Burnitz deal could climb to $11.5M
It's not terribly difficult to predict what Jeromy Burnitz will do now that his home park is no longer Coors Field: He'll struggle. Burnitz has been an all or nothing hitter for years, but don't be fooled by last season's power surge. In home games, sir Jeromy batted .322 with 24 home runs. On the road, he hit .244 with 13 homers. If you hadn't noticed, Burnitz's 2004 road numbers pretty much match his career trend.
It's true that Wrigley Field is a nice place to hit, but it was middle of the pack for runs scored last year. As much as the wind blows out, it also blows in. Burnitz will play right field and hit sixth or seventh, and produce numbers befitting a fourth or fifth fantasy outfielder. In fact, look up the stats of the man he replaces; Sammy Sosa had 35 homers, 80 RBI and a .253 average. Burnitz might do exactly that.
"Well, he played right field for them and I'm going to go to right, so I guess I'm replacing him," Burnitz said. "I'm really just going to go all-out with the team attitude. ... If the team's doing well, let's face it, fans are going to love me and probably every other guy on the squad."
The Cubs had been looking to deal the unhappy Sosa since he walked out on the team in the season finale and finally completed a deal with the Orioles on Wednesday. Chicago is paying $16.15 million of the $25 million Sosa was still owed under his $72 million, four-year agreement, according to details obtained by The Associated Press.
In return, the Cubs get Jerry Hairston Jr., second baseman Mike Fontenot and right-hander Dave Crouthers.
Chicago then announced it had signed Burnitz, who led the Colorado Rockies with 37 home runs last season and was second on the team with 110 RBI. Under terms of the deal, Burnitz will make $4.5 million this year. There is a mutual $7 million option for 2006 that includes a $500,000 buyout.
Burnitz doesn't get the buyout if the team exercises the option and he declines it. The contract also includes $250,000 per year in performance bonuses based on games started.
"We changed the complexion of our ballclub a little bit," general manager Jim Hendry said. "It makes our club more left-handed, more versatile. It gives Dusty a lot of options in the outfield."
Hendry said he did take a look at Magglio Ordonez, but the free agent wanted a longer deal and more money than the Cubs were willing to give. So instead Hendry focused on Burnitz, whom the Cubs had tried to get in 2003 before the Mets traded him to Los Angeles.
Burnitz is a career .254 hitter with 275 home runs and 845 RBI in 11-plus seasons in the majors. He's hit at least 30 homers in six of the last seven years. He's hit well at Wrigley, too, with a .256 average, 14 homers and 38 RBI in 47 games.
Though he had a big year in 2004, he did play half of his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
"Coors Field is a great place to hit, that's for sure," Burnitz said. "There or anywhere else, I'd put 'em up. I think I've had a couple other years I've put up some (good numbers)."
Burnitz is also known as a good clubhouse guy, a friendly, laid-back sort who will fit in well with the Cubs better than Sosa did in his final days. And the Cubs won't have to worry about him being a part-time DJ.
Sosa annoyed many teammates by blaring his personal boom box in the clubhouse, and his choice of music didn't help -- a ghastly mix of salsa, rap, and light FM favorites like Michael Jackson and Kool & the Gang. Hairston joked that Burnitz would instead "blast Frank Sinatra."
"That's my style," Burnitz said, laughing.
If Burnitz hits, though, the Cubs won't care what he plays.
Chicago lost a combined 74 home runs and 186 RBI by trading Sosa and allowing Moises Alou to become a free agent and sign elsewhere But Hendry and manager Dusty Baker said they think the Cubs are a better team now.
In addition to picking up Burnitz, they got Hairston, a versatile young player who brings speed to the lineup. Fontenot was a first-round pick in the 2001 amateur draft, and Crouthers had 138 strikeouts in 139 2-3 innings at Double-A Bowie.
"No. 1, we're better already if we're healthy," Baker said. "It's going to be a tough year, our division is tough. One good thing, the team's in pretty good shape right now."
Physically and mentally. Though everyone said the bad feelings Sosa left when he skipped out of the last game could have been mended with a good heart-to-heart at spring training, it was a distraction the Cubs didn't need.
Now they -- and Sosa -- can start fresh.
"I just really hope Sammy does well and I just hope he's happy," Baker said. "I hope it helps us. I hope it helps everybody."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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