The Cubs posted the National League’s best record in 2008, before being defeated in the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite ongoing ownership issues, Jim Hendry and crew began the off-season looking to upgrade their team, and dominos appeared close to falling as the Cubs flirted with acquiring Jake Peavy. Weeks later, the tipping point has struck, as in the past two days the Cubs have traded Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis – the latter which is “done in principle” just unannounced – receiving in return three prospects and Luis Vizcaino, signed Aaron Miles, and seemingly reached an agreement with Milton Bradley. Oh, and they still seem interested in Peavy.
We’ll begin with the contract swap. Marquis is owed roughly 10 million next season, the final of his current dealt, while Vizcaino receives 3.5 million in 2009, and has a club option for 2010. Both teams motives are pretty clear; the Cubs wanted financial flexibility and to clear a starting pitcher logjam, the latter being something the Rockies could use.
Marquis had a so-so season in 2008. On one hand, his FIP did improve by 0.3 runs meanwhile Marquis strikeout and walk rates moved the wrong way, leading to a poor K/BB ratio. Marquis did allow fewer homeruns, yet are those the results from improved processes, or simply the product of homerun per flyball rates below his career norm? Hitters swung out of zone against Marquis more than in recent years despite nothing changing in his approach
Vizcaino continued having walk and homerun issues. As you can imagine, those two don’t mix well when placed within Coors Field. To his credit, Vizcaino did strike out quite a bit less season, and he was a victim of some BABIP bad luck. Vizcaino is somewhere between 4 and 4.5 FIP moving forward.
CHONE has Vizcaino worth ~0.2 WAR, and Marquis worth ~1 WAR. Marcels has Marquis closer to 2 WAR and Vizcaino again around ~0.2 WAR If you call the difference around ~1.3 WAR you’re talking about a difference of ~7 million, which coincidentally is almost exactly the difference in salary. The Cubs are trading from an excess with the intention of putting the difference towards a player superior to both, making this move understandable, if not perfect in return value.
The signing of Miles was simply a precursor to the DeRosa deal. The Cubs again are losing some value in their major league tradeoffs. Working with the assumption that Miles rarely (if ever) stands in at short, the Cubs are signing an average defender with a below average bat. Miles will be paid 2.2 million in 2009 and 2.7 in 2010, which is beyond questionable. 2008 was Miles first decent offensive season, driven by unsustainable BABIP and line drive totals. Once that regresses, Miles is an ordinary middle infielder. I won’t go as far as to say players like Reegie Corona and Ray Olmedo are better, but Miles simply isn’t worth an average of 2.5 million. That salary also assumes Miles will reach 0.5 WAR, something accomplished once in his career.
Plus where’s the need? Given Mike Fontenot’s placement on the roster and Ronny Cedeno sitting in purgatory, Miles offers nothing above those two. Even if Fontenot or Cedeno is part of a package for Jake Peavy, I’m still not sure the Cubs couldn’t have paid less and acquired the same level of talent as Miles, who also can’t play the outfield, something DeRosa brought to the table.
DeRosa has been a solid ~3-3.5 WAR player the past three seasons and could step in as the Indians starting second baseman, completing a left-ward shift of Tribe middle infielders – Jhonny Peralta to third and Asdrubal Cabrera to short – and is owed 5.5 million in the final year of his contract. The return on DeRosa consists of a package of minor league arms: Jeff Stevens, Chris Archer, and John Gaub. Stevens appears to be the closest to the majors, and could make his debut in the Cubs bullpen next season.
Finally, we reach the probable Milton Bradley signing. Since there’s a lack of concrete details out, we’ll assume this makes him the starting right fielder and not in center. This leaves Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome (along with Joey Gathright) fighting for the center field job. The biggest concern about Bradley is his durability and volatile nature. Expecting 100+ games from Bradley in the field seems a bit reckless. We’ll wait on the contract details before providing further analysis, but one things for sure: the Cubs are becoming aggressive.