Friday, March 31, 2006

everything man

this page has gone on at length about how ronny cedeno isn't cut out to be a major league player. anyone interested in rehashing the analyses can find them here, here and here. cedeno has summarily obliged this page by confirming the worst we could have feared this spring, posting a pathetic .259 obp and drawing just three walks in 54 plate appearances.

and it's really worse than it appears, for what it's worth. cedeno's defense has been erratic at best, with throwing across the diamond becoming a daily adventure from which cub first basemen duly attempt to rescue him. he's managed just four extra base hits, slapping tentatively at pitches outside the strike zone for all of march, and frequently in the games this writer has seen simply looked lost and overmatched. of course, all this against spring pitching, when a lot of hurlers haven't really broken out the breaking stuff -- which is sure to be a weakness for most any rookie.

factor in dusty baker's oft-denied and oft-apologized preference for veteran players, and it's perhaps unsurprising that today's tribune reports dusty as being ready to pull the plug on cedeno, complete with a ready-made excuse/general condemnation of all rookies.

Manager Dusty Baker hinted Thursday he could pull the plug early on the Cedeno experiment if his hitting doesn't improve in the regular season. Neifi Perez, whom Baker referred to as "my everything man," will be ready to move into the job if Cedeno struggles.

"Cedeno is going to get the first nod, but it's up to him to keep the job without us putting pressure on him," Baker said. "We're not in the giveaway business. We think he earned the situation that he's in, but …"

Baker digressed into a story about Dodgers veteran Ron Fairly telling him as a rookie that it's tougher to stay in the majors than it is to get there.

"With that in mind, you have to play," Baker said. "That's how it is."

sword in hand, then, the pressure is on cedeno to do something that, frankly, he very probably can't. and this page would argue that this development was not only highly predictable but that cub management foresaw its eventuality.

many were amazed when neifi perez was offered a two-year contract. "why would anyone give a utility player a two-year deal? and for that money?" many asked.

but this page understands the truth to be closer to the notion that, once hendry had failed to land rafael furcal and give the cubs their first genuine threat at shortstop since ivan dejesus, once trades for julio lugo and miguel tejada had been explored and deemed impossible, hendry must have known that neifi perez was his probable shortstop. cedeno is a longtime minor leaguer with a .254 career batting average, a 3.2 k:bb ratio and an error-prone arm -- such a player is a million-to-one shot to stick in the bigs, and hendry must have surmised as much. without another viable shortstop prospect in the entire organization, cornered by his inability to trade for the help the team was too cheap to sign, he hoped for cedeno -- but realized that neifi was going to be the cub shortstop for the forseeable future.

and so here we are on the eve of the season opener, looking at another 500 at-bat season for the Everything Man. it's become a question not of whether neifi will play -- rather, it's a question of where in the order he will hit.

given the experience of last season, when neifi took 382 of his 572 at-bats -- 67% -- in either the leadoff or second spot, one has to imagine that baker will ensure that he sees regular plate appearances hitting second.

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