While the Cubs continue to play good baseball, mostly thanks to stellar starting pitching, the talk continues to be about 2011 and beyond. Included in that is the gaping hole on the Cubs’ roster for next season is first base, where Xavier Nady has been playing a majority of the time since Derrek Lee’s departure.
Two potential fills for that hole were in the news this morning, the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez, and the Nationals’ Adam Dunn. Gonzalez, who won’t be a free agent until after next season, talked to the Sun-Times about his love for the Cubs, while MASN reported that Dunn and the Nationals aren’t likely to work out an extension (meaning Dunn will be a free agent this off season).
Gonzalez is probably the bigger story here, as he talks openly about his love of Chicago, and says he would have to entertain an offer in 2012 should the Cubs make an offer.
”There’s definitely a lot of positives about Chicago that if they made an offer, I would be interested in it,” said Gonzalez, 28, whose ability to hit for power to all fields is one reason he has a career .693 slugging percentage at Wrigley Field (85 plate appearances).
”Chicago’s a great town, and they have great fans, and I like the fact that it’s a small ballpark. I know the wind can play against you, but it can play for you, too. There’s definitely some positives. And my wife loves Chicago, for the shopping.”
While Gonzalez obviously fits perfectly into the park, and would probably be the perfect addition to the current roster, the timeline is a difficult fit for the Cubs. Should they wait until after next season to sign an impact first baseman, it will be awfully hard to call the team a contender in 2011. Jim Hendry is fighting for his job, and can’t afford to wait 12 more months.
When he becomes a free agent, Gonzalez will be 29 years old, and given his defensive prowess (to go along with his bat), he could command a contract in Miguel Cabrera’s range (8 years, $153.3 million). Even with more payroll cleared when Kosuke Fukudome leaves, can the Cubs afford that kind of offer? It is just one of the many questions that seem to make Gonzalez and the Cubs an unlikely fit.
This offseason’s big target, or at least the big target in the minds of many fans and writers, is Adam Dunn. Dunn is having another Adam Dunn season in Washington, with ample power (37 home runs), lots of strikeouts (190), and questionable defense. Even at first base, scouts have questions about his ability to play first base, and that is one of the reasons the Nationals and Dunn might be ending their relationship.
But the people making baseball decisions, like general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman, see Dunn’s defense as being untenable, according to sources familiar with the team’s thinking. The Nationals tried hard to trade Dunn at the July 31 trade deadline, one source said, but they couldn’t find a package they believed would bring back more than the two draft picks they’d get if Dunn left in free agency.
Dunn has improved defensively at first base this year, cutting down on his errors and trimming his Ultimate Zone Rating to -1.9. But he hasn’t been nimble enough around first base to stop hard liners that better fielders might turn into outs, and according to the scout, Dunn’s defense is worse than statistics will quantify.
“He costs them half a run a game,” the scout said. “You’re involved in so many plays – pickoffs, scoops in the dirt, fielding plays – it’s worse than it looks on paper.”
Certainly not the kind of thing you want to read about a first baseman, especially given the erratic nature of most throws coming from the Cubs’ infield. Unlike the Nationals though, the Cubs want to contend right away, and Dunn provides the offensive clout that the team desperately needs. Like Gonzalez, Dunn is a great hitter at Wrigley Field, and would be a great player to team with Aramis Ramirez in the middle of the lineup.
As much as paying Gonzalez next off season is a question, paying Dunn this year is way more problematic. Estimates from many suggest Dunn will get a four year deal in the $60 million range, too rich for the Cubs’ payroll right now.
Either Adrian Gonzalez or Adam Dunn would be a great fit for the Cubs, providing badly need left-handed power at first base. I have my doubts at the team’s ability to afford Dunn this winter, and even more doubts about giving Adrian Gonzalez $150 million the next year, but should Tom Ricketts open up his wallet, either would be welcome here.