Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Focusing on the Positives

With all of the complaining about what terrible signings the Cubs made in the offseason, I thought I would try to bring out some positive vibes and look at the top ten free agent acquisitions by the Cubs.  I do not include contracts where the team extended a current player, or resigned one of their own players (like Aramis Ramirez resigning, or Derrek Lee's extension).

1.  Andre Dawson - OF - 1987
The distance between Andre and the rest of the field is so large, it makes the distance between Earth and Pluto seem like a jaunt across the street.  Andre plunked a blank contract down in front of Dallas Green and told him to fill in a number.  When Green put a paltry (even relative to 1987 baseball contracts) $500,000 down, Andre signed his name and promptly became the MVP and remained a solidifying force in the lineup despite his sore knees until Larry Himes chased him out of town after the 1992 season.  It still saddens me that one of the main reasons he isn't in the Hall of Fame is because he played in the 1989 playoffs hurting so badly that he managed to go only 2 for 19.  Andre needs to be in the Hall of Fame.  Now.
2.  Ted Lilly - SP - 2007
People laughed when people found out that Jim Hendry signed Ted Lilly from his hospital bed.  They scoffed when they found out the deal was for 4 years and $40 million.  At the time he signed, he was 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his career.  With the Cubs, he is 44-25 (.638) with a 3.68 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.  This from a guy who once got into a fist fight with his manager.  People aren't laughing anymore and some (like me) are seriously concerned the ownership situation could end up preventing the Cubs from extending his deal further.

3.  Dave Kingman - OF - 1978
Kong had his best three season span of his career with the Cubs as far as production, but he could only stay on the field with any regularity in 1979, when he put up 48 homeruns, led the league in Slugging and OPS (though nobody really paid attention to OPS at the time), and had his highest batting average of his career.  As a Cub, he hit 42 points higher than his career average, and made the all-star team twice out of the three times in his career.

4.  Kevin Tapani - SP - 1997
Tapani came to the Cubs in a virtual swap with the White Sox when the Sox chose to sign Jaime Navarro instead of resigning Tapani, leaving him to sign with the Cubs.  Tapani started his Cubs career going 28-12 with a 4.44 ERA in 1997 and 1998.  He was never the same after 1998 when Jim Riggleman started abusing the hell out of him when he couldn't trust anyone in his bullpen besides Rod Beck to hold a lead, but those two years of solid pitching gets him on the list.  He dueled Tom Glavine to a nine inning draw in Game 2 of the '98 NLDS and should never have had to go out to pitch the 9th inning with only a 1-0 lead, but again, Riggleman didn't have many options.  Tapani also provided one of my favorite Cubs moments when he hit a base-clearing double while batting with a broken arm.

5.  Randy Myers - RP - 1993
Randall Kirk Myers was signed to be the closer, and did what no other free agent closer the Cubs have signed has managed to do: successfully close games.  Dempster was put into the closer role, but that isn't why he was signed.  Myers remains the only hired gun that came in with any bullets left.  In his three years with the Cubs, he led the league in saves twice, had a save conversion rate of 87% overall with a 90% in 1993.  He also personally took down a douchebag who ran out to the mound to yell at him about giving up a homerun in one of the most indelible moments in Cubs douchebag fan history.

 6.  Rod Beck - RP - 1998
Beck had one good season for the Cubs, but that season was 1998 and he managed to get guys out to close out ballgames with nothing but smoke and mirrors as the season wore on.  There is no way in hell the Cubs make the post-season without Rod Beck, and he pretty much blew out his arm to get them there.  During the tie-break game against the Giants, I don't think he threw more than one or two pitches over 80 mph, but he got the job done.

7.  Ryan Dempster - SP - 2004
People may think he is overpaid now, but Ryan Dempster coming to the Cubs allowed them to fill the closer role in 2005 after the fall of Joe Borowski and the failure of anyone else to step in and close adequately.  Dempster was never spectacular in the closer role, but he got the job done well enough to keep the job for 3 years, which is more than most closers in baseball can do.  He then added to his value by rejoining the rotation and becoming a very reliable guy to have going to the mound every fifth day.  He took a step backwards this year, but he has not been bad, and he's been dealing with some serious issues with his newborn daughter's health without using it as an excuse.  If the Cubs offense was anywhere close to where it was last year, his 4.04 ERA surely would have gotten him at least another win or two more than he has now.

8.  Mark DeRosa - 2B - 2007
The funny part about the Mark DeRosa signing is that there were very few who welcomed his acquisition because it meant that there was a changing of the guard in the straight-talking, media-savvy, stubbly utility/second baseman role formerly occupied by Todd Walker.  DeRosa exceeded expectations and soon became a fan favorite while averaging 15 homeruns, 80 RBIs with an OPS of .824 as a Cub.  He did everything that Lou Piniella asked of him and was a marketing dream for the t-shirt vendors.  The day DeRosa was traded to Cleveland is widely believed to be the worst day in the history of the world.

9.  Terry Mulholland - SP - 1997, 1998
Mulholland came to an absolute crappy team in 1997, recorded the rotation's second best ERA and WHIP to Kevin Tapani and was rewarded with a 6-12 record and a trade to the contending San Francisco Giants for the stretch run.  He then resigned with the Cubs for the 1998 season and despite the presence of Mark Clark in the rotation, he was relegated to the bullpen and an occasional spot start for most of the year.  he posted the bullpen's best ERA and emerged as the only other reliable arm that Riggleman could turn to with a lead other than Beck.  He was added to the rotation for three starts at the end of September, where he went 2-0 with three quality starts.  Then the very next day after he started and pitched 8 innings in Houston, he came in relief to help preserve the tie-break game against the Giants.  He did everything the Cubs asked him to do in 1998, and he received one of the biggest and most-deserved rounds of applause on Opening Day 1999 as a result.

10.  Moises Alou - OF - 2002
Alou came to Chicago with high expectations and did not get off to strong start.  He was very pedestrian in 2002 and was looking like another big ticket free agent bust.  Alou rebounded in 2003 and became a key part of an offense that was suddenly having to pick up a struggling Sammy Sosa instead of the other way around.  I would actually rank Alou higher since he did statistically improve again in 2004, but his post-Bartman antics in 2003's Game 6 and his incessant bitching about every pitch he took that was called a strike contributed heavily to a team that bogged down more in complaining than winning games.  Still, the man earned his money while he was here.

Honorable Mention: 
Gary Gaetti - 3B - 1998
Mike Morgan - SP - 1992
Jim Edmonds - OF - 2008
Todd Walker - 2B - 2004


Adam said...

That's a fine list to which I add only this: the day DeRosa was traded was indeed the worst day in Cubs' history, made worse by the fact that it was also the day they signed Aaron Miles (12/31/08). Happy New Year!

Aisle 424 said...

The day that Larry Himes pulled the contract offer to Greg Maddux off the table is the worst day in Cubs history. It dwarfs DeRosa leaving, the Brock trade (which was actually a plausible move at the time), and the day they announced bleacher seats would go on sale prior to the day of game.

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