When Ryan Freel played in Cincinnati, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry admired the versatility and energy the utility player brought to the Reds. Now, Freel will be expected to resume that role in Chicago.
The Baltimore Orioles dealt the disgruntled Freel to the Cubs on Friday for reserve outfielder Joey Gathright, who wasn't getting any playing time because of Chicago's glut of outfielders.
"We've always liked Ryan, hopefully he'll come back and be the player that he was before," Hendry said in a clubhouse conference call. "It just became apparent that we would be better off with a little more versatility and Ryan can play the infield and the outfield so it seemed to make sense."
The deal also includes cash to Chicago. Freel is making $4 million this year, while Gathright is signed for $800,000.
Freel, expected to join the Cubs on Saturday, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 20 after being struck in the head with an attempted pickoff throw. He insisted he felt fine, and was disappointed about the conditions surrounding a stress test he was forced to take before beginning his rehabilitation assignment.
Freel said the test was administered in a crowded office, with people walking in and out during the session.
"I wasn't very happy about it, not at all, and there's a lot more stuff going on here," Freel said at the time. He also concluded that "I don't think I fit here."
Obtained in a December trade with Cincinnati, Freel, who can play second base, third base and all three outfield positions, hit .133 in nine games with Baltimore. Freel began his major league career in the Toronto organization and played six years in Cincinnati before being dealt to the Orioles.
"When we saw him a lot in our division, he played the game a lot like Reed Johnson, except he could obviously play in the infield, too," Hendry said.
Gathright was the sixth outfielder behind Johnson and Micah Hoffpauir, who is filling in for the injured Derrek Lee with Chicago beginning a three-game series at Milwaukee. Chicago also had a lack of depth behind third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who missed time with a strained calf earlier this season.
Gathright's speed is his biggest asset with 79 career steals in 428 games, but the Cubs couldn't find much use for him after Hoffpauir and Kosuke Fukudome earned extended playing time with strong performances in the spring.
Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail said that it took four days for a deal to come together.
"We didn't get the at-bats there that we originally anticipated (for Freel)," MacPhail said. "The Cubs had the same thing on the Gathright side. Fukudome got off to such a hot start that how much they envisioned using Joey didn't pan out either. We found ourselves in a similar situation. It made sense for both clubs."
Gathright, who previously played in Tampa Bay and Kansas City, was batting .214 in 14 at-bats with Chicago this season. He will be assigned to the Orioles' Triple-A team in Norfolk.
MacPhail said Freel wanted to return to the NL where he could be used more off the bench.
"Ryan and I talked a couple of times and he saw himself as more of a National League-type player _ a double switch, get to play more often _ and I really couldn't fault his logic," MacPhail said. "You can kind of see there isn't going to be the number of at-bats we originally forecast. I think this gives him a new lease and hopefully he gets back to the player he's been before."