Seven seasons ago, the Cubs traded Hee-Seop Choi and Mike Nannini for Derek Lee to fill the glaring hole left at first base since the departure of fan favorite Mark Grace in 2000.
The two players that Lee was acquired for hardly made a splash in the Major Leagues, while Lee has been a two-time All Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner, and placed third in MVP voting in those seven seasons. Needless to say, the Cubs were the big winners in the trade.
This past August however, the Cubs themselves traded Lee for a few minor leaguers (Jeffrey Lorick, Robinson Lopez, and Tyrelle Harris), though Lee (34) is past his prime this time around.
Now the Cubs find themselves in a similar position to how they were in post Mark Grace.
There simply is no long term option at first base for the Cubs, outside of trading for someone who could fill the hole at the position. Sure, Cubs fans may get excited about the prospect of signing Adam Dunn, but he will be 31 years old. Dunn is expected to receive a three year deal for about $11 million per year, so he’s hardly a bargain.
In essence, the Cubs would be signing the slugger (in theory) as a stop gap option until a long-term option comes out of the farm system, or through a trade.
Given the current state the franchise is in, it’s safe to say the Cubs won’t make a championship push in the next three years, and while Dunn is a good (not great) player, 31-year-old, poor fielding, poor contact first basemen are certainly not the players you want to build your team around. Dunn is simply a good role player, a stop-gap.
The Cubs could also sign one of the lesser free agents such as Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson, or even Victor Martinez, but the previous concerns remain.
Looking internally, perennial disappointment Micah Hoffpauir has proved he cannot produce at the Major League level. Hoffpauir has poor batting skills, despite his good raw power. That power has yet to translate to anything outside of torching Triple-A competition. Hoffpauir hasn’t shown the organization that he is anything more than a good starter on a Triple-A level team.
A year removed from his second Tommy John surgery, Xavier Nady proved to the Cubs that he can be a viable backup option coming off the bench. However, when given additional playing time after the departure of Lee, Nady struggled in the final two months. Nady is reluctant to walk (5.7 percent walk rate), and strikes out often (26.8 percent). On top of that, he is a sub-par fielder.
Like Dunn, Nady is 31, and as his career is marred by injuries, he is unlikely to improve his skills greatly enough to produce as an even average Major League first baseman.
What other possible options could there be?
Former Cleveland Indain First Round pick Brad Snyder could step in and be part of the rebuilding process as he has torched Triple-A, but he’s not exactly a prospect anymore at age 28, and appeared over-matched during a small stint in the Majors, striking out 44 percent of the time, making contact 62 percent of the time (88 percent league average), and produced 18.5 percent swinging strikes (8.5 percent league average).
Let’s be serious, those numbers are for an incredibly small sample size (28 plate appearances), but the numbers are jaw dropping.
Aside from that, there’s outfield prospect Brandon Guyer, who will probably make his debut in 2011 or 2012, but in a perfect world, could use a bit more minor league seasoning.
Trading for a big-name first baseman such as Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez would include trading a combination of top prospects, most likely including pitchers Chris Archer, Trey McNutt, Chris Carpenter, Guyer, and (definitely) shortstop Starlin Castro. That said, I legitimately doubt that a trade will occur.
Another possible outcome, but one that looks more unlikely with each passing week, is to move Aramis Ramirez across the diamond from third base to first, as he is growing older and less capable of handling the hot corner.
Overall, the Cubs' options seem to be incredibly limited, and it seems that a free agent signing such as Adam Dunn is inevitable.
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