Landing a new 1st baseman from the free agent pool is GM Jim Hendry’s top assignment this winter. With the late season trade of Derrek Lee, the Cubs found themselves in the hunt for a 1st baseman option for the 1st time in a very long time (Lee has been the Cubs starting 1st baseman since the start of the 2004 MLB schedule).
The top free agent 1st baseman is Adam Dunn. But he is expected to get a contract in the neighborhood of 3-years, $40 million which is well out of the Cubs projected budget. The Cubs have about $105 million already committed to current players. Taking into account arbitration-eligible players whom the Cubs will likely pay additional money to, the payroll with jump to around $125 million. Tom Ricketts has indicated that they want the budget down in the $135 million range (down from a National League-high $144 million in 2010), so that leaves somewhere around $10 million for Hendry to play with for new players. Given Hendry’s propensity to love to shell out tons of money without a care in the world, he is going to feel like he has his hands tied this winter.
Other 1st base options include several left-handed hitters – Lance Berkman, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche. Hendry had this to say about the search – “We’re obviously going to be adding someone there. We did a lot of work at our organizational meetings. There’s a lot of different ways it coudl go. We’ll just have to see how it flows… We’ve never had a problem sorting out who to prioritize. I think the more out there, the better. Obviously, somebody that plays 1st base at this level has to be able to swing the bat. Some of the guys are good hitters and better defenders. Some of the guys are real good hitters and not as good defensively. There’s probably enough guys out there available to fill the needs of the teams that need somebody at that position. It’s supply and demand. A lot of teams already have good 1st baseman. And there are 3 or 4 others like us, looking for one.”
I kind of like Berkman as a “safe” option and Pena as the “risky-upside” option. Berkman hit .248 with 14 HR’s and 58 RBI’s in 2010. Despite the down numbers, he still walked 77 times with only 85 K’s in 404 at-bats. He is a patient hitter who will make pitchers throw strikes and could be a valuable asset to young players like Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin in the locker room.
Pena has a career .241 batting average and .351 on-base percentage. But in 2010, those numbers were way down – .196 and .325. That being said, he still managed to hit 28 HR’s and rack up 84 RBI’s with 87 walks and 158 K’s. Pena would probably drive fans nuts with his K’s and all-or-nothing swings, but you have to like the power numbers and you have to think the average numbers can’t get any worse than they were in 2010.
LaRoche has a career .271 batting average and .339 on-base percentage. He had a decent 2010 – .261 batting average with 25 HR’s and 100 RBI’s and he is the youngest of the bunch at only 31 years old.
Overbay has a career .274 batting average and .358 on-base percentage. He had a down year in 2010 and he is 33 years old.
One person we know it won’t be is Micah Hoffpauir who had been on the Cubs roster each of the last 4 seasons. Hoffpauir is headed to Japan to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters during the 2011 baseball season.
It should be interesting what Hendry decides to do. I have been questioning Hendry’s decision-making for years now, so I have a feeling we’re not going to like who he goes with at 1st base in 2011. Maybe that will be the final straw for the Ricketts Family to finally realize that they need to cut ties with this out-dated GM…