In recent days, there have been multiple rumors about the Chicago Cubs pursing both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder in hopes of filling their vacant spot at first base. While the likelihood of the Cubs signing either one of them is not very strong, the rumors are out there so they do deserve some thought and discussion. While there are rumors about certain Cubs being traded, much like with the rumored signings of Pujols and Fielder, nothing is a given. Therefore I will be working off of the premise that the team will remain as is when giving my thoughts on the potential signings.
The reason why the Cubs should be seriously looking into signing either one of them, is quite simple. As things stand, the Chicago Cubs lineup is nothing short of pathetic. There just simply is not a solid run producer on the team, no one you can depend on to consistently drive in the runs. With Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez on the verge of leaving the ball club, the Cubs middle of the order is now nonexistent. There just simply is not a valid power threat in the heart of the order.
Fans will clamor for Starlin Castro and Geovany Soto, or possibly even Marlon Byrd or Alfonso Soriano to fill the void. They may be deluded enough to begin saying they can be the run producers the team needs. However, I do not feel that either one can be depended on fully to be the legitimate threat this team needs.
For one, Soto has been completely unreliable and way too inconsistent to view him as being able to fill that role going into 2012. He just simply has not been able to showcase himself in the way that you would have hoped he would have been able to after his breakout rookie campaign of 2008. He has bounced back and forth so often that you never know which version of Soto you are going to get. You would love to believe that one of these years he is bound to figuring things out, but if he is still struggling to find his swing after four years, chances are he never will be able to get his head straight and start playing the way we need him too. I do not think he would be a good fit for either the three or four hole in the order, even if there are no other options on the team.
Castro will no doubt be a popular choice amongst fans, and he was last year as well. Last year when he was given his chances to be the hitter in the three hole, albeit a very small sample size, he was unable to deliver to run producing needs the Cubs were hoping for. His best role for 2012, might be as the number two hitter behind David DeJesus. We have all seen him thrive in that role, and we have no reason not to believe that he will be able to continue to deliver throughout his career, just maybe not quite yet hitting third. Castro may very well be able to grow into being a dominant three hole hitter, but I am not so sure that 2012 will be the year for him to grow into things. However, if the Cubs are not able to sign someone who is a proven run producer, with very little chance the Cubs will be able to compete in the coming season there would be no better time to let him learn on the job.
As far as Soriano goes, he would be an excellent choice to be the big run producer we need in the three hole, if there was not an issue with his ever declining batting average. You can not have a three hole hitter hitting around .250, even if he is able to hit near 30 home runs on a yearly basis. Unless he is able to find someway to elevate his batting average back to respectable levels, he would likely be better suited to be hitting around fifth or sixth. However, without other decent options acquired this winter, he might be slotted into the third or fourth hole in this lineup.
Byrd on the other hand, might be the best option as things stand. He has good average and decent power. But he also tends to hit into more than his fair share of double plays, something you do not tend to care for from your third hitter. Personally, He might be better suited for a fifth slot hitter, but again without a premier slugger on the team, his batting third or fourth is not out of the question if the Cubs do not sign a legitimate slugger like Pujols or Fielder in free agency.
As you can see, there are not any real options to fill the heart of the order that are currently on the Cubs roster. In fact, there are not many real options on the team that could even offer up protection if they were to sign a power threat like Pujols or Fielder. I know many fans want to build the team with youth through the farm system, but there are not really that many options available that can be heavily leaned on to be the primary run producer. That is why the Cubs must go out and sign either one of them to play first base going forward.
I know that completely goes against what Theo Epstein said he wanted to do, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The question then becomes who would you rather have?
Pujols is the more devastating hitter, and has the better track record, he also is far better defensively which is much needed as Castro grows into his position and learns how to make the throws to first base. He also is the most consistent hitter in baseball history, even if he is on steroids or HGH as some fans believe. Every year, before this year, he has hit at least 30 homeruns and knocked in at least 100 RBI. He fell one short in both categories this year, not bad considering he missed a month during the season. He would be a great pickup, and a damning blow to the St. Louis Cardinals if the Cubs were able to pry him away from them.
The downside is that some reports seem him as already starting to break down, despite only being 31 years of age, and no one really knows for sure if he actually is only 31. Some people believe that he may actually be older than he claims, especially since the part of the world he comes from is notorious for developing players who are at least a year or two older than they claim. The question is, are you willing to give him a multi year deal worth at least $25 Million a year? Halfway through the contract you may very well be regretting signing him to the deal, and he could be in his decline one the Cubs are finally ready to compete again.
With Fielder, he is the power bat the Cubs have been trying to find forever. A left handed power bat that would help bring balance to the Cubs lineup and force pitchers to chance their game plans. I honestly can not remember who the last real left hander power hitter the Cubs had. He is young, being only being 28 years old, and could be around when the Cubs are ready to compete in a few years. I would love to sign him as well, and watch him pound the pitching of the Milwaukee Brewers and help the Cubs pass them in the standings.
However there are downsides to signing him as well. Like Pujols he will demand a contract that pays him around $25 Million a year, and he is looking for an eight year deal. No offense to those who are larger in nature, but his body type scares me for an every day player. Part of me wants to steer clear of him due to fear of his body breaking down on him over the next few years. Obviously his large physical presence does not take away from his ability to bust his ass on the field. He mashes the ball better than almost anyone in baseball and he hustles. I have never seen a man of his size run anywhere near as well as he does. I remember a Cubs game where he was tearing down the third baseline where there was a Cubs catcher waiting for a throw. Another downside, his defense is not that great, and he may lead to several more errors coming from Castro if he is unable to learn how to make the throw to first.
If the Cubs do not sign either one of them, you need to look ahead to the next few free agent classes. The number of power hitters is vastly dwindling. Next year only Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano are expected to be available, though they will more than likely receive an extension sometime during the coming season. If you do not sign one of the two sluggers this year, chances are good you will go at least two years without a power threat unless someone develops enough power to be a threat to other pitchers, and have someone threatening enough to be able to protect them.
The question you need to ask yourselves Cubs fans is how badly do you want the Cubs to be relevant in 2012? Without the Cubs signing one of them, the Cubs could very well be on a downward spiral to an embarrassing 100 loss season. When you do not have a power threat or run producer, you can not expect to win very many games. But if you do sign one of them, you will tie up a lot of your assets and resources for the foreseeable future.
Times like these, I am sure glad that I am not Theo Epstein.