With the 2011 Chicago Cubs season officially over now, the time has come to move on and look forward. Unfortunately, you can not move forward until you look back to see how you got to where you are. That is what I am going to do today, and then we can put this whole mess behind us and prepare ourselves for what has to be a brighter future.
There are many villains that played a role in the demise of the 2011 season, but Cub fans like to focus all their energy and hatred on two people. Both former General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Mike Quade have been in the crosshairs of the fans since day one, in fact Hendry has been in their sites since the 2008 collapse. That is where the blame should lie, with the former General Manager and not so much the Manager. He can only work with what he is given, and there is not one manager who could have made this incompetent team into a team who was ready to go toe to toe with the best teams in baseball.
You heard me right, I do not care who the manager was this year, no one would have been able to win with this crap fest. Not Quade, not Charlie Manual, not even the great Ryne Sandberg. This was a hot steaming pile of garbage that Hendry gave Quade to compete with. Could a more qualified manager have gotten a couple more wins? Sure, a competent manager is worth a handfull of wins every year, but for the most part the players are the ones who win the games; not the manager. Besides, do you really care if you are a slightly better version of suck? Cubs still would have finished under the .500 mark.
Do not mistake what I am saying, Quade is not a great manager, in fact he may not even be a very good manager, but that is not the point. Managers do not play the game, they only set the lineup that they feel gives them the best chance to win based on the players they are given. Fans got pissed at Quade because he did not play the kids over the players who were over paid and underperforming, that is understandable as long as the players the fans want to play actually perform when given the chance. If the kids do not show anything when they get their opportunities then what would make the manager want to play them? His job is to win games, and if you have a guy hitting near .100 for the majority of the season (Tyler Colvin) getting consistent playing time is not going to be easy, even if you are competing with a completely inept defensive player hitting around .250 (Alfonso Soriano). While both are statistically in baseball hell, you want to go with the guy who has a track record of carrying a team when they are hot.
That is where this season died, not with having an inexperienced Major League manager at the helm, but having under performing players taking the field. Yes, Quade made some very inexcusable baseball decisions, as he was learning on the job. Yes, he left pitchers in too long at times, he took them out too early at others, and he started Koyie Hill far too many times, but the reason the season failed was not the main reason why this team failed as miserably as they did. The main reason they failed, would fall squarely on the shoulders of the players.
Say what you will about the great season by soon to be free agent Aramis Ramirez, his absence in April and May had more to do with the Cubs failures than having Quade in the dugout. Fans will chime in about his stat line and say how valuable he is to this franchise, but how valuable is he really? Yes, he put up impressive stats this year. They are even more impressive when you take note of them being produced in four months, but his absence in April and May led to a lot of losses which helped to dig the Cubs into a hole they just could not climb out of.
There will always be some fans that say something like “I don’t care when he puts up the stats, he is a super star”. That is the problem with the standard back of the baseball card thinking. The end of the year stats look great, but when they are produced is much more important than how much. The games in April and May are worth just as much as the games in August and September, some would say they are more valuable early on, because as the old saying goes, “You can not win a pennant in April, but you can lose one”.
The same goes for Carlos Pena, who also had an impressive stat line at the end of the year. But where was he in April? He, along with Ramirez, fell asleep in the starting gate and did not get started until the season was put on life support. That, too, had much more to do with the failure of the 2011 season than Quade sitting in the dugout.
Add in all the injuries the Cubs faced throughout the season, and you have a formula for failure and not success. I do not care who you are, losing two starting pitchers in the first week of the season is a great way to put yourself behind the eight ball before the season begins. Even if they were the number four and five starters, the drop off in talent level will hurt you. Maybe not if you only need them for a game or two, but if you need replacements for three or four months? That is no way to field a contender. Whether or not you think that the pitchers actually have the talent to compete in the majors is up to you, but there is a big difference between your four and five starters and your sixth and seventh starters.
Sure, the St. Louis Cardinals lost their ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the whole season and won the wild card, but they still had another pitchers on their team who could qualify as an ace of just about any pitching staff. Everyone moves up a peg, and your long reliever becomes your fifth starter. With the Cubs though, they had to bring up a few pitchers to fill those voids. How is that the managers fault? Is he able to prevent injuries? Again, that falls on Hendry for not providing enough depth.
On top of everything else, there was the whole situation surrounding Carlos Zambrano. While his blowup took place long after realistic contending had long since past, that was still a big part of the season. I will not write much about this as I covered the incident in a blog when everything took place, but when a player walks out on your team, that is a good way to take out whatever chemistry there was with the team.
Overall, the team this year was a complete three ring circus. There was the dimwitted ring bearer, the first time lion tamer who gets his head bitten off because he is learning on the job in front of a live crowd, and you had a car full of clowns who tried to keep you entertained. Is Quade the reason this team fell apart and died a slow painful death? No, he is not why the team lost, but he should not escape blame. That falls on everyone from the General Manager on down to the 25th man.
Today, the dream of many Chicago Cub fans has come true. General Manager Jim Hendry was relieved of his duties with the ball club. For the remainder of the season, Randy Bush will take over the day to day duties of the General Manager job. While the firing was expected to come sooner or later, the timing of the move seemed a bit off.
In press conferences by both Hendry and Tom Ricketts, we discovered that the decision to fire Hendry was actually made on July 22, almost an entire month ago. However, Ricketts decided to keep his lame duck General Manager on board the extra month in order to get the ball club through the trade deadline as well as aiding in the signing of the draft picks. Not a bad idea in terms of aiding to sign the draft picks he helped scout, but the question comes into play when discussing keeping him on through the trade deadline.
Many fans were outraged when they heard that the decision was made prior to the trade deadline, and Hendry was allowed to continue to be in power to make trades, which never came. Hendry explained away the lack of trades to his knowing he would not be retained, and not wanting to leave his replacement with the results of whatever trade he made. Fans then wondered why Bush could not make the trades for him, but you would likely get the same situation, one lame duck General Manager making moves that a new one would have to live with and work around. Bash him if you will, but knowing he is going to be fired he could have made deals that could have screwed up the franchise for years to come, more so than they seem to be now, but he was very professional in how he handled his job.
In the Ricketts version of why no trades were made, he alluded to the reasoning of there were no trades which made sense for the ball club moving forward. He might have been covering for Hendry, and trying to allow him to save a little bit of face, but whatever the reason, more veterans were not traded before the non-waiver trade deadline.
In all honesty, firing Hendry when the actual move was made, makes absolutely no sense. The only plus of this move being down now, is to give the ball club an extra month to search for the perfect replacement. Hendry should have been fired at the end of last year, which have allowed the Cubs to begin their attempts to return to a form of respectability. However, that move was not done back then, and he was kept around to make a trade which saw us trade away four prospects did a lot more harm than good, no matter what Matt Garza is able to give us in his time here.
Starting now, Ricketts will begin to search for Hendry’s successor, but will keep everything he does a secret. He said this was a private matter and would not be responding to any of the rumors that may be floating around, such as the idea that New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman might be an option. So if you are waiting for a lot of names to be thrown around by the media, you may get your wish, but with no confirmation of even an interview coming out of the Cubs camp, that will only be written off as pure speculation.
While fans will be celebrating this move for quite a while, you can not argue that Hendry may actually have been the best General Manager the Cubs ever had. No other General Manager ever was able to bring the Cubs to the post season three years, and Hendry did so in his first six years.
At the same time though, you could also put him into the discussion of the worst General Managers in team history. No other General Manager ever put the Cubs in as big of a hole as Hendry did, even though a fair amount of blame can be shared with others. Former Cubs owner Sam Zell ordered Hendry to break the bank and former team President John Mcdonough put the finishing touches on the Alfonso Soriano deal and even added a year or two to the tail end to entice him to accept the offer. However, Hendry was the General Manager at the time, so this all falls on his plate.
Congratulations Cub fans, you got your wish. Just one question comes to mind, now what? Your other despised targets on the Cubs management team remain in power, and will likely be there until at least the end of the season. Mike Quade and Crane Kenney are both still hanging around. In all likelihood, Quade will also be shown the door at the conclusion of the season, so you will have to live with him for another month. Kenney on the other hand, may not be leaving his position anytime soon. But I guess Cub fans should be happy and willing to take what they can get.
This is the beginning of the change you have all been waiting for. The man mostly responsible for the mess the Cubs are in is gone, and a new man will soon be in charge. The road he must travel down will not be an easy one, as he has a rather large mess to clean up. First, he must find a new manager; at least assuming Quade is gone at the end of the year as is expected. Then, he must start dissecting the roster, figuring out which players to keep and which to cut out.
Whoever takes the reigns, just have a little patience. I know that after 103 years asking for patience is asking a lot, but this mess might be too big for a one year cleanup mission. Are you ready for what could be a long winding road back to respectability and a team that can be a constant contender? I sure hope so.
The Brooklyn Dodgers had a saying, which was later adopted by the Chicago Cubs which said “wait till next year”. For years Cub fans have been using this phrase as a way to ease the pain that they have suffered through the years. However, I am here to start a new saying which I feel suit’s the current situation our beloved boys in blue are in much better. Wait till the year after next. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start at the very top, with Cubs General Manager, Jim Hendry. Currently, the Cubs embattled GM is signed through the 2012 season. As far as I can tell, there is little chance that he will be fired before his contract is up, nor do I think that firing him before the end of 2012 is absolutely the right thing to do, though there are those who obviously disagree. Before you call me a Hendry apologist, allow me to explain my reasoning on this.
If Hendry is fired today, or at the end of the season, whichever General Manager takes over the ball club will be stuck in the very same situation, with slightly less of a mess, that Hendry is in. Why on earth would you replace on general manager with another when there is likely very little the new guy can do at the time? I believe that you must allow Hendry to sift through the remaining years of garbage that the Cubs are currently sifting though. The new GM will be grouped in with Hendry as a fool or a jackass who has no idea what he is doing, when there is a great chance that his hands will be tied until this ball club is able to once again clearly see the light of day and begin to make at least some progress.
That is all well and good, but how about Mike Quade? Why shouldn’t he be fired for the bungling job he has been doing this year? Well, the reasons I will give you are basically the very same ones that I just gave you for why Henry probably should not be fired until his contract his up at the end of the 2012 season. For one, if he is fired, Hendry must also be fired on the very same day. As I pointed out a few moments ago, not really the smartest thing in the world to do, because who ever the new man is, will not make much of a difference at all with this pile of garbage smell like a rose garden. Furthermore, if Quade is fired, Hendry would be the man in charge to hire a replacement for him for the remainder of the 2011 season and for 2012. No manager will sign on for a team knowing his GM only has one year remaining, and that means that Hendry will need to get an extension in order to get any manager worth a damn to sign here. And you can not fire Hendry and hire a new GM only for him to be stuck with Quade. So we may be forced to wait through another year and a half of Quade, sorry to disappoint you.
I do not find it a coincidence at all that both Hendry’s and Quade’s contracts run through 2012 either, with the lone exception of Quade who has a team option for 2013 which likely will not be picked up unless a miracle occurs. They are both on the same time frame, which lines up perfectly for when the Cubs will be in their best financial situation, which sets up perfectly for a new regime to take over and do a complete overhaul.
Financially speaking, the Cubs will have over $50 Million coming off the books at the end of the year, but they are still financially burdened with the contracts of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and now Carlos Marmol, unless one or all of them are traded before the start of next year. However, once the 2012 season has come to an end, only Soriano and Marmol will be left on the roster with contracts which are likely going be worth more than the play they give us. That is $38.5 more Million coming off the books. Whichever General Manager takes control of this team will be in a great position to start building a championship contender, with a new manager who is perfectly suited to lead this team into the future! A manager who they may have liked to have hired before this season, but did not want to stick him with the crapfest that the Cubs have become, someone like Ryne Sandberg who most fans are wishing was managing the team this year.
Before anyone takes that last comment too far, allow me to be perfectly clear. No manager, no matter who they are, could have been able to take this garbage dump of a team and make them smell like a bed or roses. That is just simply not possible. I am also not saying that Sandberg will be a great manager, we just simply do not know what he will be at this point in his managerial career. Which brings me to a topic I brought up on my Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/worldseriesdreaming).
For everyone who wanted Sandberg, or another manager with potential, to take over this years team, tell me why? Why would you want to set up a manager, you feel has potential to be great, to fail? Two bad years in a row, and your great managerial prospect is being called out, and fans are demanding for his head. Why not wait until the mess is cleaned up before bringing in someone who has a chance to actually make something happen? Not hiring Sandberg was likely the best thing that has ever happened to the guy, and he should be kissing Hendry’s feet for passing him over for Quade. Otherwise he would be the one standing in front of the fan’s figurative firing squad.
I am sorry my friends, but wanting or demanding immediate change, is just wasting your time. Forecasting what is likely to come the way contracts are laid out, I can not see the sun rising for our beloved Cubbies until at least 2013.
Embrace the wait, and wait till the year after next!
With only three weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report for the Chicago Cubs, the roster is getting a minor overhaul, with a few new additions being added into the mix. While Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry hasn’t gone out and signed the top names in the market to improve the club, as he did in years past, he has added some much needed role-players who will shore up some of the much overlooked spots in the Cubs roster last year. Sure, you look at the names that have been added to the mix this year, nothing jumps out at you, but sometimes the smaller things are what make the biggest difference.
Within two days, the Cubs added in two players who will be a big help to their chances in 2010. Tuesday afternoon, they reached a deal with outfield Xavier Nady, who will make the roster as the teams fourth outfielder. Today, they signed former Arizona Diamondback infielder Chad Tracy to a minor league contract. Both these additions, while minor, will have a great impact on the stability of the ball club, making them more competitive and ready for a disaster. Something they were not ready for last season. While their signings are a welcome site to some Cub fans, to other players on the team, they are just another roadblock to over come.
For the past month, when word broke that the Cubs were still looking to add one more bat to the bench and one more arm for the bullpen. The most popular names being mentioned for the bench were former Cub, Reed Johnson, former Chicago White Sox player Jermaine Dye, former Tampa Bay Ray, Jonny Gomes and Nady. Obviously by now we know that Nady was the man chosen. With his signing, all signs were pointing to Sam Fuld being the odd man out, simply because the Cubs needed Micah Hoffpauir on the active roster to back up first baseman Derrek Lee. I feel that Nady was the right choice out of the group. He is a lot younger than Dye, and has more power than Johnson. With Gomes reportedly looking to rejoin the Cincinnati Reds, Nady was the best choice available. While he is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, reports from scouts say that Nady is now throwing the ball over 150 feet, and with a month left until Spring Training, he has plenty of time to continue building up his arm strength.
With Nady in the books, most fans were under the impression that the Cubs were done looking for position players and would focus on their search for a relief pitcher. However, we were thrown for a surprise this afternoon when the announcement of Tracy’s signing was made public. This move was essential, as the Cubs now have an actual bench player who is able to backup Aramis Ramirez at third base. The problem (at least for the trio of Andres Blanco, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker) is that now the team has one extra outfielder and has to decide which one will be shipped out to the minors, or in a trade. If I had to chose which infielder to ship out, I would have to tell Fontenot that his time is up. They can not get rid of Blanco, who is the only player currently on the 25 man roster who can back up Ryan Theriot at short stop. Blanco can also backup whoever wins the second base job, which means the choice should be between Fontenot and Baker. The interesting thing about the Tracy signing, is that he can also back up Lee at first base, which makes Hoffpauir less of a necessity to carry on the active roster, and opens the door for Fuld to be brought back, as he can play all three outfield spots.
With these two additions, five current players are now wondering about their future with the club. The two odd men out be shipped out in a trade, or sent to the minors for an insurance policy Either way, apparently the team will now have some real battles for positions in Spring Training just took on new life, as no bench role is seemingly promised to anyone, except for possibly Nady. In the outfield, we will see Hoffpauir and Fuld trying to beat out the other to be the fifth outfielder, but don’t forget about Tyler Colvin. He will be in Spring Training as well, though has to be seen as a long shot to make the team. As far as the infield battle goes, there are two separate position battles. First, Fontenot and Baker will each try to out do the other to win the starting second base job. The one who doesn’t win the job will join Blanco and newly acquired Tracy for the two backup infield jobs. Starlin Castro will also be making an appearance in Spring Training, though he should be considered a long shot at best to make the team out of camp. If he does, Theriot will be moved to second base, and the Cubs will have four players competing for two spots.
Spring Training just got a lot more interesting, and the Cubs are seemingly far better prepared for disaster. How you can be overly disappointed in these moves are beyond me. Are Nady and Tracy standout All-Stars? Not by any means. However, they will be key contributors to the success of the 2010 Cubs.
The Chicago Cub fans are getting excited, and are looking for good things to come in the 2010 season. One reason they are happy, is with the departure of the Tribune Company and Sam Zell as the owners. With Tom Ricketts now taking control of the ball club, there is a new sense of optimism is overcoming the masses. They believe that with Ricketts as the new owner, a man who has suffered through years of heartbreak like we have, he will stop at nothing to win the World Series with the Cubs. After all, isn’t that the goal of every team in baseball every year? You could argue that the Tribune Company (and Zell for that matter) never tried to win the World Series until the fans had the taste in their mouths after being five outs away in 2003. Since then, they have spent more money then any fan could have imagined their team ever spending. Sure, they made a bad investment or two, but they spent the money fans wanted them to spend.
The very first move that Ricketts made, was signing Rudy Jaramillo to take over the duties of hitting coach. As I stated in my last blog, many people in baseball feel that Jaramillo is the best hitting coach in the game today, his resume speaks volumes. With such a move, some fans believe that this will be the start of a massive upgrade in player personnel, bringing in some off the best talent that money can buy. They figure that if Ricketts is going to go out and get the best hitting instructor, then he must be also determined to sign the best players available. How true that is, remains to be seen, as we are still close to a month away from free agency beginning. However, there are several reasons to believe that there will not be the spending spree that Cub fans have been dreaming of.
First and foremost, the situation with Milton Bradley will hold up the Cubs spending until everything is resolved. Ricketts and Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry need to know exactly how much money they will have to eat of his salary before they start looking at players outside the organization. Much like with what happened at the end of the 2004 season when they were trading declining Cubs megastar Sammy Sosa, the organization will be handcuffed until a move is made. Why do they have to wait you might ask? Simply put, he makes $9 million next season. If Hendry is somehow able to find a team willing to take his whole salary, and lets be honest that wont happen, then he has $9 million more to work with. Knowing how much money you have left to spend is a big advantage when you are negotiating with players and against other teams. In all likelihood, Ricketts will have to eat at least half of Bradley’s remaining salary. That is money he is spending that you wont see on the field of play, and takes away from what can be spent. Hopefully, a trade of Bradley comes at the start of the free agent period, or even before hand. If this goes the same route as the Sosa trade, who was traded just before Spring Training of 2005, then the Cubs will miss out on most of the better free agents. Reports do say that there are several teams interested in trading for Bradley, and Hendry remains confident that he can make a deal without eating a majority of his remaining salary. So we will have to wait and see what happens.
Staying with the Bradley situation, Hendry will have to get a player back in any deal that is made. Add that players salary to whatever you may have to eat on Bradley’s deal, and that takes a good percentage out of the budget that has been set for the 2010 season. Maybe Hendry will get lucky and be able to make a trade for a guy who does not make as much as Bradley, or makes the same amount, and the Cubs just have to eat the difference in salary. Some of the rumors included the Cubs trading Bradley to the Tampa Bay Rays for Pat Burrell who had as bad of a year as Bradley did, and also makes $9 million next year. This would seem like a perfect fit, don’t you think? Both teams want to get rid of a player that didn’t work out and their salaries match for the following year. Maybe the Cubs would just have to eat the remaining $12 Million for the 2011 season. However, some reports stated that the Rays would only take Bradley if the Cubs ate most, if not all, of his contract. Another rumor was a possible swap with the San Francisco Giants for Aaron Rowand, which would benefit both teams. With Rowand owed $36 Million over three years, and Bradley owed $21 over two, a Giants executive said he would approve that deal. Cubs would take on more guaranteed money over a longer period of time, and more per year but they would be rid of Bradley. The Giants on the other hand would be saving $15 million in the end. Whether or not either deal is made, remains to be seen.
If the Cubs are unable to find a deal for Bradley, they may have to ultimately eat the entire contract, especially if they are deadset against bringing him back. Much like with paying a portion of his salary in a deal, that money will be included in the budget, and take away what can be spent on possible free agent candidates. While some may look at cutting him as freeing up $9 million for the 2010 season to spend elsewhere, in all reality you are just giving away that money while keeping every cent on the books. If they have to eat his entire salary, there will need to be other moves made to accommodate losing that amount, and fans may not like what happens in the aftermath of that move. So just be careful what you ask for Cub fans, you may not like the end result.
Enough about Bradley, and on to some other possible reasons why the Cubs will not be able to go on a spending spree to bring in star players. Obviously, there is a lack of open positions. As I have stated a few times, the Cubs really only have one or two open spots that can be filled. The main spot which may be available to upgrade is second base. Depending on what transpires with Bradley, there may be a spot open in the outfield at either Center or Right. Unless you want to ditch some of the younger talent we have on the team, such as Ryan Theriot or Geovany Soto, the moves that can be made are severely limited because of open positions. Don’t start with the “trade Alfonso Soriano” or “trade Kosuke Fukudome” to free up positions and money. That will create more mess like the currently have with Bradley. If you think the Cubs will have to eat a lot of money to get rid of Bradley, imagine what they will have to eat to get rid of Soriano. Do you really want to limit the team financially even more? I would hope not. So the lack of positions is another major roadblock in making massive changes.
A final reason, are the rumors that there are certain clauses in the bankruptcy filing which will significantly limit any and all moves that the Cubs are able to make. Ricketts may very well have his hands tied financially for at least the first year of his ownership tenure in regards to the payroll of the players. If this is in fact truth, then Ricketts may not be able to add anyone to the team to improve them. If people are unaware of these set limitations on Ricketts, they may turn sour on him when they come to see that there hasn’t been much done at all to improve the team. Don’t get confused by the adding of Jaramillo, his contract does not get added into the Cubs overall team budget, and wont effect how much they will, or will not, be able to spend in upgrades. According to Carrie Muskat and her Cubs blog, they expect the budget to remain close to the 2009 version, allowing only for pay increases for current players making up the difference.
Like many fans, there is a list of players who I would love to see the Cubs sign. There are also Cubs who contracts are up that I want to see them resign. But all of these may very well depend on the Bradley deal, and the bankruptcy rulings which might limit upgrade. The offseason is a long one, and hasn’t even officially begun yet. As time goes by, there will be more information coming out as far as how much the Cubs will be able to spend for the upcoming season. After the Cubs have their Organizational meetings, we should learn a bit more about how much money they have to spend. With the General Manager, and Winter Meetings, we will learn more about the direction Hendry and Ricketts will be going for the 2010 season. But for reasons I have just stated, do not expect a lot of moves, or anything real major. If you do, then I am afraid that you will be highly disappointed.
Now that there are no more games to be played in the 2009 season, at least not for the Chicago Cubs, we can take a better look at this ball club and the failure of a season they had. Yes, I said failure. Take any stats you want, if you do not win the World Series, your season was a failure. The goal of every team every year is to win the World Series. The season is, in essence, a one question test. You either answer the question correctly, or you fail. Unfortunately, for the 101st straight time, the Cubs season ended in failure. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a good year, and a good team in years that you don’t win the World Series, but the season still amounts to nothing if you don’t win the whole thing.
Take this years Cubs team for example; many fans will say that this ball club was a complete disaster. They will say that General Manager Jim Hendry blew up a World Series contender, turning the Cubs into a joke. Fans are also blaming Cubs Manager Lou Piniella for not doing a better job of managing the team, or for playing the wrong players at the wrong time. While both Hendry and Piniella could be to blame for the demise of the 2009 Cubs, ask yourself this question. Just how much worse was this years team compared to last years?
When looking at the two teams, the 2009 Cubs ended the season with 14 fewer wins then the 2008 ball club. That is a horrible stat, but there are many things to keep in mind when looking at the record for the 2009 Cubs. During the 51 games that Aramis Ramirez was on the disabled list, the Cubs went 25-26. Are you telling me, that if Ramirez was healthy, we wouldn’t have won more then those 25 games? I am not saying that the Cubs would have won 14 more games in that stretch to match their 2008 record, but that would not be out of the realm of possibility. Don’t forget all the games he sat out as well because his shoulder was giving him problems after he came back. The entire season, he only played in 82 games. Had he played the whole season, or at least the average number of games he usually does anyway, the Cubs would have won at least the 14 games they needed to match last years record. While the Cubs did not lose all the games that Ramirez missed, he would have helped them win some of the games they did lose.
Do you need more proof that this years team is not as bad as fans have made them out to be? Look at our pitching staff. This years pitching staff, as a whole, were better then the 2008 team’s, even with Kevin Gregg blowing saves. The ERA was slightly better this year, posting a 3.84 ERAA, as opposed to an 3.87 the year before. This years club also struck out eight more batters, in one less game. Keep in mind that the Cubs top four starters each missed at least two starts, some missing more. As a whole, they likely missed about 12-15 games combined. While they didn’t lose all the starts that their replacements made, they would likely have had better outing and brought the team a few more wins.
Am I being a bit of a homer here? You could easily say that I am, But at the same time, I am being completely honest. This ball club was nowhere near as bad as people are saying. Sure, Hendry traded away some fan favorites and made a few mistake signings, but they did not make this team bad. This team had the talent to compete, and would have lasted a lot longer in the divisional race had they not been completely decimated by injuries. You can say that the Milton Bradley signing doomed this years ball club, you can say that the trade of Mark DeRosa killed this ball club, but that is not the case whatsoever. This years team was just as good as last years team. In fact, you could even say that this years team was, in fact, better then last years team. If Ramirez, Soriano and all the pitchers were healthy all year, the Cubs would have surpassed last years win total. You can deny that all you want, offer up all the reasons and all the excuses you can think of; but you know that I am not far off base.
The end justifies the means, so yes, this years team was worse then last years. You can also use what ifs for every team in baseball to get whatever message you want across. Perhaps that is what I am doing, but my logic here is very realistic. The 2009 Cubs should have had a better record then the 2008 version.
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.