Monday, September 7, 2009

Lou's Passes on his Offseason Objective: Speed

It was the sort of Lou post game rambling that sends all us blogging and message board types into our mom's basement and onto the keyboard. Lou was spitballing to the media the other day and started talking about how he wanted more team speed next season. After 2007 it was having a more athletic outfield, so in came Fukudome, Reed Johnson, and eventually Jim Edmonds (the anti-athlete really). After last season he wanted to be more left-handed. So we got Milton Bradley, Koyie Hill, and Aaron Miles.

Lou has a point here. The Cubs are last in baseball in stolen bases, and don't have a single legit stolen base threat on the roster besides Sam Fuld. Part of this comes from Alfonso Soriano having an injured knee all season, in April he was running well and stealing some bases before hurting himself. Another part comes from the Cubs inability to develop intelligent baserunners in their minor league system. Ryan Theriot might be able to steal some bases, but he is so fundamentally bad at running the bases that he doesn't have a chance.

The last time the Cubs tried to get speed they traded for Juan Pierre before the 2006 season. Juan gave the team speed, he led the NL in hits and stole 58 bases. The problem is he also led baseball in outs created because he didn't take walks and led baseball in caught stealing. To me that is the ultimate catch with speed guys, they get caught a lot (the all-time CS leader? Rickey Henderson) and most of the time don't have enough power to cover the decline of speed that comes with advanced age. That makes it difficult to justify signing an older player because of his speed.

What Lou wants, Lou usually gets so we can assume that there will be some speed guys picked up. The name immediately reported in Chicago media was LA Angels utility player Chone Figgins, a constant target of South Side GM Ken Williams. Figgins fits the bill perfectly on the Cubs end though. He can play second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. He is a solid base stealer and fits the leadoff profile. Also in typical Jim Hendry/Cubs target fashion he is having a career year going into free agency, is 32 years old, and will probably require a long term deal.

I would be happy with Figgins because he is a valuable player who could fill the Mark DeRosa role, only do a better job at it. He isn't the power hitter that DeRosa is, but he can hit leadoff, steal bases, and take walks. I would be very happy to add him to the Cubs, but I think there are some other names the Cubs should look at.

The first person I would try to get is Jose Reyes from the Mets. Reyes will be coming off hamstring surgery, and I would suspect he might be on the trading block. As I wrote last week the Mets are broke and their owner might need to shed some payroll. Reyes is a free agent after 2010 and will be due a giant contract. The Mets cannot afford it right now and might want to get what they can for Reyes. He's young (26), fast (19 triples and 56 steals in 2008), and plays shortstop without a pop gun arm. It might cost some prospects, but Reyes is the kind of guy you give up some talent for.

Another free agent is Orlando Hudson who currently plays second base for the Dodgers. He will require a multi-year contract, but Hudson is another guy who can fit the bill. He isn't a base stealer like Figgins and Reyes, but he is a speedy guy who can hit at the top of the order. Hudson really can only play second, so I would rank him down on my wish list, but he is certainly on it.

The Cubs main need this offseason will be some sort of middle infielder that either allows the team to move Ryan Theriot over to second base (my ideal situation), or find a full time second baseman that isn't named Mike Fontenot. Second base has been the Cubs issue this year with the exception of Jeff Baker (who could potentially platoon with somebody if needed) and it happens to be rather easy to address through free agency.

Of course any offseason talk depends on the ownership situation being resolved and then the budget that Tom Ricketts gives Jim Hendry. Personally I think Hendry gets enough money to go after one semi-major free agent (Figgins range) and that may or may not be on top of money allowed to resign Rich Harden.

The offseason objective is more speed, so brace yourselves for lots of talk about it, especially considering we won't have a NL Central crown to fall back on.

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