Who plays 1B in 2011?
The trade of Derrek Lee to Atlanta has thrown 1B into a state of flux. Charitably speaking, the Cubs now have three first basemen on the roster: Xavier Nady, Micah Hoffpauir, and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs will want a full time first baseman entering the 2011 season. I'll present some of the options before the Cubs, along with pros and cons for each option.
Tyler has the power to succeed as a major league regular, if not the plate discipline. His .356 season wOBA has been 19% better than league average. However, his on base percentage is a subpar .314, and he's rocking 4 strikeouts for every free pass. He's had a successful rookie season, but I want to see more.
- He's already on the roster and makes the league minimum. Putting Colvin at 1B allows the Cubs to use their resources elsewhere. For instance, a 9 year contract extension for Castro....
- He hits for enough power to not be a liability at the position. Tyler leads all major league rookies with 19 HR in only 333 plate appearances. Averaged out over 550 plate appearances, that's 31ish HR. If Colvin is a 30 homer hitter, bat him sixth in the lineup and forget about his mediocre plate discipline.
- If Colvin plays 1B, Fukudome won't be the world's most expensive sub. We all know Kosuke's faults, and I won't reiterate them here. Instead, lets focus on what he does well: He reaches base. This season he's gotten on base at a .374 clip. That's second on the team behind only Soto and his outstanding .403 OBP. In limited PA's, Kosuke has still been worth 1.4 WAR on the season. Yes it's nowhere near what he's being paid, but his contract is a sunk cost. Better to get him off the bench and in the lineup, where he can contribute. Plus, it'll allow the Cubs to audition him for a trade.
- Can he play 1B at the major league level? No one knows because he hasn't played there with any regularity in over five years. I'm inclined to believe he can do it, as he plays an average corner outfield. However, the uncertainty might scare the Cubs brass into looking elsewhere.
- If the power isn't for real, he'll be a black hole of suck. That's the largest issue with Colvin. 353 career PA is a small sample size, and we know he has holes in his swing that pitchers can exploit. If Colvin can't improve his plate discipline or reproduce his power output, he'll be one of the worst 1B in the majors.
Most Cubs fans seem to think that Soriano's eventual move to 1B is fait accompli. If that's true, wouldn't it make sense to move him now, when there is an opening at the position?
- Playing 1B might keep Sori healthier. Alfonso can still hit, even if he can't run, and keeping him healthy and on the field will be the key for the remainder of his career. A shift to 1B means less running, which should help preserve his legs for launching the bat at the baseball.
- It makes sense to move him before his defense collapses. As he gets older, Soriano will cover less ground in LF, which means more fly balls will fall in and more runs will be scored against the Cubs. Soriano will be here for another 4 seasons, so it seems reasonable to make the move now, before he becomes an epic liability in the outfield.
- As noted above, there is an opening at the position, so the time seems ripe to let Alfonso start getting comfortable there.
- Putting Soriano at 1B allows both Colvin and Fukudome to start in the outfield.
- This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but Soriano is still pretty good in the outfield. This season, his play has been worth 12.3 runs saved over 150 innings, versus the average outfielder. In layman's terms, he is still contributing with the glove, no matter how ugly he looks doing it. Last year he was below average in the outfield, but he was hurt and I'm prepared to give him a pass for it. In 2008, he was worth an impressive 25.5 runs saved above average over 150 innings. The guy is nowhere near the statue that his reputation would have you believe, and moving him from LF next season might actually weaken the outfield defense.
Aramis is likely to exercise his $14.6 million player option in the offseason, and return to the Cubs. I'll be happy to see him stay, as the guy is still capable of being a great player. This season was atrocious, but he was playing hurt for much of it and has been victimized by bad luck on balls in play. I fully expect a bounce back 2011 from Rami.
- Ramirez's health is an issue as much as Soriano's is. Moving across the diamond to an easier defensive position might help keep him on the field and productive at the plate.
- Unlike Soriano, Ramirez is pretty bad in the field. He hasn't posted a league average or better UZR/150 since 2007, and that was 3 years and multiple injuries ago. Moving Ramirez to 1B might improve the Cubs defensively.
- Moving Ramirez shakes up the rest of roster, and probably necessitates a free agent signing. Legend has it that Blake DeWitt is an excellent 3B, but his bat would be pretty pathetic at the hot corner, and I don't see the Cubs going in that direction. There aren't many quality 3B free agents this coming offseason. The class is headed by Adrian Beltre, who I covet, but he'd be expensive and is already 32 years old. Long term, big money contracts to older veterans is the kind of shoddy roster construction that I've accused Cruller Jim of on dozens of occasions around here. I haven't had a sudden change of heart, and dropping millions on a free agent when this team is 4 or 5 players away from contention seems foolish.
I expected the Cubs to sign the big donkey after the 2008 season. Instead, they opted for Milton Bradley. That didn't work, and the popular speculation is that the Cubs won't pass on Dunn twice.
- Dunn seems like a panacea for this roster. He's a left handed slugger who has hit historically well at Wrigley Field (although that might be an indictment of our pitching staffs of yore.) He's always featured old man skills like walking and hitting for power, so he may age more gracefully than players who depend on speed or athleticism. His full time position change to 1B has even made him an average defender. Dunn used to remind me of a buffalo on ice skates in the outfield. He was that comically terrible. This year, as a full time 1B, he has been worth 2 full wins more than last season, with almost 6 weeks left to play. The difference is in his defense, which has been about average at 1B.
- Money and length of contract. MLBTradeRumors speculates that it will take a 4 year offer to get Dunn to sign a contract. That's a lot of years for a guy who is already 31, and should be entering the downside of his career. 4 years/$50 million seems likely to me, and it wouldn't surprise me if that was low. Anybody else think Dunn will fail to produce to the level of that contract?
- Signing Dunn will cost the Cubs their second round draft pick. Washington intends to offer Dunn arbitration. Dunn projects to be a type "A" free agent, so if the Cubs subsequently signed him as a free agent, they would forfeit a draft pick. Because of their dogshit play this season, the team is projected to have the #6 overall draft pick, which would be protected, and the Cubs would instead lose their second rounder. Although with Pauper Tom in the owners box, the Cubs will probably squander their draft picks on bad but cheap amateurs. Scratch this one.
Some other free agent?
The corner infield cupboard is bare in the Iowa and Tennessee, so the Cubs will have to grab a different free agent if they don't go any of the routes suggested above. This is not an ideal situation.
Lets hear your preferences. How should the Cubs fill their 1B vacancy next season?
All statistics, as always, from fangraphs.com.