With the 2009 Chicago Cubs season all but over, the attention of the fans, and hopefully General Manager Jim Hendry, will be how to fix the mess that they currently find themselves in. As a whole, I honestly do not believe that much needs to be done; only a little bit of tinkering. Sure Hendry needs to pull off a miracle trade in order to get rid of Milton Bradley, but other then that, I believe that our team does not need too much work. With most of our team already in place, and with the key pieces already locked in, all that remains is to find one or two key elements which will bring us back to the championship form the Cubs found themselves in the previous two years.
The first, and in my eyes the most important, piece to the championship puzzle that Hendry must bring into the fold, is a true leadoff hitter. The Cubs need an explosive bat at the top of the order that will be able to put the team in the best position possible to score early and often. They need a player who not only has the ability to hit and get on base at a high level, but also has the ability to steal second or third when they get on base. Presently, the Cubs have two options for leading off, neither of which fits all three areas of need.
With Kosuke Fukudome, they have a player who is able to fill the need for a great on base percentage. The downfall for having Fukudome lead off is because he has not proven that he can hit at a high level. His batting average, while slightly improved over last year, still sits at a mediocre .256. Even if he were able to show that he can hit closer to .300, he lacks the true potential to be a stolen base threat. Fukudome, while he can be a decent number two hitter, should not be looked upon to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs next year. His qualifications do not meet the standard of what the ball club needs.
As far as Ryan Theriot, much like with Fukudome, he does not fit the ideal description of a leadoff hitter either. While he is able to hit at a respectable level and get on base close to a .350 average, he does not have the true speed to make him a stolen base threat either. While he does lead the team with 21 steals, only being caught seven times, he does not run enough to put the fear into the opposing team’s pitchers or catchers. His ideal position in the batting order would be either second or eighth in my eyes. While you want to take advantage of his ability to get on base for your sluggers, we saw in 2008 what his presence at the bottom of the order could do for our offense. With Fukudome batting second in a line up I would write out, Theriot would be a nice fit in the eight hole.
The Cubs could also look at using some of their minor leaguers to fill the void at leadoff. This option is very intriguing, as he has shown to be a great defensive player, making several amazing plays in the outfield. While his batting average is still a bit lower then you would like to see your leadoff hitter have, his on base percentage is amazing, hovering around .380. The one draw back, is he apparently does not have enough speed to be the stolen base threat the team requires. However, we do not know fully what he can do, as he has only been allowed to steal base three times, of which he was caught once. I would not be opposed to his leading off, if they were unable to find a suitable replacement.
If none of these three option fit Manager Lou Piniella’s desire, that leaves us with a need to be found outside the organization, and a limited availability for positions to play. The Cubs need to find a leadoff hitter who can play one of three or four possible positions. Fukudome can play either Right or Center field, and while Theriot has mostly been used at Short Stop, he is also capable of playing second base. While there are many options that will be available for the Cubs to sign once the free agency period starts in November, most of them are already in the 30s, and will all come with a hefty price tag. The list is long, and I will not list them at the moment, but rest assured, I do have my favorites already picked out, and I will let you know that sooner rather than later.
In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Piniella mentioned that the Cubs top priority should be to add another power bat to the middle of the order. As I mentioned, I believe that finding a true leadoff hitter should be on the top of the Cubs wish list. However, do we really need another power hitter on the team? With Alfonso Soriano being moved permanently out of the leadoff role, he would be a nice addition to the heart of the order. That is, of course, if he is able to give the team the power numbers he gave them during his time here. If he is able to do so, then the need for another power hitter becomes lower on the wish list.
Another reason the team may not need another power bat added to the lineup is Geovany Soto. While he has raised red flags with his performance this year, I for one am not willing to give up on him. He has shown exactly what he is capable of when he fully prepared for the season. He has admitted that he slacked off in the off season, and did not prepare himself the way that he should have. I am willing to write off 2009 as a rookie mistake, even though he is no longer a rookie. Lesson learned, and he has earned the chance to redeem himself with the level of play he displayed at the end of 2007 and all of 2008. All he needs to do is revert to doing whatever he did in those two years, and I believe that he will be back to everything the team expected of him. If both Soriano and Soto return to form, then there is no need whatsoever to go out and spend a lot of money on another power bat for the middle of the order. If they both fail to accomplish what the team needs from them, there are two options that could fill the bill, though I would advise against them.
In the outfield, you can play either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox in Right Field. If I had to choose between the two of them, I would choose Fox over Hoffpauir, because Fox has more upside. With that being the case, I would severely advise against either one of them playing in the outfield, especially with Soriano playing in the opposite corner. The team can not, and should not, depend on an outfield which would have less than average defenders in both Left and Right Fields. While I would greatly welcome both of them to the bench, I do not want to see either as the everyday Right Fielder. Fukudome would collapse with all the ground he would have to cover in Center Field.
While you can never have enough power in the lineup, the money would be better served elsewhere. However, much like with the speedster that the Cubs should be looking for, the team would need to find a player who can hit for power, who also is able to play one of the previously mentioned four positions. Again, there are many options that may be available, but all would come with a hefty price tag, and are all in their early to mid 30s.
With the slight improvements in mind to help the everyday lineup, the focus should then move to the bench and the backups for each of the replacements. The bench portion of our team is a mess, but in a good way. The Cubs have more pieces then they know what to do with. In the outfield, assuming the Cubs sign a free agent, they have the options of re-signing Reed Johnson, Fuld, Fox and Hoffpauir. Some would question why I left out Tyler Colvin, but that is simply because of his lack of experience, and the Cubs lack of space. He would benefit well from having a little more time in the minors, mainly because he could have an everyday job playing in Triple A. If the Cubs were to sign a free agent for the outfield, chances are only one or two of these players would be on the Cubs bench, that is assuming they decide to re-sign Johnson. If the Cubs decide to have one of them be a starting outfielder, they can keep three of the players. While the Cubs said they wanted to resign Johnson, his time with the Cubs would likely come at the expense of Fuld.
If you thought that the outfield situation was a tricky one to work out, take a look at the log jam the Cubs will be facing with the infield backups. In my opinion, the Cubs need to sign a player to play second base. While Jeff Baker has played very well since coming to the team, I am not completely sold on him being the everyday player at second base. We fell into this trap last year with Mike Fontenot, thinking he would be able to produce the entire season the way we saw him perform in limited time in 2008. If we carry two backup outfielders, that limits us to only being able to carry two back up infielders. There are a few people I would love to see make the team as role players, but only one of them will get the nod, mainly because the Cubs are stuck with Aaron Miles for another year. That means that two of the following three men will not make the team, if the Cubs sign a second baseman. The Cubs can keep Baker, Fontenot or Andres Blanco. Personally, I would let Fontenot go, either by a trade or sent back to the minors. That would leave Piniella and Hendry with the tough decision between Baker and Blanco. This, of course, could all be solved if Baker becomes the starting second baseman. While I don’t know if he can be dependable as an everyday second baseman, he has got to do better then Fontenot. That would also allow us to keep Blanco on the team.
The way the starting rotation for the Cubs will likely only carry over four of the five starters from this year. Love him or hate him, Carlos Zambrano will likely return to the team next year, along with Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells. While Rich Harden would be a welcome commodity, there are far too many rumors floating around that he will not be brought back. If he is willing to give the Cubs a discount, and not demand a long term deal, he may be brought back, but according to some baseball analysts he will get a contract worth at least $10 million a year. With his injury history, that would not be a quality investment. That would leave the Cubs one starting pitcher shy, but they have a few names who could step into the role as the fifth starter for 2010.
The in house options that the Cubs can consider for the vacant starters job are Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Gorzelanny. From the way the end of the season is winding down, with Samardzija and Gorzelanny getting a few starts, you would be led to believe that the competition is currently limited to these two men. While Samardzija has looked very shaky in his outings this year, out of the bullpen and with his first start, he looked impressive in his second major league start. Gorzelanny on the other hand has been more then impressive in most of his starts with the Cubs. Whether or not they will be able to fill in and give us what we need will be determined once Spring Training commences. However, if neither of them impress, they can always look to free agency, and there are a few starters out there that could be
The bullpen is another mess that needs to be fixed, however this may be fix may not be all that difficult. We have our closer in Carlos Marmol, but after him everything else is a crapshoot. While Angel Guzman has looked amazing this year, he once again ended the year with an injury. If he could stay healthy, he would be an amazing set up man for the eighth inning. John Grabow is a free agent at the end of the year, but from all things I have heard, the Cubs want to resign him. That leaves four pitchers left to fill in the remaining bullpen spots. The Cubs have a slew of young arms that could fill those roles, like Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg. They could also use Marshall as the second lefty in the bullpen. If those three all make the team, that leaves one spot open for any number of guys. However, like everywhere else, there are plenty of options to sign in free agency.
While the Cubs have needs, they don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone. All of their holes can be solved in house. However, over the next few days and weeks, I will break down my thoughts on the possible targets who I think the Cubs should go after for all the open spots that need to be filled before the 2010 season beings. Just to recap, those positions are: Center Field or Right Field, Second Base or Short Stop, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers. All the Cubs need is a little bit of tinkering, and they will be more then fine for he following season.
The rollercoaster ride that the Chicago Cubs have been taking their fans on this entire season continues. After things have looked their bleakest, the Cubs won three of four games from the team which at the time lead the division, the Milwaukee Brewers, and did so in dominant fashion in two of them. With as critical as I have been with this team over the past few weeks, the only fair and just thing to do would be to also give them the praise that they deserve. With the way the ball club has played over the last week, they have earned a pat on the back.
I will freely admit, that a week ago, I thought that this team was going to go nowhere fast. With the way the offense had been struggling, I was under the impression that, despite the three games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the four game series with the division leading Brewers would be the final blow, knocking us out of contention. But something happened, the Cubs found new life. Mixed with a collection of players from Triple A, the Cubs started playing far better then they had been at any other time in the season. Counting last nights win against the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs have won six of their last eight games, and now sit in third place, only two games back of the new division leading St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps this new life that the Cubs have seemingly found is only temporary, but seeing them play baseball as well as they have this past week is great.
Yesterday, the Cubs got back three important players who they have been missing. Aramis Ramirez, Angel Guzman and Reed Johnson were all activated from the disabled list. With them returning to the ball club, three had to go, Kevin Hart and Sam Fuld were optioned back to the minor leagues, while the Rule 5 draft pick David Patton was placed on the disabled list with what the Cubs called a “strained groin”. I doubt he is actually injured, but his going on the disabled list is a convenient excuse to keep him off the roster while keeping him as a part of the active roster so they could hold on to his rights.
While niether Johnson nor Guzman got into the game yesterday, Ramirez started and went hitless. While getting these stars back on the roster is huge, you can not discredit what some of the current Cubs have been doing, The Cubs hottest hitter, Derrek Lee, is smashing the ball as if he is reliving his 2005 campaign. Additionally, with the recent lineup changes Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has made, Kosuke Fukudome has found new life as the teams new leadoff hitter. With Fukudome leading off, Alfonso Soriano has been lowered down to sixth in the order. This is a move that has been a long time coming, and you have to wonder why this wasn’t done sooner. Fukudome looks to be a perfect fit leading off games, as his patience helps work the count in a way we haven’t seen out of Soriano. However, he will not be leading off games when there is a lefty on the mound, that honor will go to Johnson who shares a platoon with Fukudome in Center Field.
However, news today is saddening, as the Cubs will be placing starting pitcher Ryan Dempster on the disabled list with a broken toe. Starting on three days rest, Carlos Zambrano will take the ball in Dempster’s absence. Coming off of his most impressive start of the year, you would think that I would have nothing but confidence in him starting tonight’s game against a team which is not as good as the Brewers. I am not too fond of any pitcher going on short rest, let alone Zambrano who is as lose of a cannon as they come. Being on short rest he is more liable to make a mistake, and we all know that when he makes a mistake he gets made at himself and makes more mistakes. Hopefully tonight, he will be able to avoid making any costly mistakes. Taking Dempster’s place on the 25 man roster will be recently demoted Hart who will likely resume his roll in the bullpen with Shawn Marshall once again joining the rotation. Though that is, of course, just a guess.
With the Cubs riding high on their recent stretch of success, you have to hope that they will continue. With one test down, they have one final test before the All Star break beings. The Cubs will be playing the Cardinals in a four game series that leads into the break. A series win could see the Cubs enter the break in first place, a spot that seemed to be light years away. While this rollercoaster ride of a season can once again see the Cubs enter another low point, the future has never looked brighter then after winning the series over the Brewers. If they are able to finish the first half strong, the second half of the season could be one to remember.
With an unimpressive series win against the Pittsburg Pirates, a series which should have been a sweep, the Chicago Cubs make news for a few reasons. A number of players are slated to return by the start of next week, players who could be of great help to the ball club. Speaking of help coming, the Cubs have traded for yet another young middle infielder, as they try once again to find a man to play second base who can give them some production. Right now, the Cubs are entering a very critical point in their season, as they play 11 games, eight of which are with the two teams at the top of the division, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The series with the Brewers, not to use an old and tiring cliché, is the biggest series of the season to date. With the Cubs currently sitting in fourth place, and three and a half games behind the division leaders, this series looms large With a sweep of the Brew Crew, the Cubs would find themselves a half game ahead of the Brewers. However, even with a sweep, the Cubs would be unlikely to be in first place at the end of the weekend, with the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds playing one another in a series starting on Friday. The pitching match up would seem to favor the Cubs in each game, but with the deep slumber the Cubs offense has been in, that may not matter. The Brewers have a good offense, and while their pitchers are less then stellar, they could very well keep our hitters in check. If the Cubs do get swept, they will be an unthinkable seven and a half games out of first place. If that happens, the Cubs must wave the white flag and start looking towards next year, and tell Aramis Ramirez to do what he needs to do in order to get ready for the 2010 season.
Speaking of Ramirez, currently, the Cubs have three players on the disabled list who are all scheduled to come off around the same time, which is Monday July 6, when a series with the Atlanta Braves us scheduled to begin. As I mentioned, the Cubs have Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman, all of which are on the 15 day disabled list, are making progress and becoming closer to returning to the 25 man roster. These three men have been key components to our team, and have been sorely missed. With their returns, the Cubs will be as close to full strength as they have been in a long time, which cant hurt their chances.
With Johnson’s return, we will get back a quality outfielder, who will allow Piniella to give more days off to struggling outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley. Johnson is a fan favorite, who is well loved because of his willingness to sacrifice his body to make a play; which is something we have seen on more then one occasion. With his return, we can expect that Piniella will continue the platoon he had implemented for most of the season, with Johnson playing centerfield on days the Cubs play against a left handed pitcher. Most fans would rather see him have an every day job, but him back in part time duty will more then likely be a big boost to this ball club. When Johnson returns, this likely means that newly called up Sam Fuld will be sent back down to the minors, The only other option, would be to come up with a phantom injury to one of the other outfielders.
The Cubs bullpen has been a very inconsistent piece of the team, and one reason why they have struggled lately. With Guzman going down to injury, the bullpen took a big hit. The man the Cubs have been waiting for had finally seemed to be putting things together, and pitching the way everyone thought he would. If he is able to continue to pitch the way he was before his injury, the Cubs bullpen gets a lot stronger, giving Piniella another late inning option to help the Cubs keep the lead. If Carlos Marmol continues to inconsistency, Guzman can easily slide into the eighth inning hole, allowing Marmol to slide into a less stressful inning. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of two pitchers. Either Kevin Hart or Jeff Samardzija will be optioned back to the minors.
That brings us to the more important player of the group, who is scheduled to play in some minor league games this weekend. Without a doubt, the most important player for the Cubs, Ramirez has been the more costly loss. The Cubs third baseman has been lost since early May, and the Cubs offense has suffered without him, scoring a run less a game on average. While he is the Cubs bet hitter, I fear some fans may be expecting too much of him on his return, and expect him to be a savior for this ball club. However, Ramirez came out with some troubling comments in the paper this morning. When talking about rejoining the Cubs, Ramirez had this to say, “It’s going to be hard the rest of the year because I’m not even close to being where I want to be, it’s still sore and it’s going to be like that — some days good, some days bad.” That is a problematic quote from the Cubs slugger. He still says that he isn’t close, which means we may not see what we are used to out of him. I still believe that he should be shut down for the remainder of the year, so he can get ready for next year. Though, if the Cubs are able to make up some ground against the Brewers in a four game series that starts tonight, his coming back may be worth the effort. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of a few young Cubs. Either Andres Blanco or Jake Fox will likely be sent back down. Either one would be a tough loss as Fox has impressed with the bat and Blanco has made stellar plays with his glove. Another possibility, though a long shot, would be to send down Mike Fontenot who has failed to impress all season, and hasn’t come close to meeting expectations.
Speaking of roster moves, the Cubs made a very minor deal today. They traded away young Double A pitcher Al Alburquerque to the Colorado Rockies for second baseman Jeff Baker. If you ask me, this is a waste of a move, as he is just another version of some of the players we already have, On the season, he is hitting just .130, however that is just in 12 games. In his career he is hitting just .250, albeit in under 600 at bats. Yeah, he is still trying to figure out the game, and still trying to put the pieces together for his major league career, but at the moment I don’t see much upside to this trade. I hope that he proves me wrong, and that he figures things out. But at the moment, I am not impressed with this move, and they just made a move to make a move.
The series with the Brewers will begin in less then a half hour, we need to do no worse then a split. Winning three of four would be preferred, as would a sweep obviously, but losing the series is unacceptable. Come on Cubs, go out there and beat the Brewers. End the first half on a high note.
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.