DeRosa's in red, Cubs fans are blue
Choice not to re-sign utility man may burn North Siders.
I make a lot of mistakes in my daily life. I forget to do laundry. I leave the door unlocked all night. I've been known to dangle a participle or two when I'm writing.
But now, every time I screw up, I have a new excuse: I was just trying to get right-handed.
It's tough being a lefty in a right-handed world. I've got to deal with scissors, notebooks, stray elbows at dinner. The world is made for right-handers.
But maybe my whole life I've been so focused in getting more right-handed, I've screwed up my equilibrium. Maybe I've tried too hard, kind of like the ham-fisted Cubs this season in their quixotic quest to "get left-handed" for their inevitable -- or is it unlikely? -- trip to the playoffs.
Since I'm already a lefty, I can't use the exact excuse Cubs general manager Jim Hendry gave for trading Mark DeRosa, one of his most reliable players, in December for three minor league pitchers. He signed switch-hitting second baseman Aaron Miles -- effectively replacing DeRosa -- in what could go down as the harbinger moment for the most disappointing season the Cubs have had in, well, five years.
At least the Cubs entertained their fans for six months in 2008. This season has been as captivating as a Facebook news feed and got even worse with the schadenfreude-laden news Saturday night that the St. Louis Cardinals had landed DeRosa in a trade.
After watching his mostly right-handed lineup flop against the Dodgers' strong right-handed staff in the playoffs last fall, while left-handed hitting Kosuke Fukudome performed his trademark pirouettes, Hendry knew he needed to add some left-handed punch to his regular lineup to keep opposing managers from getting too comfortable. He told the public that second base was the only place to do it. Well, there and right field, where he eventually added switch-hitting slugger Milton Bradley for $30 million.
Miles was brought in as a sub, the poor man's DeRosa, so to speak, so left-handed-hitting Mike Fontenot could start at second and the Cubs could save a few million bucks to allocate elsewhere.
Hendry knew he would receive a backlash for trading DeRosa, a versatile and popular player for two National League Central champion teams, but he had no idea Bradley and Miles, not to mention Fontenot, would have such colossally bad first-half performances while DeRosa kept chugging along.
Miles has been the worst of the Cubs' infield rotation and Bradley has been Todd Hundley disappointing. Remember the "Bad Idea Jeans" commercials from "Saturday Night Live"?
It's so fitting, so Cubby, that the hated Cardinals would trade for DeRosa just as the Cubs fall below .500 and get smacked around by the White Sox.
When asked why the Cubs are still floundering, DeRosa pointed to the obvious absence of injured slugger Aramis Ramirez and the effect it has on other hitters.
"It is surprising," DeRosa said of the Cubs' struggles Monday afternoon on ESPN 1000, "because you always feel like the pitching is so far off the chart from other teams that it covers a lot of scars."
As good as the Cubs' starters have been, it's not enough to make up for their other deficiencies. The bullpen has been atrocious and the lack of stability in the lineup has been jarring for a team that led the league in offense last season. The Cubs certainly didn't add much in the way of left-handed hitting with the way Bradley and Miles have underperformed.
DeRosa hit .251 (55-for-219) against right-handers with sad-sack Cleveland, while Miles (now on the disabled list again) is hitting .188 (18-for-96) and Bradley .195 (24-for-123). I'm no math wizard, but I think I'd rather give DeRosa a crack at some of these pitchers.
Hendry could've said he just needed to dump DeRosa's salary to try to deal for Jake Peavy and sign the corner outfield bat that wound up belonging to Bradley. That it was a business decision. But he didn't.
"Nobody likes to lose a guy like [DeRosa]," Hendry told the media after the trade. "But there wasn't anywhere else to get left-handed, you know. And over time, I think we will see that we got pretty good guys for him."
By now, you're either sick of the DeRosa lovefest because you think he's nothing more than a 34-year-old utility guy who had a couple of career years, or you're still spitting mad the Cubs gave him up. Or maybe you're just disappointed to find yourself rooting once again for an unlikable Cubs team and dealing with your fellow mopey fans whining about another year of ineptitude.
(On that note, here's a deal: I won't rub the DeRosa deal in your faces anymore if, as a Cubs fan, you agree that you can't lay claim to a World Series drought that is older than you. By that I mean, if you're 22, you can't moan about the 100 years of failure. For you, the "curse" only goes back to 1986. That's right. You don't even get '84.)
A dearth of DeRosa isn't why they are closer to last in the NL Central than first right now. This is a team with little margin for error. The payroll was already sky-high and the bullpen was scotch-taped together.
As a sportswriter, I deal in hindsight and second-guessing, so I can only surmise that DeRosa would've helped fill the Ramirez-size void at third and alleviated some of the defensive problems in right field (DeRosa had a very good ultimate zone rating of 19.3 in 38 games last year).
So if you were already sick of the DeRosa lovefest, just wait until he plays the Cubs in two more series in Cardinals red. Do you think that will make the local news?
Certainly, none of his teammates were happy to hear the news of DeRosa's new address.
"He's going to the Cardinals, what do you want me to say? It's good? I'm glad? I'm happy for him?" shortstop Ryan Theriot asked. "He's going to our division contender. Yeah, yeah, I'm excited about that."
The Cardinals come to Wrigley for a four-game set next week to send both teams to the All-Star break and the Cubs go to St. Louis in mid-September. When DeRosa came back with the Indians, he received an embarrassing number of standing ovations.
"Once the game starts, there will be a lot of cheers for him," pitcher Ted Lilly said. "Hopefully it's when Mark strikes out with men on second and third with the game on the line."
DeRosa, who received maximum press exposure in Chicago as the go-to guy in the clubhouse, reached favored son status among Cubs fans for a host of reasons, from his personality to his performance. And you can accurately say that the Wrigley faithful fall in love too quickly with the DeRosa style of player -- the gritty, scrappy guy who looks straight out of Central Casting for that part.
But it certainly helped that DeRosa was the iron man on a team filled with injury-riddled and inconsistent players. He played 149 games in each season with the Cubs and played a handful of positions without losing much at the plate. You knew what you were getting with him, and what you got was pretty good.
He wasn't the best hitter on the team, and certainly not the best fielder, but his value came in his everyday, jack-of-all-trades presence.
But he hit from the right side and his contract was expiring, so he was expendable and now he's a Cardinal. You just know that Cards manager Tony La Russa is going to adore him. La Russa might move him three times in one of his late-game double switches. He played DeRosa in left and batted him cleanup his first day.
When it became apparent that Cleveland wasn't going anywhere this season, DeRosa (who hit .270 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs with the Indians) became a popular bargaining chip. There were even published reports that the Indians would've been interested in Sean Marshall for DeRosa, but I imagine Hendry didn't pull the trigger for two reasons: Marshall has been very valuable as a swingman for Piniella and he would've been admitting he made a mistake in dealing DeRosa in the first place.
But it didn't take long for DeRosa to land somewhere. After all, even though he can't hit left-handed, he still has a lot of cachet.
"Mark DeRosa was my backup," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of their brief tenure as teammates in Atlanta. "Now he's the most wanted man in baseball. I was the backup at shortstop, and Mark was my backup."
Now Guillen's glad to see him out of his division and he predicted that DeRosa will be once again loving life in the NL Central.
"The guys seemed excited to have me," DeRosa told the Waddle & Silvy show. "It was kind of an eerily easy transition to come into this clubhouse [Sunday]. It was almost familiar."
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