Pie Isn't Cubs Problem Anymore

Officially, the Felix Pie era in Chicago ended Sunday.

Officially, January 18, 2009, will go down as the date the Chicago Cubs confirmed they had given up on Pie ever becoming the type of major league player they had envisioned not too long ago.

Unofficially, such a conclusion was likely made weeks if not months ago.

The Cubs on Sunday traded their one-time top prospect to -- who else? -- Baltimore for left-handed pitcher Garrett Olson and right-hander Henry Williamson.

Pie batted .299 in his minor league career over seven seasons, but only .223 in two major league seasons. He was out of options entering spring training 2009 and, as Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry noted at the Cubs Convention on Sunday, there was little reason to believe Pie could have played well enough to take at-bats away from outfielders Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright, let alone Milton Bradley.

In that sense, moving Pie was perhaps the least surprising move of the Cubs' off-season.

Still, the trade was not a particularly joyous moment for the Cubs' front office, which did as much to hype Pie as a five-tool prospect as anyone, and put in arguably more hours coaching him than any other player in the farm system.

"All trades are tough, but I would be lying if I did not say this was one especially tough," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita.

"He has been like a son to me."

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the Pie experiment went awry; how he went from the crown jewel of the Cubs' system -- for years the only known player on Fleita's secretive list of can't-trade-under-any-circumstances prospects -- to making almost the exact same exit as another one-time top Cubs prospect: Corey Patterson, himself traded to Baltimore three years ago this month.

I first began following Pie in 2004 at Class Advanced-A Daytona. Pie, then 19, was a top prospect in the Florida State League, finishing atop the league in average, runs scored, and stolen bases. It was around that time that Pie first began to field comparisons from some scouts to such players as Carl Crawford.

The following year in 2005, Pie played only half a season after suffering an ankle injury at Double-A. But the Cubs had seen enough that year to promote him to Class AAA Iowa for 2006 and Pie did not disappoint, batting .283 with a career-high 33 doubles, 15 home runs and 87 RBIs.

Pie seemed well on his way to the type of career that most had envisioned for him. Although he didn't earn a September call-up that year, 2007 would surely be the year Pie established himself at the major league level; 2008 at the latest.

It never happened.

Although Pie began last season on the Cubs' opening day 25-man roster, he struggled to stay above the Mendoza Line. Eventually, the Cubs decided they could upgrade Pie's spot with veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds, recently expunged from the last-place San Diego Padres after a dismal start.

Announcing the addition of Edmonds, Hendry explained that Pie needed consistent playing time in the minor leagues to work on things the organization believed were instrumental to his game.

That involved veteran hitting coach Von Joshua working with Pie on his approach, employing the outfielder to implement a higher front step to shorten him up.

The demotion apparently took a toll on Pie's confidence, as Joshua noted that Pie had displayed the "least amount of confidence I've ever seen him have" upon his return to the minor leagues.

Perhaps Pie's confidence issues played a bigger part in his downfall than many realized, though it didn't seem to deter Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail when announcing the trade for the outfielder.

"I know he has a great work ethic and desire … I know he's going to do everything he can to make himself a good major league player," MacPhail told MLB.com Sunday.

Whatever is the cause for Pie's freefall, he is no longer the Cubs problem. For a player that so many thought would be a sure part of the team's long-term future, that's somewhat of a shame.

But as is often the case with prospects, they come and go not with a bang but a whimper, and so it is for Pie. "Gone, gone, the damage done," as the old Neil Young song goes.

The Cubs insist they will always be cheering for Pie, and they hope that he turns things around and one day lives up to his potential, even if it won't be with them.

"He knows that although his uniform has changed, we will always be rooting for him," said Fleita.

"Hopefully, he does better," said Hendry.

Yet with all the promise Pie once showed, hope seems almost like a tragic word.

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