The Times, They Are A Changing

Sammy Sosa.<p> The name will get many various responses from baseball fans all over the world, and most Cubs fans have recently changed their opinions of a player that could arguably be considered the greatest in franchise history.

Since the corked bat incident in June of 2003, Sosa's popularity amongst Cub fans has gone down everyday. Leaving the ballpark early on the last game of the 2004 season angered many of those same fans fans, as well as players and particularly Cubs management. Star pitcher Mark Prior even told the media that Sosa owed the team an apology for his actions.

Meanwhile, in the last few years players have let it be known that they do not care much for Sosa's boombox blasting in the clubhouse. Two Cub players, Kerry Wood and Michael Barrett, are even rumored to have been the culprits in destroying Sosa's clubhouse stereo system on that final game of the year following the slugger's early departure.

Ironically, the broken boombox seems to symbolize something else broken: Sosa's legacy in Chicago.

The question is, can that legacy be fixed?

Rumors around baseball are that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is doing everything within his power to trade Sosa, who apparently wants to leave Chicago just as bad--a thought deemed impossible just a few short years ago.

Earlier this week, rumors were swirling that Sosa could be traded to the New York Mets for outfielder Cliff Floyd.

Of course, Sosa is a first ballot Hall of Famer and can still serve as one of the top sluggers in the game. So, what are the pros and cons of trading Sammy Sosa?

Trading Sosa has many obvious benefits for the Cubs. It is clear that at least some of the players on the current roster are having difficulties with him in the clubhouse. Sosa has been accused of making excuses and possibly lying, such as the corked bat situation and his reasoning for leaving early on the now infamous Oct. 3 regular season finale.

Some of his recent comments have also led people to call him selfish, and to say that his ego would cause plenty of problems in the future. Sosa would probably be booed tremendously by Cubs fans, many of whom will never forgive him.

His numbers have declined in each of the past three seasons, as have his games played. Last season, Sosa injured his back due to an apparent sneezing fit that caused him to miss almost a month's worth of games. He hit 35 homeruns, drove in 80 RBIs, had a batting average of .253, and an on base percentage of .332. Those are all statistical categories in which Sosa excelled at from 1998-2001.

Hitting 35 homers in 126 games is still impressive, but nevertheless a decline from his past seasons. However, the batting average and on-base percentage statistics are not nearly good enough for a player who made $16 million last season, especially factoring in 133 strikeouts.

Given the past three seasons, there is no real evidence to support a claim that Sosa will become the feared hitter he once was. He recently turned 36, which seemed to show in his bat speed last season. If the Cubs were able to trade him, they would save at least a few million dollars in payroll, depending on the player they received of course. This would allow them to make a serious run for a player they and most every other team really want: superstar outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Although trading Sosa would seem to be the most logical solution, there are some reasons why it may not be. The last two seasons, Sosa dealt with injury problems, which limited him to 137 games in 2003 and 126 in 2004. He still managed to hit 40 homeruns in '03 and 35 this past season, which are obviously tremendous power numbers in plenty less at-bats. In 2004, he was standing too far away from the plate, and hitting coach Gary Matthews, as did many others, told Sosa to move closer in despite his refusal.

Advanced scouts obviously noticed this right away, as did pitchers and coaches who paid attention. More pitchers began throwing to Sosa on the outside part of the plate where it was more difficult for him to reach. If he moves closer and drives the ball to the opposite field (which used to be his strength), his numbers could see a significant increase.

Sosa seemed to be pressing too much at the plate last year and it was obvious that he was trying to do too much at times. Now that he has other capable hitters around him in the Cubs' lineup, he could relax more at the plate and still do plenty of damage—assuming he stays.

One thing is certain: Sosa is going to hit plenty more homeruns in his career. On that we can take him at his word. If he were to stay healthy, you could presumably pencil him in for at least 35-40 more in 2005. Losing that much power in the lineup could hurt the Cubs, especially if Sosa improves the rest of his offensive statistics like AVG. and OBP. If the Cubs were to trade him straight-up for Floyd, they could not only lose lots of run production and much in the power department, but a few extra games from a corner outfield spot.

With 574 career homeruns, Sosa has already stated he feels he will hit 700 in his career. To do this, he is going to need a few more vintage "Sammy" seasons. He will be very determined to do this, and another positive going for Sosa is how well determined he is to prove his critics wrong and to earn back many of the fans' support that he has lost in recent years. He has already stated that he plans to come into spring training in great shape and ready to go.

Although most Cubs fans are irate with Sosa, and justifiably so, many still continue to idolize the slugger. He is an icon in Chicago, and it would be sad for many to see him wear anything but a Cubs uniform for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately for those fans, it is sounding more and more like Sosa will not don that uniform next season.

Maybe it's not be in the best interest of the Chicago Cubs to trade Sammy Sosa after all.

What was it they said in 2000? "Too close to call."

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