1st Base – Check – Derrek Lee.
3rd Base – Check – Aramis Ramirez.
Shortstop – Check – Ryan Theriot plus some new options to spell Theriot throughout the long MLB season.
2nd Base – ??? – Pencil in newly-acquired Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot.
The Cubs are all set with Lee and Ramirez at the corners. With the departure of Mark DeRosa (traded to the Cleveland Indians) and Ronny Cedeno (traded) to the Seattle Mariners, the Cubs will have a whole new look in the middle of the infield. And while Theriot will clearly start and play the majority of the Cubs games at shortstop, instead of Cedeno spelling him from time to time, look for Manager Lou Pinella to throw a Miles/Fontenot middle infield at you every once in a while when a right-hander is on the bump. Pinella has already even hinted at throwing in Micah Hoffpauir at 1st base when a righty is on the hill – giving him 3 left-handed hitters in the lineup in the infield alone.
Pinella is thrilled to have more versatility from the left side of the plate in 2009. With Miles in the infield and Milton Bradley in the outfield, that will give Pinella the flexibility to mix things up more often than he was able to do in 2008.
Lee had a solid statistical year – .291 batting average, 20 home runs and 90 RBI’s – but he hit into too many inopportune double plays and he still hasn’t recovered the same “pop” in his bat that he displayed before his serious wrist injury during the 2006 MLB season (in 2005, Lee hit .335 with 46 home runs and 107 RBI’s). Pinella is hoping that with Hoffpauir on the everyday roster, the Cubs will be able to convince Lee to make more days off to keep him fresher during the long 2009 MLB season.
Ramirez is coming off of an impressive 2008 MLB season in which he hit .289, stroked 27 home runs and drove in 111 runs. He also hit a career-high 44 doubles and will look to anchor the middle of the lineup once again in 2009. There could be a little drop off with no Mark DeRosa behind him in the lineup, but the Cubs hope that Milton Bradley will slide nicely in that slot to keep teams honest and take some heat off Ramirez.
Theriot was Top 10 in batting average in the National League with a .307 average. Theriot had 58 multi-hit games (which ranked him 4th in the NL) and he led the NL with 154 singles. The one negative over the last 2 seasons has been his significant drop in average by the end of the year – he has a career .259 average over the last 30 days of the season. Pinella’s solution – more time off for Theriot during the course of the season – and having Miles in the mix will give Pinella the option to do that on a more regular basis.
Stay tuned for more “first looks” at the 2009 Cubs in upcoming weeks. As Spring Training approaches, it should be fun to talk lineups and the pitching roster as the games start to get played in February and March. Can’t believe we’re just 9 weeks away from opening day 2009 and 10 weeks away from the home opener at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field!