Chicago Cubs: More Moves Raise More Questions

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJuly 6, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 27: Jake Fox #5 of the Chicago Cubs hits the ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 27, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Pirates 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Monday should be an exciting day for fans of the Chicago Cubs. The lineup should, for the first time in months, be nearly complete with the return of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, outfielder Reed Johnson, and bullpen arm Angel Guzman.

But there's a cloud surrounding this silver lining.

What happens when veterans come back from their rehab assignments?

They take up spots on the 25-man rosters.

Now the Cubs have some decisions to make, and General Manager Jim Hendry has already followed his awful winter by handcuffing manager Lou Piniella before he has to start writing bus passes to Iowa.

Early this past week, the Cubs made a minor move that could have major implications on their roster moves this coming week. The team traded a low-level minor league pitcher to Colorado for infielder Jeff Baker, a utility player who has been described as a poor man's Mark DeRosa.

The problem with this move is that Hendry has spent eight months trying to find a replacement for a player he had under contract until New Year's Eve.

And look at the results the Cubs have had with the series of moves!

Aaron Miles, brought in to start at second base, has missed most of the season with a series of injuries. When he has been on the field, it's been regrettable; he's sitting at a robust .203 batting average with a .240 on-base percentage.

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The only thing he has done for the Cubs this year is make Alfonso Soriano look like Ted Williams.

Then there was the series of moves that really excited fans. Hendry gave Joey Gathright a contract, and then watched him play. After a month of the bench, Hendry traded Gathright to Baltimore for Ryan Freel, another injury-plagued utility player past his prime.

Freel has dealt with injuries of his own this season and was designated for assignment when Baker was acquired.

After the Miles experiment failed, Piniella was forced to try Mike Fontenot full time at second base. What's more depressing is that the Miles experiment failed in March, before the regular season had even started.

Fontenot, a super-sub on last year's team, has struggled all year. He is currently batting just .236 while splitting time between second and third, where he's filled in for the ailing Ramirez as well.

Anyone sensing a theme here?

The bits and pieces Hendry tried to sell as a roster have all shown to be masking tape on a foundation crack.

That was until the team had the nerve to start promoting players from the minors to fill the holes on the roster.

Andres Blanco was brought up as a defensive specialist and has been spectacular in the field. Though he's only hitting .225, he has been a steady glove in the middle infield in the 27 games in which he's played.

And then there's the case of Jake Fox. He was described by many scouts in similar terms as the Kansas City Royals' Billy Butler: He can hit the cover off the ball, but he's not the best at catching it.

Since his promotion, Fox has forced his way into Piniella's lineup almost every day by hitting .310 with four home runs and 15 runs batted in despite only appearing in 26 games.

Considering Milton Bradley has six homers and 19 runs batted in to show for 65 games, Fox has been a lightning rod.

Sam Fuld, who has been equally deserving of his own urban legend and fan clubs in just six games, is also on the wrong end of the payscale and bench now. Fuld has taken walks, played good defense in the outfield, and run the bases well (and fast) in limited action.

But with Ramirez and Johnson set to return, there isn't enough room on the bench for all of these guys. And the problem is becoming Baker's lack of minor league options, forcing one of the deserving and producing youngsters to head back to Iowa.

Fuld will likely lose his spot on the bench, because, with Johnson back, the Cubs will have four veteran outfielders and Micah Hoffpauir on the roster. So the guy described by many as the best, perhaps only, legitimate leadoff man on the team won't be there anymore.

But even more clouded is the infield situation.

Hoffpauir will stay as the backup first baseman and primary left-handed bat off the bench. But the kids now have to compete with Baker, as well as the mediocre midgets like Fontenot, to stay in the big leagues.

Baker is, by trade, a corner infielder.

This would lead most people to assume that Fox is the off man out because of his defensive issues. But Baker's career best season saw him hit 12 home runs in around 240 at bats; Fox is on pace to hit 20 in the same amount of playing time.

So, what the Cubs have to deal with Sunday night is another problem that's been created by a short-sighted general manager making deals without thinking.

Arguably, the best hitter on the roster not named Derrek Lee is now staring at the prospect of heading back to Triple-A, because the team traded for a guy that plays the same role on the roster.

If Fox is demoted and the offense struggles again like it was before he forced his way into the lineup, there is only one person to blame: Hendry.

His inability to show discretion when putting together his roster this year has been appalling, and the issues Piniella now has to deal with have been caused by Hendry's moves.


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