Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Who's Played Right Since Sammy?

Last night, during the madness that was the AL Wild Card tilt (congrats to the Blue Jays, btw), I was scrolling through Twitter for commentary, as I am want to do with interesting games that I'm also not thoroughly motivated to watch.  I mean, I could have gotten up, turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until I found TBS - but, honestly, the AL WC doesn't really grip this NL fan.

That said, I still like to have a general idea about what is going on; thank goodness for Twitter.

Anyway, it was while I was mindlessly scrolling through the feed on my phone that I came across a RT, as part of the constant Orioles chatter, that caught my attention:

Of course, the Cubs jettisoned their beleaguered star to the Baltimore club in February of 2005, in a deal for Jerry Hairston, Jr., Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers.  Ironically, it was the blocked semi-prospect in Fontenot who turned out to be the most productive player on either side of the deal.  However, the motivation behind this deal wasn't really to gain more talent - rather, it was to rid Chicago of the drastically declining and increasing distracting home run king.

Gone were the days of 60+ home runs.  In their stead, were days of smashed boom boxes, sneeze induced DL trips, corked bats, steroid controversy and leaving games still in progress without permission.  The honeymoon was over, per se.

Nevertheless, the thirteen years that  Sammy spent on the North Side cemented him as one of the all-time greats of the franchise and his trade, no doubt, left countless young fans disappointed - like the aforementioned Nick in the Tweet above.

                                   1992                                                                               2004

As for the Cubs earning (another) curse for trading the beleaguered former superstar, that's totally ridiculous.  I mean, I may be a Cubs fan; but, I've never once bought into the hoodoo and voodoo that surrounds the infamous billy goat, Bartman, the black cat or the trade of Ron Santo...

Wait a minute...  the trade of Ron Santo to the Crosstown White Sox in December of 1973 opened up a gigantic black hole at the hot corner, one that wasn't truly plugged up until the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez thirty years later.  It wasn't a "curse" per se; that said, it definitely felt like a jinxed position.  For a rundown of the 100+ players who played third in Chicago in that span, please see my handy music video.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, this similarity got me thinking.  After all, the Cubs have churned through an awful lot of right fielders since Sammy was sent packing to the east coast.  Is it possible that we are in the midst of another Santo situation here at Wrigley Field?  Let's take a look, shall we?

For the purpose of this exercise, I will be showcasing the starters (according to the most games played) in right for each Cubs season post-Sammy and the main backups.  Additionally, any man who appeared in less than ten games in right field per season will be notated as a "cameo," in order to weed out emergency replacements, September call-ups and such.  I feel like if you're trotted out to a position ten or more times, you're seen as a legitimate option, but that's just me.

Without any further ado, I present to you a comprehensive look at Cubs in right since 2005:


This was the first year since 1991 that Sammy didn't suit up in Cubbie blue and it certainly felt weird; after all, he was the face of the franchise (and the only player worth watching) for so long and, suddenly, *poof* he was gone.  In his place, was some bald-headed journeyman who was coming off a career year in Colorado (always a bad sign) at the age of 35.  Oh the Hendry "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" years...

To Jeromy's credit though, he had a modestly productive season at the plate and was exceptionally durable, playing in 160 games.  Thus, there wasn't a whole lot of need for anyone else to venture out into right.

Jose Macias
Todd Hollandsworth
Matt Lawton
Jody Gerut
Jerry Hairston, Jr.

Of course, Jeromy departed via free agency after the season and was done in the Major Leagues after just one more campaign with the Pirates.  Therefore, this initial patch on the position was never meant to last.  So, the Cubs dipped into the free agent market yet again to find a replacement.



To say that Jacque Jones' time spent in Chicago was rocky would be generous.  Coming off a few seasons as a semi-star in Minnesota, big things were expected from the new right fielder.  Unfortunately, Jacque got off to a very slow start, earning the ire of fans - a relationship which was never truly repaired, despite his statistics eventually rebounding.

Nevertheless, despite being in the fans' doghouse, Jacquey never lost Dusty Baker's trust, playing in 149 games, batting .285 with 27 homers on a team with no offensive prowess.

For the few innings where Jones wasn't manning right, the main option off of the bench was a last minute, depth purchase by the name of Angel Pagan.  Who knew that the extra outfielder would still be playing at a star level today?  Trading Angel away was truly an underrated blunder in recent Cubs history.

Freddie Bynum
John Mabry
Jerry Hairston, Jr.
Phil Nevin
Buck Coats
Michael Restovich

As solid of a presence that Jacque Jones was for the Cubs, both in right and at the dish, the last place Cubs needed a offensive boost.  So, in the offseason, the Cubs broke the bank to sign Alfonso Soriano, necessitating a shifting of the outfield.



Originally signed to be a key bench bat, veteran Cliff Floyd ended up as the starter in right during the 2007 season.  While an Alfonso Soriano in center field experiment crashed and burned, Alf was shift over to left with Jacque Jones going to center and Cliff taking up residence in right.

Unfortunately, at age 34, the injury prone Floyd wasn't getting anymore durable.  As such, a couple of DL stints opened the door for several different players to see significant time in his stead:

Jacque and Angel are repeat offenders here; but Matt Murton, Mark DeRosa and Daryle Ward were also employed in the Sosa-blackhole during the 2007 season.  

Craig Monroe
Sam Fuld
Jake Fox
Ryan Theriot
Koyie Hill

Lotsa a players at a key position for a Division Champion team, isn't it?  Like Burnitz, Floyd wasn't long for the Major Leagues after this season and spent one more year in Tampa Bay.  Seeking consistency and a steady, top-of-the-order presence, the Cubs expanded their horizons in the offseason free-agent market



Like, really expanded their horizons, going all the way to Japan to lure top international free agent Kosuke Fukudome to a four year, $48 million deal.  He may be listed as an All-Star on this card; but, after a hot first half to begin the 2008 season, the league's pitchers caught up to his corkscrew swing and Fukudome never came close to living up to the hype.

However, Kosuke was screwed into right field for the vast majority of the year, needing only a spell here and there.  Of course, during the second half, he probably should have been reduced to a platoon.  Nevertheless, the Cubs still repeated as NL Central Division winners.

Mark DeRosa was the Ben Zobrist of his day, so when Fukudome required a sub, DeRo would slide from the infield to the outfield and take the reigns.

Micah Hoffpauir
Reed Johnson
Daryle Ward
Matt Murton

Now here is where the newly-competitive North Side squad jumped the shark.  Upon their second straight ouster from the NLDS, the front office and manager Lou Piniella got it in their heads that they needed to get more left-handed.  With that in mind, a series of dumb moves ensued, including the trade of DeRosa and...



...the signing of one of the most troubled players in recent memory, Milton Bradley.  The switch-hitting slugger was inked after he promised GM Jim Hendry over dinner that he wouldn't be a problem anymore... yea, okay.  

Fukudome shifted to centerfield (a la Jacque Jones) and Bradley stepped into right.  Predictably, the surly Bradley did not get along with his teammates, his manager or the fans, which lead to prolonged absences and even a team-imposed suspension to end the year.

When Bradley was having his temper tantrums, Fuku slid back over to right or Micah Hoffpauir, who was really more of a first baseman, came off of the bench to take his place.  However, since Bradley was often MIA, the door was opened for plenty of cameo appearances:

Reed Johnson
Bobby Scales
Jake Fox
Ryan Freel
So Taguchi
Sam Fuld

The Cubs quest to get more lefty torpedoed their roster, playoff aspirations and tarnished their image.  Luckily, they were able to swap the mal-tempered Bradley to Seattle (where he truly proved just how terrible a person he is).  Despite that fact, the damage had been done and the Cubs entered into a period of dearth.

At this point, we've had five different starters in five different seasons in the post-Slammin' Sammy era.  However, a familiar face reclaimed right after Bradley's ousting and provided some semblance of stability for the next two years.



Now Kosuke's keen eye and corkscrew swing never did fully translate to prolonged success in the Majors; however, on an aging, talent-challenged roster, he still presented the best starting option for rightfield.  With that in mind, he provided decent service as 1.2 WAR player for 2010 and part of 2011.  He was traded at the July deadline in an ill-fated fire sale during the latter campaign.

During those two seasons, Xavier Nady was the first man off of the bench in 2010, his only season with the Cubs, and Reed Johnson was the same in 2011.  Along the way, prospects like Tyler Colvin and decidedly non-prospects like Lou Montanez took a lot of reps in the outfield while the listless Cubs were caught in competitive purgatory.
Jeff Baker (2010-11)
Brad Snyder (2010)
Micah Hoffpauir (2010)
Bryan LaHair (2011)
Tony Campana (2011)

With the kinds of names you see above as legitimate options on the depth chart, you can see why the front office was given the boot going into the 2012 season.

Taking Jim Hendry and Co.'s place was Theo Epstein and his band of baseball know-it-alls and, seeing the state the franchise was in, decidedly on a total top-to-bottom rebuild.  They were tearing down the house and building a more modern one in it's place.



Knowing they likely wouldn't be competitive for several season yet, the club signed David DeJesus to a two-year deal as a stopgap for Sammy's former spot.  DeJesus represented a decent bat and good defense with good character, which was perfect for the time.

DeJesus also represented the weak Major League club's most versatile outfielder and ended being shifted around a fair amount.  Accordingly, many a scrub temporarily planted down in Wrigley's right field:

Tony Campana

Yuck, Reed Johnson was the only actual Big Leaguer among that cast of misfits.  This truly was one of the bleakest periods of Cubs fandom.

Going into 2013, like Jacque Jones and Kosuke Fukudome before him, David's versatility lead to him being moved over to centerfield to make way for another free agent signing during the offseason.



Okay - so big might be overselling it; at any rate, DeJesus spent his last year with Chicago in centerfield, while Nate Schierholtz was brought in to serve as trade bait in right.  With Fukudome, he was the only other man to serve as the starter in the right field vacuum for multiple seasons.

The first season was a modest success (.251/.301/.470) and with no trade offers to their liking, Theo and crew kept Nate around for one more go round.  Unfortunately, the second year of Nate's contract was a total disaster (.192/.240/.300), leading to his outright release in August.

Now we're starting to see some familiar faces.  While Scott Hairston and Cole Gillespie spelled Nate occasionally in 2013, it was blue-chip prospect Jorge Soler who pushed the envelope and forced Nate off of the rest in 2014.  Furthermore, Matt Szczur is also still around today and the fourth outfielder.  The rest of those guys...

Darnell McDonald (2013)
Dave Sappelt (2013)
Julio Borbon (2013)
Ryan Sweeney (2013)
Brian Bogusevic (2013)
Chris Coghlan (2014)
Logan Watkins (2014)
Junior Lake (2014)

The Cubs were fully focused on roster jenga at this time (hence the name of this blog) and a lot of waiver claims and minor league free agents made cameo appearances during these two seasons.  At least they got Chris Coghlan out of all those scrubs.



As I mentioned earlier, it was Jorge Soler who seized control of the reigns to right field late in the 2014 schedule and he held onto them for the 2015 season as well.  But, after his promising late season debut, the magic was gone for large chunks of the next year.  Jorge was inconsistent and injury prone, opening the door for playing time to some of the bench men.

Thankfully, pretty much everyone else on the roster had themselves a good year and, with the promotion of several more of Jorge's blue chip brethren, the Cubs jolted themselves back into competition and surprised us all to take the NL Wild Card. 

Kris Bryant
Kyle Schwarber
Matt Szczur
Quinton Berry

While Jorge flipped the switch during the playoffs and suddenly channeled his inner Ted Williams during the NLDS against the Cardinals, the Cubs brass still felt they couldn't trust Soler to nail down a regular spot just yet.  With that in mind, they might have been paying a little extra attention to the guy manning rightfield for the Cards during that series.



And here we are today, with Jason Heyward as our starting rightfielder.  His ten-year contract was a massive financial commitment and provides a great deal of hope when it comes to stabilizing the right side of Wrigley's outfield.  Then again, his struggles during this season have been very well documented.  Fingers crossed that he goes all "Jorge" during the playoffs.

Now, manager/mad scientist Joe Maddon values versatility and loves to mix and match all over the diamond.  So, it was inevitable that some other faces would pop up in right throughout the course of the year.

Kris has silenced the critics about his defense at third base; additionally, he's one-upped them by proving himself adept at several positions, including right field.  Meanwhile, everyone and their mother knows about how versatile Ben Zobrist is.

Jorge Soler
Chris Coghlan
Albert Almora, Jr.
Ryan Kalish


So, there you have it; a complete and thorough run down of everybody who has manned rightfield since the day Sammy Sosa walked out on his teammates during the last game of the 2004 season.  From the amount of people highlighted in the post above, we can safely say that this is not an exclusive club.

The totals:   
  • 9 different starters in 12 seasons
  • 35 players saw significant time at the position (>10 games)
  • 63 players total saw time at the position. 

In conclusion, there are definitely no such thing as curses, but astronomers might be intrigued to find out that there's definitely a big ol' positional black hole in the Wrigley outfield.  Here's hoping that "J-Hey" can settle in and turn things around; otherwise, the Cubs are going to have to try and find yet another plug to cap that hole.

Say it ain't So-sa.


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