The Chicago Cubs continue to search for a new center fielder following the unceremonious dumping of Milton Bradley a few weeks ago. The most likely candidates come from the ugly free agent market, and include Marlon Byrd, Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik.
Thankfully, the Cubs recognize how unattractive those options are, and they’ve begun exploring alternatives – one if by free agency and two if by trade.
Probably the most intriguing new option, ESPN has suggested that if the Boston Red Sox re-sign Jason Bay or alternatively sign Matt Holiday, they may make Jacoby Ellsbury available. If that happens, the Cubs are expected to make a strong push for the young center fielder. Ellsbury is, of course, wildly overrated because he plays in Boston and because he had a tremendous 30-game stretch in his first big league taste at the end of 2007. In his two full ML seasons, he’s actually not hit particularly well. Last year would be fine as far as the Cubs are concerned, though – as he hit .301, had a .355 OBP, and stole 70 bases.
Perhaps even better, Ellsbury is considered one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, having been named the defensive player of the year by MLB.com this year. NESN has an interesting article about Ellsbury’s defense – specifically, criticizing defensive metrics as inadequately evaluating his true ability.
Ellsbury is under control for four more years – he’s not eligible for arbitration the first time until after 2010. Thus, he’s cheap, making him all the more valuable. The real question, then, is what would the price be? The short answer is high. Likely not as high as what the Tigers were seeking for Curtis Granderson, but some of the top names in the Cubs’ system will have to be considered.
The other new possible trade option comes from the Tampa Bay Rays – and no, it isn’t the long-rumored Bradley swap partner, Pat Burrell. Nor is it Carl Crawford. Sorry.
It’s Fernando Perez – a 27-year-old outfielder with blazing speed, solid defense, and a good OBP (at least in the minors). Phil Rogers notes that the Cubs may have interest, but only if Perez is over his recent shoulder surgery. One has to question, however, why the Rays would deal Perez. He is cheap, developing, and looks like a great guy to have on the bench.
Finally, a new free agent name has started popping up: Johnny Damon. Jim Duquette recently said he’s heard from multiple sources that the Cubs are “very interested” in Damon to play center field (h/t CCO). Damon, 36, had a huge offensive year last year in lefty-hitter-friendly new Yankee Stadium, but defensively is merely adequate in a corner outfield spot. The prevailing wisdom is that he would be a liability in center field.
Damon’s also seeking three years at more than $10 million per year, putting him out of the Cubs’ reach, unless they massively backload his deal – which always works out well. If Duquette heard this rumor, odds are he heard it from Damon’s agent, Scott Boras. The market for Damon has taken a long time to develop, and it isn’t beyond Boras to drum up a few rumors where there isn’t a whole lot of veracity.