch will make last years squad look downright powerful.

All of this means that the Cubs need to (1) sign Magg$ to replace the offensive hole created by Alou's departure (this needs to be the #1 priority now), and (2) retain Sosa unless someone can be acquired who can replace his offensive production. In other words, we don't need to dump Sosa at all costs and (even worse) pay for him to go to another team and have a resurgent year!