Cubs send Mueller back to Giants

By Jim Callis
September 3, 2002

The Giants traded Bill Mueller to the Cubs for Todd Worrell in November 2000. Not quite two years later, Chicago sent him back to San Francisco. On Tuesday, the Giants added Mueller for their postseason drive—they trail the Dodgers by 2½ games in the National League wild-card chase—in exchange for righthander Jeff Verplancke.

Mueller, 31, gives the Giants some flexibility as well as a switch-hitter off the bench. Against righthanders, he can spell David Bell at third base. Against lefties, he could play third, with Bell shifting to second base and Jeff Kent to first in place of J.T. Snow. Mueller had been playing regularly for the Cubs, hitting .266-7-37 in 103 games. He lacks the power teams like to see in a third baseman, but he fits perfectly in the No. 2 hole in a lineup because of his bat control and his ability to get on base. In 770 career games, he has hit .287-41-273 with a .371 on-base percentage. Defensively, he’s an above-average third baseman despite not having overwhelming speed or arm strength. Mueller is finishing a two-year, $6.2 million contract and will become a free agent at season’s end. He’s making $3.45 million this season and Chicago will pick up the bulk of the remainder of his salary. Because he joined the Giants after August 31, Mueller won’t be eligible for San Francisco’s postseason roster.

By trading Mueller, whom it probably wouldn’t have re-signed anyway, Chicago has created a way to get second-base prospect Bobby Hill and surging Mark Bellhorn into its lineup at the same time. Bellhorn, who has set a Cubs record for switch-hitters with 25 homers, will move from second to third base.

Verplancke, 24, has a live arm but also a history of elbow problems. The Mariners drafted him in the second round out of Cal State Los Angeles in 1998, but didn’t sign him after discovering he had a torn ligament and required Tommy John surgery. He joined the Giants as an 11th-rounder in 1999 and signed late in the summer for $600,000. He finished each of his first two pro seasons at Triple-A Fresno and spent the entire season there in 2002, but has yet to reach the big leagues. He has a 93-mph fastball that also features nice tail and run, and he’ll mix in sliders, curveballs and changeups. He hasn’t shown much feel for his secondary pitches and had some elbow tenderness again this summer. In 51 games at Fresno, he went 3-5, 3.78 with three saves and 52 strikeouts in 64 innings.