Tagged: Geovany Soto

The Perfect Lineup For the 2011 Chicago Cubs

Today, because you are finished with my look at the individual positions and who should be starting for the Chicago Cubs, I will give you my thoughts on what I feel would be the perfect line up to run out everyday. Thankfully this is made much easier because Cubs Manager Mike Quade and I are in full agreement on who should be playing everyday. The one thing we do not agree on, is how they should be lined up. So far in Spring Training, based on the line up that has been run out most often, Quade is looking  at running out this line up.

Kosuke Fukudome
Starlin Castro
Marlon Byrd
Aramis Ramirez
Carlos Pena
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Blake Dewitt
Pitcher of  the day,

While I agree with three of the nine spots in the line up, I feel that the others should be shuffled around for reasons that I am about to explain. In my mind, the line up should look like this.

Kosuke Fukudome: This one Quade has right. With his precise at the plate, there is no one better to  hit lead off. What he lacks in batting average, which tends to be his main down fall with the fans, he makes up for in drawing walks. That is the main objective for any lead off hitter. Get on base for the big boppers behind you.

Geovany Soto: Cuttently, Quade has him batting seventh in the lineup. In my honest opinion, this is a big mistake. He is the teams best on base percentage guy and should be at the top of the line up batting second. Much like with Fukudome should be batting lead off, getting on base is the most important thing  for your first and second hitters. The reason Soto should be hitting second, is because he does just that. Because he has a keen eye at the plate, and has a fair amount of power, pitchers will need to pitch to him very carefully if he is hitting second. They do not want to walk him, and give you best run producers a chance to drive him in, so they will have to throw him pitches to hit. Doing so could cost them dearly.

Aramis Ramirez: The Cubs need a power hitter in the three hole, and  that just is not Marlon Byrd.  These two men should be flipped in the order. History has shown that if there are men on base for Ramirez, that chances are he is going to drive them in. He is the Cubs best run producer, and has been for the past few years, and needs to bat in the first inning. With Fukudome and Soto hitting in front of him, he will typically always have someone on base for him to drive in.

Marlon Byrd: I know what you are thinking, if Byrd isn’t powerful enough  to hit in the three spot, why hit him clean up? I think he should hit clean up for those exact reasons. He is a good line drive hitter and can move guys over and drive them in without the use of a home run. In some instances that is a better weapon than a home run hitter. He gives you a different aspect to think about. If Ramirez is unable to drive the previous guys in, Byrd almost certainly will. Besides, I feel that having power back to back is a waste and kind of is easier on the pitcher who does not need to chance his thought process when the batters change. You typically pitch all power hitters the same way.

Carlos Pena: He should be hitting fifth, exactly where Quade has him. Left handed power in this spot is very nice. A line drive hitter right in front of him could mean that there is typically someone on base for him to try and drive in. While his average has not been very good the past few years, he still has the power numbers to make him a big threat with men on base.

Alfonso Soriano: Once again, Quade gets the decision right to bat him here. While he is no longer the big 40 home run threat that he once was, he is still very capable of hitting at least 20 home runs. He will never have another good year of stealing bases either, which is why he is not batting higher in the line up. Because he still has some decent power, he still has to be considered a threat at the plate.

Blake Dewitt: He is not a strong hitter, and can occasionally draw a walk. I will not tiptoe around this guy at all, he is our weakest hitter. The reason I have him hitting seventh instead of eighth is because you do not want two easy outs back to back. Perhaps with another year of professional baseball under his belt he will be able to surprise us with something. Either way, I am not expecting much out of him. Only good thing I can say about him, is that he is better than Ryan Theriot because he can occasionally draw a walk.

Starlin Castro: The very reason Quade likes him hitting second is why he should be hitting eighth in the order. Someone who can hit at a high average at the bottom of the order is a good way to help turn the line up over and get back to the top of the order. If you have three low average guys at the bottom of the order (no Soto is not a low average hitter, but his power says he should be hitting higher) you will have three easy outs all in a row. That is something pitchers dream of, you are basically handing them an easy inning. Throwing a .300 hitter here helps keep the offense rolling. Add to the mix that he can draw a walk, which is a very important aspect for anyone who is going to hit in the eight hole. Pitchers will tend to pitch around this hitter in order to get to the easiest out in the line up, the pitcher. Yes, the pitcher is the easiest out even if we are talking about Carlos Zambrano. This guy needs to get on base for the pitcher to move over with a sacrifice bunt and to reset the line up.

A line up like this would give the Cubs the best chance to win on a daily basis. Granted, that is assuming everything works the way they should. While we may not have the most talented line up in baseball, I believe that you can still make noise if you put things in the proper order. Perhaps Quade’s line up is better than my purposed one.

Behind the Dish: Geovany Soto

Hello Dreamers! Spring Training has arrived, and now every single player has arrived in Mesa. This means the time has come to start of looking at the individual players at each position that will make up the 2011 Chicago Cubs. Traditionally, I start with the pitchers and work my way around the field; however, due to the number of unanswered questions in camp revolving around the entire pitching staff, I will skip over the pitching staff and come back to them at the end of my individual looks. That means that today, I will be focusing in on the Cubs backstop, Geovany Soto.

In 2007, Soto exploded onto the scene in September and opened a lot of eyes as he stole the starting catcher job away from Jason Kendall as the Cubs entered the playoffs. He had huge expectations laid on him for the 2008 season, and he did not disappoint as he was the run away winner of the Rookie of the Year award. Cub fans everywhere were thrilled that they had finally had found a legitimate answer to the catcher position. A young power hitter, who knew how to work the count. Soto had arrived. That is until the 2009 season started, and Soto turned from an amazing player into someone the Cub fans would rather forget about. He had turned back into a pumpkin seemingly over night.

Enter the 2009 season, no one knew which Soto was the real Soto. Did he have a career year in 2008, and then revert to his normal self? Fans did not have to wonder to long to find out what Soto would be able to do for the team in the 2010 season. While he did not have as good of a season as he did in his rookie campaign, Soto still put up stellar numbers for the Cubs, despite spending most of the season batting in the eighth spot in the lineup.

What we have learned about Soto, is that he has an amazing eye at the plate, knows how to work the count and draw walks; he also has a fair amount of power which makes him a duel threat. If pitchers are to careful with him, he will have no problem taking a walk, but if they give him a good pitch to hit, chances are he will take advantage of any mistake the pitcher makes. The question that Cubs Manager Mike Quade must answer, is where he should bat in the lineup. Lou Piniella wasted much of Soto’s talent by not only hitting Soto in the eight hole for a majority of the season, but by taking far too many games away from him and giving them to backup catcher Koyie Hill.

If I were Quade, and with the information that we have about his offensive skills, I would have to take a good hard look at batting Soto in the top of the batting order. Out of every one of the everyday players from last year, he has the highest on base percentage on the team. That is not saying I want him to be the Cubs leadoff hitter, but I do think that he should be batting second. Speed at the top of the batting order is completely over rated, what you need are guys who know how to get on base in front of your major run producers. Add in his power threat, and you will have pitchers being very careful with him, especially with him batting in front of your three hitter.

Defensively, Soto is rough around the edges and is not a major threat to throw out base stealers. That will scare some fans off from wanting him as the everyday backstop. A lot of people last year said they wanted Hill behind  the plate because they feel he is more of a threat to potential base stealers and that he calls a better game. Personally, I do not buy this one bit as Soto is the much better option. No disrespect to Hill, okay that was a lie, but he is not a capable catcher for everyday play. As an occasional replacement for when Soto needs a day off he could be passable, but if he gets more than 15-20 starts he is getting too many. Soto is your bread and butter at the catcher position, and should be utilized as such.

With the second highest WAR number on the team last year, right behind Marlon Byrd, Soto has proven to be a valuable asset to the team, and I see no reason why he should not continue to be a major contributor for years to come, unless he continues  to lose valuable playing time for a far less superior player in Hill.

As far as what I see Soto doing this year, baring injury, I think Soto will be in store for another stellar year. Obviously where he hits in the lineup will impact his run producing, so predicting his RBI totals will not be easy. That being said, if he hits second, and with a competent leadoff hitter, he could easily reach the 60 RBI total, if not a little higher. His home run production should fall in line with what he normally is able to produce, and should fall in the high teens or low 20s.

All in all, 2011 should be a very solid year for Soto.

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.

Spring Training Series: Around the Horn- Geovany Soto

The first player up in my “Around the horn” discussion is the catcher for your Chicago Cubs, Geovany Soto. After last years disappointing season, many fans are wondering just what they can expect out of Soto. Is he the player that ran rampant in the minor leagues in 2007? The same player who played so well when he was called up that he won he took over the starting catching duties for the playoffs that year? Is Soto the player who played well enough to win the starting job at the 2008 All Star game and eventually the rookie of the year award? Or is he the same player who had been an afterthought for many Cub fans during his minor league career before his 2007 awakening. Is what we saw in 2009 what Soto truly is?

In his breakout season in 2007, with 110 games played, Soto had a total of 36 home runs and 101 RBI with a batting average of .353 for the Triple A Cubs. In 2008, Soto continued his remarkable play from the previous season by hitting 23 home runs and driving in 86 RBI while hitting .285. However, his 2009 stat line almost mirrored 2004. Before his breakout 2007 campaign, his career highs in home runs was nine, and his career high in RBI was 48, both came in 2004 with a .271 batting average in 104 games played. Last year Soto only hit 11 home runs and 47 RBI, all with a .218 batting average.

Soto’s disappointing 2009 season started off with him reporting to camp overweight, and then missing significant time in Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic. He also injured his shoulder early on in the season. Put all of those factors together and combine then with the high expectations that were placed on him. Everything came together, and helped Soto give a tremendously disappointing season. At the end of the season, Soto admitted that he had let his success go to his head, and had vowed to get back into shape for the 2010 season. Thus far, he has lived up to his promise, as he has lost 40 pounds. But will that be enough to help him rebound back into what we saw in 2008?

Personally, I feel that the true Soto is somewhere between the good Soto and the bad Soto. I don’t believe that he is as good as he looked in 2007 and 2008, but he also isn’t as bad as he was in 2009. If he is, the Cubs are in for a world of hurt. While his expectations will not be quite as high as they were last year, their will still be an expectation for him to be able to contribute at an acceptable level to the 2010 offense. With the addition of Marlon Byrd, and the pronouncement that Alfonso Soriano will be batting in the six hole, Soto will land himself in the seventh slot in the bating order. There will be less pressure on him to be one of the main contributors, which should lead him into delivering better stats.

My predicition for Soto next year, is for him to significantly raise his batting average up from the .218 that he gave us last year, while giving us a minimal raise in both home run and the RBI category. He should be able to bring his average up to the .270 range, and I would hope that he will at least give the team at least the 11 home runs we saw from him in 2009, but somewhere closer to 20 bombs would be nice. As far as the RBI total goes, with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Byrd and Soriano all in front of him, his RBI chances would hopefully be limited. That being said, I would hope that he would be able to drive in closer to the 60-70 RBI range. These would be acceptable numbers from Soto, and very welcomed compared to what we saw from him last year. At very worst, I would expect him to do no worse than he did in the minors in the year 2004. Though at 27 years of age, he should be entering his prime, and this season will go a long way in showing if the Cubs can depend on him in 2011 and beyond. If he delivers another season like he did in 2009, they obviously can not.

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.

With the Cubs Season All but Over, Let the Autopsy Begin

Now that the Chicago Cubs season has officially ended, or at least realistically, lets look back and see where everything went wrong. You can point fingers at whomever you wish, but you would still only be partially correct in your assumption. There are several factors which by themselves could have been enough to cripple a team for the year, but when you put them all together you get sure fire disaster. While I am sure that I will overlook a few things which added to the failure of the 2009 Cubs, I believe that the following is what contributed the most to the demise and heartbreak.

In order to properly start the autopsy of the 2009 Cubs, we need to go back to the end of the 2008 season, when the Cubs were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not long after the series ended, Cubs Manager Lou Piniella threw out a statistic which showed that not one time in the entire season, including regular season games, did the Dodgers use a left handed pitcher against us. Using that as a jumping point, he claimed that the Cubs were too right handed, and he wanted to add some left handed bats to the lineup. One of the casualties of this statement was Mark DeRosa who quickly gained popularity with the Cub’s faithful fans. With his departure, the Cubs lost a big part of the clubhouse, and in the long run, helped to strengthen the competition when the Cleveland Indians traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals.

There are a few reasons why DeRosa was traded, one of which was that Piniella wanted to become more left handed in the batting order. Other then the desire to become more left handed, one factor which was rumored, was that Piniella wanted DeRosa gone because of his comments after the Cubs lost their second game in the National League Division Series, where he said that the Cubs backs are “against the wall”. That statement upset Piniella. Whether or not that rumor is true, I don’t know. Another reason why DeRosa was looked at as being dispensable was because of the surprising play of Mike Fontenot. The way he played throughout the 2008 season in limited playing time, fans were clamoring for him to get more playing time. When he was given that chance this year, he showed that he is not an everyday second baseman, as his batting average plummeted into the low .200s. If Fontenot had performed up to expectations, there would be a lot less fans disappointed that DeRosa was traded. Finally, the financial reason for his trade has to be mentioned. They had to trade him to free up some room in order to have enough money to sign a free agent who could bat left handed. While Cubs General Manager will ultimately get the blame for the trade, he was only doing what a good GM will do. Give his manager the team he wants.

Another loss, which hurt the Cubs and helped the competition, was the trade of Jason Marquis. While there was a good majority of fans who disliked Marquis, he was a big loss. Not even taking into account how good of a year he is having with the Colorado Rockies, he was a big part of the team the two years he was here. Even though his ERA was in the mid 4s, he was above .500, and a big innings eater. What more would you want from your 5th starter? While the Cubs could have used him, there was some good which came out of his departure, and that’s the emergence of Cubs rookie right hander Randy Wells. If Marquis was still a part of this ball club, we may never have known about this talented pitcher, who will hopefully be able to continue his success next year.

In what could have been the biggest mistake by Hendry in the offseason was replacing Kerry Wood with Kevin Gregg. The mistake was not in letting Wood go, but in trading for Gregg to replace him. While I will freely admit that I was one of the defenders of Gregg for most of the year, he blew up at the end of the season beyond anything I could defend. Thankfully, this is a mistake which the Cubs don’t have to live with for long. Gregg is a free agent at the end of the year, and he will be someone else’s problem next year.

I said the trade for Gregg could have been the biggest mistake Hendry made in the offseason; the reason that wasn’t the biggest, is because he also signed Milton Bradley. This was the biggest mistake Hendry has made since becoming the Cubs General Manager. I won’t buy into all the fans complaining about the failure to sign Raul Ibanez, because who could have envisioned he would be having a career year at this stage in his career? However, there were plenty of other options who should have been signed over Bradley. While the fans were against him from the start, he never did anything to win them over. From having a horrible April, to forgetting the number of outs there were in an inning, to the bickering with the fans and media he dug himself into a hole that no one could have gotten out of. Things got so bad with Bradley, that even on days he collected hits on his first two or three at bats, he got booed when he made an out in that same game. Now, he has been suspended for the remainder of the year, and will likely be traded after the season. Now, we can fully understand why Bradley has been on so many different teams in his career. Bradley does have talent as a ball player, he just needs to learn to shut up.

The trades and free agent signings aside, what really cost the Cubs their season were the injuries. I know the old cliché says that you can’t use injuries as an excuse, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Cubs have suffered through more injuries then any other team in the Majors, with the exception maybe of the New York Mets. Nearly everyone on the Cubs starting 25 man roster spent at least two weeks on the disabled list, if not just sitting out for a week. The stat has been mentioned several times, the Cubs only had their desired roster together for a total of two games the entire season. That is a very tough obstacle for any team to overcome.

I wont mention every injury the Cubs faced this year, because that could take forever; however , the biggest and most damaging injury for the Cubs, was the loss of their best player for two months. When Aramis Ramirez left a game in mid May with a separated shoulder, Cub fans everywhere knew the team was in trouble. You cant lose your best player, and biggest run producer and survive easily. Sure, there were mistakes that were made immediately following his injury, such as the failure to bring up Jake Fox to fill the void, but nothing could have completely covered for the loss of Ramirez. As good as Fox has shown to be with the bat, he is no Ramirez. He has also shown that he is limited defensively, which has limited his chances at an every day job.

Along with the loss of Ramirez, our top four pitchers all spent time on the disabled list as well. The injuries to the pitching staff this year brought back bad memories of the 1985 Cubs season where every member of the starting rotation was on the disabled list. While I was not old enough to witness the season, I have read and heard a lot about what transpired. When you lose one of your starting pitchers for a period of time, you are bound to struggle. When you lose all of them, you are in for a long and stressful season. The Cubs have a tremendous pitching staff, and was supposed to be the strength of our team. However, the injuries to the starters hampered our success, even though I believe we are still near the top, if not at the top, in the quality starts category. While their injuries hurt us, they did everything they could to keep us in the games.

The other injury which caused our season to fall apart, was Alfonso Soriano’s bad knee. Soriano has had the worst season of his career, and fans wouldn’t let him forget how bad he was playing. I give Soriano all the credit in the world for trying to play through the injury and help the team in anyway he could. Unlike some other players, he wanted to stay on the field and earn his money. Sadly, his play suffered as the season went on. Love him or hate him, Soriano is a big key to the success for the Cubs winning. When he struggles, the team struggles. Despite his poor defense in left field, his bat is a key ingredient if the Cubs are too succeed. Over his first two years here, Soriano has played very well for us giving us what we expected, except for the speed. He has given the Cubs his career average in homeruns and in batting. He has admitted that he had a bad year, and I believe he will be better next year, now that he is having the knee taken care of.

Speaking of having bad years, two players come to mind other then Soriano. They would be Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto. In regards to Dempster, he has not been close to what he was last year, and that hurt us. The Cubs were expecting him to come close to what he did to earn his new contract. While he hasn’t been horrible, he has been less then what was expected. You can partly pin that on what was going on with his personal issues and his newborn daughter’s complications, but he would never use that as an excuse. However, you should note that once those complications were resolved he started pitching better, and as we had hoped he would all season long. Does that mean he is back to form and we can expect this from him next year? That remains to be seen, but you are seeing signs that would point to the answer being yes.

With Soto, there are a few things you can point to with his season falling off after his Rookie of the Year campaign. For starters, he participated in the World Baseball Classic. For the record, and if you read one of my earliest blogs you would know this, I hate the fact that these players miss Spring Training to play in this event. If the competition doesn’t help us win the World Series, I don’t want our players anywhere near those games. Soto played in the WBC and missed a lot of time in Spring Training, and when he did show up, he was out of shape. To start off the season, he also suffered a shoulder injury which placed him on the shelf for a good stretch of games. I am not willing to write off Soto after one bad year, and I feel he will return to form next year. His not playing up to expectations was a major blow to the Cubs offense, as he did not give us anything close to what he thought we would be getting from him.

These are the things that I look to when I think about what went wrong with the 2009 Cubs. I remember, way back in Spring Training, we were picked to win the division easily “Unless everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.” Well, that is exactly what happened this year. The Cubs faced adversity from all sides, in the end they were not good enough to overcome. All we can do as fans, is look forward to next year and hope for the best.

Cubs Gain Ground in Wild Card Race, Despite Poor Play Against Lesser Teams

While the Chicago Cubs gained ground in the Wild Card race over the past week, putting up a record of 3-3 against the New York Mets and the lowly Washington Nationals has got to deliver a fatal blow to the confidence of several fans. You would have thought, that when playing against the Nationals, the Cubs would have been able to sweep them, or at very least win two of the three games. However, that was not the case, as they lost two of three games, putting them behind the eight ball almost immediately out of the gate. They would have to sweep the Mets to get close to being back on par of where they should be at this point in my 40 game breakdown. That, however, was also not the case as they lost the final game of the series, which prevented the Cubs from sweeping the Mets. There is still plenty of time to gain the ground that was lost in the next four games of the home stand, but we would have to win all four of those games. Considering the Cubs are playing the Houston Astros for three, and the Chicago White Sox for one, that task may be easier said then done. However, there are a few things which the Cubs can do which will assist them in winning all four of the following games.

The first thing that needs to be done, to help the Cubs further their chances in winning enough games to make the playoffs, is get Jake Fox into the lineup everyday. For now, he is filling in for Alfonso Soriano in left field. With the way that Soriano has been playing this season, that is an ideal place for him to stay for the remainder of the season. However, we all know that will not be the case, so there has to be another way to keep him in the lineup. We could play him at third base when Aramis Ramirez needs a day off, as well as at first when Derrek Lee needs one as well. Throw him in right field for Milton Bradley once in a while as well, though I would not bench Bradley completely as he is playing very well lately and getting on base at a high percentage. Ideally, he would be able to play his original position well enough where he wouldn’t be a complete disaster. I am talking about playing catcher, where we are not getting much offense from at all this season, despite the recent hot streak from Koyie Hill. However, we can likely count that option out as well, as there are reasons why he was moved out from behind the plate. Watching him behind the plate trying to catch a Carlos Marmol slider gives me the cold sweats. I worry about Geovany Soto or Hill trying to catch the ball when Marmol is on the mound. No one knows where the pitches are going, and having a lesser experienced catcher behind the plate. However, this could be avoided by bringing in Soto or Hill for late inning defense. Though, I am not sure I would be comfortable with Fox behind the plate for an entire game. All I know is that I am glad this is not my decision to make.

Another thing I would do, is play Jeff Baker at second base every day. I have seen enough of Mike Fontenot to last me a lifetime, and Aaron Miles can join Fontenot on the unemployment line for all I care. Last year, everyone thought that Fontenot would be a great second baseman, and that his numbers in limited play would only get better with the more playing time he received. Obviously, everyone that wanted to see more of Fontenot was wrong. We were fooled yet again by a player who had a good half year. This is the same reason why I do not want to see Baker given the job as our second baseman next year, but for the remainder of this season, I will take what I can get. He is our best, last and only option at second base. Keep him playing, and keep Fontenot on the bench. Use him the same way you did last year, meaning very sparingly in moments where he has the highest chance of success.

Finally, after today’s outing by Carlos Zambrano, I would shut him down for a little while. His first two outings since coming off the disabled list have been nothing short of disaster. Throw Tom Gorzelanny back into the starting rotation for the time being. He has done well in his limited starts since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in any case, can he do any worse then what Zambrano has done these past two starts? I don’t think the Cubs would be any worse off if they started Gorzelanny instead of Zambrano. The Cubs Ace pitcher, and I use that term very loosely right now, needs some time off to clear his head. He is not doing the Cubs any favors by throwing up clunkers every time he takes the mound.

The Cubs have the pieces to make a run at the Wild Card, but their time is running out. They can not afford to lose to the teams that they should be able to beat handedly. If they continue to lose games to mediocre teams like the Nationals, they will be on the fast track to sitting at home during the off season. These next four games must end with the Cubs winning all four if the Cubs want to hold on to their slight chance to make the playoffs. While a 7-3 home stand gives us the .700 play in the final 40 game plan I laid out, you would have hoped that with the teams the Cubs were playing they would have been at a higher pace. I don’t like the chances of us winning the last four games of the home stand, but you can never be too sure. The Cubs are 5.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, and are still in fifth place.

The Big Blue Train Wreck, and What Can Be Done

I love the Chicago Cubs, and I also love my fellow Cub fans. As a whole, I would have to say that I believe that we are the most passionate, devoted and loyal fan base in all of sports. You would have to be in order to follow a team which has not won a championship in over 100 years. There is only one problem that I have with Cub fans as a whole; and that’s when they allow their passion to overtake their common sense. When they start thinking with their heart, instead of their heads, that is where the problem comes in. Don’t get me wrong, they do this because they are so passionate that they overlook such things as reality at times. This mainly comes into play when the discussion moves to the Cubs and changes that they say need to be made. At times, I find myself as a part of this very same group on fantasizing fans hoping and pleading that certain things can be done to improve the team that I love so dearly. Discussions with a few of my fellow fans have inspired today’s blog.

In an honest moment, any Cub fan would have to admit that this season has been nothing short of a train wreck. All of the baseball analysts said, at the beginning of the season, that the Cubs would win this division unless everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. As a matter of fact, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. I know that the old cliché is you can’t blame injuries, and use them as an excuse, but sometimes, that is exactly what has derailed a season. Look at the Cubs, how good could you expect them to be when they have lost 4/5 of the starting rotation for a period of time?  I don’t know many teams that could survive the season after such a disaster. On top of that, we lost our best hitter in Aramis Ramirez for two months. Injuries cannot be used as an excuse, but they sure make one hell of an alibi. When you don’t have your expected 25 man roster for more than two games by the time August has reached the end, you will be in bad shape. I don’t care how deep of a team you have. Back up players are nice, but not if you have to watch them every day. There is a reason why they are bench and platoon players.

Several fans are pointing fingers at various people for the Cubs failures. Some blame Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, while others blame Manager Lou Piniella, with the rest pinning the blame on the players, who are actually the ones who have the most to say about what happens in a season. The truth is, all three are to blame for the mess that the Cubs are in. This is why several Cub fans are demanding change to take place before next season takes off. They are hoping and praying that when the sale of the Cubs to Tom Ricketts is official, that these changes are going to be made. The firings of Hendry and Piniella are high on that list, as well as the trades or departures of several other players. The question that arises from these wishes though, is how likely are the chances that Ricketts will pull the trigger and makes these changes that many fans are calling for? In my opinion, the chances are slim, but I am just like you, only a fan. Let’s take a look at why I think these changes will likely not get made.

For starters, how about we look at Hendry and Piniella? These two men are first on the list because they are the management team of this club. Before the 2009 season began, Hendry was signed to a four year extension, which means he is under contract until the year 2012. If Ricketts chooses to fire Hendry as one of his first orders of business, he would be stuck with paying him for the remaining three years of his contract. I am not saying that this won’t happen, I am just using a little bit of logic. With regards to Piniella, the Cubs already picked up his option for the 2010 season, which is worth $4 million dollars. I believe that the only way Piniella doesn’t come back next year is if he decides to walk away and retire. By the way he has looked this year, so broken and unmotivated, I would say that would be about a 50% chance. You never know though, maybe Ricketts wants to have a fresh start with a fresh management team. If that’s the case, he will have to own up to eating a lot of money that will be going to people for doing nothing. I honestly can’t see that happening, so the Cub fans may have to be stuck with both Hendry and Piniella for at least one more year.

As I have stated in the past, if Hendry is fired, who would want to take over the job with the mess that we are left with as far as payroll goes? Breaking down the contracts for next year alone, we have eight players who are more than likely guaranteed to be on the club next year making a total of $99.125 million dollars. Yeah, that math is correct. That means the Cubs will have a very high payroll next year, much higher than this year, even if they keep the same 25 man roster they planned to keep this year. I know what many of you are saying though. Why don’t we trade some of these over paid bums and get some salary relief? Which of them would you like to trade? These nine players will be very hard to move, and mainly because of the contracts that they have.

Three of the eight players are in the outfield, Milton Bradley makes $9 million next year, Kosuke Fukudome makes $13 million, and Alfonso Soriano will make $18 million, which makes him the highest paid Cub for 2010. These three players will likely still be here next year, as their contracts will make them near impossible to move. Soriano has a full no trade clause, and still is owed $90 million over the next five years. I cannot imagine any team that would be willing to pick up that contract. If the Cubs wanted to move him, they would have to pay a good portion of that salary. Having paid $900 million for the team, can you see Ricketts picking up maybe another $50 million? Easy for us fans to say that he needs to, but that’s because we are not dealing with our own money. Even if we do find a team willing to take him, if Soriano does not want to be traded, he won’t be.

How about Fukudome? He has two years and $26.5 left on his contract, which also has a trade protection clause built in. I cannot find out what that protection is, but I am sure this will make him harder to move. He has been playing well, so the Cubs might get a few calls about him, but the Cubs may need to eat some of his salary as well.

Bradley may be the easiest to move because he does not have anything in his contract to prevent a trade. The only thing which may keep him from being traded is his ugly history in baseball. This caused many teams to shy away from him during the offseason. He will make $9 million this year and $12 million next year. If he was playing better this season, without that ugly start of the season slump, the Cubs may have been able to move him easier. With his playing the 70 plus games this year, he guaranteed the final year of his contract, though if he ends the season with an injury and is not on the 25 man roster by April 15 of the following year, the option year goes way and has to be earned again in a much harder way.

With the infield, we have Ramirez and Derrek Lee on the list. Would you really want to get rid of either of these players? Ramirez is our best hitter, and Lee is a gold glove caliber first baseman. Both are keys to the Cubs success, but they could both likely gather interests from other clubs. Their salaries are reasonable; Lee has one year left on his deal and makes $13 million next year, but also has a no trade clause. Teams would line up for him, maybe give us a good prospect or two back for him, but would he want to go?

With Ramirez, he has $15.75 due to him next year and 2011 is a player option which also has a million dollar pay cut, which makes you wonder if they want him to option out of that year. If he decides to stay, 2012 is a team option which brings him back up to $15 million. His no trade clause expires at the end of 2010, but that’s because he can become a free agent. Will teams want him if they may be on the hook for over $44 million? Perhaps, but you can never be too sure.

That brings me to the pitching staff. These contracts are led by Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Ryan Dempster. Obviously, Lilly would be the easiest to trade, as he is worth every penny of his $12 million he is set to earn next year. However, the Cubs would be stupid to get rid of him. He has been our most consistent pitcher since he was signed. But he could get us some decent prospects in return.

Dempster on the other hand, has had a horrible season. This makes his $12.5 million for next year look to be a bad figure. He has a total of $40 million left of his contract over the next three years. With how he has pitched this year, I cannot see too many teams knocking on the Cubs door for his services.

Finally, we have Zambrano, otherwise known as “El Torro Loco”. His antics have gotten on Cub fans nerves the past few seasons. A lot of fans are want him to go, but his contract will make him next to impossible to move. Next season alone, he will make $17.875 million dollars, with another $35 guaranteed in the two years that follow. He has a vesting option for 2013 if he gets enough consideration for the Cy Young award in either 2011 or 2012. Like most of the players listed, he has a full no trade clause. We would have to find a team he was willing to go to, as well as convince them to pick up his whole contract. If they did, don’t expect to get any decent prospects back.

These are the eight players who will be on the team next year, unless they are somehow traded. Don’t count on them being moved though, as their contracts are not too attractive to other teams. We will have them for the long haul. You can call for their heads all you want, but they will be here no matter how much you complain. That means, we are limited to three position players, and two starting pitchers and our entire bullpen which can be replaced fairly easily.  All of them are either on one year deals or their rookie contracts.

If 2009 was a train wreck with these players, we may very well see the same outcome next year. Though maybe not. Perhaps this was just a bad year for Soriano, if he can return to what he did his first two years here, we will be in good shape. Fukudome is starting to play the way we had expected, and Bradley has even started playing well. Ramirez is a stud, when he is healthy and Lee will start out slow as he does every year, but will put up his typical numbers. Maybe Dempster will pitch like he did in 2008, and Zambrano will actually start taking care of his body and be in shape. I think Lilly is the least of our concerns, as he has been very dependable. If Ryan Theriot plays as he has and Geovany Soto breaks out of this ugly mess of a season and shows up prepared next year we will be in good shape. I know I am talking about a lot of what ifs, but they are all we have to go off of. I am not going to write off Soto, because of a bad year. Perhaps last year was lucky, but on the same note perhaps this year was unlucky. If he can get in shape and stay that way, I have no doubt that he will be a fine player for us next year.

I am not sold though, however, on the various players some fans are falling in love with. They are Koyie Hill and Jeff baker. Hill has a good story, but as a .200 hitter you don’t want to see him in the lineup every day. As far as Baker goes, do you really want to depend on another player who has had a good half a year? How did that work out with Mike Fontenot?

Ricketts has a lot that he needs to do, but very little wiggle room to do get things done. He must get us a real second baseman, and rebuild the bullpen with guys that can be depended on. Those are the main two areas that I think need to be updated. As much as fans want other changes made, you may have to be happy with just these changes. Others may come in time, for the immediate future you may have to settle for these and these alone.

Cubs streaking as the second half continues

Coming out of the All Star break, the Chicago Cubs have put together a very impressive two weeks of baseball, compiling a very impressive record of 11-3. I know what you are saying about this stretch of game though. They played half of those games against some of the worst talent the National League has to offer. The Washington Nationals are the worst team in all of baseball, and the Cincinnati Reds aren’t all that much better. That being the case, the Cubs did exactly what they are supposed to do. Play the teams that are on your schedule, and beat the teams that you are supposed to beat. The Cubs did just that, winning all seven games against the two lowly teams.

With the Philadelphia Phillies was the series to look at. They are one of the best teams in the National League, and we knew they would give us a fight going into that series. How many people honestly thought we would sweep the Phillies, let alone win the series? Going into things, I thought that we would be lucky to win one game. This was a very interesting series when you look back at what happened. The Cubs got blown out in the opener, lost an extra inning battle for the second, and blew them out in the final. If you want a comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals blew out the Phillies in the first game of their recent series, but got blown out themselves in the final two.

Finally, that brings me to the Houston Astros, who while they are a better team then the other two, they are a far cry from a great team. However, by winning the series against the Astros, they added some much needed separation between them and a team that was, until recently, tied with the Cubs for second place. They won three of the four games, and now are a healthy four games ahead of the closest team behind them. A four game series is hard to sweep, so I figured we would lose at least one game. I thought that Roy Oswalt was going to be the one pitcher who would beat us. When he went down in the second inning, my hopes were raised that the Cubs would be able to sweep the series. However, our pitching staff had a one game implosion. We lost the game I figured we would lose, so no harm done. The Cubs still won three of the four games. What else could you expect?

Despite the teams the Cubs played, the offensive output has been very impressive. The most impressive would have to be the red hot Alfonso Soriano who is on fire in his new role as the Cubs six hole hitter. He has really adapted well, and has even stated that he feels he can be of more use to the team in his current spot when he admitted a three run bomb in a game, is a lot better then a leadoff homerun. Truer words have never been spoken. The offensive explosion might also have to do with the return of Aramis Ramirez. While he started off slowly when he finally came back, since the break ended he has looked like he has returned to for. He has once again looked like the RBI machine that we have all come to know and love since he came to Chicago.

One thing that may stand in the way of the Cubs going deep into October are the injuries. The Cubs just can not stay healthy this year. Every time the Cubs are about to reactivate a player from the disabled list, someone else gets injured and has to be put on. This has been the case all season long, as the Cubs have had their whole team healthy for a total of two games this season. Currently, the Cubs have five players on the disabled list. They are, Aaron Miles, David Patton, Ted Lilly, Geovany Soto and now Reed Johnson. In all honesty though, only three of them are important to the Cubs long term success.

Thankfully, Soto is close to returning from his oblique injury, and could be back over the weekend, or by early next week at the latest. No offense to Koyie Hill, but Soto is a much better offensive player. I give him all the props in the world though, he has caught almost every inning of every game since Soto went down, but we need Soto back in a bad way. With Lilly, who knows when he will be back. He is having arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and that recovery takes around three weeks to heal. Hopefully, that time off will allow the inflammation in his shoulder to die down. With his status being unknown, the Cubs made a trade which brings them back a pair of lefty pitchers. More on this in a moment. The final Cub on the disabled list, which we need is Johnson. He broke his foot when he fouled off a ball in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. He will be out for around a month at least.

The only good thing I can say about the team having all these injuries, is that for the most part, the entire team will be relatively well rested come September and October. Just about every member of the team has spent time on the shelf, whether they were on the disabled list or just missing a week due to a nagging injury. I think that the Cubs being where they are considering all the injuries they have had, is a miracle. Take this as a statement of how bad our division is, that or how good of a job Cubs Jim Hendry did in building this team to be as deep as they are. He has been ripped without remorse for some of the moves he has made, but considering how banged up we have been, they have been able to do a pretty decent job at filling the holes we have been left with.

As I mentioned, today the Cubs made a trade with their usual favorite trading partners, the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the trade, the Cubs acquired a pair of left handed pitchers, John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. In return, the Cubs sent out today’s winning pitcher Kevin Hart along with minor leaguers Jose Ascanio and Single-A Daytona infielder Josh Harrison. In my honest opinion, this is a good trade for our beloved Cubs. They were able to get another left handed pitcher to add into the bullpen to go along with Sean Marshall in Grabow. With Gorzelanny, he could very well slide into the starting rotation in Lilly’s slot until he is able to return, if he is able to do so at all this year. Marshall, I feel, will stay in the bullpen as he has had a tremendous amount of success since being moved into that role, 1.25 ERA in 25 games. Apparently he is much more comfortable pitching in relief then as a starter, where many Cub fans wanted him to stay when Carlos Zambrano returned from his injury. However, after Randy Wells has been outstanding in his stint with the Cubs, Marshall as sent back to his common role in the bullpen. Time will tell if these trades will have the desired effect, so I will not judge them fully until they have had some time to get work in. By give them some time, I mean more then just a game or two.

Well, the Cubs have 62 games left this season, and are currently in a first place tie with the Cardinals, though that tie will be broken by the end of the night one way or another. Tomorrow, the Cubs hit the road, and start the trip in Florida to face the Marlins. They get to face another one of the softer teams in the National League, and should be able to continue padding their stats, and hope that they are able to get some separation with the Cardinals to not only get into first place on their own, but get a comfortable lead with the season dwindling down. They will be on the road until August 10, and will face the Marlins, Reds and the Colorado Rockies. While the old saying goes, you need to play .500 on the road, on this 10 game trip, anything less then six or seven wins would be a disappointment. The Pennant race is getting exciting as the final two months are about to begin.