Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

On shortstops, stalemates and Idiots

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Updates on what's going on with the Cubs' most compelling arbitration case left - with shortstop Ryan Theriot - and what looks like the impending addition of good-guy former Red Sox ``Idiot'' first baseman Kevin Millar to spring training camp on a minor-league courtesy deal.

First, the Theriot case:

Whether the Cubs' arbitration stalemate with the shortstop becomes a test case for two years of sagging salary market in baseball, one thing is clear: Theriot and the team are bracing for a hearing, according to sources on both sides.


Sources say the sides haven't moved since filing salary demands/offers of $3.4 million and $2.6 million.

Barring an agreement between now and a scheduled hearing sometime in the next 19 days, the Cubs will face their first arbitration hearing since they beat Mark Grace in 1993, and one of the team's most popular players will endure the nastiest face-to-face process built into the rules of the game - sitting at the table, across from general manager Jim Hendry, as a team representative tries to convince a three-member panel Theriot's not as valuable as he thinks he is.

In the end, the arbitration judges must choose one figure or the other - no compromise - and the fallout could include everything from personal resentment and bruised relationships to effects on business decisions involving the player in the future.

This particular case also comes with a backdrop that includes a payroll already so close to the ceiling that Hendry sought approval from the new owners last week to exceed the limit enough to make $3.3 million outfielder Xavier Nady fit. It also includes the fact the star prospect of the system right now is shortstop Starlin Castro, who could be in line for a major league debut sometime this season if he continues to develop as fast as he did last year.

And the payroll had little to do with where the Cubs got their filing figure anyway. Arbitration cases are built primarily on comparisons to like players, and some analysts consider Theriot's closest historical career match one of his peers: Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett.

Bartlett avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility last year with an agreement for $1.98 million, and with the additional year of service time he agreed to a $4 million deal this year. The Cubs' offer represents more than a 30-percent increase for their first-year eligible player than Bartlett got a year ago - even though the salary market has not gone up that much.

Before struggling last year, Seattle's Yuniesky Betancourt (since traded to Kansas City), was another comparable shortstop in terms of hitting - not stealing as many bases but considered better in the field. He signed a multi-year deal a year before becoming arbitration eligible and made $2.3 million last year at Theriot's comparable service-time year ($3 million this year).

Hendry is said to be unwilling to move off the team's offer because of how strongly he feels about the number and to consider an arbitration hearing likely. Comparisons like these show why.

Not to mention this number: Theriot's $3.4 million filing is higher than the 2009 salaries of all but 11 of MLB's regular shortstops - all of them All-Stars (including a pair of MVPs), with the exception of 13-year veteran and two-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Cabrera.

Theriot's filing appears to be based at least in part on a comparison to Arizona's Stephen Drew, a similar fielder with almost exactly the same service time and starting experience. Drew, who has a similar batting average but more power compared to fewer stolen bases, signed a one-year, $3.4 million deal this winter.


Oh, by the way, the Cubs also are facing a potential arbitration hearing with closer Carlos Marmol, but most expect the sides to avoid a hearing and settle somewhere between Marmol's $2.5 million filing and the club's $1.75 million.


On to one of the self-proclaimed ``Idiots'' from Boston's 2004 drought-snapping championship, Millar - who was all over the web Monday as ``signing'' with the Cubs and ready to ``compete with Chad Tracy'' for a backup job - both of which are overstated.

Millar does appear headed to Cubs camp on a minor-league contract and invitation, which means accepting a handshake deal with Hendry that's been on the table as a gesture to the widely respected and well-liked grinder who has several friends in the Cubs' clubhouse.

Millar told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick he's coming to the Cubs, which appears to signal a white flag in his attempts to land a guaranteed big-league deal this winter.

Millar, a 38-year-old right-handed first baseman on the decline the past several years, is not in the Cubs' realistic plans. Even with a good spring, there doesn't appear to be a spot for him to compete for in camp.

The Cubs plan to carry five outfielders and just two backup infielders - one of them being the second baseman who's not in the Opening Day lineup (between Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot). The other backup infielder has to be able to play middle infield - in particular, short - and Piniella already said he expected that guy to be Andres Blanco.

But Millar figures to at least be a strong influence on young players and a foil for old pal and former Marlins teammate Ryan Dempster in what's sure to be the loosest spring training clubhouse in years for the Cubs.

And if he puts together a strong spring, he has the chance to show somebody else he might be able to help them - if not serve as insurance for the Cubs against unforeseen events, such as an injury.

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9 Comments

Theriot may not have as good of stats as some but he is one cub who gets his uniform dirty always plays hard runs out grounders and shows up every day to play.

Gordon why would you put that type of description on Millar before many cub fans find out who he is, I could see why you did this to Milton Bradley but would you go and call Dempster an idiot when the cubs first got him... i doubt it. Dempster and Millar have a very similiar sense of humor, so why IDIOT? did Millar already make fun of you and show people for the goon you are? just answer the ?

Millar is a self-proclaimed IDIOT. Do some research on the 2004 Boston Red Sox. IDIOTS should be credited to J. Damon of that team. YOU look it up.

Millar is a perfect fit for the Cubs, his laid back style and easy way with a catchphrase will make him a fan favorite.

The bleacher bums (myself included -- minimum 6 games a year for the last 10 years) will embrace him. Hopefully he frosts the tips of his hair again. I did it last year in downtown Lisle and the babes really seemed to respond to it.

Anyway, I hope he makes the team even if he's not the best player because he'll keep the clubhouse loose and have a good rapport with us bleacher bums! Right field sucks!

One time I was at a Cubs game and it was hot. I didn't bring sunglasses so it was hard to watch the game, but no big deal as I laid my rap on the women behind me. We got along great, but my neck got a sunburn. They couldn't meet out afterward unfortunately because they were going to meet people somewhere that they wouldn't share with me. They didn't have their phones with them so they couldn't give me their numbers.

I 'm pretty sure the Cubs lost that day. They were playing Montreal or Toronto, I don't remember but it was fun.

Unfortunately, like many of the current Cubs, his popularity obscures the fact that he is overrated. An above-average OBP player who continues to make far too many running and defensive mental errors for someone entering his 6th major league season. With limited range and arm as a SS, he'd be lucky to be the starting 2nd baseman on a
World Series contender. But on the Cubs he's a folk legend.

Sorry, you stated that they will only carry two backup infielders, which is not correct. They will carry 3 - 5 OF, 2 C, 6 IF, 12 pitchers. Hoffpauer should get the 3rd backup IF job.

oh wait i guess that math is wrong - I had heard 3 though

BEARFUL,
I am in total agreement with your assessment of Gordon's Cub bashing, even though this isn't even comparable to last years rip job on Bradley, even before the ink on Bradley's contract was dry.
Too bad his friends at the Sun Times can't find a team for him to cover that might match his writing talents - like the Gary Railcats.

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This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on February 1, 2010 10:53 PM.

Cubs midterm grades fluctuate this winter was the previous entry in this blog.

Cubs ``hungry'' as pitchers and catchers report is the next entry in this blog.

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