One year after an offseason filled with all the wrong moves, the Chicago Cubs have started this one off on a much better foot. On Thursday, the Cubs made their latest offseason transaction by trading INF Aaron Miles and 3B/OF Jake Fox to the Oakland A’s for RHP Jeff Gray and two prospects.
Last July, I proposed the idea of trading Fox for bullpen help while his value was highest and the team was in desperate need of another arm. Fox has a great bat and lots of potential, but with no natural position in the field, his future is with an American League club where he can play everyday as a designated hitter.
GM Jim Hendry had the following to say about Fox: "We feel we maximized his value in the trade, but we're giving Jake the opportunity to be an everyday player in the American League as a first baseman, [designated hitter], and corner position that we don't have available with Derrek [Lee] and [Aramis Ramirez] and [Alfonso] Soriano."
While it’s unfortunate to see Fox go, the trade allowed Hendry to unload the $1.7 million dead weight that is Aaron Miles. Last season, Miles batted a career-low .185 with no home runs and 5 RBIs, and was less useful on offense than Carlos Zambrano. Miles was versatile in the field, but with Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker and Andres Blanco capable of playing the middle infield positions, there was really no spot for someone who can hit about as well as I can.
In return for Fox and Miles, the Cubs received RHPs, Jeff Gray and Ronny Morla as well as 1B / OF Matt Spencer, a third-round pick by the Phillies in 2007 who was dealt to Oakland in the Joe Blanton trade.
Gray already has some major league experience at age 28, as he appeared in 24 games for the A’s last season. In those games he had a 3.76 ERA while walking four and striking out 19 in 26 1/3 innings. Morla spent last season at Class A with a 4.86 ERA, while Spencer played in both A and AA ball, combining for a .289 average with 19 HR and 91 RBI.
GM Jim Hendry claims that the trade has nothing to do with clearing up funds to pay a portion of disgruntled OF Milton Bradley’s salary if he is traded, but that remains to be seen. Whether or not that played a factor, the Cubs turned two bench players, albeit one who could start if there was a place for him, into a bullpen arm and two prospects and saved money while doing it.
In addition to trading Miles and Fox, the Cubs have made a few other offseason transactions of note. The most important one involving a player in this writer’s opinion was the re-signing of LHP John Grabow to a two-year deal worth nearly $7.5 million.
For the majority of the ’09 campaign until the trade deadline, Sean Marshall was the only lefty in the pen thanks to someone in the front office thinking Neal Cotts was still able to pitch in the Major Leagues. With the acquisition and subsequent re-signing of Grabow, the Cubs have a solid lefty who has proved himself as a workhorse, as he pitched the third-most innings of any lefty last season while posting a 3-0 record and 3.36 ERA.
The other transaction worth discussing is the deal that sent RHP Aaron Heilman to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor league prospects, a pitcher and a first baseman. Heilman appeared in 70 games for the Cubs last year and was unimpressive, with a 4.11 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.
While those numbers aren’t terrible, they certainly don’t reflect the price the Cubs had to pay to get him. During last offseason, the Cubs were in talks with the Padres to acquire SP Jake Peavy for a bundle of prospects.
However, in order to acquire Heilman, the Cubs traded SS Ronny Cedeno and LHP Garrett Olson, who the Cubs had to trade Felix Pie to acquire. These were some of the prime prospects that the Padres were likely looking at, and after the Heilman trade the Peavy negotiations were essentially dead.
The final move the Cubs made, which will hopefully turn out to be the best, was the hiring of Rudy Jaramillo as the new hitting coach. Jaramillo had spent the last 15 seasons with the Texas Rangers and produced sluggers such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera and a younger version of Alfonso Soriano.
It wasn’t cheap to sign Jaramillo, as he will make $2.42 million over three years, but should be worth it if he can turn around players like Soriano and Milton Bradley if for some reason he is still on the team. After seeing run production drop from 855 in 2008 to 707 in 2009, the Cubs offense is in need of a boost that Jaramillo should be able to provide.
So far this offseason the Cubs have bolstered the bullpen, traded some excess bench players, stocked the farm system and hired the best hitting coach in the game. If just one team is willing to take a chance on Milton Bradley this offseason will be a success.
This article originally published on Cubicle GM.
Quotes taken from cubs.com.