Long Shot: Willis Back To Cubs?

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has an interesting note in today’s Rumor Mill:

"The Cubs also still covet Dontrelle Willis as "the one that got away" and–despite his not being on the market–Willis is one player the Cubs could get if Larry Beinfest suddenly changes his mind about that. Adding Felix Pie to Jacque Jones and Donald Veal would get it done, while not adding to the Cubs payroll."

Jim Hendry already tried to patch up one of the all-time classic Cub mistakes by signing Greg Maddux before the 2004 season.  At least that departure didn’t happen under Hendry’s watch. 

Back in March of 2002, Hendry traded Ryan Jorgensen, Jose Cueto, Julian Tavarez, and Willis to the Marlins for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca.  Where are they now?

  • Jorgensen, a catcher, had a four-game cup of coffee for the Fish in ’05, and now toils for the Reds’ Triple A team.
  • Cueto, a pitcher, never made it past Double A and finished off his career back in the Cubs’ system in ’04.
  • Tavarez started 27 games for the 2002 Marlins, but his performance was worth only 0.4 wins.  He left via free agency after the season to sign with the Pirates.  Now he’s with Boston, of course.
  • Clement provided a ton of value to the Cubs during 2002-04; he was worth about 17 wins over those three years according to Baseball Prospectus.  He was worth 4.8 wins in 2003, but Willis was worth 5.8 in fewer innings.  Getting Clement made this a respectable deal for Hendry, though in hindsight he would’ve rather just kept Willis.  Clement signed a three-year deal with B Boston and succumbed to shoulder woes in Year 2 of the pact.  He hopes to help Boston as a reliever in September, which should be interesting.
  • Alfonseca was OK as the Cubs’ closer in ’02, saving 19 games.  He was not helpful in ’03, and the Cubs let him go.  Now he’s in the Phillies’ pen.

Back to the present day rumor.  Jones, while hitting better of late, probably would not be missed by the Cubs.  He’s still only slugging .382 in July.  Veal was the Cubs’ best pitching prospect heading into the season but has taken a step backward in Double A.  Veal has been control problems, though his arm has been described as "electric."  Lefty starters who can touch 95 can be hard to find.

Pie, though, would be the gem of the deal and the player with the best shot at stardom.  Literally – BP gives him a 30-40% chance at becoming a star player.  He struggled mightily in his first 139 ABs with the Cubs, but he now owns Triple A pitching.  He should be the Cubs’ starting center fielder for the next six years at least. Trading him for the declining Willis would create another "one that got away" situation, which seems perfectly Cub-like.  Most likely nothing happens in the next two days, but we might revisit this rumor this winter.

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