Cubs Decide to Move Forward, Without Jim Hendry

Today, the dream of many Chicago Cub fans has come true. General Manager Jim Hendry was relieved of his duties with the ball club. For the remainder of the season, Randy Bush will take over the day to day duties of the General Manager job. While the firing was expected to come sooner or later, the timing of the move seemed a bit off.

In press conferences by both Hendry and Tom Ricketts, we discovered that the decision to fire Hendry was actually made on July 22, almost an entire month ago. However, Ricketts decided to keep his lame duck General Manager on board the extra month in order to get the ball club through the trade deadline as well as aiding in the signing of the draft picks. Not a bad idea in terms of aiding to sign the draft picks he helped scout, but the question comes into play when discussing keeping him on through the trade deadline.

Many fans were outraged when they heard that the decision was made prior to the trade deadline, and Hendry was allowed to continue to be in power to make trades, which never came. Hendry explained away the lack of trades to his knowing he would not be retained, and not wanting to leave his replacement with the results of whatever trade he made. Fans then wondered why Bush could not make the trades for him, but you would likely get the same situation, one lame duck General Manager making moves that a new one would have to live with and work around. Bash him if you will, but knowing he is going to be fired he could have made deals that could have screwed up the franchise for years to come, more so than they seem to be now, but he was very professional in how he handled his job.

In the Ricketts version of why no trades were made, he alluded to the reasoning of there were no trades which made sense for the ball club moving forward. He might have been covering for Hendry, and trying to allow him to save a little bit of face, but whatever the reason, more veterans were not traded before the non-waiver trade deadline.

In all honesty, firing Hendry when the actual move was made, makes absolutely no sense. The only plus of this move being down now, is to give the ball club an extra month to search for the perfect replacement. Hendry should have been fired at the end of last year, which have allowed the Cubs to begin their attempts to return to a form of respectability. However, that move was not done back then, and he was kept around to make a trade which saw us trade away four prospects did a lot more harm than good, no matter what Matt Garza is able to give us in his time here.

Starting now, Ricketts will begin to search for Hendry’s successor, but will keep everything he does a secret. He said this was a private matter and would not be responding to any of the rumors that may be floating around, such as the idea that New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman might be an option. So if you are waiting for a lot of names to be thrown around by the media, you may get your wish, but with no confirmation of even an interview coming out of the Cubs camp, that will only be written off as pure speculation.

While fans will be celebrating this move for quite a while, you can not argue that Hendry may actually have been the best General Manager the Cubs ever had. No other General Manager ever was able to bring the Cubs to the post season three years, and Hendry did so in his first six years.

At the same time though, you could also put him into the discussion of the worst General Managers in team history. No other General Manager ever put the Cubs in as big of a hole as Hendry did, even though a fair amount of blame can be shared with others. Former Cubs owner Sam Zell ordered Hendry to break the bank and former team President John Mcdonough put the finishing touches on the Alfonso Soriano deal and even added a year or two to the tail end to entice him to accept the offer. However, Hendry was the General Manager at the time, so this all falls on his plate.

Congratulations Cub fans, you got your wish. Just one question comes to mind, now what? Your other despised targets on the Cubs management team remain in power, and will likely be there until at least the end of the season. Mike Quade and Crane Kenney are both still hanging around. In all likelihood, Quade will also be shown the door at the conclusion of the season, so you will have to live with him for another month. Kenney on the other hand, may not be leaving his position anytime soon. But I guess Cub fans should be happy and willing to take what they can get.

This is the beginning of the change you have all been waiting for. The man mostly responsible for the mess the Cubs are in is gone, and a new man will soon be in charge. The road he must travel down will not be an easy one, as he has a rather large mess to clean up. First, he must find a new manager; at least assuming Quade is gone at the end of the year as is expected. Then, he must start dissecting the roster, figuring out which players to keep and which to cut out.

Whoever takes the reigns, just have a little patience. I know that after 103 years asking for patience is asking a lot, but this mess might be too big for a one year cleanup mission. Are you ready for what could be a long winding road back to respectability and a team that can be a constant contender? I sure hope so.

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Mount Z’s Latest Explosion Might Be His Last As a Cub

Last night was pure disaster for both Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs. In fact, last night was so bad that you may never see Zambrano wearing a Cubs jersey ever again, or at very least for the remainder of the season.

Things went from bad to worse for Zambrano last night as he just never seemed to have anything working for him, and the Cubs fell behind early 2-0 after Dan Uggla extended his hitting streak on the second pitch in the second inning with a two run home run. That would only be the tip of the volcano that would end up erupting hours later.

Why Manager Mike Quade allowed Zambrano to stay in the game as long as he did, after all signs indicated that this was not his night is anyone’s guess. I have defended Quade all season saying that no one could have success this year with this ball club and that he was learning on the job, but last night may very well have officially taken me off the Quade Train, as he could have easily prevented the nights events from taking place.

After being left in a few innings past when he should have been pulled, Zambrano may have had his biggest mental explosion of his career. With his career high fifth home run flying over the wall in Atlanta, you could tell Zambrano had snapped. The unfortunate target, was long time Cub Killer Chipper Jones who had also hit a homerun off of Zambrano earlier in the evening. The very first pitch to him was well inside, nearly hitting him and making him jump backwards out of the batters box. The second, was exactly the same way which was too much for the home plate umpire to take. He immediately tossed Zambrano who as already half way to the dugout before the ruling was official.

When the ejection was made, I joking posted on my Facebook wall that since Quade refused to take him out, he was going to take himself out of the game. That thought was shared on WGN radio after the game by one of their sports hosts, and seems very logical since they also reported he was wearing a big grin on his face as he was walking to the dugout.

I wish I could say that was where his evening ended, but that is far from the conclusion of this latest blow up. When the game ended, Zambrano told Quade that he was retiring. Following his pronouncement of retirement Zambrano proceeded to clean out his locker before leaving the locker room entirely, walking out on the other 24 players on the team.

Whether or not we can believe that Zambrano will actually retire as he declared last night, we can only wait and see. After all, he did announce that he would retire at the end of his current contract, something some fans found hard to believe at the time. I wonder if those very fans still do not believe how serious he was. Later in the evening reports stated that General Manager Jim Hendry said that the team would respect Zambrano’s wishes, which essentially was calling his bluff.

Either way, whether he does actually retire or not, I can not see him ever putting on a Cubs uniform ever again. If he does retire as he has stated, he would be walking away from nearly $20 Million that he is owed on his contract, including $18 Million next year. That is a lot of money to walk away from, so he may come to his senses in a few days and meet the Cubs in Houston to make his next start after he has had a chance to cool down and clear his head.

If that is the case, Zambrano has a lot of work to do if he wants to earn the respect of his teammates and the fans again. A simple apology might not be enough this time, and no amount of anger management classes can make people believe that he will ever change his ways.

Perhaps the talk of retirement was his way of demanding a trade, but I can not see any team taking him on any more. Not after his latest explosion and temper tantrum. Who, other than the Cubs, wants a player who will allow his emotions to get the better of him? Certainly no one that would be willing to pay anything that is still owed to him. Cubs will have to flat out cut him if he wants to play again, or suspend him if they want to save money.

Fans are already turning on him and hoping that he is serious. They do not easily forgive players who walk out on their team and fans. They still hold a grudge with Sammy Sosa who did the same thing a few years ago, and that was on the last day of the season. Though there are some fans who blame this episode on Quade, and I do too, but that does not excuse Zambrano for acting the way he did. Quade could have prevented this mess, but Zambrano and his usual crazy antics have finally gone too far.

Cubs Are Playing Great, But Do Not Get Fooled

For the first time all season, the Chicago Cubs are showing signs of life. The problem is, these signs of life have come four seasons too late. But, is anyone actually surprised by these end of season offensive eruptions anymore? This is what the Cubs do year in and year out in these lost seasons. The play poorly in the first few months until we are in all reality eliminated from playoff contention, and then turn on the juices and start playing the way we thought they could all season long. A prime example is what they did last year, playing above .500 against some of the contending teams and giving fans hope that they are as close as they have claimed going into the year. That “miracle” run is what got Manager Mike Quade his job this year. Fans all seemed to love him then, but now think he is in over his head and should never have gotten this job to begin with. But that is another story for another day.

With this current five game winning streak, over two over the top three teams in the National League Central the Cubs are playing better than anyone could have imagined they would and both the fans and the players are having fun again. You can tell the players are because Marlon Byrd received the first “pie” to the face of the entire season. They look as though they are actually enjoying themselves and want to be out there playing the game! The fans are celebrating each win, because they are rare to come by this year and you never know when the next one will come. But the fans need to keep in mind that this whole winning streak is just a mirage, and does not mean anything for the current year or for the years to come.

I understand, I really do. Fans love to see their team win, even when there is very little hope to get back into the playoff hunt for the year. I love seeing the Cubs win as well, and hope they can continue to play this well until the end of the season, even if the chances of that happening are nothing more than a fantasy. But how they finish the season, even if they somehow manage to get back to even, will not change my thoughts about their chances of next season. I still do not buy into the thought that this team is close to contending. There are just far too many holes on this team to make them an actual contender next year, and they are not a Prince Fielder or a Albert Pujols away from being a legitimate contender again, not with this group of players.

Unless there are some serious trades and some great free agent signings, the Cubs will have a handful of new players in the starting nine next year. Aramis Ramirez will likely be brought back, and with the Cubs holding on to Carlos Pena at the deadline he will likely be back as well. That means there is only going to be one spot on the 2012 opening day lineup than that from opening day of this year. Can changing one piece on a team which was bad enough to get to 23 games below .500 make them a contender?

The answer to that question is no. Last week when Carlos Zambrano said that this team needed change in order to compete again, I am sure he was not talking about just the trade of Kosuke Fukudome. He is a player who understands how far away this team is from being a serious contender again. Serious moves need to be made in order for this team to contend, and not just trading away one player who has an expiring contract.

Enjoy Cubs baseball while they are on this miraculous run, but do yourselves a favor and do not get too excited about their play. Even if they somehow manage to get into the playoffs they need to blow this team up.

The Trade Deadline for the Chicago Cubs Has Flat Lined

The trade deadline in Major League Baseball has come and gone, and the Chicago Cubs were not as active as many fans would have liked. The only trade the organization made, was to pass Kosuke Fukudome on to the Cleveland Indians while eating all but $775,000 of his remaining deal and receiving two below average prospects in return. The reasoning why there were no other moves is rather maddening. General Manager Jim Hendry fully believes that the Cubs are close to being able to contend next year, and wanted to hang on to the pieces he felt would be the key elements to guiding the Cubs to the Promise Land in 2012.

That is why, according to published reports, the Cubs do not want to trade Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd or Aramis Ramirez. We also can not forget that Hendry does not want to trade Jeff Baker either. Apparently Hendry and company believe that those four players will be key elements in guiding this team back to the playoffs and making a World Series Run. Don’t ask me how Hendry feels this team can compete next year with pretty much the same pieces, when they are currently chasing the Houston Astros for the worst record in baseball. The only changes would be swapping out Tyler Colvin or Fukudome and maybe replacing Fielder or Pujols for Pena. Is that enough to compete next year? Perhaps, but there is a lot that needs to go right for the Cubs in order for them to compete with such little change in the roster.

With so few changes, the Cubs can compete for a playoff spot. You heard me right, they can compete for a playoff spot, if everything goes right for them. That means that Aramis Ramirez needs to contribute earlier than June like he did this year. They will need Alfonso Soriano to contribute in more than just April, and Pena (assuming he is here) to also start producing earlier in the season instead of waiting until May. That is only the start of what needs to go right for the Cubs, and we haven’t even started in on the problems on the pitching staff.

For all those reasons, the Cubs should have been in full fledged fire sale mode waving the white flag up and down the streets, and yelling come and get it as if they were serving dinner. Everyone and anyone should have been on the table for any and all interested parties, except for maybe Starlin Castro. Perhaps everyone was on the table, and they were not getting any offers for any of the players they waned to move.

From various reports, we have heard that the Anaheim Angels really wanted Ramirez, but he does not want to leave the ball club. Another player who was requested in a trade was Kerry Wood, whom the Phillies made an enticing offer for, so much so that Hendry went to Wood to seek his approval. However, much like with the Ramirez trade talks, Wood chose to void the trade because he wanted to stay with the Cubs. There are two players who other teams wanted that decided they would rather bask in the glow of being a Cub than going to a contender.

Nothing against either player deciding to do so, as they are both well within their rights. Ramirez, as has been discussed, used his 5-10 rights to block any trade, and Wood used his no trade clause, which he was given after giving a very generous discount, to make his decision. Would have been nice to get some good young prospects, but the decisions have been made.

Then we have the two players who the Cubs were practically begging people to take away practically for free. The Cubs offered to pay a huge chunk of the contracts owed to both Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, and still got no takers. One such team to turn down the Cubs, was the New York Yankees who print money. If they do not want him for free, that should speak volumes.

If there were other offers made for some of the remaining players, who Hendry did not want to keep, the reports of the interest in them never surfaced. If you are hopeful to compete for a division crown, much less a World Series title, having a team filled with players no one wants is not a good way to start that success run.

Sure, the Cubs could make a few moves in the off season, but unless there are some other trades made in the August Waiver period, or in the off season, this team will not compete next year. The Cubs have some serious needs that must be addressed if they have any realistic dreams of competing next year. Just replacing Fukudome with Colvin and possibly even replacing Pena with either Pujols or Fielder will not be nearly enough.

Trade Candidate: Alfonso Soriano (Also known as wishful thinking)

With tomorrow being the official Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, today will be the last blog on those players who should be traded. I know that everyone not named Starlin Castro on the Chicago Cubs should be up for grabs to anyone and everyone who has even the slightest bit of interest, but I am limited things to the top five on my wish list. So far, only one of the five players have been traded, that being Kosuke Fukudome, but that is a start. Whether or not the other four can be moved before the deadline remains to be seen, though that would be highly doubtful and we would be lucky to see even one more get moved before hand. But, let’s move on anyway.

The final player that I will talk about, is likely the most hated player in Cub history. If he is not the most hated, he is easily in the top 10. Most of the hatred comes from the size of the contract that former Cubs President John McDonough signed him to, which made him vastly over paid. The rest comes from the thought that he is lazy and has lost his love of the game and is now just out there collecting a paycheck. People also love calling him out for his lack of hustle, and his lollygagging when running the bases. What they seem to forget is that his legs are shot. Anyone remember why his legs are shot? Because he was busting his ass from first to third back in 2007. But why bring up the past, fans believe what they want to believe.

Whether or not he has lost his love of the game, I can not say because who can really tell us what he is feeling or thinking? Regardless of why you dislike him, or perhaps you don’t, calls for him to be traded or even cut have been voiced for years.

Unfortunately, because of his massive contract, the likelihood of his being traded or cut is nonexistent. Not counting what he is owed for the rest of this season, Soriano has a grand total of $54 Million remaining on his deal through 2014. If the Cubs want to trade him, expect them to pick up the tab and eat at least $40 Million, if not the whole package. Granted doing so would clear a roster space which would allow them to insert yet another young kid to see what they are able to do for the ball club. What would not happen, which seems to be a misconception among the general fan base, is freeing up money. Trading him and eating a good percentage of that deal, or cutting him, takes money off the top of the payroll. That is money already spent, which can not be spent on another player. Some fans seem to think that by cutting him, the Cubs would have been able to take the money they would have been paying Soriano to sign a pitcher or another position player to help the team in the future. Unfortunately baseball contracts do not work that way, this is not football where contracts are not guaranteed. I wish they were, but that will never be the case.

Knowing that about the contract, I still say do whatever you need to do in order to trade (not cut) Soriano. Cutting him would be completely counter productive to helping the team, because he is still a valuable asset to the team and is still productive, even if his production has rapidly fallen off since 2008. Whether or not you are willing to admit to the truth, Soriano is still the best option the Cubs have in left field. Yes he is better than Tony Campana and Reed Johnson whether you want to believe me or not, there can be no argument. Unlike the previous two, he still has the power to knock out 20+ home runs. With the other two, you might get 10 combined, and that is with getting no power out of Campana who I don’t think has even gotten a ball out of the infield yet, and most of his hits don’t even get past the pitcher.

What replacing him with one of those two does do though, is give you better defense, at least with Johnson who has both the range and arm to play a decent defense. But with his back issues, you never know how long you can depend on him to play on consecutive days. Campana, on the other hand, might have good range and can get to most fly balls, but his arm might very well be the worst in the majors, and you can not have a weak arm roaming the outfield.

If the Cubs are able to trade him, and get are able to even save five cents on the dollar, then they need to do so immediately. If they are able to, then by all means play the scrappy Campana and see what he can actually do when given full playing time at the major leagues. Personally, until he is able to bulk up enough to get the ball into the outfield on occasion, I do not think he will ever be more than a fifth outfielder who is used primarily as a pinch runner.

But bottom line, do what needs to be done in order to trade Soriano. Not so much to save money, because you will not save more than a fistful of dollars, but to clear the roster spot.

Trade Candidate: Aramis Ramirez

Yesterday was a very busy day in the world of the Chicago Cubs. Before they lost the final game to the Milwaukee Brewers, they traded right fielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians, along with roughly $4 Million and in return they got a pair of under achieving minor league prospects. Not a great return on our investment, but in the long run, what did you really expect? The Cubs save close to a million on what is owed, something they can stash away for a rainy day and look towards the future as they play Tyler Colvin everyday to see just how good or bad, he really is. This is something fans have been clamoring for all season, and now they get their wish. However, the trade of Fukudome does not mean that the Cubs are done dealing players, and that means my trade series continues today with another potential trade candidate, third baseman Aramis Ramirez!

For the past few weeks, Ramirez has practically gone from one end of the spectrum to the other as far as being traded is concerned. A few weeks ago, the though of trading him began and ended with him simply saying that he would not approve a trade at all. He wanted to stay here in Chicago and play for the Cubs for the remainder of his career. The main reason, according to what he said, was that he wanted to stay in Chicago for his family. Completely understandable, he earned his right to veto any trade by earning his no trade rights with the 5/10 clause (five years with your current team, and 10 years in the majors). Last week, his agent came out, speaking for Ramirez, and said that the slugging third baseman might consider approving a trade in August once his family returned to the Dominican Republic for the children’s school year. Then we have the reports from yesterday where A-Ram admitted following the loss to the Brewers, that he would consider waiving his no trade rights, even before August. Then late last night the agent for Ramirez said that he was misquoted and still was intent on not waiving his no trade rights. So he has gone full circle in the past week or two. That means anything and everything can happen.

Never before have I seen more of a split in the fan base, than I have these past few weeks with Ramirez. Half the fan base wants to trade him and get some good prospects back for him, while the other half not only wants him to stick around, but want him to be re-signed. Whichever side you are on, I can honestly say that I do not think that you could be wrong. Both sides have a legitimate argument, and both situations make sense.

For those wanting to keep him, you will not find a better third baseman available in the off season than Ramirez. You will not be able to upgrade whatsoever if you chose to trade away the best third baseman we have had since the mid 1970s when the legendary Ron Santo manned the hot corner. Then there is also the argument that the cupboard is practically bare in terms of third base prospects. The talk about Josh Vitters has seem to run dry, and there really is not another potential replacement for Ramirez in the farm system outside of the possibility of Marquez Smith, but his future may very well be as a second baseman. So why not keep Rammy for another year or two, maybe three.

That is where those who wish him to be traded come in. Everything depends on how close the Cubs are to competing for the World Series. If they are within a year or two of competing seriously, then by all means keep Ramirez. However, if not, you will not have a better opportunity to trade him than you have right now. He is hitting the cover off the ball and could bring you a big load of prospects who could be the very cornerstone to any rebuilding project you have in mind. He could easily bring you a young pitcher who is bursting at the seems with talent, or a couple of position players who along with Starlin Castro could finally make all Cub fan’s dreams come true.

If Ramirez is traded, one likely destination could very well be the Anaheim Angels, who have pretty much been the main team perusing him. However, knowing that Ramirez has not been too keen to accept a trade, they may not have made an actual offer, which is why the Cubs have not approached him as of yet. However, with his comments yesterday that could all very well change. With the trade deadline only two days away, the Cubs better act fast if they want to trade him to the highest bidder, assuming he actually approves the trade. After the deadline passes though, he may not be moved. The chances of the team who wants him actually claiming him become slim, and the chance of a deal all hinge on the waiver process.

However, if the Cubs do decide to keep him past the trade deadline, and are unable to move him in August, everything depends on what the Cubs decide to do with his option year. One would think that if they do not try to trade him, that they would want him to comeback for at least another year, or they might turn down the option and see if the are able to renegotiate a new deal or let him walk away.

One way or the other, Ramirez will play a part in the Cubs future.

Trade Candidate: Marlon Byrd

One member of the Chicago Cubs who should be traded, but likely will not be, is Marlon Byrd. Despite being the most tradable player on the team, we have not heard anything about other teams being interested in him. There are several reasons why Byrd should be drawing interest from the other teams, one being that his contract is very affordable, and will not be a hindrance on any team who wants him. He is still owed around $2 Million for this year, and a very reasonable $6.5 Million in 2012. Considering that he is actually a pretty good hitter and defensive outfielder, I am mystified as to why there are no reports of other teams at least even inquiring about him. Although, perhaps there are teams interested and the Cubs are just absolutely refusing to move him; at least right now.

In my opinion, the Cubs should be at least looking into trading Byrd before Sunday’s trade deadline, or at very least in the off season. There is little reason why the Cubs should be keeping him around past this year. Sure, he is the best outfielder on the Cubs roster right now, and if he is traded the Cubs will have to depend on a lesser talent, but that should not prevent the Cubs from trying to move forward. With Kosuke Fukudome now officially traded, another one of the players I mentioned as replacements for Fukudome would likely be replacing Byrd if he is moved, so I can understand why trading him midseason might not be an appetizing thought for the Cubs brass or the fans. There is a huge drop off in both offensive and defensive capability between Byrd and the “scrappy” Tony Campana who last time he played center showed why he should never play center field until he can actually throw the ball a little better; that would leave Reed Johnson whose back may not hold up long enough to allow him to play every day.

I am sure that fans would complain if Byrd is traded, but they need to look at the whole picture, and not just what is right there in front of them. The question fans must ask themselves, is how close are the Cubs to competing for the World Series, and can they make a legitimate run next year. If the answer is no, then Byrd absolutely must be traded. If you honestly think that the Cubs are just a move or two away, then yes Byrd should stay; at least until you see if those moves will be made.

Along with being one of the most beloved players on the team, fans see him as a part of the future, maybe not realizing how old he is. When his contract expires next year, Byrd will be 35 years old and nearing the end of his career. He may have a good year or two left in him, but how much are you willing to give to an aging center fielder? He may be willing to re-sign after 2012 for another two or three year deal at roughly the same thing he made on this contract, or perhaps he will want more of a pay day knowing it will be his last contract that will actually pay him a decent salary. No guarantee that he will give us a discount because he likes playing here, and if he continues hitting .300 with home runs in the teens, I am sure another team will offer him something that might be too rich for our blood.

For those fans will contend that the Cubs can still contend next year, and that Byrd should be a key part of that contending team there are some things to consider. While I do not disagree that there is a possibility that they can contend, a lot has to fall in place for the Cubs to be considered a legitimate contender in 2012. The first thing that needs to happen, is the Cubs must sign one of the two top first baseman that will be on the market. They need to bring in either Prince Fielder (who is my own personal choice) or Albert Pujols. Without either one of them, the Cubs will need to bring back Carlos Pena, and hope that he actually does something to help the team in April rather than waiting until May to turn things on. If the Cubs fail to sign either one of the three first baseman in the off season, then all chances of them competing next year could be realistically considered gone.

I love Byrd, and have enjoyed the entertainment that he has provided the past year and a half, but I still say that he should be traded if the opportunity is brought up to the Cubs. Unless everything falls right for the Cubs, competing next year will be very hard to do. There are far too many “what ifs” for the Cubs next year in order for them to compete. As mentioned already, if they do not sign either Fielder or Pujols and they do not bring Pena back, that delivers a devastating blow to any chance they have and should open the flood gates for the rebuilding and retooling that needs to happen sooner or later. On top of that, the Cubs need Ramirez to produce from the start of the season, and not wait until June to start earning his paycheck, even though his hot streak has made him look like the best third baseman in the majors according to all major statistics. They also need Geovany Soto to put up his rookie year numbers, and for Alfonso Soriano to contribute anything positive, which he is barely earning a half a WAR share at the moment.

If you are not sure if all of those things are possible, then the time of acceptance that keeping Byrd is rather pointless. Trade him to a team with a better chance of contending, save some money and start playing one of the young outfielders currently sitting on the bench or playing in the minors.