There has been a lot of traffic over the question of what exactly the Cubs are going to do at the first base position since Derrek Lee left the team. There has been a lot of fanfare regarding Tyler Colvin’s move to first, but Mike Quade seems to have squelched that idea. So what are the Cubs to do? Well there are many options, some more possible than others.
Sign a Free Agent
This appears to be, by far, the laziest of any possible solutions. I mean it’s easy, right? Let’s just throw some money at the problem, and bring in a proven bat that would be sure to duplicate his typical numbers.
Well, first off, the Cubs have been weighed down by several albatross contracts as it is, and adding another would seem to be counterproductive. The only upside of going after a proven commodity would be that they would not have to surrender a first-round draft pick in exchange for signing a Type-A free agent.
But who would they pursue?
Adam Dunn (30 years old) has been a popular name tossed around. His left-handed power presence would add some punch to a soft-hitting Cubs line-up. Forget about the strike-outs, Dunn can rake. He hasn’t hit below 25 home runs since 2001, and he makes up his far below-average contact percent with a consistently patient approach.
While Dunn is far above-average with the stick, he is flat out dreadful with the glove. There is no position you can put Dunn where he can be league-average. Nowhere. While Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has been kind to him this year at first, he is a career -15.7 fielder there.
Simply put, he is a DH bat, relegated to the American League, and the Cubs should not be tempted by his bat. Think about the effects that his poor glove would be on the rest of the infield. Starlin Castro, who already has throwing issues, would surely suffer. Aramis Ramirez had a erratic throwing arm, until he came to the Cubs with Derrek Lee on first; do you think that just went away?
Similar issues exist with the other free-agent first basemen. Paul Konerko is a good enough overall player, but why sign a 34 year-old first baseman when your team is three years away from competing? Carlos Pena offers a power left-handed bat with a good glove, but again, he will be 33 next season.
All options require a lot of money, and probably a minimum of a three year contract.
Trade For an Established Player
Trading for a very good option at first would require sending a lot of prospects to land a piece you can truly build around.
Any trade involving a name such as Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, or Joey Votto would begin with Starlin Castro and Brett Jackson, and probably include Andrew Cashner or Josh Vitters. Other options to go alongside Castro in a trade would be Randy Wells, Jay Jackson, or Tyler Colvin, among others.
Those three are superstars within their own right, and would certainly provide a high amount of value to the position, but in a time where the Cubs have more holes than just first base, one of the easier positions to fill on a team, it doesn’t make any sense to drain a farm system to add one player in the current state of the franchise.
Look For the Solution From Within The Organization
As mentioned above, many fans are fond of the idea of Colvin playing first, and why not? Well, contrary to popular opinion, he may not have the bat for the job. Sure, he has hit for power this year, but it remains to be seen if he is just a flash in the pan, as he never had the minor league track record that reflected his major league production.
Why not move Aramis Ramirez across the diamond? While he has lost his quick step over the years, but he definitely has the quickness and glove to be at least an above-average defender at first. He also has a proven bat, and will be in a contract season next year.
If Ramirez moves over, 3B prospect Marquez Smith has shown he can be a decent enough major leaguer. Smith has been a monster in 240 at-bats in Peoria, hitting for a .417 wOBA. Peoria is not the best place to gauge major-league talent though; just ask Micah Hoffpauir.
If Smith figures to fill in at third for the year, that will give Josh Vitters a chance to have a full season of Double-A ball under his belt, clearing the way for a 2012 debut if he performs well.
2012 is (coincidentally) the same season that Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder (along with Aramis Ramirez) become free agents, if they do not get traded and/or sign extensions with their teams.
With Ramirez’s money coming off the books, they could sign one of those two. This is very speculative, and probably not going to happen, but it happened with Soriano that way, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility. In this scenario, however, you wouldn’t have to drop the truckload of prospects you would have to in a trade.
It’s Now, Or Never For Jim Henry
This will be the definitive offseason for Cubs GM Jim Hendry, as this stands as the biggest immediate concern for the Cubs. The first base situation isn’t like the second base one, where you can simply wait for something to happen. Hendry needs a plan for what he is going to do immediately at both corner infield positions, as Ramirez is clearly on his way out.
Cubs fans, and the new ownership will not put up with the solution of just pumping money into the position, as we have learned from our trials and tribulations of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and even Kosuke Fukudome.
Hendry needs a well-developed solution to the future of first base, or it could set the Cubs back even further.
It seems that the hole Derrek Lee left is bigger than we initially realized.