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Life after DeRosa leaves Cubs with good and bad
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/8/2009 4:40 PM

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The Cubs limped into Houston Sunday night exactly one-third of the way through their 2009 season.

Although things could be a whole lot better for the preseason favorites in the National League Central, they also could be a whole lot worse.

The Cubs are 28-26 and 2 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the loss column.

They're in that position despite injuries to and/or nonperformance from their corner infielders, corner outfielders and catcher, as well as problems in the bullpen.

The specter of the Mark DeRosa trade hangs over the Cubs, and DeRosa isn't going away. He was in town over the weekend as he and the Cleveland Indians played the White Sox. DeRosa will be back next week as the Indians visit Wrigley Field for interleague play.

In one way, the DeRosa trade was the prism in which the Cubs' entire off-season can be viewed. Let's evaluate each of the key moves made by general manager Jim Hendry to date:

The DeRosa trade: On New Year's Eve, Hendry traded the immensely popular and productive infielder-outfielder to Cleveland for minor-league pitchers Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Chris Archer.

Looked at this deal in a vacuum, the trade can be justified even now. DeRosa is a 34-year-old player in the final year of his contract whose stats were projected to decline beginning with this year.

And they have. DeRosa has an average/on-base/slugging line of .262/.329/.434. He has 9 home runs and 38 RBI.

Last year with the Cubs, DeRosa had an on-base percentage of .376 and a slugging percentage of .481.

The three pitchers the Cubs received in return all have performed well in the minor leagues.

But that's not the end of the story.

The Aaron Miles signing: Just before the Cubs announced the DeRosa trade on New Year's Eve, they signaled their intentions when they signed utility infielder Miles to a two-year contract after Miles had not been tendered a contract by the Cardinals.

The signing raised eyebrows because of the length of the deal, the money ($4.9 million), and the fact that Miles provides no power and is an infielder only, whereas DeRosa provided power and could play the outfield.

When third baseman Aramis Ramirez went down May 8 with a dislocated left shoulder, the Cubs' problems became acute.

The Cubs could justify the DeRosa trade based on stats and money ($5.5 million this year). But even during spring training, they had no real answer to repeated questions about a perceived lack of depth at third base.

Miles is on the disabled list because of shoulder problems that bothered him as far back as spring training.

Mike Fontenot, whom the Cubs thought could replace DeRosa on an almost-everyday basis at second base, is the fill-in third baseman, but he hasn't homered since May 3, and his numbers are down in all categories.

The Cubs are relying on minor-league call-ups Bobby Scales and Andres Blanco, who are giving them everything Miles could at a fraction of the cost.

The Milton Bradley signing: The Cubs ostensibly needed to use some of DeRosa's money to sign their No. 1 free-agent target, outfielder Bradley.

Forget about Bradley's "behavioral" problems. What's killing the Cubs is Bradley's continued inability to stay on the field.

In 41 of the Cubs' 54 games, Bradley is putting up a stats line of .218/.340/.387 to go along with 5 homers and 14 RBI. Last year with Texas he led the American League in OBP and OPS (on-base plus slugging). Meanwhile another free agent from last winter, Raul Ibanez of the Phillies, is headed for the All-Star Game with a line of .329./.386/.676 for an eye-popping OPS of 1.062.

The Cubs guaranteed Bradley two years and $20 million, and his $12 million option for 2011 will kick in if Bradley can drag himself onto the field for 34 more games this year.

If he ever gets going, his numbers should pick up, but the Cubs appear to be in for a whole lot of down time over the next three years.

The Kevin Gregg trade: When the Cubs obtained Gregg in a trade with the Marlins for pitching prospect Jose Ceda, it effectively marked the end of the Kerry Wood era in Chicago.

Wood went on to sign a two-year, $20.5 million deal with the Indians, a deal that includes a vesting option of $11 million for 2011. The Cubs are paying Gregg $4.2 million this year, and they have Carlos Marmol as a closer-in-waiting if Gregg leaves after this season.

Wood is 2-2 with a 5.59 ERA and 8 saves in 10 chances. He has a WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 1.60.

Gregg is 0-1 with a 4.62 ERA, 10 saves in 12 chances and a WHIP of 1.50.

The real problem with the Cubs bullpen has hardly been Gregg, but the control woes of Marmol and Aaron Heilman. Fortunately for the Cubs, Angel Guzman has emerged as the reliever holding things together.

Ceda, by the way, showed up at Marlins spring training woefully out of shape, so much so that he had trouble keeping up with drills. He's been on the disabled list with shoulder problems.

The Wuertz-Heilman flip: Manager Lou Piniella wanted little to do with reliever Michael Wuertz, who spent time in the minor leagues last year to mar an otherwise serviceable career with the Cubs.

So the Cubs shipped Wuertz and his $1.1 million to the A's for a couple of minor-leaguers who are no longer in the system.

A few days before that trade, the Cubs obtained longtime Hendry favorite Heilman ($1.625 million) from the Mariners for infielder Ronny Cedeno and pitcher Garrett Olson.

Heilman is 2-3 with a 4.68 ERA. He has 4 blown saves and a WHIP of 1.60.

Wuertz is 2-1 with a 2.39 to go along with 2 saves in 2 chances and a WHIP of 0.90.

Maybe Piniella misses Wuertz now.

Many happy returns?

The Cubs traded infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa to Cleveland in the off-season for three pitching prospects. Here is how each prospect is doing in the Cubs' minor-league system:

Reliever Jeff Stevens (Class AAA Iowa)

Record: 0-2

ERA: 1.67

WHIP: 1.11

Reliever John Gaub

(Class AA Tennessee)

Record: 2-1

ERA: 3.32

WHIP: 1.25

Starter Chris Archer

(Class A Peoria)

Record: 2-1

ERA: 1.76

WHIP: 1.24

Stats are through Sunday; WHIP is walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched

Cubs vs. Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park

TV: Comcast SportsNet today and Thursday; Channel 9 Wednesday

Radio: WGN 720-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Ted Lilly (6-4) vs. Brian Moehler (2-3) today at 7:05 p.m.; Carlos Zambrano (4-2) vs. Wandy Rodriguez (5-5) Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.; Ryan Dempster (4-3) vs. Roy Oswalt (2-3) Thursday 1:05 p.m.

At a glance: This is the third trip already into Houston this year. The Cubs won two of three to open the season and then swept the Astros in two last month. The teams are 1-1 at Wrigley Field. Oswalt replaces Mike Hampton for Thursday. Derrek Lee is 16-for-55 (. 291) with 3 homers off Oswalt. Carlos Lee is hitting .347 with 4 homers vs. Zambrano. Lance Berkman has 4 homers and 4 walks vs. Dempster, but he's 2-for-22 vs. Lilly. The Cubs are middle-of-the-pack or below in the key offensive categories but sixth in ERA (3.97). the Astros are 13th in ERA (4.49).

Next: Minnesota Twins at Wrigley Field, Friday-Sunday