Chicago Cubs

Dunn deal? Cubs must think about defense first

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Dunn deal? Cubs must think about defense first

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010
7:47 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Adam Dunn views himself in a way that others do not as a first baseman instead of the designated hitter who should be working four at-bats a night in the American League.

Dunn turned 31 this week and was once athletic enough to be recruited to play quarterback at the University of Texas. He is said to have the personality and swing for Wrigley Field, where he has generated 25 homers and 46 RBI in 66 career games.

Dunn would be the kind of left-handed bat that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry craves. Dunn would also be a defensive liability and another expensive long-term contract on a roster already saddled with those problems.

Even if these awards are based more on name recognition and offensive production, it was no surprise that the Cubs were shut out Wednesday when the National Leagues Gold Glove winners were announced.

You saw Alfonso Soriano hop while catching the ball, Starlin Castro slump when he couldnt make the play and Aramis Ramirez slow to react.

Your eyes told you the same thing the numbers did in 2010. The Cubs finished tied for last in the league in fielding percentage (.979). They committed 126 errors, or 25 more than the major-league average. They gave away 99 unearned runs and lost 32 one-run games.

That happened with a three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee at first base for almost five months.

The Fielding Bible and its expert panel virtually ignored individual Cubs when voting on its annual awards. The online database at FanGraphs gave the Cubs an Ultimate Zone Rating of -7.3, which would slot them as a below-average, middle-tier team.

We can argue about the best way to understand and value defense, but there was a consensus on the Cubs. Whether youre looking at traditional statistics, new-wave metrics or just body language, you know that they need to improve their overall team defense.

The Cubs were outscored 767-685 last season and there is no easy way to make up that deficit, especially with a payroll that wont be increasing and more than 100 million already committed to nine players for 2011.

There will be hard choices to make at first base, with the rotation and in the bullpen. Most of the improvement will have to come from within.

Forget about the Soriano money its already gone. Yes, he will be 35 next year. And the energy he brings to the clubhouse, along with his willingness to work, isnt worth 19 million annually through 2014. But the Cubs cant write him off as a lost cause.

He hangs in there. Im so proud (that) he is committed to defense, manager Mike Quade said. He made a commitment to trying to be as good as he could there. Hes not dealing with the same lower half when he got here. We all know that.

(But) this guy will go home and work out and get himself in shape and come back expecting to have a better year next year. (I) know that he will.

The Cubs have similar hopes for a more mature Castro, who will turn 21 during spring training. Castro will be a priority for new bench coach Pat Listach, who worked with another talented rookie shortstop in Ian Desmond, the only player in the majors to commit more errors than Castros 27 last year.

Ramirez could be a free agent at this time next year. No one will really care about his defense if he makes a salary drive with 35 homers and 100-plus RBI.

Dunns talents could be unique enough to make a similar compromise. Since 2004, he has played in at least 152 games and hit between 38 and 46 homers each season. The Washington Nationals arent necessarily finished negotiating with his camp.

The Cubs and Nationals figure to take a look at Carlos Pena, whos regarded as a much better defender. Pena hit only .196 in Tampa Bay last season, but still accounted for 28 homers and 84 RBI, which would have led the Cubs in both categories.

Penas agent, Scott Boras, has shown that hes not afraid to get a client a one-year deal to restore market value and land the next big contract. Hendry will wait to figure out the shape of his roster before committing Tyler Colvin to the outfield or first base, which the 25-year-old hasnt played since college.

We think hes ready to be an everyday player, Hendry said last week. Well just see what spot we need him at before we get to camp.

The Cubs will have to weigh the unseen consequences of bad defense. Its turning over a lineup too soon, burning a reliever earlier than youd like or facing a No. 3 hitter when it should be the bottom of the order.

Better defense could reduce the pressure on all the young pitchers the Cubs think they have coming. It could give them the sense that they dont have to be perfect and can just throw strikes.

Then again, it would also help pitching with the confidence of a three-run lead after Dunn drilled another ball into the bleachers.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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