Jake Fox: Trade Chip or Cheap 1B of the Future?

Jake Fox had a successful "debut" in 2009 (Fox had previously accumulated 15 MLB PA's with the Cubs in 2007). Though he certainly faded down the stretch, Fox none the less put up an above average .779 OPS with a quality .208 ISO in 241 PA's with the Cubs in 2009. Between AAA and the majors last season, Fox jacked a ridiculous 28 HRs in under 450 PAs. His .433 ISO was a full 79 points ahead of the second highest ISO in the Pacific League amongst hitters with 150+ PAs. In short, Fox had his "breakout season." However, like most Cubs prospects, Jake Fox is old; he turns 28 next year. Furthermore, his lack of defense makes him a difficult guy to play on the diamond. 1B and 3B are blocked by A-Ram and D-Lee, while the corners in the outfielder are manned by Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano. If Milton Bradley isn't traded (which he shouldn't be because he was bit by a lot of bad luck last season and he is poor enough a player on or off the field to be worth the $15M salary dump it would require to move him), that leaves no room for Fox besides the bench. Thus the question beckons: is Jake a trade chip at the "peak" of his value or does he have a valuable role in the future of the team?

Unlike the "breakout" performance of Micah Hoffpauir, who overperformed in 2008, Jake Fox underperformed in 2009. Despite a lackluster walk rate (6.1% in 2009, 9.1% MLB average) and eyebrow raising .311 OBP, there are plenty of reasons to trust in Jake Fox. The .285 BABIP and .319 xBABIP/.302 MLB avg BABIP disparity shows that Jake Fox, who posted a .332 wOBA in 2009, has some room to improve in 2010. As someone who posts league average strikeout rates, has improving walk rates in the minors, and has posted an ISO above .250 each season in the minors since being promoted to AAA in 2007, Bill James is profiling Jake Fox as a .284/.339/.546 (.885 OPS) hitter next season. The average MLB first baseman, by contrast, hit .277/.362/.483 (.845 OPS) in 2009.

With Derek Lee, who is in the final year of his contract, turning 35 and getting paid $13M next season, Jake Fox could provide the Cubs with the kind of payroll flexibility they would need to stay competitive in 2011 and 2012. With the burdensome contracts of Soriano, Big Z, Fukudome and Milton Bradley guaranteed and Aramis Ramirez's $16M 2012 option on the books, the Cubs do not have much breathing room in terms of adding "the necessary guys." A guy like Jake Fox, who can competently replace Derek Lee's offense in 2011 and 2012 (assuming he doesn't get slapped with super two status), would give the Cubs $13 to spend on gapping holes (aka, relief pitching). Rather than trading away guys for prospects and hoping the Cubs can build as good of a team as they currently have while rebuilding for the future, the Cubs have the potential to stay strong for the next few years.

Quality players who do not cost a lot are slim pickings for the Cubs, who haven't exactly had the best of drafts since 2001. Fox is a breath of fresh air. Especially since power is overpriced.


David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Apparently the cubs disagreed with me and decided to make the trade

Berselius said...

I think it was a good trade for the Cubs, mainly because I'm not high on Fox at all. Aside from the defensive issues, I think there's a good reason why Fox was held out of the lineup for the most part - namely he can't hit breaking balls. If nothing else, the Cubs might even move Soriano to 1b after Lee is gone if his defense continues to slip.

Berselius said...

There's also very little chance that Ramirez is still with the team in 2011, unless it's on a new deal. He has an opt-out after 2010 and it will be his last chance to cash in.

Cubsfan4evr said...

The Cubs made it clear at the end of last season that they weren't big on Fox. When Soriano missed the last few weeks they should have started Fox everyday in left, but instead they started infielder Bobby Scales and then later Sam Fuld.

I think the Cubs will try to keep Lee after this season. I don't think they will consider moving Soriano to first. Do you remember the fuse he put up to move from second base to left field? Plus, he is so bad in left catching the ball, what makes you think he can do it at first? I can imagine him dropping routine balls and it being a mess.

I like Ramirez, but for how much were paying him at 14-15 million a year and he has the lingering hamstring issues, and the shoulder injury could affect his power, I wouldn't mine him opting out. I think it would be a good thing for the Cubs.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

I love Ramirez, but have to agree with Berselius on this one. There's much more efficient ways to spend money and if Aramis wants to get greedy, let him go. The team needs to start anew and spend its money better. There's no reason the cubs should be paying non-super stars superstar money. The only guys I want to stick around honestly are Dlee, Ted Lilly, Marmol, Guzman, and Fontenot. I know I said "let lee go" in the article, but he's a great player and great guy and I would not be offended if we gave him an extention. But for much less than 13 mil per