Change-UpJanuary 27, 2010
On Xavier Nady & An Off-Season Lost
By Patrick Sullivan

To the extent that you want more solid MLB-caliber players than not on the roster, the addition of Xavier Nady is a nice get for the 2010 Cubs. Short money, decent enough right-handed bat, positional flexibility, in some ways the move was a no-brainer. Almost any team in baseball would improve, some more than others, as a result of having Nady on their roster.

The problem for the Cubs, and any other team for that matter, is that resources and roster spots are finite. Coming off of 83 wins playing in one of baseball's weakest divisions, a few focused, tactical moves could have resulted in enough wins added to spring the North Siders into contention. As it stands at the end of the Hot Stove season, their starting rotation looks thin and injury prone while their offense looks to be improved. On the whole, it looks like this Cubs team should be just a bit better than last year's club. With luck, they'll contend. With Xavier Nady in the fold, they'll still need luck.

It's hard not to think back to the Milton Bradley episode and how much it distracted Chicago when looking at their moves this off-season. Losing Bradley and picking up Carlos Silva and Marlon Byrd, wherever you come down on the argument that they just had to part ways with Bradley, amounts to wheel-spinning. Byrd is no better than Bradley, Silva is just awful. Nady might hit southpaws better than Kosuke Fukudome, but how much of that differential offensively does Nady give back when he takes the field in right? As I see it, the most enticing part of this addition is that it protects against further Soriano deterioration. That's no small thing, but in an off-season where just a few shrewd moves could have made all that difference, Bradley, Byrd, Silva, Nady - the Cubs just haven't seem focused.

With the ownership commotion surrounding the club and Soriano's bi-weekly direct deposit hamstringing baseball operations, I can empathize. But at the same time, this was an off-season that called for even greater focus. There wasn't going to be a lot of money to spend, but the Cubs had a roster on the cusp. And it still is on the cusp, so it's not like they've mismanaged their way out of any hope for 2010. They just could have done more, and the announcement of the Nady signing tells me that they're not thinking strategically enough. Nady just won't make much of an impact, when there was impact at a great price still to be had on the free agent market.

You want to go short money and improve the club? Well what about Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez for a team whose second basemen hit .254/.310/.357 in 2009? If the Cubs opted to bolster their starting pitching instead, to avoid relying on some combination of Tom Gorzelanny and Randy Wells and Sean Marshall for 400 innings, then Jon Garland and his 200 league average innings could have helped. Garland would have led the 2009 Cubs in innings pitched. And heavens, Johnny Damon is still sitting out there. Maybe you don't want to hurt Alfonso Soriano's feelings or you otherwise sense a logjam in the outfield, but Damon is still an excellent player whose value seems to have plummeted without good reason.

Again, I want to stress that I can't get too worked up about any of the Cubs moves this off-season. I understand the chemistry stuff and the case for why Bradley had to go. Center field was a hole that Marlon Byrd should be able to fill. Xavier Nady adds some depth and a nice platoon partner if deployed appropriately. But if the Cubs looked at their roster and determined they only had a few moves to make this off-season, I wish they would have been executed with more focus and precision. Because a couple wins could mean all the difference in the National League Central.


I disagree about upgrading at 2b. A time-sharing manning of the position of Fontenot and Baker should be reasonably productive, and more importantly, cheap. Hudson and Lopez are quality players, but not really that big of an upgrade over what the Cubs already have there. If their price comes down it would be a good signing, but spending a few million on what would amount to roughly half a win of upgrade - neither Lopez or Hudson are exactly all-stars anymore.

As far as free agency goes, the two best things the Cubs could have done this offseason were

1. Sign Matt Holliday to play RF
2. Re-sign Rich Harden, or otherwise bolster the rotation with a starter with some upside. I'm not a big fan of Garland precisely because I don't really see him pushing higher than 2 WAR or so. I'd rather roll the dice with Gorzelanny and see what he can do.

One other thing that did bother me was that the Cubs weren't in the conversation for some of the bigger trades this offseason, especially Roy Halladay. The Cubs are a large market team who could use and absorb his contract down the road (especially with Lee, Lilly, and Ramirez coming off the books after 2010).

As you said, the Cubs are on the cusp now and they should have gone for it. They're behind the Cardinals now for sure, but I don't think it's by as many wins as people seem to think.

One more thing:

Speaking of Harden, how they handled him late last year and in the offseason was very strange. Supposedly they had a deal in place with the Twins at the trade deadline but didn't go through with it. Fast forward a few months later, and they didn't even offer Harden arbitration even though he was only a type B free agent, which wouldn't deter other teams from signing him. Very curious

Great stuff on the Cubs offseason so far, Patrick. However, a couple issues:

One, I find the clubhouse chemistry argument for dealing Bradley to be problematic for one simple reason: Carlos Silva is just as much of an a-hole as Milton Bradley. If the Cubs were trying to improve the mood in the clubhouse by moving Milton Bradley, then they failed when they acquired Carlos Silva. The traded an a-hole who was good at baseball for an a-hole who was bad at baseball.

Two, I think you're glossing the failure to re-sign Harden. The way the Cubs handled Harden is truly baffling. At mid-season, the Twins wanted both he and Gregg. Hendry balked, then refused, then non-tendered both players, ensuring the Cubs got absolutely nothing in return for either player. Couple that with the fact that Hendry then went and spent for two years of Grabow what he could have spent for 1 year of Harden.

You completely overlook and discount the fact that key players had very bad years.

If Soriano and Soto suck again, and Ramirez dislocates his shoulder again, yeah we'll get a few more wins from the moves.

We were picked for the playoffs (even WS) last year, and if we've improved this year, should have a good chance this year.

I've addressed this in previous pieces but I think the Cubs stand to gain on offense with bounceback from Soriano and Soto, and a healthy A-Ram.

I also think their starting pitching will not be as good, and Derrek Lee should regress as well. Add it up and the Cubs look a little better than last year in my view.

The problem is that I don't think they've done anything to move the needle this off-season when there were cost-effective ways to do so.

Are the Cubs really better than last year, Sully, or are they just likely to win more games? The 2009 team was pretty good when the season began. They had several players underperform expectations and they even were a little unlucky. I think the 2010 team is better than the 83 wins the 2009 version finished with, but I don't think they are better than that team.