Baseball’s Winter Meetings start tomorrow, and fans can only sit back and wonder what their teams will do. The fans of the Chicago Cubs are no different, and are expecting at least some moves to be made. One big move they have been waiting to happen for roughly two months, is the trade of Milton Bradley. However, while waiting for the trade of one of the most hated players in recent Cub history, there have been two other minor trades made. The trade of Aaron Heilman brought a mass amount of cheers from a majority of the fan base. However, the trading of Aaron Miles and Jake Fox brought mixed reactions. Talks of signing Mike Cameron have also surfaced, but as with any other potential signing, everything hinges on when the Cubs are able to move Bradley, and how much of his contract they will have to eat.
After a mediocre season with the Cubs, General Manager Jim Hendry decided to undo one of his mistakes from the previous off seasons, by trading Heilman to the Arizona Diamondbacks. All I can say is good riddance to a pitcher who you never had enough confidence in to get the job done. Sure, he had moments where he looked really good, but they were outnumbered by the times he took the mound and gave up games. I am sure that there will be no Cub fans that will miss him, but I cannot help by wonder what will happen if he puts up stellar numbers in 2010. If you are wondering why I am asking this, just look at Michael Wuertz. The Cub fans hated him, wanted him to be cut or traded or sent down. When he was, most fans were happy. After the first month though, they all were screaming for Hendry’s head when he was having more success than Heilman. In the long run though, he was most likely going to be non-tendered and released. So at least they were able to get something for him. The prospects the Cubs received may never amount to anything, and most baseball insiders suggest as much, but you never know. One of them might surprise you. And turn into a very useful player for at least a year or two.
The most recent trade, brought mixed reactions. Sure, they traded away Miles who Cub fans have hated with passion since his signing a year ago, but they also traded away Fox who had become a fan favorite. There will not be a tear shed for the launching of Miles, but the ripple effect of the trading of Fox will be felt in a large way. Fans were already complaining about the trade of Fox he moment the news broke wondering why he was traded away as he was a really good player for the team. This may upset many Cub fans, but I am glad they traded Fox away. Not because I think Fox is a bad player, or because I dislike him, but because the traded benefits both teams.
Whether you love Fox, or hate him, you have to admit that he is a below average defensive player. Not only is he limited defensively, but he is blocked at every position he can play. You would never start him over Derrek Lee at first or Aramis Ramirez at third. You certainly wouldn’t start him in left field over Alfonso Soriano or in right field over Kosuke Fukudome. With the Cubs, he would only be a floating platoon player, or a bat off the bench. With this trade however, he will get a real shot at being a full time player, at a position that everyone says he would be a great fit for. That position is a designated hitter. This trade is the best thing that could have happened for Fox, even though he is upset about being moved. To make the trade even better, the Cubs got a few decent prospects in return. Two pitchers who look to have a bright future, as well as a corner outfielder who has some decent pop. I am disappointed that Fox is gone, but I am glad he will get more of an opportunity to play now that he is in the American League, which has the DH. With Fox being dealt, the team now has an additional outfield spot which they can use on someone who can give them a little more dependability and a little more depth. Players like Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin now have a much better chance of making the team out of Spring Training.
When you look at the move of Miles, even though the Cubs have to eat $1 million of his salary, they are still saving them selves $1.7 million in the deal. In his time with the Cubs, he never looked comfortable, playing poorly every time he took the field. He never got the job done with the bat, and looked less than capable of playing defense when he was given the chance to do so. His departure, much like with Fox’s, also opens up roster space for players who may not have made the team otherwise. Players like Andres Blanco and Mike Fontenot now appear to be the front runners to make the bench as back up infielders.
Looking back at this off season, Hendry has already cleaned up just about all of his mistakes of the off season he had a year ago. Every player he signed, or there about, has been shown the door or soon will be. Joey Gathright was traded midseason, Kevin Gregg was decline Arbitration, Heilman and Miles were traded, and Bradley has been the focal point of any off season trade talk for the Cubs. That would cover every major player the Cubs signed or traded for in the previous off season. Nothing like correcting your mistakes once you realize how bad your decision was. Fixing your past mistakes is a great way to start the new off season, as that will improve your team, addition by subtraction works.
Hendry has stated that he would like to move Bradley before the Winter Meetings start, and as the hours continue to expire, the likelihood of that happening is becoming very slim. The trade rumors about who he will be traded for are the same as they were a month ago. Nothing has changed in any of the possible scenarios. Personally, I am getting sick and tired of all the Bradley trade talk and can not wait until the situation is resolved one way or the other. Trade him or keep him, just end the drama already. The most recent rumors have the Tampa Bay Rays as the top landing spot for Bradley, with Pat Burrell going back to the Cubs, who would then immediately trade him to ditch his salary. One thought was to trade Burrell of the New York Mets for second baseman Luis Castillo, a player who has come up in several possible Bradley trade rumors. Castillo isn’t a player I would actively pursue as the Cubs could do better, but they could also do a lot worse than to have him be the second baseman.
While the Cubs have actually been active this winter, they have yet to accomplish their main goal of trading away Bradley. There are still two months left until pitchers and catchers report, so there is still time to make a deal. However, as I stated several times, the sooner the Cubs trade him the better. They can not sign an outfielder to replace Bradley, until he is gone for a number of reasons. If they sign an outfielder before Bradley is traded, they could very well wind up with an expensive backup. They also need to know how much money they have left to spend after eating some of Bradley’s contract. The Winter Meetings start tomorrow, and the flood gates for a lot of signings and trades will open. How active the Cubs will be, remains to be seen. But of course, everything depends on when or if Bradley is traded away.
This is probably the hardest thing that I have had to write so far this season, but the time has come to do so. While I am a very optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs, and always believe that they still have a shot, I am having a harder time believing that with every game that passes. The expectations all throughout Spring Training said, that this was the team to beat in the National League. However, as more and more games pass, those expectations are looking to be well over what the team really and truly is turning out to be. Time to start facing what could very well be fact, the Cubs just are not that good.
You can point to any number of reasons why the ball club has failed miserably up to this point, but none of them are all too realistic. I know people are going to point fingers at Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry who traded a good club house guys in Mark DeRosa and non-tendered long time Cub, and another good clubhouse guy Kerry Wood. But come on, DeRosa being in the lineup would not help Alfonso Soriano who is hitting in the low .200s, or Kosuke Fukudome who is continuing his annual slide into baseball obscurity. DeRosa being on the team would not be the difference maker in Geovany Soto who, while he is starting to hit again, has seemingly forgotten what he did to make him the rookie of the year last season. While DeRosa as a good club house guy, he would not be the difference maker that everyone thinks he is. Sure, he would have been nice playing third base with Aramis Ramirez out of action (and I will get to this in a bit), but he would not make that big of a difference.
As far as Wood goes, if he was in the bullpen for the Cubs this year, his presence would not be a magical solution to Carlos Marmol who cant seem to find the plate anymore on a consistent game to game basis. He would not have helped out Neal Cotts when he was here, nor would he have a positive effect on Aaron Heilman or David Patton. His presence on the ball club wouldn’t keep Rich Harden healthy, or Carlos Zambrano sane. Whether he was in the bull pen or not, would not be the difference in this team having a good bullpen, or a bad bullpen. He is only one man, and can not change how good others are.
Another mistake Hendry made, was not having a legitimate backup for Ramirez, who has now missed close to two months. I wont lie, I was worried about him not signing someone that could play third base. Ramirez has missed time every year, so having a backup should have been a priority for the club, yet nothing as done to protect the ball club for just this instance. But at the same time, you can not point to his absence as being the sole reason the club is dying a slow death. As good of a hitter Ramirez is (and he is the Cubs best hitter), one player should not make this much of a difference. Look at what is going on with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they lost Manny Ramirez for 50 games, and they have not skipped a beat. He is their best hitter, yet they are still going strong and are looking like the best team in all of baseball. The Cubs losing Ramirez was a big blow, don’t get me wrong, but the Cubs have players who are too good to allow this team to look so bad.
Speaking of Ramirez, I don’t think that he should be brought back this season. Not with the way the team is playing now. I think this way for a few reasons, and here they are, all lined up for you. No one knows what condition he will be in when he returns. No one knows how close he will be to full power, and if he will be able to give us anything close to what he normally could. If the Cubs are playing this poorly when he gets back, even if he is at full strength, he may not give the Cubs enough of a boost to make any noise in the second half. Finally, he is likely going to need shoulder surgery in the off season to help correct the damage which has been done to his shoulder. I say, sit him out and allow him to get that surgery now. Give him as much healing time as possible so he can return next year as close to 100% as he can get. This year is just about a lost cause anyway, start looking forward to the 2010 season.
I don’t want to hear that the Cubs are only 3.5 games out of first, they are nothing more then a .500 ball club. I know that in 2006 the St. Louis Cardinals were a .500 team and that they went on to win the World Series. But they are the exception, not the rule. This team does not look like they have anything going for them right now. They win four straight games, then they go out and lose four straight by doing the same exact thing they have done all season; fail to hit with runners in scoring position. The Cubs lead the league in runners stranded in scoring position, and that’s not a stat you want to brag about.
The time has come to say goodbye to this season, time to play Steve Goodman’s classic song “A Dying Cub fan’s last request”. Who knows, maybe the Cubs sweep the Chicago White Sox this weekend, and go on a lengthy winning streak. However, with the way this team has inconsistently played, I don’t see anything in the cards that tells me they will.
I wont go anywhere, I will still follow the Cubs and root them on. I will still post my thoughts on a regular basis, and I would love to be proven wrong in the end.
This weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, overall has been a great series for the Chicago Cubs and their fans. Tonight’s game, gives the Cubs a chance to win a series against the very same Dodger team that eliminated them from the playoffs in a three game sweep. While winning the series will be great, the series win comes about seven months too late for the liking of many Cub fans. But why dwell on the past, when you cant change things? You have to live in the here and now, and right now the Cubs have a chance to win a series against the best team in baseball. That is something to stand up and take notice of, especially when your own team has been struggling as of late.
For the first time this series, a team scored more then two runs. In what I am sure comes as a surprise, that team was not the Dodgers. Yesterday, the Cubs offense broke out scoring seven runs, with just about everyone contributing. While there are a few people who could get the nod as the offensive MVP for the game, Reed Johnson would get my vote. Going 3-3 at the plate, which included a homerun and two RBI, Johnson helped to light the fire under the offense. With the way Johnson has been playing, many fans would love to see him in the outfield on an everyday basis, but that will not be the case for two reasons. First, there is no room for him in the outfield with Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley all being mainstays in the everyday lineup. Another reason for his being held out, is that he is a right handed hitter. He will get his fair share of starts when there is a lefty on the mound, but other then that, he will be regulated to bench duty. I don’t mean to diminish what he can and has done for this team, he is just a victim of circumstance.
While Johnson’s efforts were great, he was not alone in having a breakout game, Bradley also had a game that fans have been waiting for him to have since his arrival in Chicago. Bradley matched Johnson by recording three this, but was unable to drive in any runs. While you want to see one of your main run producers drive in the men on base, there isn’t much you can do if there are none on base when you come up to bat. As a matter of fact, he only left one runner stranded the entire game. Bradley is starting to heat up as the weather does, and he has brought his average up to .223, which considering how slow he started the season is great to see. With Bradley starting to hit as we all knew he would, the offense should start scoring runs in bunches.
Mike Fontenot is another player who deserves to be singled out for his play yesterday. The man that Ron Santo likes to call “Little Babe Ruth” had a great game recording two hits. Both of Fontenot’s hits just missed being homeruns, so he had to settle for a double and a triple. This could only be considered a good thing when you look at Fontenot, as he has been in a very bad slump for the longest time. Fontenot was one of the men who was looked at to be a key contributor for this ball club, as he was sliding in to take Mark DeRosa’s place in the lineup. Sadly, so far in the season, he has been unable to make the transition from bench player to everyday player as well as everyone had hoped. He still has about four months to turn his season around, he has a long way to go before he even matches his stats from last year. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.
Despite the offensive breakout in yesterday’s game, the pitching of the Cubs gets all the credit in the world for the two wins the Cubs have gotten so far. They have limited the Dodgers to just three runs in the three games, highlighted by Ryan Dempster’s seven shutout innings in yesterday’s game. After a very ugly outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he allowed six runs in four innings of work, Dempster pitched his best game of the year against the best hitting team in baseball. In fact, yesterday’s game was the first time all season the Dodgers have been shut out. That is a statement both teams can be proud of, in all honesty. The Dodgers going almost two months without being shutout, and the Cubs being the first team to leave them without a run. While Dempster did most of the damage to the Dodgers yesterday, the bullpen deserves some credit as well. My only complaint with Dempster in yesterday’s game, was his at bat where he tried to bunt for a base hit with two outs. What he was thinking with that at bat is anyone’s guess. Other then that, Dempster was the star of the game.
While Dempster delivered seven innings of scoreless baseball, the bullpen stepped up and finished the job. Angel Guzman continued his dominant stretch in his new setup role, recording a 1-2-3 inning. With Guzman and Carlos Marmol in the tail end of our bullpen, I like our chances to win a lot of close games down the stretch. Those two alone can be a very dominant 1-2 punch out of the bullpen. That brings me to Aaron Heilman, who while looking shaky, got the job done. Sure, he allowed two men to reach base before getting out of the inning without a run scoring, but how many times have we seen Marmol do that same exact thing? While Heilman gives many Cub fans fits, he is exactly who he has always been out of the bullpen. There is rarely an in between for Heilman, as he is either really good, or really bad. All Cub fans can do is hope he is really good more then he is really bad. That being said, he has lost his setup role to Guzman, so we will likely only see him in games that are out of hand one way or another.
Hopefully, in tonight’s game, Sean Marshall can continue the dominant pitching we have seen from the Cubs starters. He has pitched well this season, only allowing more then three runs once this season, so there is no reason to expect anything else. Tonight, the Cubs can get a small piece of revenge against the team that swept them out of the playoffs last year. While this series win would be nothing compared to a playoff series, you still have to feel good.