Part 2 of 5 – The Infield & Catchers
The infield of the 2005 Chicago Cubs had it’s ups (Derrek Lee and Ronny Cedeno) and downs (as in the DL). Nomar started the year at shortstop and ended it at 3rd. Todd Walker was on and off the DL during the year. Aramis Ramirez had his leg problems again. Jose Macias played way too much. Jerry Hariston did not play enough (Hariston is a natural infielder, he played too many games in the outfield). Neifi played well, but again… way too many games. Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Scott McClain, and Enrique Wilson all had playing time in the infield in 2005. The infield never learned how to play together in 2005… that has to change in 2006.
2006 Outlook – Derrek Lee should be the Cubs’ first baseman for years to come….enough said.
Todd Walker (2B/1B) – Todd had another good year in Cubbie blue, but I think it was his last. Walker had 2 stints on the DL (only played in 110 games), but he did improve his defense. Walker finished the year hitting .305 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI’s. Walker had a .355 OBP and 121 hits.
2006 Outlook – Walker has a mutual option on his contract for 2006. Walker is a good player, but I wonder if he fits in with the Cubs plans for the future. Walker wants to be an everyday player and I wonder if that will happen in Chicago. If the Cubs resign Nomar, look for Todd Walker to find a new home.
Nomar Garciaparra (SS/3B) – Nomar was my favorite shortstop for years when he was with the Red Sox, and when the Cubs traded for him in 2004….I could not believe it. Nomar had a great spring, but that did not carry over. Nomar missed 100 games in 2005 and the Cubs paid too much ($8 Million) to try that again. When Nomar was in there he hit the ball. He finished the year with a .283 batting average with 9 home runs and 30 RBI’s (most of that after he returned in August). His OBP (.320) and SLG (.452) were very impressive after his slow start.
2006 Outlook – Nomar is a Free Agent. The rumor on Nomar is he is willing to do whatever he needs to stay in Chicago. He likes it there. There has been a mention of him playing in the outfield (ala Robin Yount). The outfield at Wrigley is a challenge and how would he respond? I would like to see Nomar stay, but I wonder if he could help. He would have to take a HUGE pay cut with an excentive-laden contract to make this work. The Cubs cannot invest a large contract on him again. Can Nomar play 2B? I like the idea of him staying as an insurance policy. He can now back-up 3B and Shortstop, but I see him ending up on the West Coast in the American League.
Aramis Ramirez (3B) – Aramis had a huge year when he was healthy. He made the All-Star team for the first time. Ramirez finished the year with a .302 average, 31 home runs and 92 RBI’s in only 123 games. Aramis had a slow start and picked up his production, as the weather got warmer. He hit .241 in April and .365 in June. Ramirez hit .298 before the All Star break and .311 after. When in the lineup, he and Derrek Lee were this generation’s version of the ‘Daily Double’.
2006 Outlook – ARam signed a contract extension before the start of the 2005 season that will keep him in Chicago until 2008 (with an option for 2009). Ramirez has to figure out a way to play an entire season. The Cubs have changed his off-season workout program in attempt to improve the strength in his legs. Aramis Ramirez is the best third baseman the Cubs have had since Ron Santo and should be very productive for years to come.
Jose Macias (2B/SS/3B/OF) – Macias was Dusty Baker’s favorite option off of the bench in 2005. Macias was 10 for 54 (.185 avg) as a pinch hitter. Jose finished the year with a .254 batting average, 1 home run and 13 RBI’s. His OBP was .274 and his SLG was .316. Macias filled in just about every position he could during the injury plagued 2005 season. Macias is a good utility player to have off of the bench, not a starter.
2006 Outlook – Jose Macias is eligible for arbitration this off-season. Jose is a switch hitter, which makes him very attractive to most ball clubs. However, one of the improvements that must be made in the off-season is the depth on the bench. I do not believe Macias gives a quality option for Dusty Baker in the event of injuries. The bench has to be improved upon and I do not see Macias in the mix.
Neifi Perez (SS/2B) – Perez filled in nicely after Nomar went down in early April. Neifi still has a great glove and arm. Perez finished the year with a .274 average with 9 home runs and 54 RBI’s. He had 157 hits and 33 doubles. His OBP was .298 and his SLG is .383. Neifi was asked to do a lot in 2005 and as earned a chance to start in this league again.
2006 Outlook – Neifi will not want to be a bench player again in 2006 and because if this I do not see him in the mix for the Cubs. I think Perez would be a better option to keep over Macias, but other teams will be bidding for his service. Depending on how the Cubs handle Nomar could have an affect on Neifi’s future in Chicago. According to the Rocky Mountain News the Rockies are interested in resigning Neifi. Stay tuned.
Ronny Cedeno (SS) – Cedeno had a good break in year for the Cubs. Cedeno split time between Chicago and Iowa and should never see the Minor Leagues again. Ronny played 41 games with the Cubs hitting .300 with 1 home run and 6 RBI’s. He showed he has a strong arm and dependable glove. Once Cedeno got playing time, he broke his hand and was lost for the last month of the season. Cedeno showed a lot of patience at the plate and each time he was called up from Iowa he showed improvement. His .356 OBP is very good for a rookie.
2006 Outlook – Cedeno is the future of the Cubs. He is supposed to play winter ball to learn 2B to give him versatility with the team. His natural position is shortstop and depending on how the Cubs go in the off-season, could affect his future. An infield of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Ronny Cedeno could pay dividends for years to come. Keep an eye on this kid in 2006.
Michael Barrett (C) – Barrett had a fine year at the plate for the Cubs. He was among the league leaders in offensive categories for catchers. Barrett finished with a .276 average, tied a career mark in home runs with 16 and had 61 RBI’s. He had with a .345 OBP, a .479 SLG and 32 doubles. He also finished 8th in the league (21 of 91) in throwing out potential base stealers. Barrett had a fine year and his pitch calling might have been his only downfall.
2006 Outlook – Michael Barrett is signed through 2007 and is a good young catcher. His pitch calling needs work. He and the pitching staff need to learn how to work better together to reduce the nearly 1 earned run per game difference between him and Henry Blanco. Barrett seems to want to continue to improve and 2006 should be a big year for him at and behind the plate.
Henry Blanco (C) – Blanco had a good year…but a rocky start. His offensive numbers were very low in the first half of the season. Blanco hit only .158 before the All Star break and after the break (he also changed his number from 9 to 24) he hit .318. Blanco finished the year with a .242 batting average with 6 home runs and 25 RBI’s. He became the personal catcher for Mark Prior and proved to be a valuable member of the Cubs’ bench.
2006 Outlook – Blanco is signed through the 2006 season. Look for him to remain a solid back up to Michael Barrett.
2006 Outlook for the Infield and Catchers – Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez will anchor the corners for the Cubs for many years to come. The Cubs brass cannot depend on the same offensive output from Derrek Lee in 2006 and they need to find protection in the line up for him. The middle of the infield should change and one of these spots could give the Cubs a lead off hitter. The big rumor is Jim Hendry wants Atlanta’s shortstop Rafael Furcal. Who knows? He would help with the lead off spot, but he will come at a very high price. The infield must stay healthy and build continuity for the team to be successful in 2006.
Coming soon the Outfield of 2005…stay tuned. 158 days until Opening Day 2006!!!