Sorry, We're Closed

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Exit, Stage Right Field

Sammy Sosa's tenure as the Chicago Cubs' right fielder is about to end. He's set to join the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston and a couple of as-yet unidentified minor leaguers. At one point, the teams had considered adding relievers Jorge Julio and Kyle Farnsworth to the mix, but that portion of the deal appears dead.

The Orioles will only pay about $9M of Sosa's $17M 2005 salary, with the Cubs picking up the rest. Sosa will waive his 2006 option, getting a $4.5 million buyout from Chicago for doing so. That means the Cubbies are set to pay $12.5 million just to get the 36-year-old Sosa (at least he claims to be 36) out of town.

Baltimore acquires a legitimate box-office draw who could hit 40 homers for a relative bargain, and the Cubs shed more than $6M (taking into account Hairston's salary) from a high payroll. The Birds are expected to ink Sosa to a contract extension as well.

What will the on-field results be? The Cubs see Hairston as their new leadoff man and everyday left fielder. Last season was Hairston's first in the outfield, and he played just 86 games. He began and ended the season on the disabled list, first with a fractured finger and, more seriously, a broken ankle suffered in August. Hairston is not a power hitter and has never been more than an average base stealer, so his on-base skills will be critical to his success.

In 2004, Hairston batted a career-best .303 for Baltimore and walked more than he had previously, but one good reason for his high average was that he didn't play the last six weeks of the season. Hairston, over his career, has been a poor second-half hitter, and it's likely that had he been healthy in September, he'd have wound up batting far less than .303.

Therefore it is unrealistic to expect Hairston to be a star-quality leadoff man, or even a particularly good one. He'll be 29 in May, which means that what we're seeing from him now is about as good as he's going to get. If the Cubs open the season with an outfield of Hairston, Corey Patterson, and Todd Hollandsworth, that'll put plenty of pressure on the infield to produce.

The Orioles, with Sosa slated to go to right field, are probably going to move Jay Gibbons to first base, a move that will automatically make them one of the weaker teams in the league at the position. Gibbons has only once cleared .250 in four seasons with Baltimore and his power numbers have dropped dramatically over the last two seasons. He's also coming off a season of back injuries. While Gibbons was indeed a fine Rule V draftee in 2000, and he has a role in the majors, the soon-to-be-28-year-old has not yet shown that he is capable of playing every day for a major league team.

Sosa's stock fell dramatically in Chicago over the last two years, making a deal necessary for all parties. While Sosa is no longer a game-breaking star, and his exit from the Cubs last September was indefensible, he was, for several years, the best the Cubs had, and he enjoyed well-earned affection from the fans. I personally won't miss everything about him, but I will miss him. Thanks for the thrills, Sammy.


Blogger amo said...

now if farnsy could just find his game again,
we'd be good to go.

7:40 AM, January 31, 2005

Blogger Stuart Shea said...

Good point! Unfortunately, I think there's a better chance of Farnsworth finding his game in another city than here.

9:08 AM, January 31, 2005


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