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- More from Bruce Miles
The scouts will tell you that spring training and September are the two worst times to draw conclusions about baseball players.
So let's try to look at the bigger picture as we talk a few Cubs topics heading down the stretch and into 2010.
Bullish on Baker: The Cubs are more than happy with Jeff Baker, and he figures into their plans for next year. And why not? Since coming to the Cubs in a July 2 trade with Colorado, he's 43-for-128 with an on-base percentage of .399 and a slugging percentage of .500 for an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of. 899.
That's a relatively small sample size, but he's right behind the Cardinals' Matt Holliday as a top performer with a new team. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Holliday leads players with their new teams with a .379 batting average, followed by Washington's Nyjer Morgan (. 351) and Baker (minimum 100 at-bats).
It's too early to say the arbitration-eligible Baker will be the Cubs starting second baseman next year, and the Cubs are thinking that way, too.
That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, either for Baker or for the Cubs.
If we dare invoke the name of Mark DeRosa, there's no reason Baker can't fill that role for the Cubs next year if they go out and sign or trade for a starting second baseman.
Baker could play a few games at second, a few at first and a few at third, where the Cubs had no suitable backup to Aramis Ramirez after Ramirez dislocated his shoulder and missed two months.
"He's done a nice job, and he's versatile," general manager Jim Hendry said Thursday. "It was real unfair to judge him early because he had been on the DL and hadn't gotten into too many rehab games. He's happy to be here, and we're happy to have him."
Numbers not empty: There's a bit of fiction going around that right fielder Milton Bradley "all of sudden starting hitting when it didn't matter."
People who peddle that line are either lying or not doing the research.
It "mattered" quite a bit to the Cubs in July, when they entered the month 4½ games out of first place and exited it one-half game out. They actually took a half-game lead over the Cardinals on July 30 and held a 2 percentage point lead over the Cards as late as Aug. 5.
In July, Bradley batted .275 with an OBP of .457 and a slugging percentage of .420. In August, as the Cubs were falling out of the race, Bradley went .308/.427/.484.
If you're looking to lay blame, lay it on the poor performances of Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano and Mike Fontenot.
It's still difficult to say if Bradley will be back next year. He's one of the few key players on the team without a no-trade clause in his three-year, $30 million deal.
It would have been nice had Bradley put up better numbers earlier. It also would be more pleasant if Bradley hadn't made himself a lightning rod for criticism by seeming to want to turn answers to innocuous baseball questions into larger issues about himself.
After all is said and done, I'd give him another shot. Just as it took Moises Alou a year to adjust to Chicago, that may well be the case with Bradley.
Penmanship: The Cubs won't have to go out looking to spend big bucks on a closer. Carlos Marmol is getting the experience he needs to go into spring training as the guy.
Manager Lou Piniella made the switch from Kevin Gregg to Marmol after a couple of combustible performances by Gregg in early August.
If Jim Hendry is guilty of anything over the years when it comes to his bullpen, it's overthinking things and overpaying for veteran arms. Field manager Lou Piniella had a hand in things last off-season, when he basically ran Michael Wuertz out of town and Hendry traded for old favorite Aaron Heilman.
Wuertz, for whom the Cubs have nothing to show, is 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA and a tidy WHIP (walks plus hits per 1 inning pitched) of 1.01 with Oakland. Heilman is 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP.
For next season, the Cubs ought to focus within. Keep Marmol the closer, let Angel Guzman set up and re-sign lefty John Grabow, who has been effective since his trade from Pittsburgh. Promote from within, and you might get the job done at a fraction of what it has cost the Cubs over the years for mediocrity and worse.