And the Leadoff Batter du Jour is...
By Mark Boyer in News on Mar 14, 2008 5:57PM
On Wednesday, Sweet Lou shook up his batting order, dropping last year's leadoff man Alfonso Soriano to the 2 hole and replacing him with Ryan Theriot at the top of the order. Part of the reasoning behind the move is that Piniella wants to get Soriano accustomed to not leading off, in hopes that management will pull off a blockbuster trade that would land leadoff specialist Brian Roberts from Baltimore in exchange for Ronny Cedeno, Sean Gallagher, Donnie Veal, and RHP prospect Jose Ceda (and potentially Jason Marquis and Baltimore OF Jay Payton). That sounds like a pretty lopsided deal, considering that the Cubs are offering three of their top pitching prospects, but it might represent one of the last pieces of the puzzle – and it would give Piniella a reason to stop his incessant tinkering with the lineup.
Compare Theriot's meager .266 BA and .326 OBP last year with Roberts's .290 and .377 respectively, and the logic of the trade becomes clear. And Roberts's numbers more resemble those of a leadoff man (especially that OBP) than Soriano's, who hit 33 home runs last year, many of which were solo shots because he was batting leadoff. Additionally, the Cubs' $136 million man is still recovering from a torn quadriceps, and Lou doesn’t want to push him too hard. The switch also allows Piniella to try Kosuke Fukudome in the 5-spot, in hopes that he can be more productive there.
Down on the South Side, the Sox are dealing with similar lineup uncertainties. The most obvious candidate for the top of the order, speedster Jerry Owens, is experiencing groin problems (although nothing approaching the trauma of Felix Pie's recent twisted testicle), prompting Ozzie Guillen to weigh his options. Earlier in the week, Guillen suggested that he might put newly acquired outfielder Nick Swisher in the leadoff spot. "I lean toward Swish,'' Guillen told the Sun-Times. ''I know Nick is not a typical leadoff hitter, but the only thing I need from a leadoff hitter is to get on base and score some runs."
Getting Owens healthy is a must if the Sox have any hopes of returning to "Ozzie-ball," especially considering the lack of mobility and station-to-station base-running they have in the middle of the order with the Thome-Konerko-Dye triumvirate.