Around 2:30 this afternoon, news broke that Aramis Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer, informed the Chicago Cubs that his client will opt out of the final year of his deal, which also happens to be a team option, and file for free agency. However, Ramirez’s agent would not rule out the possibility that he would re-sign with the Cubs in the off season, but only if the team was not in full rebuild mode. In other words, unless the Cubs make a huge splash in free agency, likely by signing either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, his tenure with the Cubs is likely over, even though he has claimed in the past that he wanted to retire a Chicago Cub.
Since joining the Cubs midway through 2003, Ramirez has put on a show for the Wrigley Faithful and has cemented a place for himself in Cubs history. In his nearly eight years with the ball club he has become the second greatest third baseman in Cubs history, right behind the late great Ron Santo. He was also the first long term third baseman the Cubs have had since Santo was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the end of his career. With his apparent departure, you have to wonder when the Cubs will once again be able to fill the vacant hot corner. Last night, 30 years past before they found a solid fixture, hopefully this time the fans do not have to wait so long for a permanent replacement.
With the third base free agent class being very weak, Ramirez becomes the best player available at that position, and should draw a lot of attention from several teams who need someone at third. The bidding war for the aging veteran will likely surpass whatever amount the Cubs would be willing to spend to bring him back, unless he gives the team he says he wants to return to a “home town discount”. With this being the final long term deal of his career, I am not so sure that he will be willing to give a significant discount to the Cubs in order to finish his career with them.
Now that you have a pretty good idea that Ramirez’s Cubs career is over, in my own opinion, the time has come to do what is best for both the player and the team. Sit A-Ram down for the remainder of the season and play a young player over at the hot corner.
How does that benefit Ramirez? The answer to that is quite easy. He has an injured qaud, so in the interest of his health, he should be sat the remainder of the year. Let the injury heal so he can fully heal before any physical that he would need to take before signing a new contract. I doubt Ramirez would have much problem with that scenario as he gets paid whether he plays or not. Why risk making an injury worse if you are about to reach free agency? I believe he will be happy to sit out the remaining six games while the Cubs begin the rebuilding process.
The question then turns to which kid do you throw at third base for the remainder of the year? You could turn to the kid who is playing there today, DJ LeMahieu. Let him test his ability and skill while the Cubs get a good look to see if he can play every day at the major league level. Sure, this is September baseball and no teams have advanced scouts so you need to take anything these call ups do with a grain of salt, but you would get an idea of what he can do.
Another option would be to allow Starlin Castro to spread his wings and fly over at the hot corner. He may not be a bad option, especially since he does have a strong arm and good range. Add in to his ever growing power, he could grow into an excellent option over there. Then the problem would be who plays short stop, or who plays second base if Darwin Barney shifts over as well. Time will tell how the Cubs will handle the third base position going forward, but you can be sure things will be interesting.
There is some good news that comes with the departure of Ramirez, even for those fans who do wish he would return. The Cubs will be saving the $16 Million that he would have made next year, which can be spent elsewhere, perhaps on the pitching staff or a certain first baseman who shall be left unnamed. That is not the only good news however. From the sound of some of the reports, because Ramirez was the one who opted out of the 2012 deal and not the team, the Cubs may in fact be off the hook for the $2 Million buyout to the contract. So that is another $2 Million that the Cubs can use to rebuild a ball club that seemed to have fallen apart. Heck, they might even be more willing to ship off Alfonso Soriano knowing that they suddenly have this extra money that they can throw into a deal to help a team pay his contract. However, that “saved money” might actually be put towards the Carlos Zambrano going away package.
Ramirez declaring for free agency, six games before the season actually ends, should open the flood gates that should have been opened for the trade deadline back in July. That means letting Carlos Pena walk, trading Marlon Byrd and trying desperately to send Alfonso Soriano packing. Without Ramirez, there is little reason to sign Pujols, Fielder or even bringing Pena back.
Let the rebuilding process begin. The only question is will Cub fans be willing to sit through a few years of what could be sub .500 baseball while the kids grow and learn on the job?
Last night was pure disaster for both Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs. In fact, last night was so bad that you may never see Zambrano wearing a Cubs jersey ever again, or at very least for the remainder of the season.
Things went from bad to worse for Zambrano last night as he just never seemed to have anything working for him, and the Cubs fell behind early 2-0 after Dan Uggla extended his hitting streak on the second pitch in the second inning with a two run home run. That would only be the tip of the volcano that would end up erupting hours later.
Why Manager Mike Quade allowed Zambrano to stay in the game as long as he did, after all signs indicated that this was not his night is anyone’s guess. I have defended Quade all season saying that no one could have success this year with this ball club and that he was learning on the job, but last night may very well have officially taken me off the Quade Train, as he could have easily prevented the nights events from taking place.
After being left in a few innings past when he should have been pulled, Zambrano may have had his biggest mental explosion of his career. With his career high fifth home run flying over the wall in Atlanta, you could tell Zambrano had snapped. The unfortunate target, was long time Cub Killer Chipper Jones who had also hit a homerun off of Zambrano earlier in the evening. The very first pitch to him was well inside, nearly hitting him and making him jump backwards out of the batters box. The second, was exactly the same way which was too much for the home plate umpire to take. He immediately tossed Zambrano who as already half way to the dugout before the ruling was official.
When the ejection was made, I joking posted on my Facebook wall that since Quade refused to take him out, he was going to take himself out of the game. That thought was shared on WGN radio after the game by one of their sports hosts, and seems very logical since they also reported he was wearing a big grin on his face as he was walking to the dugout.
I wish I could say that was where his evening ended, but that is far from the conclusion of this latest blow up. When the game ended, Zambrano told Quade that he was retiring. Following his pronouncement of retirement Zambrano proceeded to clean out his locker before leaving the locker room entirely, walking out on the other 24 players on the team.
Whether or not we can believe that Zambrano will actually retire as he declared last night, we can only wait and see. After all, he did announce that he would retire at the end of his current contract, something some fans found hard to believe at the time. I wonder if those very fans still do not believe how serious he was. Later in the evening reports stated that General Manager Jim Hendry said that the team would respect Zambrano’s wishes, which essentially was calling his bluff.
Either way, whether he does actually retire or not, I can not see him ever putting on a Cubs uniform ever again. If he does retire as he has stated, he would be walking away from nearly $20 Million that he is owed on his contract, including $18 Million next year. That is a lot of money to walk away from, so he may come to his senses in a few days and meet the Cubs in Houston to make his next start after he has had a chance to cool down and clear his head.
If that is the case, Zambrano has a lot of work to do if he wants to earn the respect of his teammates and the fans again. A simple apology might not be enough this time, and no amount of anger management classes can make people believe that he will ever change his ways.
Perhaps the talk of retirement was his way of demanding a trade, but I can not see any team taking him on any more. Not after his latest explosion and temper tantrum. Who, other than the Cubs, wants a player who will allow his emotions to get the better of him? Certainly no one that would be willing to pay anything that is still owed to him. Cubs will have to flat out cut him if he wants to play again, or suspend him if they want to save money.
Fans are already turning on him and hoping that he is serious. They do not easily forgive players who walk out on their team and fans. They still hold a grudge with Sammy Sosa who did the same thing a few years ago, and that was on the last day of the season. Though there are some fans who blame this episode on Quade, and I do too, but that does not excuse Zambrano for acting the way he did. Quade could have prevented this mess, but Zambrano and his usual crazy antics have finally gone too far.
The trade deadline in Major League Baseball has come and gone, and the Chicago Cubs were not as active as many fans would have liked. The only trade the organization made, was to pass Kosuke Fukudome on to the Cleveland Indians while eating all but $775,000 of his remaining deal and receiving two below average prospects in return. The reasoning why there were no other moves is rather maddening. General Manager Jim Hendry fully believes that the Cubs are close to being able to contend next year, and wanted to hang on to the pieces he felt would be the key elements to guiding the Cubs to the Promise Land in 2012.
That is why, according to published reports, the Cubs do not want to trade Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd or Aramis Ramirez. We also can not forget that Hendry does not want to trade Jeff Baker either. Apparently Hendry and company believe that those four players will be key elements in guiding this team back to the playoffs and making a World Series Run. Don’t ask me how Hendry feels this team can compete next year with pretty much the same pieces, when they are currently chasing the Houston Astros for the worst record in baseball. The only changes would be swapping out Tyler Colvin or Fukudome and maybe replacing Fielder or Pujols for Pena. Is that enough to compete next year? Perhaps, but there is a lot that needs to go right for the Cubs in order for them to compete with such little change in the roster.
With so few changes, the Cubs can compete for a playoff spot. You heard me right, they can compete for a playoff spot, if everything goes right for them. That means that Aramis Ramirez needs to contribute earlier than June like he did this year. They will need Alfonso Soriano to contribute in more than just April, and Pena (assuming he is here) to also start producing earlier in the season instead of waiting until May. That is only the start of what needs to go right for the Cubs, and we haven’t even started in on the problems on the pitching staff.
For all those reasons, the Cubs should have been in full fledged fire sale mode waving the white flag up and down the streets, and yelling come and get it as if they were serving dinner. Everyone and anyone should have been on the table for any and all interested parties, except for maybe Starlin Castro. Perhaps everyone was on the table, and they were not getting any offers for any of the players they waned to move.
From various reports, we have heard that the Anaheim Angels really wanted Ramirez, but he does not want to leave the ball club. Another player who was requested in a trade was Kerry Wood, whom the Phillies made an enticing offer for, so much so that Hendry went to Wood to seek his approval. However, much like with the Ramirez trade talks, Wood chose to void the trade because he wanted to stay with the Cubs. There are two players who other teams wanted that decided they would rather bask in the glow of being a Cub than going to a contender.
Nothing against either player deciding to do so, as they are both well within their rights. Ramirez, as has been discussed, used his 5-10 rights to block any trade, and Wood used his no trade clause, which he was given after giving a very generous discount, to make his decision. Would have been nice to get some good young prospects, but the decisions have been made.
Then we have the two players who the Cubs were practically begging people to take away practically for free. The Cubs offered to pay a huge chunk of the contracts owed to both Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, and still got no takers. One such team to turn down the Cubs, was the New York Yankees who print money. If they do not want him for free, that should speak volumes.
If there were other offers made for some of the remaining players, who Hendry did not want to keep, the reports of the interest in them never surfaced. If you are hopeful to compete for a division crown, much less a World Series title, having a team filled with players no one wants is not a good way to start that success run.
Sure, the Cubs could make a few moves in the off season, but unless there are some other trades made in the August Waiver period, or in the off season, this team will not compete next year. The Cubs have some serious needs that must be addressed if they have any realistic dreams of competing next year. Just replacing Fukudome with Colvin and possibly even replacing Pena with either Pujols or Fielder will not be nearly enough.
I know the Chicago Cubs season is only nine games old, and we still have 153 to go, but there are already some things coming to be known about this team that I do not like whatsoever. You can tell me all you want that there is still plenty of time to turn things around (which is true) and that the season is still early (again, true) but that does not mean that you can not have things that you are not happy with, and things which must be improved if you plan on having any type of success at all.
Currently, after dropping a series to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs stand with a record of 4-5. Thankfully, they are about to start a three game series with the bottom dwelling Houston Astros, a team which is a good bet to get back on the right track and to start some sort of a winning streak against. However, you could have very easily said the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the series from the Cubs to start the season. If they can not sweep this pathetically awful team, or at very least win the series, you might as well pack your bags and call the season over. Sorry for the negativity this early on, but like I said, there are just a few things which are grinding on my nerves.
First and foremost, is the starting pitching. Going into the season, the impression was that we had a pitching staff which had some really good potential. However, after nine games, the pitching staff has been anything but good, Outside of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the other three pitchers have not been living up to expectations. Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have gotten smacked around pretty well their first two starts, and have both left much to be desired. Carlos Zambrano on the other hand, has not been bad, but has not been all that impressive. Sadly, the best two starts we have gotten this year comes from the two pitchers that we have just placed on the disabled list.
What is even more troubling, is new addition Garza is already not happy with our pitching coach Mark Riggins. Apparently now that we are out of the thin air of Arizona, which he blamed for his poor Spring Training, he needs a new target, and Riggins seems to be just that target. God forbid anyone ever takes responsibility for their own performance, There is always someone else that is responsible for your sucking. What I find funny, is that in his close to a decade with the Cubs, I do not remember one incident of a pitcher ever calling out Larry Rothschild for anything. Not Kerry Wood, not Carlos Zambrano, no one. But, that is another argument for another day, one not likely to be worth arguing because much like with Alfonso Soriano, Cub fans have already made up their mind on him and hate him, blaming him for all the woes of the pitching staff. But, I would just like to point out that in one off season he has appeared to have fixed A.J. Burnett, not an easy task.
Another thing that is completely ticking me off right now, is Marlon Byrd. I do not know what he was thinking yesterday, but why in the blue hell did he decide to steal second base with Aramis Ramirez up at the plate? That was likely one of the dumbest moves that I have seen from the Cubs in a very long time, and believe me that is saying something. You could tell that he either misread a sign, or completely went on his own because of the swing Ramirez took on the pitch Byrd decided to run on. Ramirez tired to protect Byrd by at least making some contact, almost sacrificing himself in the process. So Byrd not only cost us a base runner and an out, but he cost Ramirez a strike. Thanks a lot Byrd!
What is worse, is his post game interview when he was questioned about his base running blunder. He could not admit fault, which I would completely accept, but instead he got snippy with the media and told them to “beat it”. Grow up Mr. Byrd, yes you are hitting but you have no speed and should not have ran, especially not in that situation.
The we have our golden child, Starlin Castro! I love this kid, and I am more excited about him than I am about anything we have had in a long time. He is phenomenal with the bat, and every time he steps up to the plate you are always feeling like he is going to get a hit. That is how impressive this kid is. He is going to be a star! The only problem is, he is a tremendous liability with the glove. He has tremendous range, and can get to just about any ball hit on his side of second base. He also feels that he can make every throw, which is both good and bad. He has a rocket for an arm, so he always feels like he can nail a runner at first. But he needs to learn when to make a throw and when he needs to just hold on to the ball. Add into the mix that he can not apparently take a throw from a catcher, as you could see by his getting drilled on a throw from Geovany Soto on Saturday. Yes, he is still young and can learn, and his limited time in the minors probably did not help his learning process, but he needs to improve, and fast.
Those are the three things that are irritating me early in the season, however there was one roster move which is seriously scaring me. That is the Cubs signing Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The first question that should cross your mind here, is why. He is old, well past his prime and likely has less than nothing left in the tank. He was likely the only pitcher the Cubs could sign, due to the severely limited fund they have; especially since they had to pay Carlos Silva $11.5 Million to go away. But why sign him?
I am afraid that I know why. Either Wells or Cashner will be missing some significant time, and the Cubs are not too enthusiastic about either Casey Coleman (who got manhandled by the Brewers yesterday) or James Russell who will be starting on Tuesday against the Astros. Hopefully this is not the case and he is just here to fill a roster spot in Triple A. The Cubs say that the injuries of Wells and Cashner are minor, but we have heard that all before.
Alright, I have vented. I am ready for some more Cubs baseball! Going against the Astros should bring the Cubs some easy wins. Just as long as the pitching actually is clicking, but I will not hold my breath.
With a week left until opening day, the Chicago Cubs have finally announced their full five man starting rotation. The top three have been known since training camp opened. Opening day starter Ryan Dempster will be followed by Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. Even though the official announcement only came a week ago, every knew that Randy Wells belonged as the teams fourth starter, and the fact that he had to compete for the job was a complete joke. The fifth and final starting pitching job, a battle between youngster Andrew Cashner and Carlos Silva has finally been decided; and the winner is Cashner . What this means, is I can finally finish my look at the 2012 ball club.
With Cashner beating out Silva or the fifth starting job, two birds were just killed. One on hand, the Cubs get to begin to build towards the future and use Cashner to develop at the big league level. On the other hand, the have a young pitcher with some upside in Cashner starting over Silva, whose better days are far behind him. This was the best possible move the ball club could make for both the present and the future. The Cubs are finally doing something that actually makes sense.
Today, we look at the starting pitching staff for the 2012 club and what I feel we can expect from them for the year to come.
With the Cubs tabbing Dempster to be the opening day starter, the team is already on the right path to having a successful season. Nothing against Zambrano, but over the years he has had some of his worst starts in his career on opening day. You do not need to go back much further than last years exploding disaster to get a good idea of how this usually go for him. Whether he is too amped up or not, I can not tell you, but Zambrano on opening day does not usually work out.
Looking at Dempster, he has been our most consistent pitcher over the past few years, which is probably why he will get the honor. There is no reason to believe that the trend for him will not continue Figure a good record of 16-10 with an ERA around 3.45
Zambrano, I think is the key to the whole rotation even though he is not labeled as the “ace” of the staff. However, he is still likely our best starter and might very well show that this year. The move to take him out of the opening day starters gig is more of a change of trends than a slap in his face. I see him having one of the best years of his career. I can easily see him putting up a 17-12 record and an ERA close to 3.65.
New comer Garza is switching leagues, going from the American to the National, which should help him out. However, he is also going from a pitcher friendly park to one that favors the hitters. Normally, I would give a pitcher a boost in his statistics with a switch like this, but in Garza’s case, I am not sure I can see that. For Garza, I would not be surprised to see a record of 12-10 with an Era around 4.00.
With Wells, the man who was made to compete for a job when he should not have had to, I expect a nice year from him. He has shown to have the ability to pitch well in big situations, but has never been able to get decent run support from him team. Both years as a starter, he should have won high totals, but was never able to do so because the Cubs could not score for him. I think that this is the year that all changes. Wells could very well put up a record of 16-11 with an ERA close to 3.25 earning him the recognition he truly deserves.
Finally, we have Cashner who is the wildcard in this lineup. We do not have any idea what to expect out of him, so making a predication for him would make little to no sense. But when have I ever let that stop me from doing anything? Cashner will have a shaky record of 12-11. His ERA will likely be near the low 4s. Not to spectacular, but that will be a start for him. We are better off by far having him than Silva though, no matter how well Cashner does.
By my count, the Cubs starters will be responsible for 73 wins and 54 losses, which is not all together a bad thing. That will be 19 games over .500. If they work out the way I think they could, the Cubs might have a legit shot of making some noise in the division. That means that 35 games will be decided by the bullpen, which just so happens to be the last positional blog I will be doing this spring. That one will be up tomorrow.
As the second half of the cross town series with the Chicago White Sox begins, with Carlos Zambrano taking the mound for the Chicago Cubs, there is no better time than now to talk about the possibility of the Cubs opening day pitcher being dealt in a possible fire sale.
While many fans are calling for the Cubs to move Zambrano, the likelihood of this happening, is not too great, despite the mass potential and talent he would be bringing with him. What would be holding back any potential deal, would not be how much money he will still make with his current deal. In fact, the contract, for a pitcher of Zambrano’s talent, is not unreasonable. He is making a $35.875 Million over the next two years, with a possible player option for the 2013 season worth $19.25 Millions, which is something he must earn. Unlike with the option years Aramis Ramirez has, nothing is guaranteed for Zambrano past the next two years. In order for him to earn his player option for 2013, Zambrano must finish first or second in 2011 Cy Young vote or if he finishes in top 4 in 2012 Cy Young vote and is healthy at end of 2012.
I am not saying Zambrano has no chance to earn that option year, because we have all seen just how good he can be. That is the key to any potential trade the Cubs would be making. Sell him on the potential angle, and see if you can get a team to bite, and make a deal. In this instance, because of how good Zambrano is, was and can be again, the Cubs may not have to eat any money in a deal that would send him to a new home. However, there are two possible hurdles which will likely prevent the Cubs from making any deal.
The first, would be how the Cubs damaged any possible trade value they had in Zambrano, when they moved him out of the rotation, and demoted him to the bullpen. Don’t listen to how this move was spun, they did not throw him into the eighth inning to get some sense of stability. How this can be seen as anything less than a demotion, and a sign of lacking confidence is beyond me. If, as a team, you show signs of little faith in a player, like the Cubs did with Zambrano, how are other teams supposed to have confidence in him? Any and all trade value he may have had, you lost my sending him into short relief. Teams will take that into great consideration when figuring out what to offer for him, and may even try to get the team to eat a majority of his contract, even though he is worth every cent he will make over the next two years,
His deemed value around the league, after the Cubs and Manager Lou Piniella screw things up with the move, is just one stumbling block that must be met. The other, may be even more difficult for the Cubs, and prevent any deal from taking place. Much like everyone else I have covered, Zambrano has a full no trade clause, which means he chooses where he will go and when he will go there. His having control over where he goes, is more of a reason for concern than Alfonso Soriano, Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome, because Zambrano has stated he would not allow any trade to take place.
If you remember back to the off season, there were rumors of Zambrano being dealt to the New York Mets, and he quickly killed any thought of that happening. Whether or not he meant he would block any trade, or just the one to the Mets I cant say. However, from the comments he made last off season, you get the impression that he will be here until the end of his contract if he has the power to do so. Which is exactly what he has the power to do.
While I am sure the Cubs would love to get Zambrano off the books, especially to fill his role with some highly touted prospects in the minors, the thought may be greater than the possibility.
Last night Tom Gorzelanny had his worst outing of the 2010 baseball season, at the worst possible time. As soon as the announcement was made that Carlos Zambrano was going to be returning to the starting rotation, sooner rather than later, Gorzelanny was tabbed as the favorite to be demoted to the bullpen. Because of last night’s performance, Manager Lou Piniella had every reason to go ahead with those predictions, and make them come true. Personally, while I do not know who should be removed from the rotation, but as things stand, Gorzelanny is the top contender.
Despite his record of 2-5 on the year, he still has the third best ERA and the second lowest batting average against on the team, just behind Ryan Dempster. How anyone can say he does not keep the team in games is beyond me because in seven of his nine starts he has given up three runs or less, in that stretch, he only gave up three runs once. He has done more than his fair share to keep the team in the ballgames in which he has pitched in. But of course, baseball is sadly a “what have you done for me lately” sport; fans typically only remember the most recent outing. Unfortunately, last night, Gorzelanny put started poorly and things continued to crumble for him as he gave up seven runs, of which only five were earned thanks to a Mike Fontenot error, in only five innings while walking three men. Before last night’s fiasco, Gorzelanny actually held the Cubs best ERA on the starting staff
However, last night likely sunk any chance Gorzelanny had of remaining in the rotation, and he will more than likely replace Zambrano in the bullpen. However, if you thought that this would be the only move made when Zambrano returns to the rotation, you could be severely mistaken. With Gorzelanny heading to the bullpen, the Cubs will have four left handed relievers, more than half of their bullpen. I can not see the Cubs carrying more left handed pitchers than righties. One of the current left handed pitchers will likely be removed to make room for a right handed pitcher to replace Zambrano.
Before you get your hopes up, the Cubs will not be wishing John Grabow the best in his future endeavors. While he has not performed up to expectations, or even close, with two years left on his contract as well as a few million dollars his spot on the roster is likely safe. The best you can hope for is for him to be placed on the disabled list. But unless the Cubs are able to come up with something determined to be “season ending” this move will only buy them an extra two weeks.
Another left hander who will be safe is Sean Marshall. He has shown more than enough to convince Piniella to make him the 8th inning pitcher, and bridge the game to Carlos Marmol. Outside of Jeff Stevens, who has only appeared in two games, and Carlos Marmol, who is the teams closer and wont pitch in the middle innings, Marshall has been the best reliever the Cubs have been able to throw out there and have confidence in. His crisp .165 batting average against and solid .86 WHIP shows exactly why he will not be the odd lefty out. That leaves just one player, James Russell.
After Marshall, Russell may be the next best pitcher in the Cubs pen, but he may on his way out as soon as Zambrano makes his triumphant return. Of the three left handed pitchers the pen, Russell has the least experience, and would be the easiest pitcher to remove from the bullpen, despite the success he has had. He will just be the unfortunate casualty of war. I am sure he would understand, but how can you deny that he has done everything that was asked of him? He has pitched well enough to keep his spot in the bullpen, but his future with the Cubs 25 man roster, at least at this time, may have run out.
If, as I believe he will, Russell gets demoted, you can expect to see another young right handed pitcher called up to replace him. Either Andrew Cashner or Jay Jackson will be on the top of the list of names to be called up to effectively replacing Zambrano. With recent reports of Jackson starting tonight for the Iowa Cubs in Triple A, in place of Cashner, you can bet that Cashner is a sure fire lock to be called up when Zambrano returns to the rotation and Gorzelanny replacing Russell in the pen. That would definitely help out a struggling bullpen, and be the start of the Cashner Era.
In an honest moment, I could not possibly tell you who should be the odd man out, once Zambrano returns. You could pick any one of our current starters and make a case for them to stay in the rotation or be demoted to the bullpen. As for me though, removing Gorzelanny does not make the most sense, and the ripple effect will be felt in the bullpen.
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.
Every fan of the Chicago Cubs knows that the bullpen would be a complete disaster since the earliest of days in Spring Training. Those fears became reality rather quickly as the season started, and continued to be a horrifying reality throughout the first 14 games of the season. Fans have been demanding bullpen help all since the off season began. The Cubs already weak bullpen took a vicious hit when Angel Guzman, projected eighth inning setup pitcher, was forced to the shelf with a possible career ending surgery just after camp began. Unfortunately for Cub fans everywhere, General Manager Jim Hendry was unable to fill the void in the bullpen with an experience pitcher before the season began With Ted Lilly coming back to the rotation on Saturday when the Cubs face the Milwaukee Brewers, the understanding was that one of the starters would be moved into the bullpen. The only question, or so most though, was would we see Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny take over a relief role.
In a complete shocker, according to several reports, the Cubs have decided to move Carlos Zambrano into the bullpen effective Friday. While many fans have been saying that Zambrano has fallen off, and is not earning the money he was signed to in his contract of a few years ago, no one could have realistically expected their $18 million a year “Ace” pitcher to be the starting pitcher selected to move to the pen. there are a few questions that are raised with this move. How long will this experiment last, and will this move help the Cubs win more of the games they have the lead in the late innings?
Before you question how this helps the team, taking Zambrano out of the rotation, ask yourself this. How many games have the Cubs been leading in the seventh or eighth inning when they had a one run lead? The Cubs bullpen has had several problems holding on to leads late in the game. The bull pen has blown at least six games, when the Cubs have had a small lead. You don’t have to think long about this next question, and I really shouldn’t have to ask. Who do you trust more on the mound, Zambrano, John Grabow, Jeff Gray or Jeff Samardzija. The answer should easily be Zambrano. He is by far better than any of the other late inning relief candidates that are currently in the bullpen. Another reason why this move makes sense, is because Zambrano is a strikeout pitcher. Strike outs is a key for anyone who pitches in the eighth inning. The only foreseeable problem, is that Zambrano hasn’t pitched in relief since his second season in the majors, which was eight years ago in 2002.
How long a move like this will last, depends on a number of variables. How well Zambrano pitches in the setup role, and how well the other starters pitchers do. This could easily be a short lived experiment if Zambrano gets shelled outing after outing, or if either Silva or Gorzelanny fall off the map and put up a couple poor starts in a row. Either one of those two situations could result in the return of Zambrano to the starting rotation. Personally, I hope this move becomes permanent; only because that would mean that all three pitchers will be having success in their roles. If all three have success, there is a very good chance that the Cubs will catapult themselves back into contention for the division. If this move fails, then the Cubs are back at square one.
While I may not personally be in favor of this move, at least the team is trying to do something to improve a very weak component of their ball club, while taking away from a strength. If the Cubs did not have Lilly coming back, this move would not make any sense at all. Any way you spin this, we can only assume making a move like this is nothing short of a desperation move. Most would rather see either Silva or Gorzelanny be moved to the pen, because they would rather see close to 200 innings from Zambrano instead of only 70-80. Most don’t see how limiting the innings of one of your better pitchers can do anything to help the club at all. Others feel that he will be a great setup man and give the Cubs everything they need in the eighth inning.
As the situation stands, Cub fans are voicing mixed opinions on this move, but that doesn’t make this the wrong move. Only time will tell how this move plays out, and what the ramifications are. However, this will have a lot to say with the future of Lou Piniella and how much longer he sticks around. If this move is deemed a success and the Cubs start winning, Piniella will be called a genius for making the gutsy move. If this works out, we could very likely see him stick around until the bitter end of the year, and may even get extended if the Cubs make a lot of noise. If this fails, he could be ushered out of town and fired before the All-Star break.