Could Joe Mather make Jeff Baker expendable earlier than expected?

Could Joe Mather make Jeff Baker expendable earlier than expected?

Up until now, we've all assumed Joe Mather was competing for a spot with Tony Campana, but with Wrigley Field playing as a big ballpark early in the season, Campana's speed off the bench could be an asset for a team that may have to scratch for every run this season.

Yet, Mather has clearly been the better player.  He's hit .467/.529/.933 this spring with one HR and 3 SBs while playing all over the field. Campana, meanwhile, hasn't shown enough either last year or this spring to prove he's more than just a one tool player, so if you had to keep one, Mather would seem to be the guy.  Yet, Campana's one tool is a great one and it can be a tremendous weapon for the Cubs, especially early in the season.

Is there a way to keep both?

Yes.  And the answer lies with veteran Jeff Baker.  Mather has played 3B the last 2 days and has held his own.  He's had limited chances (and no difficult ones), but he's made the plays.  Could he make Baker expendable this spring?

It's obvious manager Dale Sveum would like a RH bat off the bench to occasionally spell lefties David DeJesus, Bryan LaHair, Ian Stewart, and eventually Brett Jackson.  Right now, Baker would seem to be that guy but Mather has several advantages over the veteran...He's cheaper, he's cost-controlled,  has more raw power and speed, and he can play CF in addition to the 4 corners.  He also fits the Cubs new philosophy better as a more disciplined hitter than Baker.

Baker is eligible to be a free agent after this season and he will likely not be a priority for a team that seeks to rebuild with younger players.  As valuable as Baker has been, they probably don't want to use payroll space on a veteran bench bat.  Mather can fill that role for the short term and is cost-controlled for what would probably be the entire time he'd spend with the Cubs.  In a financial sense it's a no-brainer.

There has also been interest in Baker from several teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox.  They are in need of a part-time RH hitting outfielder and Baker can fill that role for them.  For the Cubs a deal can not only bring in a younger asset for the organization, but potentially open up a roster spot for them they can use for Mather, who should slide seamlessly into Baker's role.

Mather's skill set is too versatile to just be a 5th outfielder.  His offensive versatility as a power/speed guy combined with his ability to play 5 positions make him a unique asset off the bench.  As such, maybe the guy he should be replacing isn't Tony Campana, but Jeff Baker.

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  • Campana seems like a nice kid but, as the saying goes, you can't steal first. I do not think he will ever hit much. I realize he can still pinch run and be a defensive replacement but I would prefer Baker and Mather instead.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Baker is the better player over Campana, but he's gone by the trade deadline at the latest, in my opinion. The question is more about Jeff Baker's long term value to the Cubs. Is it for a few more months of play or is it in acquiring a prospect and opening up a roster spot for a similar, but more cost controlled player.

  • Very interesting, having both Mather and Campana on the bench would make for a lot of potential speed late in the game. Could be very helpful to getting that extra run or two that could be the deciding factor late in the game. At the same time, having both Baker and and Mather would make for a good amount of late inning power from the right side. What kind of player could we even get for Baker though seems like his value is quite small. I think I'd rather have Mather as 5th oufielder/super utility guy and keep Baker while Campana learns to hit in Iowa

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Not much, but I'd take a chance on a mid-grade A ball player with some upside over a few more months of Baker. Depends on whether they get more for him now or later -- and that will strictly depend on team need. A team that finds itself with a hole on their roster may pay more for him in the spring given they'll only get him for two months at the deadline.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I guess I just think Baker has more value to the cubs this year than whatever they could get back from him will ever be worth. I'm not opposed to trading him if we get a good deal but I wouldn't want to see a guy that can contribute to the club be sent away for peanuts.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Understandable. I have no desire to give him away either. But I do think the Cubs can pick up a usable asset for him that has a chance to be a better gain long term.

  • can we make Baker the PTBNL to Boston to increase the value of prospect returning our way?

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    from what ive read, the cubs have a short list of players the red sox can choose and none of those players are on the 40 man so no Baker, and the red sox have a list of players they can choose to give.

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    Similar to Andrew, I've heard it's a list of 3 prospects, none of which are on the roster.

    That said, they can always expand or change the deal if both teams feel it's in their best interests, though that is probably unlikely.

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    I like the thinking and agree, just worry about if Mather can keep it up. Looks good so far but only time will tell.

  • In reply to Rich Cap:

    Very true and I'd be a lot more nervous if the Cubs were counting on him for a starting role. I can also see the thinking from the side that would rather keep Baker and Mather and demote Campana. It's not a given that the team will want to rely on Joe Mather for 1B if LaHair struggles and Rizzo isn't ready.

  • I guest it all depends on who has options and trade value. But
    don't just give him away. Always have to think long term

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Article that I wanted to put up today covering exactly what you just said, but put on backburner for now. Should be up tonight.

  • Great article John, you've got me sold. Sounds like Mather can be our supersub.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Thanks! I think it just makes more sense given Baker has no future here and Campana still has a chance to be a long term 5th outfielder if he can get on base more.

  • I look at the decision a little differently. If Stewart goes down or completely tanks, are we comfortable with Mather as the starter at third? If they traded Baker, he would really be the only option there.

  • In reply to jimmy mac1:

    Good point, Jimmy. Mather can play 3rd, not sure you want him playing there everyday, though,

  • Ya know, now that you bring it up, it really makes sense early in the season to have a guy like Tony around. Jeff may have trade value now, mid season or never; and it's not like he's an old ball player. But Mather can get his at bats in AAA in the mean time and shuffle back and forth with Tony as needed to an extent. Sounds good on paper.

  • As much of a feel good story Mather's spring has been, he's a 29 year old with a career OPS of 667 in 128 games. He's four years removed from his last impressive season, and he is now past his prime.

    Even though he has gotten hot at an opportune moment this spring, looking at his career, the evidence shows that he doesn't do anything particularly well--hit, field or run. There is no compelling reason to waste roster space on him. His best attribute is his versatility, but he's not a legitimate 3Bman, is stretched as a CF, and doesn't hit enough to really play a corner OF position or 1B.

    Jeff Baker, on the other hand, does do something VERY well, which is hit LHP at an 850+ OPS clip. Also, Baker's natural position is 3B, and our starting 3Bman, Ian Stewart, has fared poorly against LHP in his career. Baker, while not a defensive whiz, is a legitimate 3Bman, can play 2B adequately enough to spell a starter, is pretty good at 1B and can handle the OF corners, too. He has much, much more value to the team than Mather would. Giving up Baker to keep Mather would be a move in the wrong direction--it would be a needless loss of talent.

    The natural, obvious solution is to let Reed Johnson get some starts against LHP in RF and Baker at 3B. Johnson and Baker render Mather superfluous (if Mather really had anything about him to recommend in the first place, which he does not). If the Cubs carry Johnson and Baker, plus Clevinger and either Cardenas or DeWitt, that gives them plenty of LH and RH bats off the bench. The biggest weaknesses of the bench would be OF defense (particularly in CF, as all the Cubs' 30-something OFs are a bit stretched to play CF at this point in their careers) and speed. Campana would be the obvious fix for those shortcomings (not Mather, who's not a real CF).

    The team would be best served to have Campana as the extra OF for that reason. They don't need his bat so much because the other bench guys can hit pretty well; instead, they need someone who can sub in CF and provide good defense, plus some speed off the bench. Unlike Mather, Campana does some things at an MLB average or above average level (run, play defense). As it is, until Jackson is called up, there is no legit speed threat on this team, unless they carry Campana.

    It may be better for the long term to send Campana to AAA and see if he can continue to develop by playing every day there. But at least until they bring Jackson up, they could use a little speed at the MLB level.

    As far as Mather goes, his great spring isn't enough to outweigh a career of futility. At the most, it should be enough to prove he's worth a roster spot in Des Moines, instead of cutting loose completely.

    Sveum has made a lot of glowing comments in Mather's favor. It will be interesting to see what influence Hoyer and Epstein have behind the scenes on the composition of the 25 man roster. Prior to Spring Training, Hoyer stated that Spring Training carries virtually no weight in terms of determining the roster; instead, the player's career and career trends are much more heavily weighed.

    There has already been evidence of Sveum backing off of comments, likely after Hoyer or Epstein's input. I am specifically thinking of Sveum talking quite seriously about batting Soriano leadoff. A couple days after making the comments, he backpedaled and made it sound as if he hadn't been serious initially (though he sounded quite serious at the time).

    The Mather situation will be an interesting test of whether Hoyer sticks to his words regarding his philosophy of roster composition, or allows Sveum to go with the hot hands from ST.

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