Tagged: Derrek Lee

The Ex-Cub Factor in the 2010 Playoffs

The regular season for the 2010 campaign is now officially over, but that does not mean that your baseball world has to stop. While we, as fans of the Chicago Cubs, have no real rooting interest in who wins the World Series, we do have the choice of which former Cub do you want to see win a ring, and who you don’t. There are five of the eight teams which have former members of the Cubs on their rosters, who have a chance to be on the active roster once the playoffs begin.

With the Texas Rangers, you have Rich Harden. The Yankees have two former Cubs, Joe Girardi and Kerry Wood. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves have Derrek Lee, while the San Francisco Giants have Mike Fontenot. The final team, the Cincinnati Reds have Dusty Baker and Jim Edmonds. Nine former Cubs all have the chance to win a ring, with someone other than our home town heroes. Who are you rooting for, and who are you rooting against?

Obviously, we will have our disagreements on who we want to win and who we don’t. That is why I am here today, to clear the air with my thoughts on which of these former Cubs I want to see succeed, and who I want to fall flat on their faces. Of course, there will be explanations for each. Let’s see if you agree or disagree with my thought process.

The first team I want to see knocked out of the playoffs, are the Reds. I know the old mantra is root for your division before all other teams, but I have a hatred that can not be matched by any other former Cub than for Baker and Edmonds. While Baker has indeed been one of, if not the, best manager the Cubs have ever had, I have a very long memory. Getting the Cubs within five outs of their first World Series in 58 years is something special which I will never forget. What I can also not forget, is how he cost us that game. Sure, people blame Steve Bartman (which I do not), or Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and Mark Prior, but in my books they just played supporting roles to Baker. All he did was sit on his butt while the team fell apart around him.

As far as Edmonds goes, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to hating him. I hated him with a passion when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but fell in love with him when he was a Cub. Just saying that makes me feel dirty; however, watching him play the game the way you are supposed to play, one would have a hard time hating someone like that. That being said, I do hate him once again. He wont be known as a former Cub, but a former Cardinal.

I take back my original thoughts though, I don’t want to see them be the first team knocked out. I want to see them be five outs away, and to have Baker blow things once again.

As much as I love Lee, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to disliking him. While he is one hell of a baseball player, as well as a person, much like with Baker, I can not forgive him for 2003. He helped eliminate the Cubs in that ugly game six, and if memory serves, he had the game winning RBI. Since he helped beat the Cubs to get his first ring, I am not so sure that I want to see him win a second now that he is no longer with the Cubs. Especially since he is one of the reasons the Cubs failed to go anywhere this year. I loved what he brought us his first few years with the team, but I can not root for the man who helped deny us our dream, now that he is no longer with us.

With the Rangers, I couldn’t really care less about them and Rich Harden. I know he is a favorite of at least one of my followers, but he was not with the Cubs nearly long enough for me to have any kind of bond with. I am glad he gets another shot, but don’t care if he wins a ring or not. Honestly, I don’t really feel he is much worth my time or attention. He did good things for us in his short Cubs career, but not enough to make me root for him.

The Giants and Fontenot might get my vote, because while he is not a great ballplayer, Fontenot is someone I liked. Mainly because there is finally proof someone my size can play baseball in the majors. While he was better for us in 2008 than he was in 2009, he never really stepped up to be the player we all hoped he would be when they traded Mark DeRosa (no, I am not saying we should have kept DeRosa). The Giants, based on my rooting for former Cubs would get my vote in the National League, if not to win the whole thing.

 

The Yankees, or the Evil Empire, I would not mind seeing win. Wood will always have a special place in Cub fans hearts. Out of all the former Cubs, I think I would want him to win a ring first. The only problem with this, is that would also mean Girardi would win one as well. I have nothing against Girardi, but if he wins a World Series, or maybe even if he gets there, he will likely want to stay in New York one more year, which would take him out of the running for the Cubs managerial job. Out of all the candidates for the Cubs manager, I think I want him to get the job. Nothing against Ryne Sandberg, I just think he would do a better job.

Now, if I were to take the mindset of some fans of the Cubs, which is to say “if you didn’t win one for us, I don’t want you to win at all” then I would go for the Minnesota Twins beating the Philadelphia Phillies. Why the Twins over the Phillies? Well, that would stick things to the Chicago White Sox, and I don’t want to see the Phillies win another title. I have never been a fan of any team in Philly, and don’t plan on liking one any time soon.

If I have to chose, I would say the San Francisco Giants and Fontenot winning over the Twins, or vice versa.

Now that you have seen and read my thoughts on the former Cubs and the playoffs, what are yours? Which former Cub, if any, do you want to see win a ring? Why and why not?

Fire Sale Series: Derrek Lee

As the round up to the fire series nears the end, the final individual player I will discuss, is Derrek Lee, and this will be one of the shortest blogs I have written. Whether you love him, or hate him, the Chicago Cubs should consider moving him by the trade deadline. With the Cubs falling further out of contention as the days fall off the calendar, and with Lee’s contract running out at seasons end, he makes perfect sense to trade. Get something for him, before he leaves on his own and you get nothing for him.

Even with Lee’s lackluster play this season, he is still a valuable trading chip the Cubs hold. He would likely gather more interest than any of the other players I have talked about in this series. His contract is very reasonable in terms of money, plus he has gold glove defense at first base. While he does have a no trade clause, like everyone else fans want moved, Lee may not exercise his right to remain on the team, especially if he is being traded to a contender.

While there are more attractive first baseman out there that teams would be more interested in acquiring in a trade, the only other first baseman who has been talked about being traded nearly as much as Lee, has been Paul Konerko. With the Chicago White Sox playing their way back into contention, the likelihood of his being traded is now just about nonexistent. That makes Lee the best first baseman likely to be traded on the open market. So for once, Cub fans can thank the White Sox for doing something to help them out.

With Lee still being owed just over $6.5 Million for this season, he comes at a bargain. The Cubs may have to pick up a portion of the remaining money, but unlike the other players, the money they have to pay will not have an effect on any year past the current one. There is very little downside at all to the Cubs trading away Lee.

The only problem the Cubs would be facing, is the same problem they would face in 2011, the lack of a replacement at the position. With everyone else fans are clamoring to be cut or traded, there is a player waiting in the wings to fill a void in the farm system. The Cubs have no one in the minors who can fill that void, unless they have someone change positions, maybe teach Tyler Colvin to play first base until a spot in the outfield opens up for him. For the remainder of the season though, Xavier Nady can finish out the season at first.

Just like everyone else I have written about, if you are able to find a taker for him, the move must be made. Lee has been a great player for us in years past, but he is not a part of the team’s future.

When the Cubs and Cardinals Get Together, Throw Out the Record Book, as Well as Streaks

Today marks the first meeting of the season for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2010 baseball season. I can not remember time, when their first meeting of the year was almost two months into the season, though I am sure there have been times when they have met later. As the old saying goes, when these two teams get together, you can throw out the record books. No matter how much better one team appears to be doing than the other, you are sure to see a battle on the field. The intensity always seems to pick up when these two teams face off. No matter who is winning, you can surely bet the other team has a comeback in them, to make the game close, and I would not expect anything different in this upcoming series.

Currently, the Chicago Cubs are playing some of their best baseball of the season, going 7-10 against some of the National League’s better teams, as well as one of the top teams in the American League. Granted, they did not face two of the leagues best pitchers in Ubaldo Jimezez and Roy Halliday when they played the Colorado Rockies and the Philadelphia Phillies, but they still were able to get the job done, winning three of those four games. If the Cubs were able to hit a fly ball in the final game against the Phillies, they might have been able to have swept both brief two game series, instead of just the one against the Rockies. In this stretch, they have also been able to win a series from both the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs could not be hotter heading into yet another very tough series with another one of the better teams in the National League.

With the Cubs currently sitting in third place, behind both the division leading Cincinnati Reds, and the Cardinals the Cubs have a great opportunity to move closer to second place, and possibly even first if the Houston Astros are able to do anything worthwhile against the Reds. However, what happens in that series is out of the Cubs hands, all they can do is focus on the team they are playing. If the Cubs are able to sweep the Cardinals out of Chicago, they are sending a message to both teams ahead of them in the standings that the Cubs are back and they better take notice. Even if they are able to only win two of the three games, the Cubs can still make a statement. Sweeping series is great, but if you are consistently winning series then you will be sticking around for a long time.

Ironically, both the Cubs and Cardinals have two of their most important hitters struggling. Granted, the struggling stars for the Cardinals are still hitting their normal averages for the year, but you can not over look that they are in a funk of their own as of late. Matt Holliday is in a 5-25 slump, but is still looking good hitting .286 on the year. Albert Pujols is also in the middle of a funk, going 4-22, but his season stats are still something any team in baseball would take. His nine home runs and 32 RBI would look pretty good on any roster. Whether or not they are struggling, you should not over look either of these two hitters.

You can look at the situation with the two slumping Cardinal stars in two ways. On one hand, you can look at the slumps as a sign that the Cardinals are beatable, especially if their two biggest threats are not hitting. If you are able to keep them on their slide, you take out the two biggest threats in their lineup, forcing them to out pitch you, which the Cardinals are very capable of doing as they have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. But if you can limit the Cardinals offense, you have a chance to beat them in a low scoring game.

On the other hand, nothing is more dangerous for a pitching staff, than facing two sluggers who are in the middle of a slump. You know that players like Pujols and Holliday will not be held down for too long before they are able to once again break out. All they need, is that one swing of the bat to snap them out of their funk, and they become the most dangerous hitters in the game again. Fans may think they are catching the Cardinals and their two hitting stars at the right time, but the right time may not be for the Cubs at all.

Unlike Pujols and Holliday, the Cubs slumping stars have been in more of a season long slump. The man who has traditionally been the Cubs biggest RBI threat throughout the years, Aramis Ramirez, is colder than ever. On the season, he is hitting under the Mendoza line with a very disappointing batting average of .160, and is limited to only four home runs and 20 RBI. Considering how poorly he has been hitting this season, the 20 RBI are a blessing. He has been sitting out the past few games with a sore thumb, but is expected to be back in the lineup today when the season begins. We can only hope and pray that Ramirez’s thumb is feeling better and he is as ready to break out as one of his fellow teammates appears to be.

While the Cubs other slugger, Derek Lee, is still posting a .246 batting average on the year, there are plenty of reasons for the Cubs and their fans to believe that he has finally broken out of his season long agony. In the series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lee went 7-9, elevating his batting average for the month of May to .286, which is what we expected him to be doing all along. With Lee seemingly back in the fold, the Cubs are that much closer to being looked at as a viable contender in the National League Central race.

The game this afternoon, will not be an easy one to win. The Cardinals will be sending out Chris Carpenter, who has a stellar record of 5-1 and has an ERA of 3.09. The Cubs will be countering with Randy Wells who is 3-2 with an ERA or 3.99. However as I stated earlier, when these two teams get together, you can throw out the record books. Carpenter could get knocked out of the game in the first inning while Wells pitches a complete game shutout. Anything can, and usually does happen with these two teams.

Time For a Quarter Final review: The Offense

With the quarter mark in the baseball season upon us, what better time could there be to check in on the state of the Chicago Cubs, who have not lived up to the fans expectations. With only 123 games left, you can no longer say things are early in the season. However, at the same time, you can not say that there are not enough games left to make a move. The way the Cubs have played in the first 39 games of the year, you would be hard pressed to find a large percentage of fans who would be able to continue holding onto the hope that things can still be turned around.

Currently, the Cubs are sitting with a record of 17-22 in third place, only 5.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds. The second place team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are a half game behind the reds, and five games ahead of the Cubs. Using simple math, and the statistical argument of real games back as opposed to traditional games out, the Cubs are an ugly 10.5 games out of first place. With three quarters of the season left to go, there are still plenty of games left to make up ground, as long as the Cubs start getting their act together immediately. With 10 games left to play with the first place Reds and all 15 games left with the Cardinals, there are plenty of games left with the teams ahead of the Cubs to make a move. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be some major improvement in many areas.

In the next few days, I will look at the four phases of the Chicago Cubs, as they currently stand. The offense, starting pitching, bullpen and team defense. All four phases of the team are areas the team needs to improve in,

The first phase that needs to step things up is the offense. At the moment, the team is hitting .270, which is tied for the 8th best batting average in the majors, and have six hitters in the everyday lineup hitting over .300.

Of the players who have been with the Cubs the whole season, Marlon Byrd has been the team’s best hitter, putting up a .340 batting average with seven home runs and 25 RBI; all three of which lead the team. He has been one of the few players to come through in the clutch more often than not. If you think back to when he was first signed, many Cub fans were upset that they had “wasted” $15 million on him over three years, now however they appear to be singing a different tune as he has impressed the legions with his stellar play.

One of the biggest surprises in the Cubs offense, is Alfonso Soriano, who is hitting .323 on the year, but an eye popping .365 in the month of May. Last season, Soriano didn’t make too many friends among the Cubs fan base with not only his poor hitting, but his poor defense as well. This season, he had something to prove, and while his defense is still akin to a horror movie, his offensive outbursts are something that fans have been waiting to see from him. He will never live up to the massive contract he was signed to before the 2007 season, but he is still showing that he can carry a team offensively.

Ryan Theriot has continued to do what he has normally done since he got here, and that’s hit. Until recently, Theriot has been the Cubs primary leadoff hitter, but is now hitting in the second spot in the lineup, at least against the right handed pitchers. With his .316 batting average, he is collecting more than his fair share of hits, but his on base percentage of .348 is weak, because of the miniscule difference between the two stats. One aspect of his game that needs to be worked on, is drawing more walks, and striking out less.

Kosuke Fukudome has started off the season with his traditional April explosion, followed by a decline in play in May. He started off the year hitting .344 in his first month, but has cooled off to only .273 so far in May, but still has a respectable .315 on the year. While he has slowed down a little bit, he is still playing tremendously well, especially in the field. His patience at the plate, and timely hitting, has earned him the leadoff spot when there is a right handed pitcher on the mound.

Geovany Soto has rebounded quite nicely over his Sophomore season and is playing almost better than he did in his rookie year. Batting primarily in the 8th sport in the order, Soto has begun to show a tremendous eye at the plate. While his batting average sits at .301, his on base percentage is over .450. His four homers and 10 RBI may not look too impressive on their own merit, but when combined with his OBP and batting average in the eight hole, you have an impressive stat line. With how well he has been hitting, he probably should be elevated to a more important run producing slot in the lineup.

Even though he has only been with the Cubs for just over a week, Starlin Castro is hitting .361 in 10 games. His energetic play has gotten fans energized and given them reason to have hope for the future. With the way he handles himself at the plate, and runs right out of the box, fans have quickly fallen in love with him. Since being called up from triple A, he has taken over the eight hole from Soto in the lineup, with the occasional elevation to the two hole when Theriot has been given a day off. Where ever Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has put him in the order, he has shown that he can produce, which has some fans asking for him to be given a more important role, than batting in front of the pitcher.

While the statistics from these guys are impressive, if that is all you are looking at, you will be missing half the story. Sure, the Cubs can hit in no pressure situations with the bases empty, when runners reach base and are in scoring position, the bats seem to completely cool off. The Cubs just can not seem to be able to drive runs in on a consistent basis. If a player collects three hits in a game in four plate appearances, his batting average will look great. However, if his only out comes at a time when there are runners in scoring position, you are not doing your team much good. That appears to be the problem the Cubs are having, and one that needs to be solved if they have any serious plans of contending this year.

However, the problem comes to a head when you take notice of the two most important hitters in the Cubs lineup are continuing to be viewed as the two weakest hitters in the order. The two biggest problems in the Cubs offense remain to be Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, though signs point to both being on the right path. With the way the rest of the team is hitting, if Lee and Ramirez are able to come back to form, the offense will be in good shape, and able to carry the team to a lot more wins. If you are looking for some reason to have some optimism that these two are going to be able to contribute in the months to come, consider this.

Over the past 16 games, Lee is hitting a much improved .277, which is .047 points higher than he is currently hitting, and only .006 below his career average. While he has only hit four home runs on the year, the power will come as his hits start piling up. As the Cubs three hole hitter, which he should have been moved out of during his ugly month and a half long slump, the Cubs need him to start hitting on a more consistent basis. So far for the month of May he has looked to be doing just that, and has quieted some of his critics, but there are still plenty more who letting their voices be heard.

Ramirez on the other hand, who is still stuck in baseball hell, is hitting well below the Mendoza line. As a player who has been looked upon as the biggest RBI threat in the Cubs lineup the past several years, his poor play is reflective on the Cubs struggles to score runs. Last night, Ramirez hit the game winning home run against the Colorado Rockies, in walk off fashion. In doing so, he recorded only his third multi-hit game of the year. He has improved in the month of May, hitting .216, which is up .064 points from his April average, but he is still not doing enough to warrant hitting in the heart of the lineup. Until he shows that he can put together an elongated stretch of games where he is able to hit consistently, he should be lowered to the seven hole behind Soriano, with Soto moving up to batting fifth. This is a move that likely wont happen, and could very well be one of the key reasons the Cubs continue to struggle throughout the year to score runs.

The offense is not running at full speed, and that is what is keeping them from putting up the consistent offensive numbers that they should be putting up. If they are to have success, they need to start hitting with runners on base and in scoring position. Hitting with no one on base is all well and good, but if you consistently drop the ball in the situations that matter the most, you will never live up to your full potential.

Playing the Blame Game with the Cubs offense

The “New Nightmare on Elm Street” is coming to a theater near you, however the nightmare the Chicago Cubs are facing this year is the same one they experienced last season. All last year, the Cubs suffered through the ineptitude of being unable to score runs, and leaving far too many men on base. The offensive offense the Cubs are throwing on the field this year has got to be the most disappointing aspect of the 2010 Cubs season. You can throw the bullpen into the discussion if you want to, because lets face the bullpen gives you a gut punch every time you see Lou Piniella taking out a starting pitcher. However, to be honest, the implosive bullpen was always known to be bad, even way back when Spring Training began. On the Brightside, the bullpen has shown a sign of improvement since Carlos Zambrano was assigned to assist them in the eighth inning. The offense on the other hand, has turned into a complete frustrating situation, where you never know what you are going to get as an end result.

 

If you are looking to cast blame on the offense, you don’t have to look too far to find who is to blame. As a whole, the Cubs are leaving far too many men on the base paths, and everyone is to blame for that, though some are more responsible than others. While, as the old saying goes, “you win as a team, you lose as a team” the players you depend on the most, should get the front of the blame. For the most part, everyone else is doing their jobs as expected.

 

Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome are usually going to be slotted in the one and two spots in the batting order. Typically, your first two hitters in the order are there to get on base for the big boppers that will follow them. While they do not hold the top two spots on the team in on base percentage, they are still doing a great job at getting on base. Theriot is putting up a .333 batting average and getting on base at a .370 clip. His on base percentage could be higher, especially when you look at the batting average, but you can’t complain about someone getting on base nearly 40% of the time. Following Theriot in the order is Fukudome, who is also hitting .333 but has a very impressive OBP of .429. They are also knocking in their fair share of runs, with 11 RBI each. The blame for the lack of offense does not fall on these two men. However, the next two men are in the spot light.

 

With your first two batters getting on base at a very high level, you must depend on your three and four hitters, who unfortunately for the Cubs have been dropping the ball. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are supposed to be your main run producers, but they are not driving the runs in. As a matter of fact, the top two hitters in the lineup have more RBI than your power hitting run producers. Not only are they not driving in the runs, they are simply not hitting. Lee is in the midst of his normal April slump with a miserable batting average of .203, while Ramirez is stuck at .155. Neither of which are acceptable statistics from your best two hitters. While Lee has done this almost every year, and always rebounds to have a good season, the Cubs can not afford to have him not hitting right now. The Cubs need his bat to come to life sooner rather than later. Ramirez slumping as bad as he is, on the other hand, makes you worry because you have never seen him in as bad of a funk as he is now. While he looks to be coming out of the slump, he still isn’t hitting the ball the way we are used to seeing him. Add in his towering strike out numbers, and the amount of concern goes through the roof.

 

Your five and six hitters, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano are hitting the ball with force. Both are doing their jobs with the bat. Byrd is hitting .333 and Soriano is hitting .292, great batting averages for your fifth and sixth batters. They are driving in runs at a rate you would expect. Could they be doing better than they are? Of course they could, especially with how poorly Ramirez and Lee are doing at the job. The problem is, more often than not, Lee and Ramirez usually end the inning. Both Byrd and Soriano though, are surprising fans with their offensive output. Most fans thought Soriano was done, after posting a batting average around .250 in 2009. However this year, he is hitting the ball like the Soriano of old, though maybe without the power, and is actually showing patience at the plate. That is something Cub fans have been begging him to do since they signed him. With Byrd, fans were unsure what to expect from him, because he was coming from a hitters paradise in Arlington, Texas. So far this season, he is showing that he has learned how to hit, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. You would be hard pressed to put a lot of blame on either of these two.

 

Even the bottom of the Cubs order is coming through with hits. Both Mike Fontenot and Geovany Soto swing the bat much better than they did in 2009, though that wouldn’t be hard to do. In fact, Soto is leading the team in batting with a .362 batting average and an eye popping .516 OBP. Both are very impressive, especially when you take into account that he is hitting in front of the pitcher. Fontenot has also come to life, posting a .308 batting average and a .339 OBP. They are both playing up to and far beyond par, especially Fontenot who many wrote off before the season began. Batting in the seventh and eighth slot in the batting order, you don’t usually expect much, but they are doing their job and then some. Pinning the blame on them would be hard.

 

While everyone in the normal starting lineup, outside of Lee and Ramirez, is doing a tremendous job statistically speaking, they are all failing with runners in scoring position in key situations. They are all leaving far too many men on the base paths, which is a major cause of their failure to win more games. Blame the bullpen for a half dozen of the games that they have lost, because in the box score those pitchers do get the losses, but when you are only able to push across two or three runs in a game, you wont get the win that often. When you take a one run game into the late innings, you are depending on your bullpen to be perfect, which is not fair to expect from anyone. Yes, the bullpen has been horrid in the early stages of the season, but with signs of improvement of late, but the offense should get most of the blame.

 

If the offense is going to come to life, no matter how well everyone around them is hitting, Lee and Ramirez need to step up and start doing their jobs. A team can not survive if their top two run producers are not even hitting their weight.

With injuries starting to pile up, is there panic in Cubbie Nation

Well, the Chicago Cubs are about halfway through Spring Training, and things do not appear to be going there way at all. The injuries in Cubs camp seem to be piling up, and even the most optimistic of fans have got to be getting at least a little worried. The Cubs would be in a great spot to compete, if they were to just stay healthy. So far though, the staying healthy part seems to be a major problem. A few of the more important pieces to the Cubs roster are the ones who are facing these injury concerns. Hopefully they are able to get healthy before the start of the season, which is just three weeks away.

As we know by now, the man who was supposed to be the main right handed setup pitcher in the Cubs Bullpen, Angel Guzman, is done for the year and needs arm surgery. Unfortunately for Guzman, not only will the surgery for his injured arm put him out for the season, he could also be facing the end of his career. The Cubs already had several questions in the bullpen this year, and losing Guzman adds several more questions to the list. Now, the Cubs must find a new reliever who can be a dependable setup man from the right side of the mound. That will be a daunting task, as there were already several questions about what other right handed pitchers they would be able to realistically depend on to give stability to the bullpen. Currently, the plan is to throw Esmailin Caridad into the right handed setup role. With him looking like one of the main competitors to fill one of the voids in the bullpen, they Cubs must now search even harder to fill an empty slot. That wont be the easiest thing to do, especially considering that the Cubs are lacking in dependable right handed pitching arms. The Cubs biggest trouble spot on the team, has become an even bigger problem.

As long as we are on the topic of losing a player that the Cubs can not afford to lose, the most important piece of the Cubs offense has gone down with an injury. Aramis Ramirez, who missed half of last year with a separated shoulder, left the game on Saturday with what they are calling sore triceps. While they are currently saying that the injury isn’t serious, and they are not too concerned with things at the moment, how many times have we heard that line before? Hopefully the sore triceps are of no concern, and he was just taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. Much like with Guzman, losing Ramirez for any length of time would be a devastating blow to the Cubs lineup. There is no side stepping the issue, if Ramirez is seriously injured, you can write off the Cubs for the 2010 season. Even though the Cubs are better equipped if Ramirez goes down, with Jeff Baker and possibly Chad Tracy in camp for the start of the season, the drop off from Ramirez to either one of those too is too great.

Another player who is currently facing injury woes is the gold glove first baseman, Derrek Lee. In a game earlier in the week, Lee fouled a ball off of his foot, and was taken out of the game. Currently, the reports are stating that he only has bruising on the top of his foot, but that doesn’t mean there is no need for concern. His return date to game action keeps getting pushed back, and he has yet to return to game action. He was scratched from the lineup for Thursday’s game and the Cubs announced he would be in the lineup on Saturday. Well, the game came, and Lee was nowhere to be found, he had been scratched again. Now, the Cubs are saying he will return to game action on Tuesday. My guess would be, the Cubs are just being overly cautious with him. If this were not Spring Training, Lee could very well be in the starting lineup and be ready to contribute every day. Perhaps they are thinking that they would rather be safe than sorry. Most likely, this is the reason Lee has not returned, but one can never be too sure. Anytime a player fouls a ball off their foot, you have to be worried about the chance they broke a bone, much like Reed Johnson did last year. The reports say Lee only has a bruise, but teams have been known to not tell the whole story when talking about players injuries. Hopefully this is not the case with Lee.

I wish the injury concerns stopped there though, but alas they do not. Starting pitcher Ted Lilly is also on the road to recovery. He has had a few setbacks along the way, but appears to be back on track, and maybe even ahead of schedule. Lilly is currently trying to fight his way back from a minor off season surgery to his shoulder, but has missed time with his rehabilitation with a sore knee and a case of the flu. Both of which forced him to sit out for a few days. Recent reports though are good, as he is back to throwing off of a mound, and he has said that he is determined to pitch in at least one Cactus League game this Spring. If he is able to do so, he may not miss nearly as much time as feared, and could be back by early May at the latest. This would be the best news we could get, because the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the starter who will be a place holder for Lilly, has given mixed results from every pitcher who is a contender. In a perfect world, Lilly will be good to go by the middle of April; that would be the first time the Cubs would realistically need a fifth starter. If Lilly can not make his return until late May or early June, the Cubs starting pitching staff will not look strong at all. Jeff Samardzija had a great first outing of the spring, but got knocked around in his second outing. The exact opposite can be said about Carlos Silva though. He became public enemy number one after his first spring outing, but looked great in his second. Personally, I don’t look too much into Spring Training stats, but Id rather see my starting pitching contenders not get knocked around.

So far in camp, these are the four main injuries to cast a shadow of concern on Cubs camp. With three weeks remaining, the only one which we know will hurt us for the regular season is the loss of Guzman, as he is done for the year at very least. If Lee and Ramirez are only day to day, then they will be fine to start the year. However, if the Cub are not being completely truthful on their injuries, we could be in for a very long season. Lilly’s injury is the Wild Card though, as we know what his status is and how much time he is estimated to miss.

The question you need to ask yourselves though, is this too early to start panicking about injuries? The Cubs are saying that Ramirez and Lee are not sitting out with serious injuries, but any injury which will limit them is a serious blow to the Cubs chances. Missing a few games here or there wont hurt them in the long run. But if they are forced to sit out for a stretch of games at the start of the season, even with the Cubs “light schedule” could be a blow to any chance they have of competing.

Spring Training Series: Around the Horn- Derrek Lee

For the Chicago Cubs, first base is a position that is locked up, at least through this year, with Derrek Lee. He has been a one of the best players for the team, since the Cubs acquired him in a trade before the 2004 season. His smooth swing and cool demeanor has made him one of the more popular players for the Cubs in recent years. While his bat and gold glove defense is a key part of the Cubs team, his leadership capability is also a welcomed addition to any major league ballclub.

In 2009, Lee put up an amazing year, leading the everyday players in home runs, runs batted in, on base percentage and slugging percentage. He also came in second with batting average to Aramis Ramirez, who missed half the year with his dislocated shoulder. Last year, he was far and away our best player. No one came close to competing with him for the team MVP. While the team ultimately fell to the Cardinals in the divisional race, that was no fault of Lee who also led the team in fielding percentage, at least all of the everyday starters. Lee’s 35 home runs last year was his second highest home run total of his career, and his 111 RBI set a new record for his career.

While Lee put up an amazing season last year, you would not have figured this would have been the case when the season started. In April of last season, Lee put up a horrible month. He hit only .189 with only one home run, and 10 RBI. With Lee struggling at the plate, many fans were calling for his head, and asking Cubs Manager Lou Piniella to bench him in favor of Micah Hoffpauir, who had shown the fans glimpses of just what he could do. As you would expect, Piniella ignored the cries of the high percentage of the fan base, and stuck with slugger throughout the season. As you know, this was the wise decision on his part.

What fans need to remember about Lee is he starts slow every year. April is historically his worst month, at least from what we have seen of his time in Chicago. The 2009 season reminded me a lot of 2008 and 2004 when Lee first got here. Fans have always been hard on Lee in the month of April, and have thought of him as being done when he puts up his subpar statistics early in the year. However, year in and year out, he has proven his critics wrong as he continues to put up great numbers when the year is over. I have no reason to believe that he would not continue to deliver for us again for the 2010 season.

So, what do I predict for Lee to do for the Cubs this coming season? I believe that Lee will hit for close to a .300 average, while hitting close to 30 home runs and around 100 RBI. He will do all this, while having another slow month of April. You guys should be use to what a typical season from Lee looks like by now. I would hope that Lee is not the victim of fans booing him again, when and if he gets off to another slow start. Lee is the real deal Cubs fans; he has proven that he can lead the offense year in and year out. While he may be nearing end of his prime, he still has more than enough life in him to help the Cubs make a run at the post season.

With Jaramillo on board, the 2010 offseason for the Cubs has officially begun

Today, the Chicago Cubs made the first move of the off season, and signed Rudy Jaramillo to take over the role of hitting coach. Many people around the league will tell you that Jaramillo is one of the best hitting coaches in the game. With the Cubs struggling with offense throughout the 2009 season, he could have a huge impact on a team that could never put together an extended run of hot hitting. While you can make the argument that the hitting coach is an overrated position on the coaching staff (and Derrek Lee said as much) if you have to have one, you might as well go out and get someone who has as good of credentials as Jaramillo.

While he should be able to help out a number of Cubs, one player in particular might benefit the most from his addition to the coaching staff. That player would be Alfonso Soriano who spent two years under his instruction while he was playing for the Texas Rangers. Why would Soriano benefit more then other players? One reason could be that in 2010, Soriano will be spending his first full season out of the leadoff spot since he was with the Rangers and Jaramillo. In those two seasons, he hit mainly third in 2004, and fifth in 2005. In those two seasons, Soriano averaged 32 homeruns and 98 RBI. Not only did Soriano have success under Jaramillo, he had a strong relationship with him as well, which is what he was quoted to say in the Chicago Sun-times on Tuesday.

So why do people consider Jaramillo to be one of the best hitting coaches in the game? According to the article on the Cubs homepage, the players he has worked with have had a tremendous amount of success. The article noted that Jaramillo’s hitters have won 17 Silver Slugger Awards, four Most Valuable Player Awards, three home run titles, and three RBI crowns under his tutelage. That is a very impressive list to put on your resume. While the hitters themselves are the ones who do all the work, the hitting coach is the one who tries to work out any possible kinks that hitter may have. How much of a difference he will make is anyone’s guess, but if he is able to help Soriano return to the player he was before this year, then he will have earned his salary.

Now, for those who think that this move was made to accommodate Milton Bradley, who the Cubs have said they are going to do everything in their power to move, that is not the case. Too much has transpired since his suspension for Bradley to ever play another game as a member of the Cubs. With the way his soon to be former teammates tore into Bradley, he can not come back. In fact, the only player to really stand up for Bradley was Aramis Ramirez. Well, he was the one guy to speak about him that didn’t throw Bradley under the bus. The only way he can come back to the Cubs, is if you were to trade everyone on the roster who said anything bad about him. The Cubs will not trade away half of their roster to make the club house more friendly for Bradley. That just wont happen, so you can forget about any chance of that happening.

The 2010 off season has officially begun for the Cubs, and while they did not add any on field talent, they took the first step in improving their offense. The main difference between Jaramillo’s philosophy and what the Cubs have been taught in the previous three years in plate discipline. Jaramillo tries to get his hitters to be more aggressive, as opposed to showing patience at the plate. Maybe that is just the change the team needs for them to return to being one of the best offensive clubs in the game in 2010. Anyway you slice the situation, this is a good start to getting the Cubs back on track.

Cub Fans Must Choose Between Young Players, and Proven Veterans

While no one knows for sure what moves will be made to prepare for the 2010 Chicago Cubs, I can make one guarantee. No matter what moves the Cubs make, there will be a large percentage of fans upset that one of their favorite players will no longer be with the club, at least not on the opening day roster. Unfortunately, there are not enough positions, or bench roles on the club for everyone’s favorite players. The fans want the players that they are currently watching have some success, but ultimately, most of these young players will likely be forced to start the season in Triple A. Before I go into my in-depth looks at the various openings in the Cubs roster, I think fans need to realize the difficulty of making decisions with what the team already has.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Cubs have a tremendous amount of outfielders. While having more then you need is better then the alternative of having too few, the decisions that will be made will send shockwaves through the fan base, and upset a good majority of fans. One thing that we know for sure, is that Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will both be brought back as the starting outfielders, and Milton Bradley will be traded at some point this winter. The problem lies with who will fill in the final three voids in the outfield.

With Reed Johnson entering free agency at the end of the year, there are many fans who will be demanding the Cubs re-sign him. Sounds easy enough, sign him to a deal, and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. Fair enough, but then there are only two slots left. Who else should make the team? Fans love the way that Sam Fuld plays, and they have seemingly fallen in love with recent call-up Tyler Colvin. If you want both of them on the roster, then you can more less kiss Jake Fox goodbye. You cant keep him if you want Johnson, Fuld and Colvin. What about Micah Hoffpauir then? Fans want to see him on the team as well. If you take him, who do you leave off? Five current players for three slots, you don’t have to be a genius to do the math, they wont all fit. The solution? Let Colvin and Hoffpauir head back to the minors where they will be able to play everyday. Case solved, or is this only the beginning of the problem?

Everyone knows that the Cubs will be doing everything in their power to trade Bradley to get him as far away from the team as possible. The outfield problem gets all the more difficult if the Cubs get another outfielder back in the deal, or if they sign a free agent bat. If either of these are the case, then the choices for your outfield get more frustrating, for the management staff of the Cubs, and for fans who will get even more upset that their team is not keeping another one of their favorite youngster on the active 25 man lineup. With the possibility of the team adding an outfielder from outside the organization, you know have only two open slots for the outfield. Do you want to re-sign Johnson? If so, then management and fans will have to make a tough decision between Fuld and Fox, unless you want to add Colvin and Hoffpauir into the mix as well. Five players for two slots, there will be plenty of fans who will be upset that one of their choices will not make the team leaving Spring Training.

If you thought that the outfield would be the extent of the tough choices, wait until you see the infield situation. With Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Theriot all but guaranteed to keep their starting jobs, there are three spots left. There is the need for a second baseman, and two backup infielders, one of which will be Aaron Miles, unless he is traded. The easiest solution would be to have Jeff Baker playing second base, and picking through the remaining players to be the final infield backup spot. The players to choose between would then be Andres Blanco, who is out of options, and Mike Fontenot. If you wanted, you could keep Fox over these two, then most problems are solved. The team could keep Johnson and Fuld, depending on if they bring in a free agent or make a trade for an outfielder, they might even be able to keep Colvin. Case closed, everyone wins right? Not so fast.

Much like with the outfield situation, the Cubs could very easily sign a free agent to come in to play second base. That makes the infield problem all the more difficult. The choice for one spot is between Baker, Fontenot and Blanco, add Fox in if you want to keep both Johnson and Fuld. An easy solution would be to try and trade Miles, then the team could be able to keep two of these players, as well as having a second baseman. Having Baker and Fox as the backups would be nice, but missing the defense of Blanco would hurt.

The only way everyone’s favorite position players can make the team, is if the Cubs do not try to trade for or sign any players at all. Then they can have an outfield of: Soriano, Johnson and Fukudome, with backups of Fuld and Fox. The infield would be: Lee, Baker, Theriot and Ramirez, backed up by Blanco and Fontenot (assuming they would trade Miles). With Cub’s manager Lou Piniella likely to carry seven bullpen pitchers as he always does, the team only has room for five back up players, counting the backup catcher. That’s a decent team, but would you consider this team to be championship material? I am not so sure.

Something has to give among the fans demands. They all want the Cubs to go out and sign this player or that player, but also to keep all these other players. With the roster being limited at 25 players, the fans must be willing to accept any and all moves that are going to be made. They can not keep everyone they want to, as well as add everything they think they need. There just isn’t enough room on a 25 man roster to sooth everyone’s wants and demands. The fans must ask themselves one question, do you want to add bigger or better players, or do you want the young guns to get the playing time? Pick your side and stick to what you decide. You cant have everything.

Time to Break Out the Hot Stove for the Chicago Cubs

With the 2009 Chicago Cubs season all but over, the attention of the fans, and hopefully General Manager Jim Hendry, will be how to fix the mess that they currently find themselves in. As a whole, I honestly do not believe that much needs to be done; only a little bit of tinkering. Sure Hendry needs to pull off a miracle trade in order to get rid of Milton Bradley, but other then that, I believe that our team does not need too much work. With most of our team already in place, and with the key pieces already locked in, all that remains is to find one or two key elements which will bring us back to the championship form the Cubs found themselves in the previous two years.

The first, and in my eyes the most important, piece to the championship puzzle that Hendry must bring into the fold, is a true leadoff hitter. The Cubs need an explosive bat at the top of the order that will be able to put the team in the best position possible to score early and often. They need a player who not only has the ability to hit and get on base at a high level, but also has the ability to steal second or third when they get on base. Presently, the Cubs have two options for leading off, neither of which fits all three areas of need.

With Kosuke Fukudome, they have a player who is able to fill the need for a great on base percentage. The downfall for having Fukudome lead off is because he has not proven that he can hit at a high level. His batting average, while slightly improved over last year, still sits at a mediocre .256. Even if he were able to show that he can hit closer to .300, he lacks the true potential to be a stolen base threat. Fukudome, while he can be a decent number two hitter, should not be looked upon to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs next year. His qualifications do not meet the standard of what the ball club needs.

As far as Ryan Theriot, much like with Fukudome, he does not fit the ideal description of a leadoff hitter either. While he is able to hit at a respectable level and get on base close to a .350 average, he does not have the true speed to make him a stolen base threat either. While he does lead the team with 21 steals, only being caught seven times, he does not run enough to put the fear into the opposing team’s pitchers or catchers. His ideal position in the batting order would be either second or eighth in my eyes. While you want to take advantage of his ability to get on base for your sluggers, we saw in 2008 what his presence at the bottom of the order could do for our offense. With Fukudome batting second in a line up I would write out, Theriot would be a nice fit in the eight hole.

The Cubs could also look at using some of their minor leaguers to fill the void at leadoff. This option is very intriguing, as he has shown to be a great defensive player, making several amazing plays in the outfield. While his batting average is still a bit lower then you would like to see your leadoff hitter have, his on base percentage is amazing, hovering around .380. The one draw back, is he apparently does not have enough speed to be the stolen base threat the team requires. However, we do not know fully what he can do, as he has only been allowed to steal base three times, of which he was caught once. I would not be opposed to his leading off, if they were unable to find a suitable replacement.

If none of these three option fit Manager Lou Piniella’s desire, that leaves us with a need to be found outside the organization, and a limited availability for positions to play. The Cubs need to find a leadoff hitter who can play one of three or four possible positions. Fukudome can play either Right or Center field, and while Theriot has mostly been used at Short Stop, he is also capable of playing second base. While there are many options that will be available for the Cubs to sign once the free agency period starts in November, most of them are already in the 30s, and will all come with a hefty price tag. The list is long, and I will not list them at the moment, but rest assured, I do have my favorites already picked out, and I will let you know that sooner rather than later.

In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Piniella mentioned that the Cubs top priority should be to add another power bat to the middle of the order. As I mentioned, I believe that finding a true leadoff hitter should be on the top of the Cubs wish list. However, do we really need another power hitter on the team? With Alfonso Soriano being moved permanently out of the leadoff role, he would be a nice addition to the heart of the order. That is, of course, if he is able to give the team the power numbers he gave them during his time here. If he is able to do so, then the need for another power hitter becomes lower on the wish list.

Another reason the team may not need another power bat added to the lineup is Geovany Soto. While he has raised red flags with his performance this year, I for one am not willing to give up on him. He has shown exactly what he is capable of when he fully prepared for the season. He has admitted that he slacked off in the off season, and did not prepare himself the way that he should have. I am willing to write off 2009 as a rookie mistake, even though he is no longer a rookie. Lesson learned, and he has earned the chance to redeem himself with the level of play he displayed at the end of 2007 and all of 2008. All he needs to do is revert to doing whatever he did in those two years, and I believe that he will be back to everything the team expected of him. If both Soriano and Soto return to form, then there is no need whatsoever to go out and spend a lot of money on another power bat for the middle of the order. If they both fail to accomplish what the team needs from them, there are two options that could fill the bill, though I would advise against them.

In the outfield, you can play either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox in Right Field. If I had to choose between the two of them, I would choose Fox over Hoffpauir, because Fox has more upside. With that being the case, I would severely advise against either one of them playing in the outfield, especially with Soriano playing in the opposite corner. The team can not, and should not, depend on an outfield which would have less than average defenders in both Left and Right Fields. While I would greatly welcome both of them to the bench, I do not want to see either as the everyday Right Fielder. Fukudome would collapse with all the ground he would have to cover in Center Field.

While you can never have enough power in the lineup, the money would be better served elsewhere. However, much like with the speedster that the Cubs should be looking for, the team would need to find a player who can hit for power, who also is able to play one of the previously mentioned four positions. Again, there are many options that may be available, but all would come with a hefty price tag, and are all in their early to mid 30s.

With the slight improvements in mind to help the everyday lineup, the focus should then move to the bench and the backups for each of the replacements. The bench portion of our team is a mess, but in a good way. The Cubs have more pieces then they know what to do with. In the outfield, assuming the Cubs sign a free agent, they have the options of re-signing Reed Johnson, Fuld, Fox and Hoffpauir. Some would question why I left out Tyler Colvin, but that is simply because of his lack of experience, and the Cubs lack of space. He would benefit well from having a little more time in the minors, mainly because he could have an everyday job playing in Triple A. If the Cubs were to sign a free agent for the outfield, chances are only one or two of these players would be on the Cubs bench, that is assuming they decide to re-sign Johnson. If the Cubs decide to have one of them be a starting outfielder, they can keep three of the players. While the Cubs said they wanted to resign Johnson, his time with the Cubs would likely come at the expense of Fuld.

If you thought that the outfield situation was a tricky one to work out, take a look at the log jam the Cubs will be facing with the infield backups. In my opinion, the Cubs need to sign a player to play second base. While Jeff Baker has played very well since coming to the team, I am not completely sold on him being the everyday player at second base. We fell into this trap last year with Mike Fontenot, thinking he would be able to produce the entire season the way we saw him perform in limited time in 2008. If we carry two backup outfielders, that limits us to only being able to carry two back up infielders. There are a few people I would love to see make the team as role players, but only one of them will get the nod, mainly because the Cubs are stuck with Aaron Miles for another year. That means that two of the following three men will not make the team, if the Cubs sign a second baseman. The Cubs can keep Baker, Fontenot or Andres Blanco. Personally, I would let Fontenot go, either by a trade or sent back to the minors. That would leave Piniella and Hendry with the tough decision between Baker and Blanco. This, of course, could all be solved if Baker becomes the starting second baseman. While I don’t know if he can be dependable as an everyday second baseman, he has got to do better then Fontenot. That would also allow us to keep Blanco on the team.

The way the starting rotation for the Cubs will likely only carry over four of the five starters from this year. Love him or hate him, Carlos Zambrano will likely return to the team next year, along with Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells. While Rich Harden would be a welcome commodity, there are far too many rumors floating around that he will not be brought back. If he is willing to give the Cubs a discount, and not demand a long term deal, he may be brought back, but according to some baseball analysts he will get a contract worth at least $10 million a year. With his injury history, that would not be a quality investment. That would leave the Cubs one starting pitcher shy, but they have a few names who could step into the role as the fifth starter for 2010.

The in house options that the Cubs can consider for the vacant starters job are Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Gorzelanny. From the way the end of the season is winding down, with Samardzija and Gorzelanny getting a few starts, you would be led to believe that the competition is currently limited to these two men. While Samardzija has looked very shaky in his outings this year, out of the bullpen and with his first start, he looked impressive in his second major league start. Gorzelanny on the other hand has been more then impressive in most of his starts with the Cubs. Whether or not they will be able to fill in and give us what we need will be determined once Spring Training commences. However, if neither of them impress, they can always look to free agency, and there are a few starters out there that could be

The bullpen is another mess that needs to be fixed, however this may be fix may not be all that difficult. We have our closer in Carlos Marmol, but after him everything else is a crapshoot. While Angel Guzman has looked amazing this year, he once again ended the year with an injury. If he could stay healthy, he would be an amazing set up man for the eighth inning. John Grabow is a free agent at the end of the year, but from all things I have heard, the Cubs want to resign him. That leaves four pitchers left to fill in the remaining bullpen spots. The Cubs have a slew of young arms that could fill those roles, like Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg. They could also use Marshall as the second lefty in the bullpen. If those three all make the team, that leaves one spot open for any number of guys. However, like everywhere else, there are plenty of options to sign in free agency.

While the Cubs have needs, they don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone. All of their holes can be solved in house. However, over the next few days and weeks, I will break down my thoughts on the possible targets who I think the Cubs should go after for all the open spots that need to be filled before the 2010 season beings. Just to recap, those positions are: Center Field or Right Field, Second Base or Short Stop, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers. All the Cubs need is a little bit of tinkering, and they will be more then fine for he following season.