Normally, I support the general manager of the Cubs, Jim Hendry, in his leadership of the team. For example, his decision to bring in injury prone Rich Harden this past season for some low-ceiling prospects was a brilliant, if risky, move. It gave the Cubs staff a superb extra starter who provided the team with 71 incredible innings in the midst of a high pressure playoff race. Had CC Sabathia not been even better for Milwaukee, Harden would have assuredly gotten the attention he deserved for his almost superhuman efforts. Such a gutsy trade was exactly the sort of thing the Cubs needed to combat a Milwaukee and St. Louis team and stay on top in the division. Hendry realized that the Cubs needed another ace behind Carlos Zambrano and made this decision after witnessing the Cubs play over the course of the first half of the season.
Yet this past offseason, Hendry committed a huge blunder, irrationally based upon a single playoff series, by trading Mark DeRosa such that he could afford a supposed upgrade in the form of Milton Bradley. The reason for such a move was that in the disastrous playoff series against the Dodgers last year, the Cubs offense was stifled by the white-hot Dodgers staff. Hendry believed that by trading away DeRosa and bringing in Bradley, the lineup would be more balanced. In other words, when a right handed pitcher was on the hill, the Cubs would have an extra lefty bat and one fewer right handed bat in the lineup. However, what Hendry failed to consider was that the cubs encountered a revitalized dodger team which had been on an absolute tear since Manny Ramirez joined the squad. It was not so much that the Cubs offense failed to materialize, it was that Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, and Hiroki Kuroda pitched like the quality players that they are. Lowe and Billingsley are legitimate staff-leading starters, while Kuroda is a very-underrated number 3 starter. When quality of this level is paired with a long stretch of dominating pitching and consistent winning, opposing offenses are sure to be shut down, regardless of how talented they may be. The fact of the matter is that the Dodgers were hot at the right time and the Cubs were not.
Hendry did not realize this simple fact, though, and instead overreacted to a disappointing and premature playoff exit (due to an apparently unbalance lineup) by trading away one of the Cubs most productive, versatile and valuable players for a talented, yet injury prone player in Milton Bradley. Though Bradley is solid player in his own right, he lacks several qualities which DeRosa had. First off, DeRosa was able to play regularly (he played in over 145 games each of the past two seasons). Bradley, on the other hand, has been plagued by injuries. In his stint in Texas, even being a DH proved to be a challenge for Bradley, as he only appeared in 126 games. Bradley’s injury issues mean that
Secondly, DeRosa could play a variety of positions, making starts at first, second, shortstop, third base, left field and right field. Even if his defense at some positions (shortstop primarily) was not good enough to allow him to be played there regularly, he was still able to fill in when other starters were injured or out of the lineup. Such versatility and flexibility was key: it gave the Cubs a sort of super-sub who could play nearly any position, play decent to good defense at that position, and still produce strong offensive numbers. Bradley, on the other hand, can play only two positions: left and right field, neither of which are skill positions.
And finally, DeRosa is significantly cheaper than Bradley. Bradley signed for three years at a total cost of thirty million dollars, though that amount is reduced in the event that Bradley misses substantial amounts of time due to injury. DeRosa, on the other hand is entering the final year of his three year, thirteen million dollar contract. Though he is a free agent after the 2009 season, resigning him would assuredly cost less than the 3yr/30mil needed to sign Bradley. Such monetary considerations are especially relevant at a time when the Cubs are seeking to trim salary as a result of their sale by the Tribune Company.
Perhaps the most important fact of all is that for all the talk of Bradley balancing out the lineup, his career rates against righties (267/361/434) are not a substantial improvement over DeRosa’s (267/335/398). Bradley adds only 61 points of OPS production at the cost of approximately 1.5 million dollars (Bradley makes 7 million dollars this year, while DeRosa makes 5.5) this season. This is not even counting DeRosa’s value in actually being able to play everyday and possessing the skills to play several positions, and the below-average production of players like Reed Johnson and (formerly) Joey Gathright, who find themselves getting additional at bats when Bradley cannot play. When the overall production coming out of the Bradley, Johnson, et al. tandem is stacked against DeRosa’s numbers, the offensive difference between Bradley and DeRosa is even further reduced.
This piece is not meant to be a slam on Milton Bradley, as I think he’s a fine player. I love his skill set (power, ability to take walks, etc) and his quick temper and big mouth are always amusing. Instead, I am merely trying to point out the mistake of making major transactions based upon a small sample size (in this case, three whole games). Though the Harden trade was risky in its own right, it was made after almost 4 month of play and thus meant that Hendry had a lot of time to adequately observe and correct the problems with the team. Furthermore, Harden was a definite upgrade over anyone in the Cubs 5th starter spot. In Bradley/DeRosa instance, the upgrade is a lot less tangible and more perceived.
This move by Hendry may end up being even more costly than I initially thought, as DeRosa is putting up solid (if unspectacular numbers), Bradley is struggling with production and injuries, and the Cubs are finding themselves in dire need of DeRosa’s positional flexibility with the injuries and illnesses to starters like Lee and Ramirez. What was supposed to be an improvement to the Cubs lineup may actually end up costing them a chance to repeat as NL Central Champs.