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Moving Parts: A Creative Solution to Chicago Cubs' Center Field Dilemma

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 21, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 27: Ryan Theriot # 2 of the Chicago Cubs waits to catch 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)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When a team identifies a weakness in their lineup, whether offensive or defensive, there are three avenues through which the club can attempt to augment their efficiency at that position.

First and most common, the club can look to the free-agent and trade markets to find a suitable upgrade.

Second, they can replace from within, by promoting a highly-touted prospect.

Third, they can platoon two players to fill the gap, or slide a player from one defensive position to another, thereby improving their expected output simply by optimizing the usage of their current roster.

In the case of the 2010 Cubs, the most glaring deficiency among the projected everyday regulars is in center field. Kosuke Fukudome, the 2009 incumbent, will slide back to right in 2010, a necessary move in light of his abysmal year in center.

That leaves general manager Jim Hendry to find a suitable fix for both Fukudome's vacated spot, and for the murky situation at middle infield. 

So far, reports in the Chicago sports media have suggested Hendry is targeting (among others) Mets second baseman Luis Castillo , and Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson .

Both of them fit, in certain respects, but both also have serious flaws: Granderson can't hit left-handed pitching and doesn't get on base with any special aptitude.

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Castillo, aside from his advancing age, hits for no power whatsoever and plays below-average defense at second base.

Although those are logical rumors, and although the alternative I am about to suggest is somewhat radical, there is another way, and one that could land the Cubs in better position to win both in 2010 and beyond.

The proposal includes several steps. First, the Cubs would trade third-base prospect Josh Vitters, second baseman Mike Fontenot and a minor league pitcher to the Florida Marlins for their slugging second baseman, Dan Uggla. 

I know, I know, I have made this proposal more than once already, and have been much-maligned for it.

But Uggla, who has hit more home runs in his first four seasons than any other middle infielder in history, will cost only about $7.5 million for whichever team pries him away from the stingy Marlins, and is under organizational control through 2011.

Further, he fills one of Chicago's biggest lineup needs, a fifth hitter with power and patience to protect the big boppers, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

Uggla would play second in 2010, then slide to either first or third in 2011, depending upon whether Ramirez opts out of his current deal after next season.

More centrally, however, Ryan Theriot (the team's current shortstop) would move to the outfield, making room for star prospect Starlin Castro.

Anyone who questions the wisdom of such a move need only review game tapes of the past few seasons to note that Theriot (primarily out of necessity, with Soriano, Fukudome and Jim Edmonds manning the outfield behind him) has become a deft fly-hawk. 

To add a layer of security, Hendry would do well to sign Marlon Byrd, with whom he already reportedly has had discussions.

Byrd could take center if struggles by Castro forced Theriot to resume his place at short, and in the meantime, having Byrd's right-handed bat around could help offset Fukudome's woes against southpaw pitching.

Like every other scenario for the 2010 Cubs, this plan has flaws. Between Uggla and Byrd, Chicago would be forced to pony up something like $11 million in 2010 salary alone.

That would be only slightly mitigated by the shedding of Mike Fontenot, who stands to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million next year after qualifying for arbitration.

Via upgrades in defense at both shortstop and center, however, and through the enormous improvement Uggla would bring to the offense, it could very well net the Cubs an extra two wins in the standings next season, considering no other factors.

And because Uggla would move to a corner infield spot for 2011, Theriot could slide back in to second or stay in center, thereby allowing the Cubs to look for the best available player at either position next winter. 

The harsh reality is that the Cubs, with limited resources for the first time in five years and a host of holes to fill, have an uphill climb to contend in 2010.

Thus, whether readers agree or disagree with this particular proposal, it's important for the club to consider ideas like it, that aim toward long-term success for the franchise, rather than going for broke in a year when it may be impractical.

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