On November 14, 2006, ESPN printed the following headline:
“DeRosa cashes in on career year, to sign with Cubs.”
The reaction from Cubs fans was about the same – the team had just signed a player that didn’t become a regular until age 31 and had his first real effective season in the hitters paradise of Texas, and they’d signed him to a three year deal to boot. It seemed like something of an overpay for a guy best suited to a super-sub role. His first year in Chicago went pretty well, though, with Mark DeRosa basically being a league average hitter and solid enough defender at second base. The Cubs, however, weren’t impressed enough, and went on an offseason quest to acquire Brian Roberts from the Orioles, offering three and four player packages to try to get the O’s second baseman to the Windy City.
In retrospect, the contract was apparently a stroke of genius and they should thank their lucky stars that they failed to land Roberts, because DeRosa’s been a revelation for the Cubs this year, and should get some down ballot MVP votes.
He’s hitting .292/.384/.490, good for a 2.10 WPA/LI – only Chase Utley has a better mark among NL second baseman. He’s been better offensively than bigger name teammates, such as Derrek Lee or Geovany Soto. Among NL players with a higher WPA/LI mark than DeRosa’s, only Carlos Beltran, Hanley Ramirez, and Utley play up the middle positions. That’s not a bad crowd to run with.
At 33, DeRosa’s having a year so far better than anything else he’s ever done, it’s remarkable. His “career year” of 2006 totaled a whopping -0.23 WPA/LI, and he’d accumulated -1.95 WPA/LI in his career through 2007. He’d been a below average hitter for basically his entire career, and heading into his age 33 season, there was no reason to expect a breakout like this. His preseason Marcel projection had him hitting .279/.354/.426, and it was one of the most optimistic projections for him out there. He’s blowing that line out of the water.
Mocked at the time it was signed, DeRosa’s contract is now one of baseball’s best values for 2008 – $4.75 million for a guy playing at an all-star level at an up the middle position. That signing, and the non-trade for Roberts, really couldn’t have worked out any better.