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Cubs Second Baseman Mike Fontenot Could Be First To Go In Messy Middle

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 12, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 23:  Mike Fontenot #17 of the Chicago Cubs throws from his stomach to get Juan Pierre of the Los Angeles Dodgers out at second in the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on August 23, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Cubs defeated the Dodgers 3-1.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Somewhere in the world, Mark Reynolds is fuming.

The Arizona Diamondbacks slugger missed a spot on the list of Major League players with between two and three years of service time who will qualify for arbitration this off-season by one day.

Instead of Reynolds or Orioles center fielder Adam Jones—both of whom would have made millions after breakout seasons—Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot will get the privilege of leverage in salary negotiations with his club. He must agree on a figure by mid-December or go before a neutral arbitrator, who would then decide Fontenot's salary.

Fontenot, like fellow second baseman Jeff Baker, stands to make anywhere between $1.25 and $1.8 million in 2010, if history is a solid indicator. The difference between that figure and the roughly $450,000 the cubs would otherwise have payed him is substantial, especially for a team on a tight budget. In fact, it should be enough to motivate Ganeral Manager Jim Hendry to move Fontenot during the winter.

Fontenot, a Louisiana State product who will turn 30 next June, has a career wOBA (a metric designed to better estimate a player's total offensive contribution by assigning a run value to each of his plate appearance outcomes, based on expected runs matrices) of .332. However, a 2008 in which he managed a stellar .395 figure in limited playing time distorts that figure: In 2009, he dropped through the floor as the Cubs expanded his role, managing a measly .296 figure in a league that averaged .329.

He also plays slightly above-average defense, a quality that, coupled with his left-handed hitting stroke, earn him the label "versatile." In point of fact, however, Fontenot has never played an inning of outfield defense at the Major League level, has never stolen more than five bases in a season at any level, played mediocre defense at third base during his brief stint there in 2009, and can't hit lefties: a .630 OPS with just one home run in 142 career plate appearances.

For $1.5 million, the Cubs can do much better. They're only somewhat worse off with even the miserable Andres Blanco, who stands to make the Major League minimum and who fields both middle infield positions better than does Fontenot. Blanco also hits from both sides of the plate, making him less vulnerable to left-handed pitching.

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I have been clear about my insistence upon adding a second baseman, be it via trade (Luis Castillo or Dan Uggla) or free agency (Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez or a trasnplanted third baseman in Chone Figgins). Baker, though he played exceptionally in meaningless games down the stretch for Chicago, has never sustained health, let alone effectiveness, over a full season.

Aaron Miles, another incumbent clogging the path of Chicago prospects Starlin Castro and Hak-Ju Lee, enters 2010 with a guaranteed $2.7 million-dollar price tag, one Hendry will find as tough to shed as the much larger tab of embattled outfielder Milton Bradley (but at least Bradley had a slightly above-average offensive campaign in 2009). Miles, meanwhile, lost a season-long struggle with the Mendoza lines, posting an all-time awful line of .185/.224/.242 in 74 games.

In a perfect world, Chicago could keep Baker and Fontenot and simply wait for Castro to bump one to the bench, and the other out of town. Given the financial restraints Hendry faces in assembling the 2010 Cubs, however, that position is untenable. Fontenot must go, and Hendry must get creative about replacing him.

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