Chicago Cubs could use a Mark Grudzielanek type

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The 2003 Chicago Cubs were one of the most fun teams of the last few decades, and are still among the most memorable squads in franchise history

That Chicago Cubs team had stars like Mark Prior, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and Kerry Wood, as well as savvy veterans like Eric Karros and Kenny Lofton.

The “Lovable Losers” were no longer that, winning the National League Central and coming within six outs of the World Series before an infamous Game 6 meltdown led to a seven-game loss at the hands of the then-Florida Marlins.

One of the more unheralded players on that team was second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

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Grudzielanek had previously been an All-Star with the then-Montreal Expos, and he was a productive position player with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Grudzielanek was also coming off one of the least productive years of his career when he arrived in Chicago in 2003.

The Cubs traded for Karros and Grudzielanek in December of 2002, with the Dodgers willing to part ways with the veteran second baseman after he slashed .271/.301/.364 with a mere 81 OPS+ in 2002.

But Grudzielanek would become a staple of Chicago’s lineup in 2003. He slashed .314/.366/.416 with a 103 OPS+, even earning some votes for the National League MVP Award. Grudzielanek also boasted one of the highest contact rates in the league, finishing the year with a contact rate close to 84 percent, per FanGraphs.

Grudzielanek had led all National League second basemen in errors three times before coming to the Cubs, but in 2003 ranked fourth in total zone runs at the position. He was not yet the Gold Glove second basemen he would become in the next few seasons, but he was still a plus defender who teamed with shortstop Alex Gonzalez to make one of the better double-play combinations in baseball.

As the Cubs await the start of the 2020 regular season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is hard not to think how badly they could use someone like Grudzielanek.

Second base was a clear position of need for the Cubs this offseason, one they are hoping to address by committee. Whether it is rookie Nico Hoerner, veteran Jason Kipnis or Dvaid Bote (among others), the Cubs are hoping they can use the right platoons to get above-average replacement-level contributions from their second base group.

But someone like Grudzielanek so clearly defines what this team is looking for this year. He made tons of contact and was at least an average fielder at the position, and he was sort of cut from the same cloth as a Ben Zobrist.

Cubs president Theo Epstein has routinely suggested the team wants to improve their contact rate, especially in high-leverage situations. Well, Grudzielanek had an .811 OPS in high-leverage situations.

Next. Dave Kingman was a monster in 1979. dark

Of course, most of the Grudzielanek types are gone from the modern game. Front offices no longer prioritize high-contact guys who hit for average, instead opting for power bats in an era defined by exit velocity and launch angle.

Still, it is hard not to envision someone Grudzielanek being the perfect table-setter for this Cubs lineup, in addition to filling a vital positional need.