Xavier Nady, thanks for the memories, but you will almost certainly not be the Cubs starting first baseman in 2011. Ideally, the Cubs would like to add a left handed power bat at this position, but don’t get too hung up on the left handed aspect of that. While its true the Cubs need left handed power, Tyler Colvin playing every day in right field is an automatic improvement in that department. They also get a full season of Blake DeWitt who last year showed a little more power than Mike Fontenot. A full season of both those guys should be about a 10-15 homerun increase from the left side of the plate over last year.
And by now you no doubt see where I am heading with this. If you take ‘left handed’ of the requirement for a power bat at first, then the Cubs have to consider trying out Josh Vitters. He’s not only a viable option, he is darn near the only internal option.
There are Micah Hoffpauir fans out there, and I can completely understand the attraction. He is a left handed power hitter who plays decent defense and has shown flashes of success at Wrigley. Unfortunately, he has only shown flashes. He had a 24 game tryout at the end of this last season to take first base job, and he hit a whopping .173 with an unbelieveably low slugging percentage of only .231. Barring a horrible turn of events for the Cubs, Micah Hoffpauir is not the first baseman of the future.
So lets talk about Vitters. Let’s look at his .436 slugging percentage and 11 RBI in only 13 games in Arizona. Let’s look at his .318 average with runners in scoring postion. Let’s mention he has struck out just 6 times against 5 walks. And to be fair, let’s add that he has no major league experience. I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with a rookie starting first baseman who has been primarily playing third for his entire professional career, though.
There is another way to look at this rather than simply considering who plays first next year. Who plays third for the Cubs in 2012? Aramis Rameriez might be back, and he might not be. The only way to find out if Vitters can take over at third is to give him a chunk of major league at bats and see what he does with them. So, maybe the Cubs should consider signing a left handed first baseman to platoon with Vitters at first this year. Let’s see how Vitters handles the majors. If he shows he can hit, then third base is taken care of for several years. And if he can’t handle it, better that the Cubs know that going into the 2011 off season when they should have a nice pile of cash to spend.
I’m not sure a Vitters platoon is the best answer at first for next year, but I don’t think it is the worst one either. When you look at the potential options on market this offseason, I think it becomes still more difficult to decide. Adam Dunn will be expensive and will bring a mountain of strikeouts to the north side to go with his mediocre average and devastating power. But Dunn’s Wins Above Replacement number is only 3.6… meaning with Dunn instead of a Micah Hoffpauir, the Cubs would be expected to win an additional 3-4 games.
Aubrey Huff will come cheaper, has a Wins Above Replacement of 5.9, strikes out a ton less, and could give the Cubs the opportunity to gauge whether or not Vitters can hit in the majors. Oh, and Huff has a World Series ring, an experience these Cubs are sorely lacking.
So, which way will Rickets and Hendry go? Spend a mint on Dunn? Or go with a cheaper option such as Huff, and perhaps take a good long look at Vitters in a platoon roll? It is a tough a call, and no doubt a topic of much discussion in Arizona.