The Cubs approach this November with some of the same issues they wanted to address last year: depth in the bullpen and a left-handed hitting, everyday outfielder.
There is now a player available, having his option for 2009 declined by his former employer, who would be perfect for the Cubs outfield next year. A lefty at the plate, this player hit .293 last year with 15 home runs and 85 runs batted in, playing in 145 games.
His name: Garret Anderson.
Yes, he's 36 years old and has some health issues. He is also a left fielder, which is the position currently occupied by Alfonso Soriano. And had his contract been picked up by the Angels, he would have made $14 million in 2009.
So how is he a good fit for the Cubs?
Anderson is a professional. He has been to three All-Star Games in his career and has played in five of the last seven postseasons. He hit .293 with all but one of his home runs coming against right-handed pitching last year, which proved to be the Cubs' Achilles' heel last year.
And, most importantly, he is coming to the end of a solid career and could possibly be talked into playing fewer games and taking a financial hit for the sake of playing for a winner.
Looking at the Cubs' outfield options for next season, there is a lot of mud that needs to be sorted through before March. Reed Johnson is arbitration eligible and played well enough last year in whatever role manager Lou Piniella gave him that he deserves to be back.
Kosuke Fukudome was a disappointment in his rookie season. Alfonso Soriano has had trouble staying on the field since joining the Cubs, but he was one of only two outfielders to provide an offensive spark last year. The other, Jim Edmonds, most certainly won't be back in 2009.
The intrigue lies in what to do with the younger options the Cubs have in the outfield. Felix Pie, who hits left-handed, is out of minor-league options and either has to be on the Cubs' major-league roster or is out of town. The big issue with Pie has been his immaturity at the plate, which has not been helped by his best friend at Wrigley being the free-swinging Soriano.
The left-handed bats the Cubs had on the roster last year were Fukudome, Edmonds, Pie, Micah Hoffpauir, Mike Fontenot, and Darryl Ward. Ward is a free agent, Hoffpauir is stuck behind Derrek Lee for playing time, and Fontenot is looking up the depth chart at Mark DeRosa.
So where is the left-handed thump going to come from? Looking at the free agent candidates, there is nothing that excites me. Bobby Abreu? Maybe before the Home Run Derby. Adam Dunn? Adding him to a team with plate discipline issues is like throwing a bucket of water at a forest fire. Yes, he walks, but the only range he has in the outfield is the shadow cast by his enormous frame.
At 36 year old, there will not be as many suitors with long-term contract offers. The teams with money to spend will all be chasing CC Sabathia or Manny Ramirez, which figures to freeze up the free-agent market until the big fish start the cascading dominoes.
The next names to come off the list figures to be the Abreu's and Dunn's of the world. With names like Jake Peavy, Prince Fielder, and Matt Holliday apparently floating into the trade market, teams like the Yankees, Mets, and other spenders won't be inclined to make an early run at a quality player like Anderson.
If GM Jim Hendry has a plan and players he marks as those he wants, as he did with DeRosa a number of seasons back, then he has shown a willingness to break from the gridlock and give contracts to the players he wants, no matter where they fall in the free-agent hierarchy. Anderson would look great hitting fourth, fifth, or sixth in the Cubs' batting order, providing a left-handed bat to break up the Aramis Ramirez-Lee-Geovany Soto-DeRosa center of a right-handed-heavy lineup.
I'm not saying break the bank for Anderson—frankly, banks don't need any more breaking these days. But a two-year contract would enable to the Cubs to take their time, again, in making a decision on Pie, while giving the team options with Johnson splitting time in center and right, as well as the eventual ascension of top prospect Tyler Colvin, potentially in late 2009 or in 2010.
Just a thought...