Non-Tender Loving Care: Two Cast-Offs the Chicago Cubs Could Use

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2009

CINCINNATI - JULY 19:  Jonny Gomes #31 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates after hitting a two run home run in the 8th inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on July 19, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

At the passing of Saturday's deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, 25 teams chose, instead, to release one or more players. In total, 39 new names landed in the free agent pool.

Except in the cases of really miserable teams like Kansas City, Oakland, and Washington, these players will not be central pieces of any contender.

There are a handful of guys, however, who stand a chance to be solid contributors in part-time roles with good teams.

Among these, two make very good sense for the Chicago Cubs, who can use the pool of non-tendered talent to beef up their currently thin bench and bullpen.

Jonny Gomes, who made just over half a million dollars last season on a minor league contract with Cincinnati, clubbed 20 home runs for the third time in his career and posted a career-high .541 slugging average. He managed those marks despite seeing just 314 plate appearances of playing time for the season.

Gomes is a fit for Chicago because he bats right-handed and plays both corner outfield positions. His defense is below average, but as a member of a right field platoon with Kosuke Fukudome, it would not do undue harm.

Meanwhile, here are his career numbers against left-handed pitching, presumably the situation in which he would most often bat for Chicago: 600 plate appearances, 30 home runs, .274/.369/.517.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry would need to settle the questions of where he will ship Milton Bradley, and whom he will sign to patrol center field, before pursuing Gomes. If he succeeds in doing so, however, he may look to Gomes as his fifth outfielder and right-handed bench bat.

Gomes would help shore up an offense that scored 148 fewer runs in 2009 than in 2008. Chicago, however, has problems on the pitching side of the game as well. The Chicago staff dropped from second to fifth in the National League in runs allowed last season and has already lost starter Rich Harden to the Texas Rangers via free agency.

In order to solidify that group, however, Hendry should look to replace Harden indirectly, by adding bullpen strength rather than an excess starting pitcher. Keeping that in mind, one name jumps off the list of non-tendered relievers and demands attention.

Matt Capps, the erstwhile Pittsburgh closer, struggled mightily in 2009, and the Pirates opted not to bring him back at a rate of roughly $2.3 million.

That move surprised many, and well it ought to have. Capps did struggle in 2009: His FIP (a fielding-independent metric scale to ERA) leapt from 3.16 and 3.28 in 2007 and 2008 to 4.90 in 2009. His walk rate and home run rate each skyrocketed.

Capps got extraordinarily unlucky, however: His opponents' batting average on balls in play was a nearly impossible .390. League averages consistently hover somewhere around .300, and since Capps strikes out fewer batters than most top relievers (his 7.62 K/9 in 2009 was a career high but ranked him just 79th out of 145 qualifying relievers), that spike in BABIP took a tremendous toll.

All told, Capps could step into the breach and become Chicago's second-best reliever and would provide excellent closer's insurance should Carlos Marmol falter or succumb to injury. In fact, though both are right-handed, they would be an intriguing platoon in the relief ace role.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella could judiciously choose Capps when control is key, such as in bases-loaded situations, and Marmol in spots that call for a strikeout (i.e., runner on third base, less than two out).

Because Marmol gives up virtually no home runs, Piniella could also choose to go to him in hitter-friendly parks with short porches, while using Capps in bigger parks where his superior control and ability to pitch to contact would come in handy.

Between Gomes and Capps, Chicago would need to spend no more than $3.5 million for 2010, and possibly less. The two could add about two wins to the Cubs' ledger, relative to if Chicago went into the year with replacement-level Micah Hoffpauir and Jeff Stevens in their positions. It may seem like a trivial improvement, but for such a reasonable cost, the moves might be well worth it.


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