Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
The End Is Here
The original headline was "My Hall of Famer Makes More Than Your Hall of Famer!" but that was concocted in the heady days of mid-January when the Cubs' original offer to Greg Maddux appeared to be a response to Houston's signing of Roger Clemens. Now, while the Clemens deal feels as relevant as the Dean campaign, the Cubs' move still throws a gauntlet in the face of the Astros and hollers, "You wanna play? Let's play!"
I'm terribly emotional about this, and frankly, I'm embarrassed. I used the word "catharsis" in my post last night, and it's still the most apt description. I have no stories of crying into a pillow, or cursing the Tribune when Maddux left, but something happened. Something far more subtle, even insidious. I lost hope.
I also developed an enhanced dislike of the Braves, yet when Atlanta finally won a World Series in 1995, I had a smile for Mad Dog. Buried under the feelings of betrayal was my soft spot for the little guy with glasses who could paint a corner like Michelangelo could paint a ceiling. Now he's back, and it's as if years of scar tissue, more than a decade of "what ifs?" have evaporated. He's our guy again. I've found my hope, and I'm loving it.
But enough with the soft stuff, the drying of joyful tears, the mending of broken hearts! What will Greg Maddux mean to the Cubs on the field?
Greg Maddux will replace Shawn Estes in the rotation. One more time for those who just fainted: Greg Maddux will replace Shawn Estes in the rotation.
Let's take a look at a couple of numbers from Baseball Prospectus to give us a feel for what the impact might be. The numbers I'm using are VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), and a more complete definition can be found here. Estes' figure reflects his 2003 performance, and Maddux's reflects PECOTA's (the projection system used at Baseball Prospectus, further defined here) baseline prediction for 2004.
Forget about Maddux being a "Hall of Fame Caliber" pitcher. Those days are long behind him. However, he's still better than most, and the difference between him and Estes (who, according to VORP, was the single worst pitcher in the Majors) is about 5 wins (one win is roughly equivalent to 10 runs of VORP). What's not to like there?
My one worry is length of contract. The Cubs are overpaying a bit with $8M per season, but that's excusable given the club's resources and the history between player and team. There's a third year that I didn't expect, though, and while it doesn't vest until certain performance goals are met, I can't believe that anything short of a catastrophic injury would make them unattainable.
We will have Maddux until his career is over, and while there's romance in that, it's reasonable to worry about his performance level when he hits forty. That, and the impact it will have on the futures of younger Cubs.
The acquisition of Maddux doesn't occur in a vacuum, and more than one player will be affected.
First up is poor Juan Cruz. I really feel for him. He's done everything the organization has asked. He's started, he's come out of the bullpen, he's shown he can perform at AAA, and he just got done annihilating hitters in the winter leagues. If he hadn't broken his non-pitching hand in a moment of anger, proving that he only understood half of John Tudor's lesson, he might have completed his stint with the sort of emphatic performance shown by fellow Cub, Francis Beltran.
As it stands, Cruz is the favorite for the open swingman job in the bullpen. Having him in that spot will be a luxury, and may be a necessity, depending on the recuperative abilities of Prior, Wood and Zambrano. However, the moment Jim Hendry feels the questions about Angel Guzman's health have been answered, Cruz becomes expendable, and I would fully expect him to be used to cure whatever ails the club around the trading deadline.
While he won't be traded, a similar fate awaits Matt Clement at year's end. Barring multiple, horrific injuries to the younger, better pitchers in the Cubs' system, Clement will be washed away in the flood of talent like a wooden bridge in a tsunami. It was lovely to look at, and it worked well enough, but some forces can't be resisted. In this case, it's not so much the wall of water as the force of strong, young, cheap arms. Clement will have a job next year, just not at Sheffield and Addison.
It would be foolish to say this deal isn't about winning. Of course it is, but that just scratches the surface. There's a sense, at least for me, of redemption. Other than one fluke year, the '90's were a wasteland of incompetence and organizational malaise for the Cubs. I'm not sure that differentiates it from any other period in the team's history, but the loss of Maddux to the Braves was symbolic of the decade.
Last year, the Cubs dug the grave for the Lovable Losers. Today, with the acquisition of Maddux, they've laid another ghost to rest. If this keeps up, we'll be dancing on the bones of our disappointments in October.