With Tom Ricketts now entering the second full year as owner of the Chicago Cubs, the fans are ready to start passing judgment. As a matter of fact, they started passing judgment on Ricketts during and after his very first year as the owner of the team. How fair or unfair this is, boils down to each and every person and their own personal opinions. However, allow me to go on the record here and now and tell you just how unfair the fans are being for calling him out already in response to the Cubs and their failure to be a competent team in 2010, and having less than stellar expectations for 2011.
In the mind of some fans, they expected immediate results and a complete turn around as soon as Ricketts officially became the owner of the team. They wanted him to immediately fire Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, start releasing various players and to spend millions of dollars to bring some top players to the club and turn them into a contender. They expected him to turn the Cubs into the New York Yankees of the National League. Unfortunately, that was not a realistic demand. To be honest, that is still not a realistic demand for the fans to make of him.
Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry screwed over the financial books for the Cubs for a few years with his mad spending in 2007 and 2008. He left them with a king sized payroll which tied the financial hands of the Cubs and whoever would have would up owning them for a few years until the contracts all expired. While fans all blame Hendry for signing all these players to the contracts that were handed out like candy, there is one thing you need to keep in mind. For one, the Tribune Company, which was owned by Sam Zell at the time, told Hendry to spend like there was no tomorrow in order to pump up the team’s value in order to sell at a higher price. If he had not done so, he would have been fired and someone else would have done what Zell wanted. Blame Hendry all you want, but when your boss tells you to do something, you follow orders if you want to keep your job.
Actually, if you want to dig a little deeper, Hendry is not completely to blame for the Alfonso Soriano deal either. Current Chicago Legend, John McDonough was the man who pulled the trigger and actually finished working on that deal for Soriano. Being the new president of the Cubs, he wanted to make a big splash with the team. That is exactly what he did when he signed the over paid slugger.
Regardless of who is to blame for the money problems the Cubs are in, I fully believe that the fans criticism of Ricketts is coming in far too early. He is not a miracle worker and can not make immediate changes over night, or even in a year or two. His first year asking for massive changes was just completely unreasonable. The man just spent $900 Million on the Cubs, and in my mind over paid for the team, and fans wanted more. They were hoping he would clean house of the overpaid and over rated talent that was festering on the roster and bring in bigger and better super stars. That was not a reasonable request when you sit down and think rationally about things.
On the other hand, he has also made a questionable moves which does paint him in a bad light. Trading for Matt Garza goes completely against his “build from within” philosophy. With that trade, our farm system turned from one that has a number of young and promising up and coming talent, to one that is very bare. The Cubs still have a few good prospects, but they lost their best ones in the over paying for Garza, who according to all the advanced statistical analysis is almost the same pitcher as Randy Wells. This trade is not a good way to go about building from within if that was your mindset. At the moment, he seems far more interested in promoting the product instead of trying to win ball games. Which means, if that is the case, the Cub fans are in for a world of hurt for a long period of time. If this continues, the Cubs will be returning to what life was like under the Pre-Zell Tribune company.
In my honest opinion, you can not really start to judge the job that Ricketts is doing until at least the start of the 2012 season. The reason I say that season, is because the financial handcuffs get loosened quite a bit on Ricketts. Over $40 Million will be coming off the books and he will have some money to work with. Granted, he will still have a few more years of Carlos Zambrano and Soriano to deal with, but there will be plenty of money that he will be able to play with. Right now, he has very little money and roster space to play around with. He has not been able to do much of anything other than figure out how to upgrade Wrigley Field and keep the place from falling apart.
If Ricketts is serious about turning this franchise around, he needs to go about business better; and the sooner the better. Year one I can write off and clear him of blame for the disastrous outcome of the season. He said that he wanted to sit back and let the baseball people underneath him take care of the baseball business. I can even accept that he kept Hendry around, as he knows the team and what they need better than anyone else does at the moment. While that was not a very popular move in the minds of the fans, I can at least understand the decision.
With the second year underway, and prospects still not looking too bright, I can still clear him of almost all blame and criticism as he is still buried under the mess that he was left by Zell and his demands to beef up the payroll. He was left with a big bill to pay and he is still suffering from the contractual obligations that were given to him.
However, next year, the excuses for him will come to and end as he will be losing around $57 Million coming off the payroll when the season comes to an end. The following players will most likely be gone: Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Carlos Pena, John Grabow, Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill. With all these players leaving, the Cubs will have plenty of space for some of their young and up and coming prospects to finally show what they can do. What this also means, is that the Cubs will have plenty of money to play around with, to add the players to fill the voids that the farm system can not fill.
In my books, Ricketts get a complete pass for 2010. He also gets a pass for 2011, though that comes with a suspicious eye. His third season, 2012, is when all the possible excuses come to an end. That is when he will finally be able to take charge and be able to make some serious roster moves.
The Ricketts Era may have stumbled out of the starting gate, but the race is not over.
As we move closer to opening day for the 2011 baseball season, fans across baseball are starting their discussions as far as who should make the team, and who should not. So far, if you have been following my blogs the past few weeks, you will have seen who I feel will make the club, and who should be starting where amongst them. I have yet to take a look at the pitching staff, as there are still several spots open for competition, and there are a few candidates that could make either the rotation or the bullpen. So I am holding off on those topics of conversation for likely another week.
However, I must clarify my positioning on these players. While I blog about them being players who I feel will make the team, as they are obvious choices, that is not saying that I want them to make the team. Much like with every fan with every other team across baseball, there are players who are likely to make the Chicago Cubs who fans, for the most part, want to see sent packing. In case you are unsure who they are, the three musketeers are Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija and Koyie Hill.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not hear someone mention that one of these three should be cut, as they will be doing more harm than good for the team. They do not care how much money they would need to be given, nor what the aftermath would be following their departure, they just want them gone faster than the time I would need to actually write this blog.
With Hill, he is making around $850,000 and would be the easiest person who could be cut, with the least amount of financial damage. He would also be the player who would be the most easily replaced on the roster, because we have a good young catcher in Wellington Castillo would be able to easily do just as much as Hill on any given day. Being the back up catcher, you never want to see him in the game more than what is necessary, so if there was any sort of dip in production from the backup catchers role, that would be almost too small to see unless you study the statistical lines day by day and break down the WAR numbers to the millionth percentile. Basically, there would be no drop off if this move was made. Unfortunately, because he was tendered a contract, the Cubs management team obviously feels he adds value to the team.
Samardzija is an absolute eye sore to the roster, and has been ever since he was first brought up to the majors. He has never shown the promise that scouts saw in him when he was drafted, and continues to give the fans of the Cubs stomach pains every time his name is brought up. Unfortunately, he is out of options and can not be sent back to the minor leagues, so the team would have to try to sneak him through waivers if they chose not to carry him this yera. That should not be a problem because what team would take him and that contract? If he clears waivers they can send him back to the minors, or chose to walk away. In either of those cases he would still be paid which is the same as just deciding to outright cut him and eat the $3.5 Million that he is still owed. Sadly, they are apparently deciding to keep him on the roster and throw him into the bullpen where he can hopefully do the least amount of damage. Personally, I would only use him in mop up duty when the Cubs have a big lead or a unthinking deficit that is not likely to be overcome. Cubs could easily replace him, because he has not done much to warrant his stay on the Cubs roster. Surely the team could find a pitcher that can do the same job, only better in the minor league system.
As far as Silva goes, the best thing I can say about him, is that at least he is not Milton Bradley, though he is hated in the clubhouse almost as much, if not more, that Bradley ever was. The standing ovation they were reported to give Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry when he announced that Bradley was gone, will easily be repeated if the same news is given about Silva. When he was brought here in a trade last off season, fans were just thrilled to get rid of Bradley and did not care what, if anything, they got out of Silva. Fortunately for the Cubs, they got a hot start out of the oversized pitcher, and he started 8-0. With the Cubs seemingly looking like a nose diving team, I was leading the charge of the thought that he should immediately be traded while he was actually looking like a competent pitcher again. Obviously that did not happen, and he is still around tormenting those fans who thought that he should not have been traded. Much like with Samardzija, he would be a tough pill to swallow as he is still owed about $8.5 Million (which includes the $2 Million buy out). Finding a replacement for him should not be difficult either as he is a pretty pathetic pitcher. Thomas Diamond, or another young gun could easily slide into his spot and do things more efficiently as well.
If you add up all the money that these less than wanted players are to make in 2011, you have a grand total of close to $13 Million. Writing that high dollar amount on a check would be painful no matter how much money you have. Now the thought process would be, that you are going to have to pay them the money anyway, so why not just pay them to go away and replace them with someone of more talent. One flaw, is because you would be paying them, as well as the players who would be taking their place. Granted, their replacements would all be minor leaguers who make the league minimum so there would not be too much more to spend.
Sadly, I do not think that these players will be cut between now and opening day, so we will sadly have to live with them for the duration of the season. However, there is good news. All three of them will likely be gone come the end of the season, and that will be $13 Million coming off the books; granted that would be seven months later than what would have been appreciated. The only one of them who even has a glimmer of hope to remain with the team next year is Hill. But that would be very unlikely as the Cubs do have Castillo who is banging on the door waiting for his opportunity to stick with a big league team.
Maybe the logic that these players are bad will strike the Cubs, and they will surprise me. Perhaps they will give the fan base what they are desperately craving and satisfy their taste for blood. Considering the talent level of these three is severely lacking, that could only help the prospects for the 2011 season.
When Carlos Silva took the mound today for the Chicago Cubs fourth Spring Training game, he was preparing to start his battle to win a spot in the rotation. What he was not counting on though, was the defense behind him committing three errors in the very first inning; all before there were even two outs made. Aramis Ramirez committed an error right before Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee hit a two run homer tying the game. Starlin Castro also committed another error, his second of the Spring, as did catcher Koyie Hill when he was called for catchers interference which deleted an inning ending double play.
Whether or not there were a multitude of errors committed behind him, giving up six runs in the first inning is no way to make the team, let alone the starting rotation. Pitching around the errors behind you is part of the game, and something all pitchers must do if they want to be successful. Earlier in the spring, Silva was claiming that he should not have to be in a competition for a job this Spring, and I have got to completely agree with this statement. The competition for the final two spots in the starting rotation should not include Silva at all. Today’s outing just furthers my belief that his spot on the roster should go to someone more deserving.
If his poor pitching today was not enough to show Cubs Manager Mike Quade that he did not belong in the starting rotation, then he may very well have another reason to leave him out in the cold. After the error filled first inning, Silva returned to the dugout and got into a heated altercation with Ramirez; the fight was quickly broken up. When you are fighting for a spot on the team, fighting with your teammates should immediately take you out of contention, and get you your walking papers.
Granted, Silva is not the first Cubs pitcher in recent memory to get into a fight with a teammate in the dugout. Carlos Zambrano famously got into a fist fight with Michael Barrett, an altercation which far exceeded the little skirmish that took place today. The difference between the two fights, as well as the two pitchers, is that Zambrano actually has talent and the ability to pitch.
People wrote off Zambrano’s crazy antics as being competitive, and letting his emotions getting the best of him. A majority of fans loved seeing him get upset, because that showed them that he cared, that he wanted to win. So why not give Silva the very same benefit of the doubt? Why not write off this fight as the same emotional, competitive nature that people use to defend Zambrano? The answer to that is simple.
Whether you like the circumstances or not, start athletes get preferential treatment. They get more slack, and people turn their heads more frequently than when lesser players cross the lines that should not be crossed. Zambrano attacked Barrett, and Barrett was the one sent packing. Zambrano beat the living hell out of the Gatorade machine, and we haven’t seen that machine since. Unfortunately for Silva, he does not carry the same amount of pizzazz as Zambrano, and he can easily be dumped without anyone giving a second thought.
While Silva is in the final year of his contract, and is still owed $12 Million for 2012 ($5.5 Million of which is paid by the Seattle Mariners), finding a trade for him still may not be easy without chipping in a few more million to take the edge off. That would still be cheaper than giving him his outright walking papers, which may be the course the Cubs are forced to take.
While the general consensus among fans is that the 2011 season is going to be nothing more than a lost cause for the Chicago Cubs, the truth of the matter is that General Manager Jim Hendry might very well have put his team into the perfect position.
I know very well what most fans think about Hendry, and with due cause because of some of his most recent mistakes, such as Milton Bradley as well as the very long contract that was given to Alfonso Soriano. He has also turned many fans against him, by handing out long term contracts with no trade clauses like they are candy. However, you have give the devil his due for some recent moves.
For one, long time fan favorite Kerry Wood is once again a Cub, and he was brought in at a price that is almost unimaginable. While there are many reasons why Wood is back, such as Ron Santo’s passing and his immense love of the team and the city, do not discount his long term relationship with Hendry. While we will never know for sure, I personally do not think there is a chance he signs with the Cubs again if Hendry is not here, at least not for the outstanding discount we were given. A one year, low dollar deal is exactly what the doctor ordered for this team, and Hendry did his job perfectly.
Signing a player of Carlos Pena’s stature to a low dollar, one year deal was a thing of beauty, showing some actual great foresight in a time when that is what is needed. Once again, Hendry filled a need on his ball club with a one year deal at a price that is very reasonable for someone who can hit 30 homeruns and drive in close to 100 RBI every year. Again though, the key in this signing is yet another one year deal.
Many fans have voiced their displeasure about Hendry’s excessive spending the past few years, and have voiced their opinions on the deals he has made for the upcoming season. They would rather, and typically I would be agreeing, that Hendry would save the money and use what funds they do have for a chance in 2012 and beyond. As I said, I would typical agree with this mindset; I would love nothing more than to see our opening day roster filled with the kids from our farm system. The deals given to Pena and Wood will slow down their arrival, but only temporarily as they were only given one year deals.
The way I see things, the Cubs are in a perfect win-win situation for the upcoming season. The moves made can, in fact, help the team compete in the year to come. Pena can hit his normal 30 home runs and drive in his typical 80-100 RBI, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano can have rebound years as well, which would give the cub a very potent offense. This could very well be a pipe dream, but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. Those three could help breath life into the Cubs and lead them to a divisional championship, and once you get into the playoffs anything can (and usually does) happen.
That is one side of the coin though, only half of the win-win scenario I was taking about. If, as many predict, the Cubs are to fall flat on their faces, they are in perfect position to be the center of attention come the July 31 trade deadline.
Having several players in the final year of their contracts is very attractive to contending teams. If they are in need of a serious bat and a power boost, Ramirez and Pena would look very attractive. Another player who might draw some interest would be Kosuke Fukudome, who would garner some attention from a team which with very little left to be owed to him. Carlos Silva could also get a few looks if he is able to put up a first half similar to his 2010 campaign. Regardless if these players are traded or not, there will be around $40 million coming off the books at the end of the season.
There are several other players who are also on the final year of their current deals, who do not make much who could also be attractive in the right circumstances and the right team.
One player whom could be very attractive at the trade deadline, because of price and talent, is Wood. However, I do not see the Cubs trading him away unless they get his blessing. Coming home to the Cubs at such a discount, as well as his saying he wants to be a Cub for the rest of his life, I would be very surprised to see him traded away mid season. While there is not a no trade clause in his contract, at least there has not been one reported, there may very well be a gentleman’s agreement that he will not be traded. If he was, he could very well consider that as a slap to the face after giving up multi-millions by signing here.
Whether or not the Cubs are able to trade away any or all of these expiring contracts, they are set to be in a prime position to have a massive youth movement come 2012, with more than enough cash to spend on a key free agent or two if there is a need to fill a void.
While the Cubs are building a team to put on the field for the 2011 season, their sights may be more on what is to come in 2012 and all the possibilities which will be a head of them.
As the Chicago Cubs continue to fall out of contention, the voices of the fans who are demanding a fire sale are getting louder. If you have been following my blog for the past week, you will have read just how difficult a time they will have in trading away the main players some fans want gone. The players who have seemingly been given contracts which are far too long, and worth far too much money, are more than likely stuck here thanks to the no trade clause built in. That is, of course, unless General Manager Jim Hendry can work some magic and find a team the players want to go to, who is willing to pick up their contracts. In doing so, the Cubs may be handcuffed for a few years on moves they can make, forcing them to go on the cheap with a total youth movement, which most fans seem to want anyway.
If the Cubs are going to go through with a fire sale, all I ask is for them to trade away anyone they are able to deal who is 30 years of age or older. This will include some very popular players, and will very likely upset a good number of fans. However, fire sales are not made to please the fans, they are made to clear roster space for younger players, while also helping save money to fill any void in the roster that can not be filled in house. The question still remains though, who can the Cubs trade and who wont they be able to?
However, outside of the main five players, the Cubs have a lot of talent which other teams may be more than willing to take on. Their are three starting pitchers which teams may be willing to give up some top talent for, which wont require the Cubs to eat any money to get rid of them. While trading them away may not be ideal to most fans, because they are fan favorites who are playing well, moving them might be the best thing the Cubs could do.
First and foremost, the Cubs should be strongly considering trading away Carlos Silva. While this trade will likely be met with the loudest complaints, mainly because he is our best pitcher this year, his value will never be higher. At the moment, Silva has roughly $17.5 Million left on his deal, of which the Seattle Mariners are paying roughly $7.5 Million. While he comes at a bargain, and will only cost $6 Million in 2011, the question you need to ask yourself, is how much longer can he keep up this amazing turnaround, and wondering if he will be able to match this effort next year. If you have any doubts at all in either case, the trade has got to be made now. While other teams will likely have this same thought about his potential, they may very well be interested enough that they would make a deal if they feel he can help them win this year. After all, the only World Series you can win, is this years World Series. While he has been our best pitcher, if the Cubs can move him, I say make the trade.
Another pitcher, would be Ryan Dempster. While he is still owed roughly $20.5 Million over this year and next, with a player’s option worth $14 Million, he would still be a pitcher who other teams would covet adding to their pitching staff. Without a no trade clause, there isn’t much that would stand in the way of the Cubs dealing him away for prospects. Since his move to the rotation, Dempster has been a very consistent pitcher who always keeps his team in the game, what contending team would not want to add a pitcher like him to their team? A great clubhouse guy, with a contract which wouldn’t be a huge financial burden would be a huge trading chip that could bring back some top notch prospects. I love Dempster, and everything that he brings to the ball club, but if you can not realistically see the Cubs contending before the end of the 2012 season, the best thing to do would be to trade him for prospects who could help us contend in the years to come.
The final start the Cubs have, which may draw some interest, is Ted Lilly. With his normally consistent performances on the mound, and his expiring contract, he may very well get looks from teams around the league. After all, baseball teams are always looking for a good left handed pitcher. With just about $6 Million remaining on his deal for the 2010 season, he will not be a financial burden for any team that would be bringing him in. Even if the Cubs have to eat some of his remaining contract, that will not hurt them in the future years, and I doubt the Cubs are considering re-signing him with so many talented pitchers who are waiting in the wings to be promoted to the majors. The only thing that could be standing in the way of a deal, is his limited no trade clause. He is able to block a trade to a few teams, none of which I know, but there are plenty of teams he has no say in being traded to. However, with his competitive nature, he may not use his no trade clause to block a trade if he is able to be sent to a contender.
The tradable players are not limited to the starting pitchers though , there are a few other players that would draw interest. While a few of them may very well be fan favorites, and would draw a backlash by fans if they are dealt, if the moves are in the best interest of the Cubs future, I say make the move.
A player that fans may riot if he is traded, is Marlon Byrd. He has been one of the few players on the roster who is actually playing up to expectations , and carrying his own weight to help the team win. With just about $13 million remaining on his contract through 2012, and the way he has performed recently, any team looking for an outfielder would have to be drooling if they knew he was available. A trade of Byrd could very well bring back a good prospect or two. While he is playing great for the Cubs now, you have to think about what is best for the Cubs and their chances in the future. He would be the last everyday player I would consider trading because he is one of the few producers, but that’s not to say I would not trade him if the right deal came along. Moving him, would allow the Cubs to call up another highly touted outfield prospect and help to groom him to be the star fans believe him to be.
Another outfielder which may draw some interest, that fans would not miss, is Xavier Nady. With a half way manageable contract, he is owed roughly $1.8 Million this year, unless he reaches his games played bonus worth $2.05 Million. I’m not sure how many games he has to play in order for that bonus to kick in, but I would be willing to bet he gets there. While that pending bonus may make teams leery about making the trade for him, he could catch someone’s eye, especially if the Cubs eat the bonus money, which would have no affect on any year but this year. They may not get that great of a prospect back for him, but his departure would give the Cubs another vacant roster spot which would allow them to give another rising player some time at the major league level.
While there are several bullpen and bench players who would also interest the fans to see leave, such as John Grabow, Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot, the final player I will mention is Ryan Theriot. Sure, he is a scrappy player who has earned favor with many Cub fans, he may have burned a bridge with the Cubs when he over valued his worth in the previous off season, taking the Cubs to their first Arbitration Hearing since Mark Grace in the early 1990s. With the Cubs winning the case, and paying him less than he felt he was worth, you can almost guarantee that he will be taking the Cubs back to Arbitration next year to get that raise he feels entitled to. Whether or not Hendry and the Cubs want to go through that headache again may be the main reason he is dealt before the All Star break, or in the up coming off season. This move, if the Cubs feel he is ready, would allow them to bring up another quickly rising short stop named Hak Ju Lee, who some scouts say is so good that he would push Starlin Castro over to second base. Whether or not Lee is ready, will go a long way to determining how serious the Cubs will consider trading Theriot. They may not get much back for him, but could avoid another potential off season headache.
If fans want to have a fire sale, they need to look at every aspect of the idea. They can not just focus on the thoughts of trading away the players with the bloated contracts who are not playing up to expectations. You have to take into consideration every player who is getting up their in age, including some fan favorites who are playing well. Because let’s be honest about something. Who are teams more likely to be interested in trading for, players who are older, over paid and under performing? Or would they rather have players who are playing to their potential who do not have contracts larger than their egos? When you ask for a fire sale, and for the Cubs to start rebuilding, be careful what you ask for. You may just get what you don’t want in return.
Today, Carlos Zambrano threw a simulated game, in order to stretch him out for his eventual return to the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs, which could come as soon as next week. This has re-opened the can of worms that was opened when the move was initially made, and new discussions have been brought up, such as why was he moved to the bullpen if you were just going to put him back a month later. This has been one of the biggest head scratching moves the Cubs have made in a long time, and I don’t mind telling you that how they are handling things is really upsetting me. The roller coaster ride that is the Chicago Cubs season, keeps surprising me.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. First and foremost, I don’t believe that he should have ever been taken out of the starting rotation to fill a void elsewhere. Was he struggling at the start of the year? There can be little doubt that he wasn’t having the kind of year that the team and fans would have been hoping for from their ACE pitcher. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best 10-20 pitchers in all of baseball over the past 10 years. Taking him out of the rotation was nothing more than a desperation move to begin with. I can fully understand why he was put in the bullpen, but that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of the move.
I can understand why he was moved, because they had a desperate need to get a strike out pitcher into the eighth inning to help get the ball to their closer Carlos Marmol. The players they had in that role were not getting the job done. John Grabow and Esmailin Caridad did nothing but throw gas onto an already out of control fire. They needed a fireman who could possibly extinguish any threat, and ensure the Cubs kept their lead, however small, and preserve a win. In the beginning, the move was called temporary. He was only going to stay in the bullpen until the Cubs were able to find a replacement, a pitcher they could depend on to get the job done. How long that would take was anyone’s guess, because the season was still young and no one would be giving up valuable setup pitchers this early in the season.
Zambrano’s ERA before the move to the bullpen was 7.45, with an eye popping 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings of work. Hitters were also teeing off on him, at a .317 clip. He was off to a horrible start, and looked like he was headed to a bust of a year, and would fail to come close to what he was able to do last year. However, if you take out that first start of the year, his statistics look far better. In is next three starts, his last ones before being exiled to the bullpen, he had an ERA of 4.00 (I know, still not great) but He threw quality start after quality start. Hitters were hitting only .274 against him. Much better than his statistics as a whole for all of his starts of the season. That just goes to show you how one bad start can kill a pitcher’s stat line, making things hard for him to come back to the expected performance. Think one bad start for a starting pitcher hurts a stat line, just imagine how hard things are for a relief pitcher to have a respectable stat line after a bad inning.
So the desperate move was made, and Zambrano was put into the pen. While the hope was that he would be a success, the outcome told a different story. Here is a brief look at just how things went for Zambrano in his month long bullpen stint. In his time in the pen, he had mixed results. He started off a little shaky, but he got the job done. He had a string of good outings, and then he had a bad one. After that, some more good outings, followed by a bad one. When they decided he was going to go back to the rotation, Zambrano put up a string of a few more good outings again.
If someone were to ask me if he should stay in the bullpen, I would have to say no. Not because he should never have been put in the pen to begin with, but because the results of the move has not done anything to help the team win games. As things stand, he has the second highest bullpen ERA of anyone currently in the Cubs bullpen, behind only John Grabow. If you want to add Bob Howry into that discussion as well fine, but with the Cubs he has pitched .1 inning and has an ERA of 0.00. I did not include him in the Cubs bullpen ERA because I don’t care what you do with other teams, all that matters is what you do for us.
In the bullpen, Zambrano has pitched in 11 games, pitching 11.1 innings. he has giving up six earned runs striking out nine but walking only two while giving up 16 hits. While this is a small sample size, they did not get the immediate results that they would have hoped to get from adding Zambrano into the bullpen. They did not get the lights out stuff they had hoped to get, so they are giving up on the experiment after a month, and putting him back where he is most comfortable. The question now becomes, who do you put into the bullpen to replace Zambrano?
The likely choice of who moves to the pen, is either Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. But why would you move one of the best two pitchers in the Cubs pen? As far as stuff, they are not the best, but you can not argue with results. Silva leads the team with six wins and is second on the staff in ERA, tied for second in fewest walks but also last in strike outs. Gorzelanny leads the team in ERA, but has the second most walks and second most strike outs in the starting staff. Gorzelanny has gotten screwed on his run support, which is evident in his 2-4 record. However, to make room in the starting staff, there are a couple outcomes which could make the decision a lot easier for the Cubs.
The Cubs could make a trade, in which case any of the current five starters could be moved for some promising young prospects and free up a little cash. If this is the case, count out Silva and Zambrano. They wont be moved at all. Silva because of what he is owed, and Zambrano because of what he is owed and a little thing known as a No-Trade Clause. Ted Lilly could draw some interest being in his final year, but his delayed start due to an injury and slow start might not get you too many takers. Ryan Dempster would be the most appealing starter for any other team to want. He has a manageable contract and is pitching well, despite his record. Gorzelanny, low money and is pitching well. He could be attractive to a team as well. Randy Wells could also draw some interest as he has pitched well, and is still under team control for a few more years.
The other possible move would be a temporary move. Gorzelanny or Lilly could be placed on the DL. Lilly could be explained away as his coming back to early, hence giving an excuse as to why he hasn’t pitched that well. Gorzelanny could go on the DL because he got nailed by a line drive. This would give the Cubs a little time to work out what they want to do.
Before you start in on the six man rotation talk, think about why that would never work. While you would get extra rest for your starting staff, which would allow them to go deeper into games, and limit the use of the bullpen, you would also be taking away starts from your best pitchers. In a normal five man pitching staff, assuming you don’t skip the fifth starter when you can, each pitcher gets 32 starts, with your top two starters getting 33 starts. In a six man staff, each starting pitcher would get 27 starts. Why would you want to take five starts away from your best pitchers? That makes no sense if you want to win. Perhaps taking the bullpen out of the equation would offset the fewer starts from the better pitchers (and lets be honest all of the pitchers are pitching well), but I still would not approve of or recommend such a move.
Whatever happens, whoever comes out of the rotation when Zambrano returns, we are sure to find out in a weeks time. I will make one guarantee though, whatever move is made, whoever is taken out of the rotation, there will be some loud grumblings coming out of Cubbie Nation.
While the Cubs continue to be in the range of the quarter mark of the season, now having played 40 games on the year, our look at the four phases of the Cubs as they currently stand. Yesterday, we took a look at the starting position players, and what was wrong with the offense. Today though, we look at another very important aspect of the team, that being the starting pitchers.
Before the season began, our starting pitching was looked at as being one of the weaknesses on the team. Most fans and “baseball experts” took a look at the Cubs starting staff and predicted doom and gloom for the team. They saw Carlos Zambrano and saw a player who was one mistake away from having a mental break down. Ryan Dempster was met with many questions because last season he was hot and cold. When they saw Tom Gorzelanny, they could only see a pitcher that was so bad, that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t even want him. Randy Wells didn’t do anything for them either, as he was coming off a rookie year where he caught many teams by surprise. Don’t even get me started on Carlos Silva, who everyone had written off after a couple seasons which would make anyone nervous to throw him out to start a game. With Ted Lilly slated to miss a month, most people around baseball were not expecting him to make an impact, and whatever he was able to give the team, would not improve the rotation enough to make it dangerous at all.
With no expectations being given to the Cubs starting pitchers, they quickly surprised the league by throwing quality start after quality start. Just about every time out of the game, the starting pitchers did everything they could in order to keep the team in the ball game, but unfortunately the offense let them down more often than not. In fact, towards the end of April, the starting pitching staff was ranked with the best in the Majors with a combined ERA under 2.50.
When you see that statistic, you may be wondering why I am including the starting pitching in the discussions of what needs to be improved. While they have started off the year in tremendous fashion, they have not been able to continue to dominate the opposing hitters. Now, half way through May and a quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs starting pitchers have a combined ERA just over 4.00. That is a far cry from being among the league’s leaders. The combined ERA of the starters though, may actually make the starting staff look worse than they actually are when you look at the individual performances of each pitcher.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the Cubs pitching staff has been Silva. When the Cubs acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for Milton Bradley, fans and media looked at the deal as trading trash for trash. No one expected the Cubs to get anything out of Silva, so with him leading the team with five wins, the Cubs have obvious won this trade. Not only is Silva leading the team in wins, but he is also the team leader with a 3.35 ERA . Having pitched eight games, those are some fantastic statistics. But look a little deeper into his outings. In eight games, he has pitched an average of six innings per start allowing an average of only just over two runs per game. You could argue that Silva should be sitting pretty with a record of 8-0 right now, but 5-0 is something any logical Cub fan will happily take.
Dempster has come on strong again this year, though he has lost his last four outings. You should take notice that in only one of those games did he allow more than three runs, so he should not be held completely responsible for all four of those losses. His record of 2-4 does not reflect his solid ERA of 3.49, and even that stat line does not speak of how well he has pitched this year. In his eight starts on the year, Dempster has gone an average of seven innings every start, allowing just under three runs a start. Much like Silva, he is averaging a quality start every time he takes the mound. His main problem this season, has been his run support. In his eight starts, the offense has only supplied him with 20 runs. The way Dempster has pitched this year, he should have at least twice as many wins, especially when you consider he received two no decisions when he only allowed one run.
Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, has been another pleasant surprise for the Cubs this year. His 3.60 ERA is better than most people would have expected from him through his seven starts. However, he has received even less run support than Dempster. Through his seven starts, he has allowed a very impressive average of just over two runs a game. The sad part of this story, is that his ugly record of 1-4 may be the biggest sign that the offense has been the biggest problem with this team, not the pitching. That isn’t to say that Gorzelanny is not without fault, as he is averaging just under six innings every time he takes the mound. With him leaving the game earlier than you would like, he leaves the door wide open for the bullpen to blow any chance of him recording a win. If he wants to start winning more games, he needs to start going deeper into games, and staying in for at least six innings. That is my only complaint with Gorzelanny.
Wells has posted an ERA of 4.13 with a record of 3-2 through his eight starts in his Sophomore season. Much like with Dempster and Gorzelanny, his stats make him look worse than he actually may be. He is averaging six innings per start, and just under three runs per game. That falls in line with the old standard of what a quality start entails. Much like with everyone of the other starters, his lack of run support has damaged his chances of posting more wins. While he has had a handful of poor starts, allowing more than three runs only three times, he has pitched well enough to have at least four or five wins; especially when he had two no decisions where he only gave up one run. He has been yet another victim of the teams hot and cold offense.
Lilly on the other hand, could be looked at as a disappointment when you consider how well he has pitched his previous three years with the Cubs. You can blame his unusual season on him still trying to come back from an injury if you like, but that does not mean he should not carry some blame with how he has been pitching. Much like the other pitchers in the rotation, Lilly’s stats fall in line with the basic requirements of what a quality start should look like. He has been going at least six innings in each of his games on average, while allowing just over three runs in each start. He has had only one bad start really, allowing six runs against the Arizona Diamond Backs, but two of his other starts he allowed four runs. If he had not of thrown six scoreless innings in his first start of the year, he would look a lot worse. In this case, his stat line makes him look better than he has actually pitched this year. He needs to step up his game, because while he practically has the same record as Gorzelanny with two less starts, he has also given up one more run on average. Whatever is troubling Lilly, he needs to step things up and pitch as he has his first three years with the club.
That brings me to Zambrano, the very pitcher who started the season opener. This season has been a roller coaster ride for Zambrano, who started the season opener and was then thrown into the bullpen to pitch setup; but is now being put in long relief to stretch him out so he can start again. Who moves out of the rotation when he returns is anyone’s guess, but that is at least a week or two away. Since he is returning to the rotation sooner rather than later, he deserves to be included in this discussion, if nothing else because he is a part of the combined ERA.
So far, Zambrano has been limited to only four starts on the season, posting an ugly ERA of 7.45 as a starter, with a 1-2 record. This has been a poor year for Zambrano, given this is a small sample size this year, because he has been getting knocked around. In his four starts, he is averaging just under five innings per start, which is heavily skewed by his only lasting 1.1 innings in his first start. He lasted seven, five and six innings in his three other starts. What may be more troubling though, is his average of our runs per start. A pitcher allowing four runs a game isn’t horrible, but that isn’t anything to brag about either. Even if you pitch a complete game every time out, you are still going to have an ERA of 4.00, which isn’t that good for a National League starting pitcher. When he returns to the rotation, he needs to pitch like the Ace he was tabbed to be. Statistically, he has been one of the best 10 pitchers over the last 10 years. He just hasn’t shown that much this year. The problem with stats, they tell you what you have done, not what you will do. So far this season, Zambrano has been a big disappointment, no matter what role the Cubs have used him in.
As a whole, while the Cubs have a team ERA over 4.00, the starters have lasted an average of over six innings per start, and allowed under three runs per start. With that statistical line like that, they should be winning more games. The over all stat line looks really bad, until you break things down a little bit. Could they be better? Of course, there is always room for improvement. Are they the reason why they are losing? No, the offense remains the reason the Cubs are losing. The pitching is doing all they can, they just have a sore back from carrying the offense the first month and a half of the year.