When the Cubs acquired Jody Gerut just a fortnight ago, I wrote that...
With so many similar hitters to Gerut, it's difficult to see just exactly where he fits in right now. I suspect though that Gerut will replace Ben Grieve on the major league roster with immediate effect, thereby effectively ending his Cub career, and that we won't see Adam Greenberg again this season either. Dusty will probably use Gerut in a straight platoon with Jerry Hairston as the centre fielder and leadoff hitter, which, despite Hairston's reverse splits, is probably the right way to go. It would not surprise me if, having become an irrelevance, Hairy were then traded before the deadline... And, finally, if Gerut performs, particularly with regard to his power returning, this could mean the end for Corey Patterson in Chicago. For such a seemingly minor move, this trade could end up having some pretty major long-term ramifications. We will see.
That all fell down from the "Dusty will probably..." bit onwards, perhaps because the great man's allergic to "the right way to go". Gerut made just two starts for the Cubs in his shortest of tenures, neither in centre field, where he didn't play an inning for the Cubs. And the second of those starts was cut short by the trade. Otherwise, he was limited to occasional pinch-hitting and late-inning defensive work in left field. In all, he went 1-for-14 as a Cub, with a double, two walks and three strikeouts, and a single run scored. It was Gerut himself that became the irrelevance, not Hairston, and Gerut that quickly found himself traded.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for that is that it's not been hard to see where Gerut's power has gone. His swing right now consists of a real downward chop on the ball, and groundballs have a nasty habit of not going over the fences. Without power, and with an enormous platoon split, in the long-term Gerut is highly unlikely to amount to anything as a starting major league outfielder. It may be that the Cubs have seen enough to think that Gerut's power may not be coming back any time soon, and that it's time to move him now before other teams come to the same conclusion. Whether or not the Cubs would be right in such an assessment of course remains to be seen.
Whatever, it turns out the trade of Dubois for Gerut will have no long-term ramifications at all. Instead, it's this new trade, for Matt Lawton, that holds potentially interesting implications...
Whichever way Hendry tried to spin it in the press conference, this trade is a rental. Matt Lawton is entering the final months of a four year deal that's paying him $7.5m this year. And when this season is done, Lawton, whose contract includes no options, will file for free agency. With Lawton turning 34 in November, and doubtless looking for a multi-year deal all the same, this being a rental or not, it's probably best left that way.
But it is a rental. And that says much for the Cubs' attitude towards this season, it says that they still clearly think they can make the playoffs. But this team right now stands at just 53-52 and is very much flawed, as this lousy homestand against lousy Western opposition has demonstrated. Nomar, Wood and Williamson, who Hendry is viewing as mid-season pickups, will not change that, promoting Van Buren won't either, and neither will Matt Lawton, whose simply not an impact ballplayer. The Cubs' best hope now is to be less flawed than their competitors in the wild card race. A four game margin certainly isn't insurmountable. But with the Astros and the way that they've been playing of late, let's just say that the Cubs are being a bit more optimistic than I care for. Either that or they viewed Gerut as having so little value to them that any return, even just a short-term one, was worth it.
So, Matt Lawton. Well, make no mistake about it, Lawton is a good hitter. He no longer hits for average as he did at his peak in Minnesota, for his strikeout totals have been escalating, but he draws an excellent number of walks and thus gets on base at a great rate of which Derrek Lee will approve. Furthermore, unlike your prototypical leadoff man, Lawton's far from a slap hitter, consistently hitting 15 home runs a year and owning a slugging percentage a good 150 points higher than his average. In Wrigley, that could even jump a little, for he's spent his years mostly in ballparks pretty favourable to pitching. Though with age he's declining, Lawton is right now is a better hitter than Gerut, and a better hitter than Jason Dubois too. He's also better than Hollandsworth and Hairston, and, interestingly, Lawton at his 2000 best looks rather similar to Matt Murton's upside, the stolen bases aside.
That said, Lawton possesses this split...
|First Half (Career)||.279||.376||.445|
|Second Half (Career)||.254||.363||.387|
|First Half (2005)||.275||.379||.457|
Just as with Gerut, it's also unclear where exactly Lawton fits in to the outfield mix defensively. Suggestions that Lawton play centre field are perhaps off the mark, for he's not played a single inning in centre since 2000. Even then, he played just 21 innings there that year, and just 20 in 1999. You have to go all the way back to 1998 to find Lawton playing centre field with any regularity. ESPN's scouting report suggests it's not just been the lack of the opportunity that's been holding him back...
Lawton covered more ground last year  following knee surgery, but remained a defensive liability in left and right field. He covered the gap decently, but any ball hit over his head or toward the line was an adventure. He underwent a serious operation on his right shoulder after the 2002 season and runners have been taking liberties against him ever since.
In other words, he's better than Jerry Hairston out there. Then again, so was Jody Gerut, and so is Jeromy Burnitz, and yet Dusty has been showing a lot of loyalty towards a player in Hairston whose complaints he apparently has no time for. Whether Hairy's escapades in centre continue then, I hardly dare predict. I'll just say that my outfield this year would be Murton, Burnitz and Lawton from left to right, that even that isn't a great outfield, obviously, and that I can picture Dusty choosing to run out far worse combinations.
Ultimately, I don't think this is a great trade for either team. Lawton I don't think takes us to the playoffs, he shouldn't be re-signed thereafter, and Gerut probably won't ever do much for the Pirates, or any other team, without a power stroke. Even with the risk that Gerut refinds that though, and I think it's a considerable risk, a few months of Matt Lawton is probably worth that should it put us over the top. The trouble is I don't think it does, especially not if Lawton lives up to that second half split, and so it's all a bit, well, futile. Futile and squanderous, for in a few months we'll most probably have nothing to show for Lawton (as offering arbitration to secure compensation draft picks would be a dangerous ploy). But, once again, we'll have to wait and see...