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.
While no one knows for sure what moves will be made to prepare for the 2010 Chicago Cubs, I can make one guarantee. No matter what moves the Cubs make, there will be a large percentage of fans upset that one of their favorite players will no longer be with the club, at least not on the opening day roster. Unfortunately, there are not enough positions, or bench roles on the club for everyone’s favorite players. The fans want the players that they are currently watching have some success, but ultimately, most of these young players will likely be forced to start the season in Triple A. Before I go into my in-depth looks at the various openings in the Cubs roster, I think fans need to realize the difficulty of making decisions with what the team already has.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Cubs have a tremendous amount of outfielders. While having more then you need is better then the alternative of having too few, the decisions that will be made will send shockwaves through the fan base, and upset a good majority of fans. One thing that we know for sure, is that Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will both be brought back as the starting outfielders, and Milton Bradley will be traded at some point this winter. The problem lies with who will fill in the final three voids in the outfield.
With Reed Johnson entering free agency at the end of the year, there are many fans who will be demanding the Cubs re-sign him. Sounds easy enough, sign him to a deal, and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. Fair enough, but then there are only two slots left. Who else should make the team? Fans love the way that Sam Fuld plays, and they have seemingly fallen in love with recent call-up Tyler Colvin. If you want both of them on the roster, then you can more less kiss Jake Fox goodbye. You cant keep him if you want Johnson, Fuld and Colvin. What about Micah Hoffpauir then? Fans want to see him on the team as well. If you take him, who do you leave off? Five current players for three slots, you don’t have to be a genius to do the math, they wont all fit. The solution? Let Colvin and Hoffpauir head back to the minors where they will be able to play everyday. Case solved, or is this only the beginning of the problem?
Everyone knows that the Cubs will be doing everything in their power to trade Bradley to get him as far away from the team as possible. The outfield problem gets all the more difficult if the Cubs get another outfielder back in the deal, or if they sign a free agent bat. If either of these are the case, then the choices for your outfield get more frustrating, for the management staff of the Cubs, and for fans who will get even more upset that their team is not keeping another one of their favorite youngster on the active 25 man lineup. With the possibility of the team adding an outfielder from outside the organization, you know have only two open slots for the outfield. Do you want to re-sign Johnson? If so, then management and fans will have to make a tough decision between Fuld and Fox, unless you want to add Colvin and Hoffpauir into the mix as well. Five players for two slots, there will be plenty of fans who will be upset that one of their choices will not make the team leaving Spring Training.
If you thought that the outfield would be the extent of the tough choices, wait until you see the infield situation. With Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Theriot all but guaranteed to keep their starting jobs, there are three spots left. There is the need for a second baseman, and two backup infielders, one of which will be Aaron Miles, unless he is traded. The easiest solution would be to have Jeff Baker playing second base, and picking through the remaining players to be the final infield backup spot. The players to choose between would then be Andres Blanco, who is out of options, and Mike Fontenot. If you wanted, you could keep Fox over these two, then most problems are solved. The team could keep Johnson and Fuld, depending on if they bring in a free agent or make a trade for an outfielder, they might even be able to keep Colvin. Case closed, everyone wins right? Not so fast.
Much like with the outfield situation, the Cubs could very easily sign a free agent to come in to play second base. That makes the infield problem all the more difficult. The choice for one spot is between Baker, Fontenot and Blanco, add Fox in if you want to keep both Johnson and Fuld. An easy solution would be to try and trade Miles, then the team could be able to keep two of these players, as well as having a second baseman. Having Baker and Fox as the backups would be nice, but missing the defense of Blanco would hurt.
The only way everyone’s favorite position players can make the team, is if the Cubs do not try to trade for or sign any players at all. Then they can have an outfield of: Soriano, Johnson and Fukudome, with backups of Fuld and Fox. The infield would be: Lee, Baker, Theriot and Ramirez, backed up by Blanco and Fontenot (assuming they would trade Miles). With Cub’s manager Lou Piniella likely to carry seven bullpen pitchers as he always does, the team only has room for five back up players, counting the backup catcher. That’s a decent team, but would you consider this team to be championship material? I am not so sure.
Something has to give among the fans demands. They all want the Cubs to go out and sign this player or that player, but also to keep all these other players. With the roster being limited at 25 players, the fans must be willing to accept any and all moves that are going to be made. They can not keep everyone they want to, as well as add everything they think they need. There just isn’t enough room on a 25 man roster to sooth everyone’s wants and demands. The fans must ask themselves one question, do you want to add bigger or better players, or do you want the young guns to get the playing time? Pick your side and stick to what you decide. You cant have everything.
While the Chicago Cubs gained ground in the Wild Card race over the past week, putting up a record of 3-3 against the New York Mets and the lowly Washington Nationals has got to deliver a fatal blow to the confidence of several fans. You would have thought, that when playing against the Nationals, the Cubs would have been able to sweep them, or at very least win two of the three games. However, that was not the case, as they lost two of three games, putting them behind the eight ball almost immediately out of the gate. They would have to sweep the Mets to get close to being back on par of where they should be at this point in my 40 game breakdown. That, however, was also not the case as they lost the final game of the series, which prevented the Cubs from sweeping the Mets. There is still plenty of time to gain the ground that was lost in the next four games of the home stand, but we would have to win all four of those games. Considering the Cubs are playing the Houston Astros for three, and the Chicago White Sox for one, that task may be easier said then done. However, there are a few things which the Cubs can do which will assist them in winning all four of the following games.
The first thing that needs to be done, to help the Cubs further their chances in winning enough games to make the playoffs, is get Jake Fox into the lineup everyday. For now, he is filling in for Alfonso Soriano in left field. With the way that Soriano has been playing this season, that is an ideal place for him to stay for the remainder of the season. However, we all know that will not be the case, so there has to be another way to keep him in the lineup. We could play him at third base when Aramis Ramirez needs a day off, as well as at first when Derrek Lee needs one as well. Throw him in right field for Milton Bradley once in a while as well, though I would not bench Bradley completely as he is playing very well lately and getting on base at a high percentage. Ideally, he would be able to play his original position well enough where he wouldn’t be a complete disaster. I am talking about playing catcher, where we are not getting much offense from at all this season, despite the recent hot streak from Koyie Hill. However, we can likely count that option out as well, as there are reasons why he was moved out from behind the plate. Watching him behind the plate trying to catch a Carlos Marmol slider gives me the cold sweats. I worry about Geovany Soto or Hill trying to catch the ball when Marmol is on the mound. No one knows where the pitches are going, and having a lesser experienced catcher behind the plate. However, this could be avoided by bringing in Soto or Hill for late inning defense. Though, I am not sure I would be comfortable with Fox behind the plate for an entire game. All I know is that I am glad this is not my decision to make.
Another thing I would do, is play Jeff Baker at second base every day. I have seen enough of Mike Fontenot to last me a lifetime, and Aaron Miles can join Fontenot on the unemployment line for all I care. Last year, everyone thought that Fontenot would be a great second baseman, and that his numbers in limited play would only get better with the more playing time he received. Obviously, everyone that wanted to see more of Fontenot was wrong. We were fooled yet again by a player who had a good half year. This is the same reason why I do not want to see Baker given the job as our second baseman next year, but for the remainder of this season, I will take what I can get. He is our best, last and only option at second base. Keep him playing, and keep Fontenot on the bench. Use him the same way you did last year, meaning very sparingly in moments where he has the highest chance of success.
Finally, after today’s outing by Carlos Zambrano, I would shut him down for a little while. His first two outings since coming off the disabled list have been nothing short of disaster. Throw Tom Gorzelanny back into the starting rotation for the time being. He has done well in his limited starts since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in any case, can he do any worse then what Zambrano has done these past two starts? I don’t think the Cubs would be any worse off if they started Gorzelanny instead of Zambrano. The Cubs Ace pitcher, and I use that term very loosely right now, needs some time off to clear his head. He is not doing the Cubs any favors by throwing up clunkers every time he takes the mound.
The Cubs have the pieces to make a run at the Wild Card, but their time is running out. They can not afford to lose to the teams that they should be able to beat handedly. If they continue to lose games to mediocre teams like the Nationals, they will be on the fast track to sitting at home during the off season. These next four games must end with the Cubs winning all four if the Cubs want to hold on to their slight chance to make the playoffs. While a 7-3 home stand gives us the .700 play in the final 40 game plan I laid out, you would have hoped that with the teams the Cubs were playing they would have been at a higher pace. I don’t like the chances of us winning the last four games of the home stand, but you can never be too sure. The Cubs are 5.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, and are still in fifth place.
Going into tonight’s game in Houston against the Astros, the Chicago Cubs are only two games about the .500 mark thanks to a 3-2 road trip. While the Cubs are still looking as though they are struggling to put together anything close to the season that was expected of them, there is still room for optimism on the horizon. Not only are the Cubs starting to get healthy with players coming back this week, but the schedule is going into what could be considered to be a easy stretch of games. With the upcoming schedule, the Cubs could get very healthy and bring their record well above the .500 mark.
At some point during this week, the Cubs could welcome back up to three of their five injured players. Right handed pitcher Rich Harden is tentatively scheduled to start Saturday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, and Aaron Miles and Ryan Freel are also eligible to rejoin the Cubs 25 man roster at some point this week. These three returning players will be playing key roles in improving the overall quality of the ball club. With Harden returning to his role in the starting rotation, Sean Marshall will resume his role in the bullpen as the second lefty and long relief pitcher. This instantly improves the bullpen, as we will rid ourselves of the Rule 5 Draft Pick David Patton, who according to the rules must be offered back to the Colorado Rockies. Randy Wells has pitched well enough to win the fifth starter job away from Marshall, who hasn’t been bad at all in his chances. When Miles and Freel return to the ball club, adding to the overall depth of the bench, we will have more options to play at third base over Mike Fontenot. In his time at third base, Fontenot has butchered several balls, and cost us at least one game. In his defense, Fontenot is not a third baseman and was thrust into a position that he has had just about no experience playing in a big league game. While neither Miles or Freel is likely to give us much in terms of offense, at least they can do a better job holding down the fort at third.
With their returns, however, two position players will need to be sent out. The likely candidates are Bobby Scales, Andres Blanco and Jake Fox. All three have done a decent job in their time with the club, but none of them have done enough to warrant staying on the big league club in place of Miles or Freel. Filling in at second base, with Fontenot at third, Blanco has made some great defensive plays, but has yet to show us the offensive numbers we saw in Triple A. While his story is a great one, Bobby Scales is also a target to be sent back to the minors because of his lack of offense. He can play a few positions, which may be his wild card to stay with the team until Ramirez returns. That leaves Fox, who I feel will be one of the two men sent back to Iowa. Unfortunately, when you are a defensive liability, you will get over looked more often then not when tough roster decisions need to be made. While we could use his bat off the bench, we already have a power bat on the bench in Micah Hoffpauir, who like Fox, is a man without a position. He may be kept on the roster though, because he is a right handed bat off the bench with some power. The question becomes would you rather have two pinch hitters, or another position player which would allow Cubs Manager Lou Piniella more options. Personally, I think we need to send Fox down along with either Scales or Blanco.
Another reason Cub fans can be optimistic, is the schedule is starting to ease up; at least for the time being. Counting tonight, the next 12 games for the Cubs are against teams with a record below the .500 mark. The Astros start off the stretch, and are followed by the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. After a game against the Atlanta Braves, who sit at the .500 mark, the Cubs play three games against the American League Central leading Tigers. After those four games, the Cubs get back to their stretch of sub .500 with six more against the Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. While we have the chance to fatten up our record against these mediocre teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds face similar competition during this stretch. There wont be much ground made up in the division, but at least the Cubs have the chance bring their record back to respectability.
Between now and the All Star break, the Cubs play 33 games in 34 days. The long stretch of games include a making a stop in Atlanta in between our series in Cleveland and Detroit, as well as a double header against the visiting Cardinals right before the break begins. With two off days, this stretch of games will really test the ball club. Thankfully, those Cubs who do not play in the All Star game, will have a three day rest before the season picks up again. If the Cubs are able to survive until then, they should be in pretty good shape.
At long last, the torture is over for Chicago Cub fans, at least for now that is. Since I posted my blog last night, several pieces of exciting news have come into existence. First and foremost, the Cubs snapped their eight game losing streak by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 in a rain shortened game. The second half of the news is something several Cub fans have been waiting for. Jake Fox has finally been recalled to the big leagues to take his place on the 25 man roster. Along with Fox, the Cubs brought up shortstop Andres Blanco and left handed pitcher Jason Waddell. With three promotions, there have to be three players being sent out. Bobby Scales and Neal Cotts have both been optioned to the minors while Aaron Miles has been placed on the 15 day disabled list.
For the second straight night, the Cubs scored a boatload of runs against the Pirates. The difference is, this time the starting pitcher, Sean Marshall, was able to limit the Pirates to a single run, with Mother Nature coming in for the save in the top of the sixth. Hey, I will take a win anyway I can get one. The Cubs totaled eight hits in the five innings, and even though Milton Bradley was 0-1, he drew two walks and scored a run. The MVP of the game though, goes to Marshall who pitched the five innings, while also driving in a run to help his own cause. The broke the losing streak, but now they need to start a new streak, a winning streak and start gaining on the teams ahead of them in the standings.
Ok, my short game blurb is over and done, the exciting news that Fox has finally been called up is too exciting to ignore. Fox is currently the hottest and best hitter in the minor leagues, and is leading in all triple crown categories. He can play just about anywhere you ask, much like former Cub Mark DeRosa. Fox has spend time and the corner spots in both the infield and outfield, as well as some time at catcher this year in the minors. If he is able to hit anywhere near as good in the majors as he was in the minors, the Cubs offense got a much needed bat. Because he has spent time at third base, we can assume that he will be the everyday third baseman until Aramis Ramirez comes back.. That is, of course, unless Fox fails miserably with the bat or the glove at third. For the time being, he is the answer Cub fans have been waiting for.
Blanco gets a chance to play in the majors as well, but only when Ryan Theriot needs a day off. Blanco has only played short stop in the minors, so hoping he could fill in elsewhere is a bit of a stretch. However, he is also doing a great job with the bat in the minors, and will give the Cubs another switch hitter to use off the bench.
Now, time for me to celebrate a bit, as Cotts has finally been shown the door as he was sent down to the minors. No one in the bullpen has been as frustrating to me as Cotts has been since his arrival on the team. He has been nothing short of a disaster every time he gets the call to pitch an inning. No tears will be shed by myself, nor likely any other Cub fan with his demotion to Triple A. Goodbye Cotts, good luck in the minors. Enough of that, taking his place is Waddell, who while he is not performing as well as one would hope, he is not Cotts. While Waddell had a great deal of success in Spring Training, his season in the minors has been less then spectacular. Currently he is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA, which isn’t that great. But again, he is not Cotts, so Cub fans will be happy to see him. The left handed Waddell is better against right handed batters (.205 BA) then he is against left handed batters (.346) which should trouble fans. However, he is worth giving a chance to, and fans will cheer him at his very first appearance. Because he is not Cotts.
Sadly, some players had to go who will be missed. No, I am not talking about Cotts. I am talking about Scales, who was sent back down to the minors today to make room for the trio of players who were activated. His story is one Cub fans will remember, as well as the effort he put forth with his every chance. Everyone knew his time here would be limited, but I have a feeling some will miss him. You never know, he may be brought back up at some point, likely is Blanco, Fox or Ryan Freel fails to have success. Word is, that Scales was sent down, not because of effort or production, but because he is sick and wasn’t able to play. At any rate, I wish him well; I hope to see him back in the big leagues at some point, even if he isn’t with the Cubs.
Miles also was sent out, however his will likely be more temporary. He has apparently been playing with a sore shoulder all season, so the Cubs used this opportunity to put him on the DL and bring up someone who could be of more help to the team at the moment. Miles wasn’t playing that well, so I doubt many fans will miss him while he is gone.
Well fans, we got the changes that we all wanted. Now, we just have to wait and see if these moves pay off. Some dead weight has been cut, with some new blood now being allowed to circulate. The new Cubs team will take the field today in just over an hour. Lets go get two in a row.