When putting together a puzzle, every piece is necessary in order to complete it. Leave out even the smallest piece and there’s still a hole in the puzzle.
And when that puzzle is as challenging as the one Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer face, you don’t want to be left second-guessing yourself because of a missing piece.
The puzzle they are trying to solve is one that has left them and others before them stumped for 106 years. That, of course, is bringing a World Series title to Chicago’s North Side.
With a challenge that big, when you’re thinking about how it all fits together, you have to be very exacting. Every piece has to fit together just right. Down to the 25th man on the roster.
So while the offseason pickup of veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia might not have set off fireworks in the way that the signing of free agent pitcher Jon Lester did, it is the kind of little move that could be the difference between playing in October and packing the bags and waiting again until next year.
The question is whether Denorfia, who is 34 and coming off the worst season of his nine-year career, when he batted .230 in a season split between Seattle and San Diego, still has any gas left in the tank. The Cubs, who signed Denorfia to a one-year $2.6 million deal, certainly are banking on just that. They hope to squeeze at least one more solid year out of the career .272 hitter.
The prevailing wisdom is that Denorfia, who bats from the right, will share time in left field with the lefty Chris Coghlan. Denorfia has a .294 lifetime average against lefties.
Cubs Insider’s Evan Altman called the signing of Denorfia “a nice little puzzle-piece move, one that doesn’t look like much on the outside but helps to round out the roster with a guy who you know won’t be a problem.”
Chicago Cubs Online likened the addition of Denorfia to when the team brought in Reed Johnson in 2008 after a down year. As a fourth outfielder, Johnson helped spark the Cubs to a division title that season. “If Joe Maddon is able to receive similar contributions from Chris Denorfia as Lou Piniella did from Reed Johnson in 2008,” wrote Chicago Cubs Online, “the front office will have added a productive fourth outfielder to the roster that helped the team win ballgames.”
The Epstein-Hoyer regime has a knack for picking up bargain deals and the Denorfia signing could be another one of those. “He can play both corners and some center field in a pinch,” Hoyer told ESPN Chicago after the deal was announced. “Good in the clubhouse. For lack of a better term he’s a gamer.”
A gamer. Every successful team has at least one of those guys that can come off the bench and come through in the clutch. The hope is that Denorfia will be that guy for the Cubs this season.
“One of the reasons I signed here was because I believe in where we’re going,” Denorfia told the U-T San Diego newspaper after learning that he was coming to Chicago. “At this point in my career, my goal is to win a championship. This gave me an exciting opportunity to be part of a potentially-history making team. That was the exciting thing for me.”
Did you know?
• Chris Denorfia’s nickname is “Deno,” popularized by a fan made tribute video on YouTube titled “Look at Deno.” Check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCCKEsNMomA
• Denorfia played for Italy in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.
• On August 5, 2010, Denorfia hit one of the most unusual inside-the-park home runs in the history of major league baseball. The ball chopped off the dirt cut-out in front of the batter’s box only four or five feet in front of Denorfia and then bounced out of the reach of the third baseman before being misplayed alongside the tarp down the left field line. SABR investigated the possibility that the play had set the record for least distance travelled through the air for a home run ball. View the MLB video of that wild inside-the-parker at http://m.mlb.com/video/v10664571/sdlad-denorfia-hits-an-insidethepark-homer