Let’s take a look at our infield – at least this was a little more tolerable than the atrocious Cubs outfield. The trio of Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot and Aramis Ramirez is solid, but when Ramirez went down for 2 months with a dislocated shoulder, the Cubs offensive weaknesses were clearly exposed. The 2nd base position was a position in flux – Mike Fontenot showed he probably isn’t an everyday player, while newcomer Jeff Baker showed that he could be a viable option for the future…
Jeff Baker – 2nd Base
2009 Report Card Grade – B+. Baker was a pleasant surprise for the Cubs in 2009. In a disappointing season, Baker didn’t let the negative outlook/clubhouse affect his play. He split time with Mike Fontenot at 2nd base, but came into favor with Manager Lou Pinella as Fontenot struggled through the long MLB season. Baker performed at a high level both at the plate and in the field, and he also showed his versatility by being able to play 3rd base as well, giving the team an extra weapon to give another infielder a little extra rest from time to time (like Aramis Ramirez). Baker could be a fixture at the Cubs 2nd base position for years to come.
2009 stats – 69 games; 203 at-bats; .305 batting average; .362 on-base percentage; 4 HR’s, 21 RBI’s; 27 runs scored; 46 K’s; 17 walks.
2008 stats (with Colorado Rockies) – 104 games; 299 at-bats; .268 batting average; .322 on-base percentage; 12 HR’s, 48 RBI’s; 55 runs scored; 85 K’s; 26 walks.
Baker came over from the Rockies in early July 2009 and he put forth a solid effort in a Cubs uniform for the rest of the season. The entire Cubs offense struggled in 2009 (except for Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot, Aramis Ramirez (when he played), but Baker didn’t seem to let that affect him. You have to like his good on-base percentage number and the fact the he puts the ball in play. He averaged just about 3 at-bats a game, however, so we would need to see more from Baker to make sure that he can handle the everyday 2nd base job. I’m definitely a little gun shy with the Cubs 2nd baseman, especially after Mike Fontenot clearly showed that he couldn’t handle playing everyday after succeeding so well in 2008 in a limited role.
The good thing is that Baker also excelled in the field, even when he played 3rd base to give the injured Aramis Ramirez an extra day off here and there. In 49 games at 2nd base – his natural position – Baker recorded a solid .995 fielding percentage, committing just 1 error in 220 total chances. In 17 games at 3rd base – Baker recorded a respectable .960 fielding percentage, committing 1 error in 25 total chances.
Baker is eligible for arbitration in 2010. GM Jim Hendry does not like to go to arbitration with his players, so if the Cubs want Baker back, we would likely see some deal signed before the arbitration process kicks in. Mike Fontenot – the Cubs other in-house option at 2nd base – is also arbitration-eligible. The Cubs could try to sign both Baker and Fontenot to 1-year deals and then let them battle it out in Spring Training. That way the Cubs wouldn’t have to commit anything long-term to either player, and if neither player excels in 2010 to warrant a longer-term deal, then the Cubs could look elsewhere for the 2011 MLB season.
Things can’t get too much worse than they were for the Cubs offense in 2009, so let’s hope we see a bit of a resurgence during the 2010 MLB schedule that helps take a little heat off the Cubs starting rotation and bullpen. Baker seemed to endear himself to Cubs fans at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field during his 2009 stint, so if he is back in 2010, I hope he gets off to a great start in 2010 to keep him in good favor with the north side of Chicago…