The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, July 12, 2001

 

Will the Sun Still Shine on the Crime Dog's Ass?

The biggest news over the All-Star break not related to the pageant itself was a rumored deal between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays which would send first baseman Fred McGriff to Chicago in exchange for prospects. On the surface, this appears to be a no-brainer: the opportunity to go from a last place team to a first place team. Not just any last-place team, either--one so awful it has a realistic shot at being the worst team in modern-day major league history.

The Cubs are surprising contenders, and they've probably been playing a little over their heads. By their own admission, they're a bat short--Ron Coomer and Matt Stairs may be swell guys to have in the clubhouse, but neither of them can offer the protection in the batting order that Sammy Sosa needs. McGriff, on the other hand, carries a big stick (432 career home runs) and has enjoyed a resurgence this year despite his putrid surroundings--.330, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 940 OPS for a team dead stinking last in the AL in runs scored. He's no stranger to the postseason, having played in two World Series with the Atlanta Braves and racking up a solid .303 with 10 HR in his October experience. He's an obvious solution to the Cubs' needs.

From the Devil Rays' standpoint, this deal makes sense as well. McGriff is in the final year of a $6.5 million contract, and any opportunity to rebuild the wretched Rays and shed salary at the same time is golden. But the hitch is that McGriff has a no-trade contract, and the reports out of Chicago and Tampa today are that the Crime Dog will invoke his right to remain in Tampa Bay. His reasons are understandable: "I have a wife and two kids I have to think about," McGriff told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm tired of traveling."

The rub is that McGriff is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate based on his numbers right now. At 432 home runs, he's nearing the magical Dave Kingman Line (442 HR), above which every single hitter except for the still-active Jose Canseco has made the Hall. Canseco passed Kingman last season, and will probably bear the new standard for being on the outside looking in.

Bill James developed something called the Hall of Fame Monitor. It's a system to analyze the likelihood a player will make the Hall, rewarding the types of accomplishments voters tend to look for. Each season of batting over .300 is worth 2.5 points, each season over 30 HR is worth 3 points, having 500 HR is worth 20 points, and so on. A score of 100 indicates a high likelihood of making it in. It's far from perfect, but it's a very good system and a fun toy to boot.

Baseball-Reference.com includes each player's HOF Monitor score on its player statistic pages. McGriff currently scores an 85, and would receive another 8.5 points if he has a second half similar to his first. Not quite there yet, but very close (for purposes of comparison, Jose Canseco is at 103. The leaderboard is here.) Another season like this one might be enough to put him over the line, and a couple more years, with him passing 500 HR, would probably seal the deal.

But it shouldn't. If McGriff rejects this trade, it will show that he no longer cares about playing on a winning team. Despite the Devil Rays' misery, the Crime Dog is comfortable there and apparently content to play out the string, padding his career totals while miles away from even the faintest whiff of a hint of a trace of a pennant race. Passing up this opportunity to play for a winner while he's still got plenty of gas in the tank should spell it out--there are a hundred players, including several of his teammates, who would leap at the opportunity he's been presented with, no matter how tenuous their shot at a championship (we ARE talking about the Cubs here).

If the Crime Dog chooses not to go to the Windy City, let that be a mark against his name. It doesn't invalidate what he's already accomplished on the diamond, it doesn't make him a terrible person; McGriff's always been a classy player, a credit to the game. But it should cast a pall on whatever numbers he piles up from here on out, because numbers are all he's really playing for.

The sun doesn't always shine on the same dog's ass, as the old proverb goes. But it's the dog's own fault if he doesn't find a new spot to keep warm.

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