The Abbott and Costello comedy routine from the 1930s asks the same question that Cubs fans have as the Winter Meetings have come and gone. Although a player with the last name Who is not on the list of candidates, the tight lipped approach of the new front office has made it harder than usual to sort out the rumors from speculation. Here is the latest:
Any talk with Fielder and the Cubs in the same sentence had been limited prior to Albert Pujols signing with the Angels. Manager Dale Sveum was on the MLB Network Tuesday and was asked about Fielder, considering their connection from Sveum’s time with the Brewers. Sveum did not take the bait to help fuel rumors of Fielder to the Cubs.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network mentioned that the Cubs were actually more interested in Fielder than Pujols. The pros include the facts that Fielder is younger and takes his hacks from the left handed batter’s box. A lefty bat with power is the type of player the Cubs seem to be eternally seeking the way the Chicago Bears have been searching for a franchise quarter back until Jay Cutler came to town. The bidding in terms of dollars and years also is assumed to be less than what Pujols commanded and received. On the down side, Fielder is far from a Gold Glove candidate at first base. Fair or not, there is also concern over the body type Fielder possesses, and the long term reality that he may be better suited as a full time DH.
WWJD? Signing Fielder would be a double bonus, as it would subtract from a division rival, in this case being the defending NL Central champion Brewers. The concern over Fielder’s defense is heightened when it comes to the Cubs because the new front office prizes above average gloves, as well as the fact that Starlin Castro is still learning to harness his canon arm. The question will be whether or not the bombs onto Sheffield Ave and the RBI that he racks up are enough to have the team put up with the sub par defense. If the Cubs honestly want Fielder, the best case scenario would be a creative front loaded, multi-year deal with an opt out clause after year three or four of the contract. It would provide for a win-win scenario in which the slugging first baseman can pursue one last mega deal in a few years the way Pujols is doing right now. If Fielder were to have a Soriano like drop off midway through the deal, the lower annual salaries on the back end would help stomach the lower production if he were to remain on the Cubs, or make it easier to advertise Fielder on the trade market.
Jon Heyman also mentioned that the 2011 Cubs starting first baseman will be declining arbitration. This puts the Cubs in position to receive a supplemental draft pick since Pena is a Type B free agent. Epstein and Hoyer have not closed the door on Pena being in blue pinstripes next year, but it appears that Pena is seeking a multi-year deal that the Cubs are not willing to agree to at this point. Either way, the market for Pena does not figure to develop until Fielder is also off the board.
WWJD? Pena performed admirably in the home run and RBI departments, as well as defensively on the field, but the ugly batting average is what concerns the front office and Cubs fans alike. The Cubs should continue to stand pat on their stance of seeing Pena as more of a one year band aid than a multi-year solution.
The late season call up has shown in the Minor Leagues that he has the big stick to provide the power that MLB teams generally seek out of the first base position. Epstein has gone on record as saying that he has confidence in LaHair and that the late bloomer will have a fair shot at being on the roster to start the 2012 season. But the AAAA label that the Cubs President dislikes will be hard for LaHair to shed, considering he has practically spend the majority of his career in the minors through age 29.
WWJD? It is a real shame that the Cubs were not able to get a better sample size of LaHair’s abilities late last season, thanks to former manager Mike Quade. As Jordan mentioned in an earlier post this week, Epstein may be scheming to get LaHair at bats via the outfield more than at first base. In other words, if LaHair is the starting first baseman on Opening Day, the Cubs swung and missed on all their other targets.
With the Angels signing Pujols to the mega deal, it was initially assumed that the Angels GM now has the flexibility to trade one or both of Morales and Trumbo, each having played significant innings at first base.
Morales is the more likely candidate of the two, as he is coming off of injury. He had a break out season in 2009, finishing in the top five of AL MVP voting. Considering the Epstein and Hoyer took a similar chance on the recently acquired Ian Stewart, trading for Morales is certainly not out of the question if the Angels are looking to deal. MLBTR has noted the Morales is a boarder line non tender candidate, but the Cubs going that route would allow the risk of another team swooping in on Morales before Chicago does.
The younger Trumbo finished the 2011 campaign as runner up for the AL Rookie of the Year, pounding out 29 HRs and collecting 89 RBI. It would take a more costly prospect package to convince the Angels to deal, as Trumbo can play some outfield and may be considered at third base for the Halos.
WWJD? The first main moves made by the front office have focused on left handed bats that are cost effective. Morales is a switch hitter that would fit that mold, as he is set to only earn in the neighborhood of $3 million through arbitration. As Jordan mentioned earlier this morning, Epstein and Co. may not have bought into the hype generated by the past regime of the current top prospects in the Cubs system, and it will be interesting to see what names pop up if any Cubs Angels speculation starts to gain steam.
The current Rangers and Marlins first basemen, respectively, are names to keep in the back of your mind as their availability will depend on some other dominos falling first. While the Marlins have been playing cool on Fielder, as we saw with the Pujols to the Angels signing, things can change quickly. Miami has already made one Ozzie Guillen friendly move by luring life long White Sox Mark Buerhle to South Beach, and there had already been whispers earlier this off season of the Marlins kicking the tires on a Carlos Zambrano deal. A Fielder signing would figure to empty out the wallet of even the cash splashing Marlins, and the Cubs offering Zambrano by eating most of the remaining salary on the contract might be a tempting offer in exchange for a position-less Sanchez.
As for Moreland, there has been word on the street that the Rangers have some interest in Fielder. The New York Post is reporting that the Rangers may be looking to flip Moreland to the Rays for Wade Davis. There have already been Matt Garza to Texas trade rumors, and depending on how much the Cubs are demanding compared to what the Rays are demanding for Davis, Moreland would figure to be part of the package the Cubs front office would request for their ace pitcher.
The Winter Meetings may have come and gone, but the Cubs are certainly not done yet. Stay tuned with Cubbies Crib to catch the latest. Epstein and Co. is sure to keep us warm this off season in Chicago, even though the temperature continues to drop.