The calendar now reads July, and the word that comes to mind for all baseball fans is “trades”. Regardless of whether your team is up or down, there is always trade speculation involving your team. That includes our beloved Cubs. While all of the talk revolves around which veterans from the list of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Marmol will be dealt, as we approach the halfway point of the 2012 season, it also is a good time to review some of the moves Theo Epstein and Company have already made so far.
Even Epstein wondered out loud to reporters at Spring Training when his honeymoon period with the media and fans would be up. Two years? Two months? Or two weeks? Although the Cubs may be on pace for a record losing season, I for one will not jump the gun on the Epstein era just yet. And I am sure most reasonable Cubs fans feel the same way. So with that in mind I kick of this series of reviews with the more than just the 2012 season in mind.
Today we start with the first free agent signing of the Epstein and Jed Hoyer led front office, David DeJesus. The left handed outfielder signed with the Cubs the week after Thanksgiving. The former Royal and Athletic signed a two year deal with a team option for 2014. Coming off of a down year in 2011, DeJesus represented a more appropriately priced version of the Kosuke Fukudome. DeJesus provided above average defense in the field while potentially being a .280 hitter that had a great eye of the strike zone with occasional pop.
Through yesterday DeJesus is hitting .269 with an OBP of .362 with two home runs, 21 RBI, and two stolen bases, with the majority of his at bats coming from the top spot of the order. Those numbers certainly do not jump out at you, especially after three and a half seasons of watching Fukudome, but the key focus needs to be on the fact that DeJesus’ production has been steady over the first half of the season, as opposed to the drop off of a cliff that we experienced after April with the Japanese right fielder. There is no need to be disappointed with DeJesus’ play so far because the current front office is pretty much getting decent value for their dollar compared to what the last administration overpaid for the similar production.
Determining DeJesus’ value to the Cubs beyond 2012 is where it starts to become a bit gray. With seemingly every veteran in a Cubs uniform fair game for a trade, and expectations not applicable for the 2012 season, it is a bit hard to see where DeJesus fits in to all the talk of rebuilding from the ground up. This is not a knock on DeJesus as a player because his level of production is reasonable for the money being paid to him. The signing did provide the flexibility to trade away Tyler Colvin (a deal I will also review in this series), but the 2013 picture with DeJesus only becomes clearer if the front office is actually able to pull of the feat of trading Soriano and his contract. Because with Bryan LaHair now being forced into an outfield spot with the arrival of Anthony Rizzo, and center field being kept warm for the impending arrival of Brett Jackson, the slugging Soriano must be dealt to open a 2013 spot for DeJesus. This projected outfield does not factor in that Matt Szczur figures to be knocking at the Wrigley Field clubhouse door by 2013 as well.
DeJesus can be a solid piece to the puzzle of the rebuilt Cubs if the front office can fill the other needs on the roster well. He is a reasonable lead off option and would provide leadership for a team the figures to only get younger in average age. One note that does need to be factored in is that DeJesus is a lifetime American Leaguer that is spending his first season full time in the National League. There is always talk of the adjustment period player have to go through when making the switch, and we could very well see DeJesus achieve numbers above his career averages in 2013. At worst the veteran outfielder would provide depth at the position, which never hurts. But his near future impact on the Cubs will depend just as much on the other outfield options available as it will on his own production levels.
Below are Epstein’s grades on the move so far for 2012 and the projected impact for 2013 and beyond.
2012 Grade: B
2013 and Beyond Grade: B-