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Frank Catalanotto Could Catalyze Cubs, Cure Clubhouse Cancer

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IOctober 14, 2009

SURPRISE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 24: Frank Catalanotto #27  of the Texas Rangers during photo day at Surprise Stadium on February 24, 2009 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

He's no Todd Hollandsworth, but he'll do.

Frank Catalanotto, who holds the unofficial Major League record for surname syllables, is a free agent this offseason and could pop up on the radar of Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry as he looks for ways to bolster the team's outfield and add a veteran leader to a troubled clubhouse.

Catalanotto may be one of the more underrated utility-men of the past 15 years. His career line consists of a .292 career batting average, a .358 on-base percentage, and a .446 slugging average.

He has compiled those numbers despite an inability to stay healthy during his prime years and a lack of often-deserved playing time: "Little Cat" has never accrued more than 133 games or 489 at-bats in a season.

Though Catalanotto will turn 36 in April of next season, his skills do not appear to have eroded terribly. The years have also added to his sense of responsibility and leadership in clubhouses wherever he plays. His reputation precedes him as both a vocal leader and an active community member.

Catalanotto could fit well with Chicago because of his versatility: He has logged at least 91 games played at five positions, including first, second, and third base and each corner outfield spot.

In 2009, he made 29 starts for the Brewers in right field, where the Cubs could most often use him (though he would also make an excellent sub for Alfonso Soriano on days when the Cubs face tough right-handed starters).

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Perhaps most importantly, Catalanotto has the ideal profile for platoon duty at either corner outfield position. A left-handed hitter, his career numbers against right-handed pitching stand at .298/.361/.454, for a 38 percent better OPS against righties than against southpaws.

If the Cubs are looking for a one-year solution that could bridge the gap to 2006 first-round pick Tyler Colvin, Catalanotto and one of a trio of right-handed free agent outfielders could fit the bill.

The Yankees' Xavier Nady becomes a free agent this winter after a season in which he played only seven games before succumbing to injury. Like Catalanotto, injury concerns have plagued Nady over the course of his career. Yet Nady, who will turn 31 before the start of next season, has impressive career number when facing left-handed pitchers: .308/.383/.471.

He made $6.55 million in 2009 for New York but is now a free agent and likely won't see any numbers like that in light of his injury trouble.

Marlon Byrd, not long removed from playing alongside Catalanotto in the Texas Rangers' outfield, could also find a home in the Friendly Confines. In his first season of full duty since 2003, Byrd hit 20 home runs and finished with a .283 average for Texas; he also made just $3.06 million, a highly economical rate.

This possibility is intriguing because it would create a double platoon: Byrd would start in center field against left-handed starters, with Jake Fox manning right. Against righties, Kosuke Fukudome would play center, with Catalanotto in right.

On days when defense takes priority, Chicago could start Fukudome in right against a lefty, or Byrd in center (with Fukudome playing in favor of Catalanotto) against a righty.

This situation might not be embraced by any of its component members, but it would be an extremely effective group; of the four players it involves, only Fox does not appear to be a great platoon candidate, and that may only be because no suitably large sample of platoon splits is available for examination.

The final potential platoon partner for Catalanotto in the outfield is not, in fact, an outfielder by trade. In fact, he is a two-time Gold Glove winner at third base who frankly deserved a third.

Adrian Beltre, the erstwhile Dodger great and (more recently) embattled Mariner, finished out an albatross of a contract with the Seattle club in 2009. In it, he made $64 million over five seasons, while the Mariners managed just one winning campaign and failed to make the playoffs.

Beltre also had an OPS 35 points lower than his Dodger totals after going over to the American League, hitting 43 fewer home runs and failing to notch 30 homers even once over the life of the deal. He did win the aforementioned back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008, but in '09, he had a dismal season at the plate that overshadowed any defensive prowess he may have shown.

In the move from third to right, however, Beltre's cannon arm would be a useful tool. Moreover, he would be leaving the cavernous dimensions of Safeco Field for the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

The Cubs pursued Beltre halfheartedly during the winter prior to 2005, and with good reason: Aramis Ramirez was at his absolute peak during that space of time.

But now, if Beltre is willing to make the positional transition, Chicago ought to pounce. His platoon splits have become more pronounced as his career has advanced, reaching the highest levels of discrepancy in the past two seasons.

His price will be very low for someone with his established pedigree, due to the tough season at the plate and lingering questions about the injury which hampered his play and then sidelined him for 51 games in 2009.

Those queries, however, we may easily enough dismiss: Beltre never played fewer than 149 games between 2002 and 2007 and ranks 35th on the list of active players with the most games played.

He also fulfills Jim Hendry's stated top priority, that of finding another slugger to protect Chicago's duo of first baseman Derrek Lee and Ramirez. Beltre will turn 31 shortly after Opening Day next season and has 906 career RBI to go with his 250 home runs. He even stole 13 bases in 15 tries in 2009, more than any other player discussed in this article has recorded in any of the past five seasons.

Alongside any of these three candidates, or as a reserve if the Cubs acquire a leadoff man like Chone Figgins or Carl Crawford to patrol center field, Catalanotto would be an excellent addition to a Cubs club that needs relatively little to get over the hump and back into World Series contention next season.

Jim Hendry knows the days of unlimited budgets and wide-open wallets are gone, and now he must decide upon the best way to use what resources he does have. Efficient expenditures like Catalanotto could be his much sought after answer.

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