It's true, though. Much as I didn't think it was possible at the beginning of the season, Grudz actually helped the Cubs win games. His .314/.366/.416 line won’t make anyone forget Ryne Sandberg, but I’ll take a .366 OBP from my second baseman anytime. The question that must be asked, of course, has to do with repeatability, and that’s where the Cubs should be concerned about good ‘ol Grudz.
Let’s suppose the Cubs were to re-sign Grudzielanek. What sort of production could they reasonably expect?
I have to admit, I’m starting this by making the assumption that 2003 was an outlier season for Grudz, and in looking at his career line through last season of .285/.329/.387, I don’t think I’m dancing with a fat man on the end of a twig. For my money, the best place to start looking is at the three years before he came to the Friendly Confines.
The 2000-2002 seasons (ages 30-32, by the way) saw Grudzielanek post a combined .274/.319/.382 stat line. Yeech! Among second basemen with at least 1,000 PA’s during the same period, his OBP ranks third worst (if you bump the PA requirement to 1,200 he becomes the worst), his slugging ranks seventh worst (third worst with 1,200 PA’s) and his OPS ranks sixth worst (second worst with 1,200 PA’s). Also, his Runs Created Above Average is tied for tenth worst, and his Runs Created per game is sixth worst (third worst with 1,200 PA’s). (By the way, none of these super cool rankings get done without Lee Sinin’s always helpful Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)
Craptacular, huh? However, this doesn’t tell us as much as we might think. After all, he did play half of his games in Dodger Stadium during this period. Chavez Ravine is such an extreme pitcher’s park, it might be instructive to look at his road stats instead.
Look familiar? Eerily like his career line, isn’t it. But if you think that’s weird, try messing with last year’s numbers for a bit. Here they are again.
And their component parts.
First, we have to start by looking at what makes up Senior Grudz’ numbers. What I see is a player who had a solid OBP made up almost entirely of his very good batting average. I think it’s safe to say from his career line that he’s always been a player with a BA dependent OBP. So, since almost all of his 2003 offensive value was wrapped up in his OBP, and therefore his BA, is there a good chance he keeps this up in the future? I say no, and here’s why.
That is what his 2003 line looks like when you remove 17 singles from it. Again, looking very familiar. For the curious among you, that’s one squibber, high chopper, or seeing eye grounder every 7.1 games. Of course, I don’t know for sure that all those extra singles were of the lucky bounce variety, but based on what he had accomplished in his career up until his age 33 season, last year certainly fits the profile of the luck-aided production increase. If the Cubs re-sign Mark Grudzielanek, you can pretty much bet on getting what you see above for 500+ at bats, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s not good enough. So, what’s the alternative?
Here’s a partial list of the free agents currently available at second base.
Inspiring, eh? Let’s work from the bottom up. It’ll be faster.
Eric Young – During his first eight full seasons, Young was actually a fairly serviceable leadoff man, posting an OBP of at least .355 for every year of the period. Problem is, the last year of that run was in 2000 when he was 33. In the following three seasons he put up OBP’s of .333, .338, and .336, all while his other tangible asset, his ability to steal bases, has fallen into decline as well. Simply put, Young will be 37 next year, and he’s not a good bet to be a starter on anybody’s team. Certainly not the Cubs.
Pokey Reese – I know this has been said a million times, but it’s hard to overstate just how lucky the Reds got with Pokey’s contract. Cincinatti offered him $21M for four years at the end of the 2001 season, and Reese thought he could score a better deal. Instead, he landed with the Pirates, where he was paid just under $4M for 2002 and 2003. And that was still too much. Now, after not playing since May 13 due to a thumb injury and subsequent surgery, and not having played well since the 13th of Never due to his near spectacular inability to hit a baseball, Pokey is looking for a job. He’ll probably get an NRI somewhere, but again, not with the Cubs.
Roberto Alomar – For a long time, when thinking about the best second basemen in the game, one of the first names, if not the only name to spring to mind, was Roberto Alomar. Winning ten out of eleven Gold Gloves from 1991-2001, and during that same period having five top ten finishes in OBP, BA, and MVP voting, at the end of what may have been his best season in 2001, Alomar looked like at least a decent signing for the New York Mets. However, even factoring in his age (34 for the 2002 season) and adjusting to a new league, no one could have foreseen Alomar’s play careening off the cliff like it did.
Wow. And it didn’t get any better in 2003, even after being dealt back to the American League and to the comforting embrace of his brother, Sandy, with the White Sox. It’s hard to believe that such a once great player is done, but with two consecutive years of this level of performance, and with his age 36 season looming, I think it’s time to put the fork in Robbie. The White Sox will likely sign him, but even if they didn’t, the Cubs wouldn’t, and shouldn’t be interested.
Fernando Vina – The things that recommend Vina are supposedly his speed, his defense, and his left-handedness. Well, not even I will contend that last one, so let’s take a look at the other two.
Vina is definitely fast, but the question on this point is how does that speed translate into some sort of benefit, and can we expect the speed to continue to be a factor into the future? Well, stolen bases are the most tangible result of good speed, and his rate of success at swiping bags for his career is only 63.3%. Over the last four seasons it’s been 61.5%. The last two it’s been 58.3%. Add in the hamstring injury that kept him out of action for three months last year, and I think assuming his speed will be there as his career continues is foolish. Vina will also be 35 next year, and it’s legitimate to be concerned that the hamstring could become a chronic problem.
His defense has been excellent in the past. Thanks to baseball-reference.com, we can look at Vina’s Range Factor over the last few seasons. From 1996-1999, Range Factor shows Vina to be an elite defender, and he still looks very good in 2000. However, after that he loses something, and looks to be right around average through last season. Perhaps the pitching staffs changed enough to influence those numbers, but his consistent excellence followed by his consistent average-ness indicates that while the exactness of the numbers might be called into question, the picture they draw of an aging player slowly losing his effectiveness as a defender appears to be accurate. This isn’t something I’d normally be concerned about, after all the Cubs have an extreme strikeout pitching staff and are therefore much less likely to be hurt by sub-par defense, but defense is one of Vina’s selling points, and it just isn’t there anymore. With his declining speed and defense, and his continually declining OBP (.357, .333, .309 over the last three seasons), when Fernando Vina has a good day, he’s a left-handed Mark Grudzielanek. I’m not sure how many good days he has left.
Luis Castillo – I’d be happy to see Castillo in a Cubs uniform. He’s a switch hitter with good speed, he puts up solid OBP’s that could be the answer to the Cubs’ leadoff issues, and while his defense is a bit below average, as I’ve discussed before, that’s not an issue for this team. What is an issue is the fact that every other team in need of a second baseman (and there’s a smokin’ load of ‘em) is going to be after Castillo this offseason. He made $4,850,000 last year. If the Cubs can sign him to a deal that is in that general vicinity per year, and is no longer than three years, then I’d call it positive. Anything beyond that, and I don’t think you get enough return on your investment. My point? I think somebody’s gonna get screwed, here, and I just hope it’s not the Cubs.
Todd Walker – I hear a lot about what a great hitter Walker is, but I just don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s bad, just not the threat that I’ve heard folks make him out to be. His career line is .290/.346/.434, and just glancing at what he does year after year, it seems reasonable to expect something in that range. If nothing else, Walker is very consistent. This could be a great positive if the Cubs were to sign him to a one or two year deal. You know you’re getting mediocre defense at second, but in a package that hits lefty with relatively few strikeouts and a decent amount of pop. He’ll be 31 next season, so while you can’t expect any improvement, he’s not likely to fall off a cliff either, especially with his clockwork performances of late. For no more than a couple million a year, Walker could be a good fit until Brendan Harris is ready to take over.
With all the players out there looking for jobs, I think a trade would have to involve a pretty special player. There are only two who I think would actually be available for trade and fit the bill.
Alfonso Soriano – He’s not my favorite player, and for a team like the Cubs that already has a lineup full of guys more than willing to swing at crap, he’s not really even a good fit. However, he’s fast, he’s powerful, and … and … well, he’s fast and powerful. Actually, that’s not fair. Last season, in 7 fewer PA’s, he walked 13 more times and struck out 27 fewer times than he did in the previous season. Granted, when your previous season consisted of 23 walks and 157 strikeouts, you’d better improve, but the fact that he did get better is worth noting. The weird thing, though, is that he lost some power along the way. Patience is supposed to lead to more power, but he hit 15 fewer doubles (while also dropping a homer, and adding three triples) in spite of it. I’m going to guess that it’s a blip, but who knows. No one else has figured this guy out, and I don’t think I’ll be the first. Anyway, add in his notably shaky defense and the fact that the Yankees will want at least one superstar caliber major league player in return, and I think you’re looking at the unlikeliest of deals. Soriano has tremendous upside, but tremendous risks as well, and at the price The Boss will ask, I think it’s too much.
Jose Vidro – Now, this could happen. Of course, it could happen for a lot of other clubs, too, but the Cubs may be in a good position to deal with the Expos. A lot depends on the Expos’ need to cut salary, and since the degree if not the fact is still up in the air, there’s still much speculation involved. For me to think this is workable, the Expos would have to be willing to part with Vidro for good young pitching, something the Cubs still have in relative abundance. As long as The Big Three or Angel Guzman aren’t involved in the discussion, the Cubs should be willing to listen. In fact, they should make the call. What they would get in return would be a switch hitting second baseman who consistently hits over .300, continues to see his walk rate go up and his K rate go down, while showing more power than you’re used to seeing out of the middle infield. The negatives would be his lack of speed, occasionally questionable defense, and what seems to be a penchant for nagging injuries. To me, the pros far outweigh the cons. Actually (and this is the purest speculation), in looking at Vidro’s Range Factor from year to year, his defense looks solid to good in years when he’s able to stay healthy, and mediocre in years when he gets hurt, so it’s reasonable to me to see a correlation between the two things. Keep Vidro healthy (which may be harder than it sounds), and the issue with defense goes away, too. Plus, Vidro will only be 29 this season. Barring continuing wear and tear a la Moises Alou, Vidro should be an excellent player for years to come. If the Cubs can grab him and lock him up for a while, it could be a real difference maker.
My conclusion? The ideal is Vidro. He’s flat out the best second baseman the Cubs could reasonably hope to acquire. Dusty probably wouldn’t bat him leadoff because he’s slow, but he’d be wicked in the two spot. The second tier option is a tie for me. It all comes down to price. If Castillo can be had without breaking the bank or committing to him forever, I like it. If not, Todd Walker could be a good, cheap, short term solution. If none of these things can happen, as unfortunate as it may be, I think the Cubs should and will sign Grudzielanek.
So, that was exhaustive, and exhausting (probably even more for you than for me). It took me too long to get this up here, but there was more ground to cover on this position than anywhere else, so I wanted to make sure I got as much out there as I could. In any case, I’ll be getting better about posting in between these segments from here on out. I don’t think it’s really a blog if I only put something up every two weeks.
More to come soon on other subjects, but the next position to be assumed will be Shortstop.