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Friday, December 04, 2009

Billy Beane's Latest Swindle

It's days like these which make it hard to be a Cubs fan. Sure, it stings a little when Ryan Dempster gives up a three-run bomb to Manny Ramirez in the NLDS or when Alex Gonzalez boots a routine double-play ball in eight-inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, but it's those moments which make us who we are. Admit it, Cubs fans, the sting of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, painful though it may be, has buried deep within it the promise of delayed gratification. Cubs fans are masochists, ascetics, and Puritans. We have dedicated ourselves to a glory which is always on the horizon. But when it is finally reached, if it is ever reached, our euphoria will be unprecedented. Yankees fans will never experience joy like that. White Sox and Red Sox fans, sympathetic as they may be, will never experience joy like that. To be a lifelong Cubs fan is to maintain the dream of a heavenly reward on earth.

But, Oh!, there will be suffering and there will be trials, and there will be days like these. In his rookie year, Jake Fox hit eleven homers and drove in 44 runs, unspectacular numbers, except when you consider he started only 62 games and got only 241 plate appearances. Extrapolate his numbers over a full season and he would've been one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year in the National League. Which should be no surprise. Between AA and AAA in 2008, Fox had 31 HR and 105 RBI. In just 45 games at AAA in '09 he had 17 HR and 53 RBI, maintaining a .409 AVG and a 1336 OPS. This kid can rake!

Unfortunately, in Chicago he was a man without a position. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are entrenched at the corners and Fox isn't well-suited to the outfield. So, what Jim Hendry had this offseason was a player who had proved he was ready and able to be a productive hitter at the major-league level AND who wouldn't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2011 season. This is one of the best bargaining chips a general manager can have: a player who isn't essential to his own plans, but who offers considerable value to many of his competitors. Jake Fox, I had unwisely presumed, would be one of the lynchpins in a trade for serious major-league talent. Sure, he's got defensive issues and he strikes out a lot, but combined with another prospect or two, Fox could've helped the Cubs land Dan Uggla or Curtis Granderson, both of whom currently play for teams which have places for Fox to play (1B/DH) and covet the financial alleviation he would offer.

Instead, for the second year in a row, Jim Hendry essentially gave away the best tradable commodity he had in his arsenal. Last winter it was Mark DeRosa who he handed to the Indians for a couple of minor-league relievers, Jeff Stevens and John Gaub, and a very young starting pitcher, Chris Archer, who, to be fair, pitched fairly well at the A-level in '09 (6-4, 2.81 ERA, 119 K/66 BB, 109 IP). While all three of these pitchers may end up giving the Cubs some quality innings, with Archer having an outside shot at becoming a member of the rotation down the road, DeRosa would've been real handy to have last season when Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker, Aaron Miles, and others were combining to give us 7 HR and a 666 OPS from the second base position. Instead, DeRosa ended up playing for the team the Cubs were chasing down the stretch, as the Indians proved how much he was actually worth on the open market. For two months of Mark DeRosa, St. Louis gave Cleveland their two of their best major-league ready relief-pitching prospects, Chris Perez and Jess Todd.

The Jake Fox deal is even more egregious. The two prospects in the deal, Ronny Moria and Matt Spencer, are nothing more than "organizational depth." Moria is a 23-year-old who hasn't advanced past the low-A level, where he has pitched poorly. Spencer, also 23, has hit decently as high as AA, where he posted an 808 OPS in 409 plate appearances last season. Nonetheless, the high-end of his potential probably makes him at best a fourth outfielder in the majors. He's Micah Hoffpauir...lite.

So, the "impact" piece in the Fox deal is Jeff Gray, another middle reliever, who posted a 3.76 ERA for the A's in 26 innings last season. He doesn't have closer-type stuff and has a pedestrian 3.57 ERA in 163 AAA innings. In other words, what Jim Hendry got for Jake Fox was a single middle reliever who looks a hell of a lot like the abundance of middle relievers, including Stevens and Gaub, who the Cubs already have in the organization!

Meanwhile, in addition to giving up a premier prospect for absolutely nothing that they don't already have in abundance, they will pay approximately half of Aaron Miles contract while he's playing for Oakland. Sure, Miles was unimpressive in '09. Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot offer the same skill-set with more upside for less money, but Miles is nonetheless a proven major-league back-up infielder, whose position flexibility and ability to hit for average (.282 career) give him minimal value. I think it is safe to say he's worth almost as much as Jeff Gray, who isn't much better than a replacement-level reliever. It is very, very possible that when this trade is evaluated a year or two from now, the Cubs will have given Billy Beane the two most valuable players in the deal and $1,000,000. That's adding insult to injury.

1 comment:

James said...

I hate Billy Beane and believe him to be highly over-rated. In some ways, I think he's yesterday's news.

That being said, he made a very good deal for the A's and I hate it when that happens.