Injuries to Cubs Force Jim Hendry's Hand

Matt PoloniCorrespondent IMay 9, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Ryan Freel #2 of the Baltimore Orioles poses during photo day at the Orioles spring training complex on February 23, 2009 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Coming into the 2009 season, the Cubs had three injury-prone players penciled into the starting lineup.

Starting right fielder Milton Bradley has only gone injury-free in two of his last eight seasons. Those years (2004 and 2008) happen to be the only two seasons he has played in more than 101 games or hit more than 14 home runs.

He has totaled 341 days on the disabled list over those eight years (an average of 57 days per injured season).

Starting first baseman Derrek Lee spent exactly 100 days away from the Cubs in 2006 with a wrist injury. He hasn't been the same hitter since.

This season, he had to decline an invitation to play in the World Baseball Classic due to a quad injury and has recently been sidelined with a sore neck.

Starting left fielder Alfonso Soriano has spent 78 days on the disabled list in the past two seasons. Last season saw 56 of those days spread across two stints from a broken finger and a strained calf.

Another problem was the depth at third base.

Other than Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs only player with big league experience at the position was Aaron Miles (14 games, 7 starts).

The players with minor league experience at the position were as follows: Derrek Lee (93 games), Mike Fontenot (62), Koyie Hill (16), Ryan Theriot (7), and Geovany Soto (3).

Last year, neither problem was really an issue. The reason for that is easy. Mark DeRosa had both the offensive and defensive ability to not only fill in at each position, but start if necessary.

On teams that are older, injury prone, or lack defensive depth at certain positions, versatility is vital to success. The Cubs fall under all three categories.

Unfortunately, the Cubs traded DeRosa to the Indians shortly after signing his replacement (Miles) to a two-year deal.

Since Miles isn't a prototypical third baseman, Mike Fontenot took over as Ramirez's backup. After lower back and calf injuries to Ramirez, Fontenot has gotten to start twelve games at the hot corner.

The replacement of DeRosa with Miles also affected the outfield, pushing Micah Hoffpauir into a role as a backup outfielder.

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Hoffpauir, who is not exactly the best defensive outfielder, is also the only option for any power in the outfield should either Soriano or Bradley go down.

Realizing that the Cubs needed another option at third base, Jim Hendry called up Bobby Scales on Monday. Scales, a career minor leaguer, has played 131 games at third base.

Then, he traded Joey Gathright to Baltimore for Ryan Freel on Friday. Although he's primarily been an outfielder, Freel has played 106 games at third base in his major league career and 101 games at second.

Freel doesn't exactly have the bat that you want out of a third baseman either (having hit only one more home run in his seven-year career than DeRosa's total for 2008), but Fontenot might supply those numbers at second base.

With Aramis Ramirez dislocating his left shoulder for the second time in his major league career, Freel should be thrown into the fray fairly soon.

Also, since the Cubs traded car-jumping speedster Joey Gathright away in the deal, the acquisition of another player with great speed lessens the loss that the team will see on the basepaths. Freel stole 37, 36, and 37 bases in the 2004-2006 seasons for Cincinnati.

Now the Cubs have three players on their roster who can play in both the infield and outfield (Scales, Miles, and Freel), one pure outfielder (Johnson/Fukudome), and a bat (Hoffpauir) available to come off the bench. The trade doesn't solve everything, but is surely helps.

Sadly, the move is not without its pitfalls. Freel has proven to be fragile in recent years.

A strained hamstring sidelined him for 37 games in 2003. Turf toe got the best of him in 2005, costing him 31 games.

Later in 2005, he tore cartilage in his right knee that put him on the DL for 20 days and required surgery. He had a reaggravation in 2007, which required surgery to his meniscus and cartilage and put him on the DL for 56 days.

He also missed 116 days last year with a hamstring injury that required surgery.

This season, he hasn't played since a concussion he suffered on April 20 when he was hit in the head with a pickoff throw.

Only time will tell if this was a good move for the Cubs or not, but their injury woes may not be over.

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