It seems that economic conditions have given tremendous cover for Hendry and the Cubs to go on the cheap for improving the ball club for 2009.
Without discussing the validity of this spin we can assume that if the offense is significantly upgraded, Hendry won't be able to address both the need for a legitimate leadoff man and a left handed power hitting outfielder. That begs the question, if the Cubs can go after only one, which should it be?
Well there are two camps here, so let's do a little plus/minus with the present roster and see what conclusions we can come up with.
Realistically looking at the Cubs big free agent acquisition of last year, the best we can hope for is a modest improvement. This of course still doesn't make Fukudome worth the money, but if can cut down on the strikeouts and put the ball in play more often, it might make the expense a little easier to swallow. Fukudome is still a plus defensively and brings another LHB to the lineup. He should start next season as the everyday RF'er and if he doesn't improve, waive his ass.
The Cubs once again find themselves in a position of having too many second baseman, and our SS may be best suited to play there as well. This is a real problem as only Cedeneo has superior defensive range and athleticism as a middle infielder but is one of the weaker ones offensively. I think Cedeneo would improve offensively if given the chance to play everyday but the Cubs probably only have a two year window with it's big guns to win it all and I just can't see Piniella going this direction.
The Cubs do have a LHB that plays 2B and although his sample of AB's is not large (479), his line of 290BA 369OBP 826OPS with 34 Doubles 5 Triples and 12 HR's is not to shabby. It's in the Cubs best interests to give Fontenot every shot to be the Cubs everyday second baseman this spring and plan accordingly. I know we have DeRosa's bat that needs to be in the lineup, but with his defensively versatility in the field, I think he can get his AB's and still be productive. DeRosa is coming off a career year and considering he may revert to his norm, his role as a bench player may not be as big a loss offensively as it looks on first blush.
If we look at the Cubs defensive shortcomings other than the Fonz in LF, which no one will replace his offensive numbers, the middle infield is the most susceptible. Theriot like DeRosa, is coming off of a career year and both of their trade values will probably never be higher. If Hendry can get a left handed hitting, superior glove to replace Theriot, it would help the team immeasurably. The team's first defensive priority should be as strong up the middle as possible. With Fukudome able to play CF if Pie doesn't make the team or is traded, the Cubs would be an excellent defensive team while adding at least 2 LHB's to the lineup.
A player like Furcal, would give you more bang for the buck as he would be both an offensive and defensive upgrade to the team while being a similar cost to adding an Abreu or Ibanez. Neither of these free agent outfielders is superior to Fukudome. There is no doubt both Abreu and Ibanez have displayed an ability to rake, but Abreu at this point in his career is an average RF'er at best and Ibanez hasn't played but a handful of games in RF his whole career.
The Cubs have plenty of thumpers, but have serious shortcomings with their leadoff man and SS. Come next seasons trading deadline, it will be much easier for the Cubs to replace an outfielder than a quality defensive SS that can leadoff.
A lineup that could feature up to four LHB's if Pie is able to make the team, you will have balanced the lineup significantly by replacing Theriot's bat with Furcals and DeRosa's bat with Fontenots. With Pie in CF, you've improved the overall team defense and speed, upgraded the leadoff spot and improved Soriano's RBI production. Against tough lefties DeRosa could spell Fukudome or Fontenot and Johnson could spell Pie. This allows Piniella offensive flexibility while still having the ability to make late inning defensive replacements.
Most people don't get second chances but Hendry does now. Go get Furcal now Jimbo, and don't make the same mistake twice.