COMMENTARY | While it seems to fly in the face of management's drive to acquire cheap, young prospects in exchange for aging, if not necessarily aged, veterans, a deal for Carlos Gonzalez would dramatically improve the Cubs' fortunes.
I had previously written that the Cubs need a true leadoff hitter, and that Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury could fill that bill. But with both expected to command annual salaries of $10-15 million, the Cubs might be unwilling to open the wallet for either.
Of course, CarGo still has 4 years left on a seven-year, $80 million extension that he signed with the Colorado Rockies in 2011, so he's not exactly a clearance-rack steal.
But let's take a look at this (admittedly farfetched) possibility from a few different angles:
Gonzalez boasts a career .300 average and an .887 OPS while also playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. He has been named to each of the last two All-Star games and will only be 28 on Oct. 17. And due to the escalating nature of his contract, Gonzalez is due only (only!) $10.5 million in 2014.
But what's even better about the numbers themselves is how much they would improve several of the Cubs' glaring weaknesses. Gonzalez is a lefty who can hit left-handing pitching, posting a career .281 split vs. southpaws. He also has a .297 average with RISP.
When you consider how poorly the Cubs performed in these categories in 2013, CarGo's numbers are almost staggering. The Cubs were the worst team in baseball in batting with RISP at .218 and were 29th vs. LHP at .232.
Gonzalez would be able to step into the 3-hole in the Cubs' lineup and provide the power and average to protect lagging hitters like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. His speed is a weapon also, as he has averaged more than 20 steals over the past 5 seasons.
Impressive as his offensive numbers are, they could be far better if Gonzalez could stay healthy. Over the last 4 seasons, he has averaged only 129 games, with 145 as the high-water mark in 2010. Excluding that campaign, he has missed an average of 38 games in each of the last 3 years.
The occasional day off is one thing, but missing nearly two months of games every year is cause for concern. Add the fact that CarGo is dealing with a nagging finger injury, and the possibility of a full season becomes even more unlikely.
While there's no doubt No. 5 would do wonders for the Cubs' hitting, he wouldn't do much to lower their strikeout totals. Castro and Rizzo whiffed 129 and 127 times, respectively, but each had more than 600 ABs. Gonzalez, on the other hand, K'ed 118 times in only 391 ABs.
The thought of CarGo patrolling left field at Wrigley was actually brought to my attention by John Arguello's post on Cubs Den regarding the Cubs' search for another catcher. Much has been made of the current regime's willingness to move vets for prospects, but Arguello posits that a play for Gonzalez might have to include Wellington Castillo.
At some point it's inevitable that the Cubs are going to have to reverse course, to move burgeoning youngsters for established players. But to start that process with a still-improving backstop who graded out as the best defensive catcher in baseball seems out of character.
Oh, and don't think I'd tout Gonzalez's 2014 salary without making up for it on the backend. In 2015, that number increases to $16 million, to $17 million in 2016, and $20 million in 2017. While it's reasonable to assume that, at 31, CarGo will still be in his prime when the contract is at its peak, you're talking almost a 100-percent raise over 3 years.
Well, I had worked myself up about this and was prepared to defend my position, to argue that the good outweighed the bad and the ugly. But as much as I'd like to see the Cubs make a splash and get a player who could be the face of the franchise and turn things around, I doubting my own confidence that Carlos Gonzalez can be that guy.
Could missing on Joe Girardi (thus invalidating my prediction) prompt an impulsive move? Wouldn't it be just like to Cubs to go out and get a stud player, only to see him turn into a gelding? Heck, maybe that's exactly why they need to do it, to take a risk on a player who has the potential to be great and who could turn the team around.
What player would you like to see the Cubs sign or trade for in the offseason?
Evan spent his formative years on a farm and a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And, yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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