The Fantastic Mr. Fox: A's-Cubs Trade Liberates Suppressed Talent

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIDecember 7, 2009

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 23:  Jake Fox of the Chicago Cubs poses during photo day at the Fitch Park Spring Training complex on February 23, 2009 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Is it weird that I continue to root for my fantasy players even after their tenures on my team have ended?

Take Matt Holliday. After limping to an 0-3 start in my most important Head-to-Head league in 2007, I swung a deal for a young slugger who I admittedly didn’t know much about. I went 13-1 after the trade. Coincidence?

The Baseball Writers Association of My Head voted him my team’s MVP. He remains one of my favorite players to this day—and not just because I pulled off a similar trade shortly before Holliday heated up in St. Louis.

Of course, I’m not alone in my appreciation for Holliday, nor is my paternalistic attitude exclusive to big stars. I grew attached to Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval, and Shin-Soo Choo at the beginning of 2009, then adopted Gordon Beckham, Carlos Gonzalez, and Rajai Davis as favorites as I rode their hot streaks down the stretch.

By far the most frustrating of my adoptees was Chicago Cubs utility-man Jake Fox, who for several weeks was one of the most consistent hitters on my team, despite getting the most inconsistent playing time.

Called up from AAA-Iowa at the end of May, Fox was absolutely raking in the minors, mashing 17 homers and 50 RBI while batting a sterling .423.

After posting a 1.071 OPS in five games as a pinch-hitter, Fox hit cleanup in his first start with the Cubs.

Through July 31, Fox was hitting .311/7/26 with an insane .592 slugging percentage—better than Joe Mauer’s—and .937 OPS. If you think that’s impressive, also consider that he played in just 40 games over that time span. He made just 22 starts, playing only 11 complete games.

Projected over 600 at-bats, Fox was on pace to smack 41 homers and rack up 151 RBI. Why the Cubs didn’t play him more often is still a mystery to me. He was outplaying normal starters Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley, let alone Jeff Baker and Micah Hoffpauir.

I kept my eye on Fox all season, waiting for him to earn enough real-life playing time for me to put him in my fantasy starting lineup. At one point at the end of June, an injury opened up a spot and I plugged him in; I was rewarded with a pair of homers as he started seven consecutive days (an event which would happen only once more in 2009). But I usually couldn't justify using a guy who wasn’t guaranteed to play.

Of course, it wasn’t just one big fairy tale for Fox. He came down to Earth in August (his Herculean slugging percentage dipped to a pedestrian .431) before taking a nosedive at the end of the season; he put up an OPS of .481—barely half what it was in July—after Sep. 1. For comparison, Chris Carpenter’s OPS was .482.

His end-of-season slide is indefensible, but is it really a surprise? Despite his offensive prowess, he spent all season playing sporadically, all over the diamond. The Cubs even sent him down to the minors again in June, even though he had put up a 1.012 OPS in 10 at-bats. How demoralizing must it have been to see struggling injured players start over him all season long?

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when Fox was traded to Oakland—both as his former, wistful fantasy owner from this season and his prospective drafter next year.

There’s been no official word on what his role will be as an Athletic, but it’s safe to say that Fox will get the chance he didn’t have in Chicago—especially with Jack Cust likely to be non-tendered.

It’s no guarantee that Fox will regain his form from the first half of 2009—if there was, there’s no way the A’s could have afforded him. But if he comes anywhere close to what he did when he first got called up, there will no longer be a power outage in Oakland.

What do you think? How will Fox fair in 2010?