The trade deadline in Major League Baseball has come and gone, and the Chicago Cubs were not as active as many fans would have liked. The only trade the organization made, was to pass Kosuke Fukudome on to the Cleveland Indians while eating all but $775,000 of his remaining deal and receiving two below average prospects in return. The reasoning why there were no other moves is rather maddening. General Manager Jim Hendry fully believes that the Cubs are close to being able to contend next year, and wanted to hang on to the pieces he felt would be the key elements to guiding the Cubs to the Promise Land in 2012.
That is why, according to published reports, the Cubs do not want to trade Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd or Aramis Ramirez. We also can not forget that Hendry does not want to trade Jeff Baker either. Apparently Hendry and company believe that those four players will be key elements in guiding this team back to the playoffs and making a World Series Run. Don’t ask me how Hendry feels this team can compete next year with pretty much the same pieces, when they are currently chasing the Houston Astros for the worst record in baseball. The only changes would be swapping out Tyler Colvin or Fukudome and maybe replacing Fielder or Pujols for Pena. Is that enough to compete next year? Perhaps, but there is a lot that needs to go right for the Cubs in order for them to compete with such little change in the roster.
With so few changes, the Cubs can compete for a playoff spot. You heard me right, they can compete for a playoff spot, if everything goes right for them. That means that Aramis Ramirez needs to contribute earlier than June like he did this year. They will need Alfonso Soriano to contribute in more than just April, and Pena (assuming he is here) to also start producing earlier in the season instead of waiting until May. That is only the start of what needs to go right for the Cubs, and we haven’t even started in on the problems on the pitching staff.
For all those reasons, the Cubs should have been in full fledged fire sale mode waving the white flag up and down the streets, and yelling come and get it as if they were serving dinner. Everyone and anyone should have been on the table for any and all interested parties, except for maybe Starlin Castro. Perhaps everyone was on the table, and they were not getting any offers for any of the players they waned to move.
From various reports, we have heard that the Anaheim Angels really wanted Ramirez, but he does not want to leave the ball club. Another player who was requested in a trade was Kerry Wood, whom the Phillies made an enticing offer for, so much so that Hendry went to Wood to seek his approval. However, much like with the Ramirez trade talks, Wood chose to void the trade because he wanted to stay with the Cubs. There are two players who other teams wanted that decided they would rather bask in the glow of being a Cub than going to a contender.
Nothing against either player deciding to do so, as they are both well within their rights. Ramirez, as has been discussed, used his 5-10 rights to block any trade, and Wood used his no trade clause, which he was given after giving a very generous discount, to make his decision. Would have been nice to get some good young prospects, but the decisions have been made.
Then we have the two players who the Cubs were practically begging people to take away practically for free. The Cubs offered to pay a huge chunk of the contracts owed to both Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, and still got no takers. One such team to turn down the Cubs, was the New York Yankees who print money. If they do not want him for free, that should speak volumes.
If there were other offers made for some of the remaining players, who Hendry did not want to keep, the reports of the interest in them never surfaced. If you are hopeful to compete for a division crown, much less a World Series title, having a team filled with players no one wants is not a good way to start that success run.
Sure, the Cubs could make a few moves in the off season, but unless there are some other trades made in the August Waiver period, or in the off season, this team will not compete next year. The Cubs have some serious needs that must be addressed if they have any realistic dreams of competing next year. Just replacing Fukudome with Colvin and possibly even replacing Pena with either Pujols or Fielder will not be nearly enough.
The bullpen for the Chicago Cubs is finally set. With the departure of Carlos Silva, better late than never, the team opted to go with Marcos Mateo to round out the middle relief portion of the pen. With seven pitchers in the Cubs pen, they are prepared to go into battle, and believe they have more than enough to sustain any lead which is handed to them, or to keep the game within reach if a starting pitcher is pulled with the Cubs trailing. In case you missed the official announcement as far as who is in the pen, allow me to fill you in.
Outside of the newest addition of Mateo, the Cubs will also be taking left handed pitchers James Russell, John Grabow and Shawn Marshall. The other three men in the pen will be right handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood and of course Carlos Marmol. This may not be the most talented bullpen in the league, but they are not the worst bullpen either.
Obviously, as with every team, there are pitchers in the pen which the fans are less than pleased to see making the cut. You do not have to take too long to think about who those pitchers are for the Cubs. Take a few seconds to think about that, and come back. I will start with those three.
I am not sure which pitcher is the least desired of the bunch, but I will start with Grabow; only because he comes first alphabetically. When he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, he did not do a bad job at all. A very respectable stat line backs that up. The problem comes into play with Cubs General Manager extending his contract, and paying him more than he was worth. Nothing was more evident of that than his poor performances in the 2010 season, which you might be able to write off to his being injured most of the year. Right now though, he appears healthy so there are no more excuses. If he pitches well as he did in 2009, he will be a nice addition to the pen. However if his performance mirrors last season, then the Cubs will be in trouble.
Russell is likely the most tolerable pitcher of the three less desirables, only because he is young and still has a chance to rebound from his first year, which was not that great. Being the third left handed pitcher in the pen, he is likely to be a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Put in to get one tough left hander out. Perhaps if he succeeds as a LOOGY, he may be used for full innings at some point this season. Regardless, in his second season, first full season, he may not have much of an impact if he is used for one batter a game. He might be the most irreverent pitcher in the pen, unless Grabow gets injured again.
Then we have Samardzija, who appears to be the bane of all Cub fan’s existence. He has yet to live up to expectations, even though he has had his moments where he has looked like everything we have been hoping for. However, those moments of greatness have been too far and few between. Perhaps this year, which is his final guaranteed year, he may finally be close to figuring things out, and become a real major league pitcher. The Cubs have not done anything to help him out on his quest though. They rushed him through the system, and threw him from bullpen to rotation and back again so many times that his head is likely still spinning. Not to defend his defaulting talent, but pitchers are creatures of habit and like to know what their role is. If you are constantly changing what they are supposed to do, you would be hard pressed to fully blame him for his failures.
Mateo is a flame thrower, and could really help the ball club by blowing people away. Not much is known about him, nor how he will convert to the big league level, but looking at his skill set, he could turn into another solid setup man in the near future.
With Marshall, you have a pitcher that many fans would love too see be given a full year to prove himself in the starting rotation. However, I feel he is best served in the bullpen; ironically he seems to agree. In a recent interview on 670 The Score, he mentioned that he actually likes pitching in the bullpen better because he doesn’t have to use all of his pitches, and has no need to set up various pitches for later use. If he continues to have his great success in the bullpen, then our left handed setup portion of the pen will be well taken care of.
Then we have long time fan favorite, and returning Cub, Wood. Many fans will say that the team made a massive mistake allowing him to leave in free agency two years ago. That is a mistake that was rectified this year when he came back to the Cubs at a massive discount. If he pitches as well for the Cubs as he did for the New York Yankees last year, the Cubs will have no problem getting the ball to Marmol in the ninth.
Finally, we have the strike out and walk machine himself. As I noted in a previous blog about him after he got his contract extension, he is the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball of the past four years. That being said, no one strikes more fear into batters than he does, and he does not allow people to get hits off of him. If he didn’t walk the world every other time out, or hit at least one batter an inning, he would be unstoppable. If the ball gets to him, your chances are high that the game is all but over. He may give you a heart attack every time out, but he gets the job done.
For me, and most likely everyone else, the key to the bullpen is the back end. With Wood and Marshall in the set up roles, you will not see many leads evaporate before closer Marmol has the opportunity to lock down the save. In many ways, the setup pitchers are more valuable to a team than the closer, and the Cubs may very well have two of the best. If they perform as well as they have done in years past, these three could turn every outing into a three inning affair.
With the Cubs starters slated to get 73 wins, at least in my starting pitchers thread, the bullpen will need to win at least 15 games in order for the Cubs to be a viable contender for this season. Bullpen wins and losses are very hard to predict, so I will not even try. I will just repeat that they will need to be responsible for at least 15 wins, and that is to only have a shot to compete. The pen has holes that will have to be over come, but the back end is more than enough to give you hope.
With Tom Ricketts now entering the second full year as owner of the Chicago Cubs, the fans are ready to start passing judgment. As a matter of fact, they started passing judgment on Ricketts during and after his very first year as the owner of the team. How fair or unfair this is, boils down to each and every person and their own personal opinions. However, allow me to go on the record here and now and tell you just how unfair the fans are being for calling him out already in response to the Cubs and their failure to be a competent team in 2010, and having less than stellar expectations for 2011.
In the mind of some fans, they expected immediate results and a complete turn around as soon as Ricketts officially became the owner of the team. They wanted him to immediately fire Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, start releasing various players and to spend millions of dollars to bring some top players to the club and turn them into a contender. They expected him to turn the Cubs into the New York Yankees of the National League. Unfortunately, that was not a realistic demand. To be honest, that is still not a realistic demand for the fans to make of him.
Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry screwed over the financial books for the Cubs for a few years with his mad spending in 2007 and 2008. He left them with a king sized payroll which tied the financial hands of the Cubs and whoever would have would up owning them for a few years until the contracts all expired. While fans all blame Hendry for signing all these players to the contracts that were handed out like candy, there is one thing you need to keep in mind. For one, the Tribune Company, which was owned by Sam Zell at the time, told Hendry to spend like there was no tomorrow in order to pump up the team’s value in order to sell at a higher price. If he had not done so, he would have been fired and someone else would have done what Zell wanted. Blame Hendry all you want, but when your boss tells you to do something, you follow orders if you want to keep your job.
Actually, if you want to dig a little deeper, Hendry is not completely to blame for the Alfonso Soriano deal either. Current Chicago Legend, John McDonough was the man who pulled the trigger and actually finished working on that deal for Soriano. Being the new president of the Cubs, he wanted to make a big splash with the team. That is exactly what he did when he signed the over paid slugger.
Regardless of who is to blame for the money problems the Cubs are in, I fully believe that the fans criticism of Ricketts is coming in far too early. He is not a miracle worker and can not make immediate changes over night, or even in a year or two. His first year asking for massive changes was just completely unreasonable. The man just spent $900 Million on the Cubs, and in my mind over paid for the team, and fans wanted more. They were hoping he would clean house of the overpaid and over rated talent that was festering on the roster and bring in bigger and better super stars. That was not a reasonable request when you sit down and think rationally about things.
On the other hand, he has also made a questionable moves which does paint him in a bad light. Trading for Matt Garza goes completely against his “build from within” philosophy. With that trade, our farm system turned from one that has a number of young and promising up and coming talent, to one that is very bare. The Cubs still have a few good prospects, but they lost their best ones in the over paying for Garza, who according to all the advanced statistical analysis is almost the same pitcher as Randy Wells. This trade is not a good way to go about building from within if that was your mindset. At the moment, he seems far more interested in promoting the product instead of trying to win ball games. Which means, if that is the case, the Cub fans are in for a world of hurt for a long period of time. If this continues, the Cubs will be returning to what life was like under the Pre-Zell Tribune company.
In my honest opinion, you can not really start to judge the job that Ricketts is doing until at least the start of the 2012 season. The reason I say that season, is because the financial handcuffs get loosened quite a bit on Ricketts. Over $40 Million will be coming off the books and he will have some money to work with. Granted, he will still have a few more years of Carlos Zambrano and Soriano to deal with, but there will be plenty of money that he will be able to play with. Right now, he has very little money and roster space to play around with. He has not been able to do much of anything other than figure out how to upgrade Wrigley Field and keep the place from falling apart.
If Ricketts is serious about turning this franchise around, he needs to go about business better; and the sooner the better. Year one I can write off and clear him of blame for the disastrous outcome of the season. He said that he wanted to sit back and let the baseball people underneath him take care of the baseball business. I can even accept that he kept Hendry around, as he knows the team and what they need better than anyone else does at the moment. While that was not a very popular move in the minds of the fans, I can at least understand the decision.
With the second year underway, and prospects still not looking too bright, I can still clear him of almost all blame and criticism as he is still buried under the mess that he was left by Zell and his demands to beef up the payroll. He was left with a big bill to pay and he is still suffering from the contractual obligations that were given to him.
However, next year, the excuses for him will come to and end as he will be losing around $57 Million coming off the payroll when the season comes to an end. The following players will most likely be gone: Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Carlos Pena, John Grabow, Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill. With all these players leaving, the Cubs will have plenty of space for some of their young and up and coming prospects to finally show what they can do. What this also means, is that the Cubs will have plenty of money to play around with, to add the players to fill the voids that the farm system can not fill.
In my books, Ricketts get a complete pass for 2010. He also gets a pass for 2011, though that comes with a suspicious eye. His third season, 2012, is when all the possible excuses come to an end. That is when he will finally be able to take charge and be able to make some serious roster moves.
The Ricketts Era may have stumbled out of the starting gate, but the race is not over.
While the general consensus among fans is that the 2011 season is going to be nothing more than a lost cause for the Chicago Cubs, the truth of the matter is that General Manager Jim Hendry might very well have put his team into the perfect position.
I know very well what most fans think about Hendry, and with due cause because of some of his most recent mistakes, such as Milton Bradley as well as the very long contract that was given to Alfonso Soriano. He has also turned many fans against him, by handing out long term contracts with no trade clauses like they are candy. However, you have give the devil his due for some recent moves.
For one, long time fan favorite Kerry Wood is once again a Cub, and he was brought in at a price that is almost unimaginable. While there are many reasons why Wood is back, such as Ron Santo’s passing and his immense love of the team and the city, do not discount his long term relationship with Hendry. While we will never know for sure, I personally do not think there is a chance he signs with the Cubs again if Hendry is not here, at least not for the outstanding discount we were given. A one year, low dollar deal is exactly what the doctor ordered for this team, and Hendry did his job perfectly.
Signing a player of Carlos Pena’s stature to a low dollar, one year deal was a thing of beauty, showing some actual great foresight in a time when that is what is needed. Once again, Hendry filled a need on his ball club with a one year deal at a price that is very reasonable for someone who can hit 30 homeruns and drive in close to 100 RBI every year. Again though, the key in this signing is yet another one year deal.
Many fans have voiced their displeasure about Hendry’s excessive spending the past few years, and have voiced their opinions on the deals he has made for the upcoming season. They would rather, and typically I would be agreeing, that Hendry would save the money and use what funds they do have for a chance in 2012 and beyond. As I said, I would typical agree with this mindset; I would love nothing more than to see our opening day roster filled with the kids from our farm system. The deals given to Pena and Wood will slow down their arrival, but only temporarily as they were only given one year deals.
The way I see things, the Cubs are in a perfect win-win situation for the upcoming season. The moves made can, in fact, help the team compete in the year to come. Pena can hit his normal 30 home runs and drive in his typical 80-100 RBI, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano can have rebound years as well, which would give the cub a very potent offense. This could very well be a pipe dream, but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. Those three could help breath life into the Cubs and lead them to a divisional championship, and once you get into the playoffs anything can (and usually does) happen.
That is one side of the coin though, only half of the win-win scenario I was taking about. If, as many predict, the Cubs are to fall flat on their faces, they are in perfect position to be the center of attention come the July 31 trade deadline.
Having several players in the final year of their contracts is very attractive to contending teams. If they are in need of a serious bat and a power boost, Ramirez and Pena would look very attractive. Another player who might draw some interest would be Kosuke Fukudome, who would garner some attention from a team which with very little left to be owed to him. Carlos Silva could also get a few looks if he is able to put up a first half similar to his 2010 campaign. Regardless if these players are traded or not, there will be around $40 million coming off the books at the end of the season.
There are several other players who are also on the final year of their current deals, who do not make much who could also be attractive in the right circumstances and the right team.
One player whom could be very attractive at the trade deadline, because of price and talent, is Wood. However, I do not see the Cubs trading him away unless they get his blessing. Coming home to the Cubs at such a discount, as well as his saying he wants to be a Cub for the rest of his life, I would be very surprised to see him traded away mid season. While there is not a no trade clause in his contract, at least there has not been one reported, there may very well be a gentleman’s agreement that he will not be traded. If he was, he could very well consider that as a slap to the face after giving up multi-millions by signing here.
Whether or not the Cubs are able to trade away any or all of these expiring contracts, they are set to be in a prime position to have a massive youth movement come 2012, with more than enough cash to spend on a key free agent or two if there is a need to fill a void.
While the Cubs are building a team to put on the field for the 2011 season, their sights may be more on what is to come in 2012 and all the possibilities which will be a head of them.
With the Chicago Cubs seemingly in full rebuild mode after a horrific year, the team continues to improve in areas that needed to be upgraded. While they are not improving in the ways many fans would have liked them to, the Cubs are still doing what is needed to put together a team they can only hope contends. They added Carlos Pena to fill the vacancy at first base, and then Kerry Wood to complete the back end of the bullpen. With little money, and room left, the Cubs may only have one move left, which could be to add an unneeded starting pitcher; which is presumably a still rehabbing Brandon Webb, who could be had at a very low price. However, I already gave my thoughts on him, as well as how I would only take him at a low price, so there is no need to bring this up again.
With Wood now being back in the mix for the bullpen, that is where we turn our attention to today. The bullpen has been a trouble spot for years, and now appears as though could be a possible strength of the team. With Sean Marshall teaming up with Wood setting up the save in the late innings for effectively wild, but dominating closer Carlos Marmol, the Cubs may have turned every ballgame into a six or seven inning game. Whether or not that helps matters much, depends solely on the strength of the pitching staff as well as the offense. But the late innings is not the only place in the bullpen which needed a massive improvement, just the most important.
Other areas which are in serious need of a tune up for the pen, is the middle relief. At the moment we are looking squarely at John Grabow as the primary arm to come out of the pen in the middle innings, which does little to settle the fears or stomach pains of Cub fans. However, there is still hope on the horizon, as well as a slight silver lining. Angel Guzman, the one time promising but often injured pitcher, has a chance to make the bullpen. If he is ready to come back (but don’t hold your breath) he could only add to the dominance to the beaten and broken situation in the later innings. Another injured bullpen pitcher who has a chance to earn a job again is Esmailin Caridad, who has never been able to fully give Cub fans any reason to have hope in him. Other than a very impressive half season in 2009, Caridad has not done anything to impress anyone. However, and this is a huge reach (but as Cub fans when are we not reaching on most things), if he is healthy and can pitch the way he did in 2009, the Cubs have something going for them.
Outside of the big three which will be closing out games for the Cubs, there will be between three and four bullpen spots up for grabs in a Spring Training competition. In all likelihood, baring a trade of a player, those voids will be filled with a player who was on the team last year; mainly because they are under contract, and comfortably (at least for them) paid. Sadly, that does include Grabow as well as both Carlos Silva and Jeff Samardzija, both of whom may have to settle for a bullpen roles if they fail to grab a spot in the rotation. Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are also names which will be considered for the rotation, with the bullpen as a backup plan. That leaves little room, about one or two spots left for the young Cubs to grow and blossom at the major league level.
One of the wildcards in the arms race is Tom Gorzelanny, as he would either be a starter or come in as relief. Personally, I would prefer to see him fill out one of the five spots in the starting rotation, as there are no current left handed pitchers other than him on the roster who can fill that void on the roster, nor in trade or free agent rumors. The reason I am calling him a wild card, is he is heavily rumored to be traded at some point this off season. With him on the team, there will only be one spot left to be filled, though depending on what the Cubs get in return for him, if he is indeed traded, will undoubtedly open another slot that could be filled by a younger up and coming talent. With as much as I like Gorzelanny, and consider him to be immensely under rated, I would hope that he remains a Cub for the 2011 season.
Unfortunately, with the pitchers who are currently on the projected 25 man roster, the pitching staff will likely not have one of the Cubs young studs filling out a void, unless there is an injury or the aforementioned trade of already established talent. With the heavily rumored signing of Webb, if he passes all the medical requirements of the team, that would seal the deal; meaning no young pitchers will be making the team.
A mistake which could come back and haunt the Cubs as time goes by,
In a somewhat surprising, yet not really unexpected move, the Chicago Cubs have re-signed Kerry Wood. The details of his contract are somewhat surprising, especially considering what he was seeking in free agency, as well as what he was already offered by the team on the other side of town.
Going into the off season, the long time fan favorite of the Cubs, Kid K was seeking a deal worth $12 Million over two years. A prospect which was more than likely an attempt for him to grasp for the stars after having a season filled with ups and downs. However, the tail end of his 2010 season gave him all the confidence in the world that he could grab a contract that met his expectations. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the Cubs, he fell far short of what he wanted, not even getting the two years that he was looking for, having to settle for a one year deal.
When Wood became a free agent, I will freely admit that I was in favor of bringing him aboard; assuming the price was right. When word came out of what he was seeking, which apparently was a completely foolish dream on his part, I turned my back on the idea and gave up all hope of bringing him in as his price tag was far too high. With the Cubs in a full scale rebuilding mode, I did not want them to spend multi-millions of dollars on an aging bullpen pitcher. I would have rather seen them save the money and go with a full youth movement and give Sean Marshall the nod as the much needed veteran presence in the bullpen.
Then, the offers for Wood started coming in, and the Chicago White Sox quickly jumped into the mix trying to sign the popular Chicago athlete. Not willing to give into his demands, Sox General Manager Kenny Williams offered Wood a one year deal, worth $3.5 Million, which he turned down in favor of the Cubs offer of one year and $1.5 Million. He must really love the Cubs, to leave $2 Million on the table from a team which is in a much better position to compete, not only in their division, but in their league.
In a move which many will see as a Public Relations move to help sell tickets in a year where the Cubs are not expected to compete, this deal could go a long way to helping the Cubs throughout the season, and beyond. Wood, a well respected player in baseball as well as with several Cub players who have played with him in the past, can fill the role of veteran leader in the clubhouse, instead of Marshall.
With one signing, the Cubs have potentially strengthened both the back end of the bullpen (a spot which has been trouble the past few years) as well as the starting rotation. If Wood is able to pitch as well as he did in New York (and we all know how much of a pressure cooker that is) and stay healthy, the Cubs have a very dominating back end of the bullpen. A combination of Wood, Marshall and Carlos Marmol will be able to close out a lot of games when the Cubs actually have the lead.
His signing also gives the Cubs the needed flexibility to move Andrew Cashner to the starting rotation, a role he should have had from the moment he was called up to the major leagues. With Cashner in the rotation, joining Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and a host of other candidates, the starting rotation has a spark of promise, though they will fall far short from the four aces the Philadelphia Phillies have.
Because of the hometown discount he gave the Cubs, they reportedly still have some money left that they can spend on the pitching staff, adding another starting pitcher or another arm to the bullpen. As I have said in the past, I would rather they used the arms in the minor league system to fill these remaining voids. The Cubs are still far away from being contenders in their division, let alone the National League, and there is no need to continue to throw good money after bad.
The regular season for the 2010 campaign is now officially over, but that does not mean that your baseball world has to stop. While we, as fans of the Chicago Cubs, have no real rooting interest in who wins the World Series, we do have the choice of which former Cub do you want to see win a ring, and who you don’t. There are five of the eight teams which have former members of the Cubs on their rosters, who have a chance to be on the active roster once the playoffs begin.
With the Texas Rangers, you have Rich Harden. The Yankees have two former Cubs, Joe Girardi and Kerry Wood. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves have Derrek Lee, while the San Francisco Giants have Mike Fontenot. The final team, the Cincinnati Reds have Dusty Baker and Jim Edmonds. Nine former Cubs all have the chance to win a ring, with someone other than our home town heroes. Who are you rooting for, and who are you rooting against?
Obviously, we will have our disagreements on who we want to win and who we don’t. That is why I am here today, to clear the air with my thoughts on which of these former Cubs I want to see succeed, and who I want to fall flat on their faces. Of course, there will be explanations for each. Let’s see if you agree or disagree with my thought process.
The first team I want to see knocked out of the playoffs, are the Reds. I know the old mantra is root for your division before all other teams, but I have a hatred that can not be matched by any other former Cub than for Baker and Edmonds. While Baker has indeed been one of, if not the, best manager the Cubs have ever had, I have a very long memory. Getting the Cubs within five outs of their first World Series in 58 years is something special which I will never forget. What I can also not forget, is how he cost us that game. Sure, people blame Steve Bartman (which I do not), or Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and Mark Prior, but in my books they just played supporting roles to Baker. All he did was sit on his butt while the team fell apart around him.
As far as Edmonds goes, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to hating him. I hated him with a passion when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but fell in love with him when he was a Cub. Just saying that makes me feel dirty; however, watching him play the game the way you are supposed to play, one would have a hard time hating someone like that. That being said, I do hate him once again. He wont be known as a former Cub, but a former Cardinal.
I take back my original thoughts though, I don’t want to see them be the first team knocked out. I want to see them be five outs away, and to have Baker blow things once again.
As much as I love Lee, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to disliking him. While he is one hell of a baseball player, as well as a person, much like with Baker, I can not forgive him for 2003. He helped eliminate the Cubs in that ugly game six, and if memory serves, he had the game winning RBI. Since he helped beat the Cubs to get his first ring, I am not so sure that I want to see him win a second now that he is no longer with the Cubs. Especially since he is one of the reasons the Cubs failed to go anywhere this year. I loved what he brought us his first few years with the team, but I can not root for the man who helped deny us our dream, now that he is no longer with us.
With the Rangers, I couldn’t really care less about them and Rich Harden. I know he is a favorite of at least one of my followers, but he was not with the Cubs nearly long enough for me to have any kind of bond with. I am glad he gets another shot, but don’t care if he wins a ring or not. Honestly, I don’t really feel he is much worth my time or attention. He did good things for us in his short Cubs career, but not enough to make me root for him.
The Giants and Fontenot might get my vote, because while he is not a great ballplayer, Fontenot is someone I liked. Mainly because there is finally proof someone my size can play baseball in the majors. While he was better for us in 2008 than he was in 2009, he never really stepped up to be the player we all hoped he would be when they traded Mark DeRosa (no, I am not saying we should have kept DeRosa). The Giants, based on my rooting for former Cubs would get my vote in the National League, if not to win the whole thing.
The Yankees, or the Evil Empire, I would not mind seeing win. Wood will always have a special place in Cub fans hearts. Out of all the former Cubs, I think I would want him to win a ring first. The only problem with this, is that would also mean Girardi would win one as well. I have nothing against Girardi, but if he wins a World Series, or maybe even if he gets there, he will likely want to stay in New York one more year, which would take him out of the running for the Cubs managerial job. Out of all the candidates for the Cubs manager, I think I want him to get the job. Nothing against Ryne Sandberg, I just think he would do a better job.
Now, if I were to take the mindset of some fans of the Cubs, which is to say “if you didn’t win one for us, I don’t want you to win at all” then I would go for the Minnesota Twins beating the Philadelphia Phillies. Why the Twins over the Phillies? Well, that would stick things to the Chicago White Sox, and I don’t want to see the Phillies win another title. I have never been a fan of any team in Philly, and don’t plan on liking one any time soon.
If I have to chose, I would say the San Francisco Giants and Fontenot winning over the Twins, or vice versa.
Now that you have seen and read my thoughts on the former Cubs and the playoffs, what are yours? Which former Cub, if any, do you want to see win a ring? Why and why not?
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.
With today’s loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs have once again proved what I said my last time out. This ball club is just simply not that good. Today’s game is just another example of how far away they are from being a respectable team, which is capable of competing for the World Series championship, let along the division title that most of the people in the media thought was a certainty. Fans throughout the city are pointing fingers at everyone from General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Piniella, all the way down to the players on the field. They are well within their right to do so, as each and every one of them deserve to be taken to task for the garbage that we watch.
Lets start at the top, as Hendry is the main man responsible for building this team. Hats off to him for trying, something we can honestly say no other General Manager has done in any of our lifetimes. He has gone above and beyond, and constructed the teams that brought us back to back playoff appearances; which is something that this team hasn’t don’t since they last won the World Series in 1908. However, with as much praise as he got for those two division crowns, he must also get the blame for building the current ball club. He gets nothing but credit for trading away busts in Hee Sop Choi and Bobby Hill to bring us veterans like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. But if you get credit for the good things, you must also sit back and take the blame when things don’t go right. Over the past three years, he signed three free agents who are now apparently more trouble then they are worth. Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley are all turning into massive busts, though some of them were there long before this season.
The first big free agent Hendry signed, was also the “biggest fish” on the market coming into 2007. When you are talking about Soriano, he is an all or nothing hitter who has been showing that he is more of a nothing this season then ever before. To make matters worse, his defense seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by. Losing balls in the sun, making late breaks on what should be routine fly balls is completely unacceptable. I know that left field is not his natural position, but come on, you have been out there for three years now, learn to run a proper route to catch a damn ball. While you are working on things, how about taking some more swings in batting practice or the in the cages. Stop trying to hit home runs every damn time, and just try to get on base. With his albatross of a contract, and ever declining skills, he is just about unmovable, so get used to seeing him in the Cubs everyday lineup until his contract is up.
After the Cubs failed to even win a game in the playoffs that year, Hendry went out and once again reeled in one of the “biggest fish” on the market in Fukudome. In his defense, just about every team was going after him, and just about every Cub fan was thrilled when he was finally signed. No one could have predicted he would have turned into as impressive of a bust as he has. Even though he has been an amazing player in April and good in May, once the calendar turns to June, he turns into a pumpkin. While everyone in baseball thought that Fukudome would be a great addition when he was being scouted, Hendry deserves to get blamed for signing the biggest bust in recent memory. Much like Soriano, the Japanese Import has a contract which will make him rather hard to trade. Who would want a player who cant put a full season together? Sure, he has above average defensive skills, but when it comes to the bat, he is irreverent. Again, like Soriano, he will be here until his contract is up. The bright side? His contract isn’t nearly as long as Soriano’s.
Again, the Cubs failed to win a playoff game, so Hendry got desperate. He traded away fan favorite Mark DeRosa, non-tenured Kerry Wood and signed a slew of switch hitters including this years bust of a free agent Bradley. I will be the first to admit that I was fully wrong about him. I defended him left and right, but I have had enough of this team, so I am taking the gloves off and giving him what he deserves. He is a complete waste of talent, and a man that should never have been brought here. The whole idea of bringing him here was to get more left handed, and to bring a power bat that could hit from the left side, but Bradley has been nonexistent from the left side of the plate. He has been so bad, that Piniella has admitted he is thinking about working a platoon with Micah Hoffpauir, who because he is a natural lefty bat, would get most of the at bats. Way to waste $30 million Hendry. I have not been one of those Cub fans who have been lamenting the trade of DeRosa, but I have to admit we would likely be better off with him. He would be hitting better then any of the men who replaced him in Bradley, Mike Fontenot or Aaron Miles. All three have been very impressive in their failures. Much like both of his outfield counterparts, Bradley will be impossible to move thanks to his contract. Unless someone thinks they can solve the puzzle that is Bradley, he will be a Cub for another two years.
Our outfield situation has got to be the worst combination of bats in all of baseball. Three seasons, three outfield busts. For this, Hendry you deserve to be degraded and raked across the coals. As much as I would have to agree with the current statements of most Cub fans that Hendry should be fired, as I stated in another post, I don’t think he should be. Not because he deserves more time, but because handing over an unfixable mess to a new General Manager would not be fair to him. He did earn some leeway with three division titles in six years, this mess of a team is making everything he did, a distant memory.
With Piniella, who you can make the argument that he is clearly on his final year of the “Lou Piniella Retirement Tour”, as he seems completely uninterested in anything that is going on during the course of a ball game. Even in the post game press conferences, he looks like a lost little boy putting on a shame of a press conference which makes him look more like a rookie manager then the grizzled old veteran manager that he is supposed to be. While he can only play the players that Hendry gives him, and he cant not swing the bat for the players or field the ball when they are on defense, he still gets a lot of blame for the mess we are in. After the sweep in the 2008 playoffs, Piniella wanted changes made. He wanted more left handed bats, and according to some reports, he was not happy with DeRosa who said the Cubs had their backs against the wall. He wanted DeRosa traded, and being a good General Manager, Hendry gave his manager the ball club he wanted. They both deserve to stew in their own juices, as they are both responsible for this mess. On the bright side of things, neither man will be around much longer. The sooner we can move on the better. I just feel bad for whatever General Manager has to inherit this mess of a ball club.
To top things all off for Piniella, he crossed the line with his comments at Bradley the other day. While his actions are inexcusable, Piniella had no right to call him a “piece of ****”. In Bradley’s defense, he was the one with the cooler head, and did not respond in similar fashion. There have been many other Cubs who have thrown tantrums which did not draw the fire of Piniella. Even Carlos Marmol who threw his own cry baby tantrum a few innings later escaped Pineilla’s wrath. If he is going to call out one player for his antics, he should be calling them all out. They are all acting like little leaguers on the field, and behaving like immature children because they are underperforming. Yeah, I want them to be upset because they are sucking up the place, but they have all gone overboard with their actions.
Another player who is becoming a thorn in my side is our supposed Ace, Carlos Zambrano. His antics on and off the field are getting frustrating to watch. He loses his cool far too easily, and that hurts him when he is on the mound. Classic examples are in his last game, when he corrected predicted a suicide squeeze, but on the pitchout, he threw the ball away. The next pitch, he drilled the batter. From there, everything went down hill for him. I have been calling him out since his explosion on an umpire which got him suspended. Zambrano needs to grow up, or move on. Sure, he is very talented, but his temper costs him far too many games. He allows himself to be taken over by his emotions, and that limit’s his ability to be as great as he could be.
With Ramirez coming back in about two weeks, things could possibly be on their way up. Currently, the Cubs are in fourth place, only three and a half games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are also only one and a half games out of last place. With 90 games left, they can still realistically make the playoffs, especially in this very weak division. However, with the way they have played as of late, they are not giving off much confidence that they will be able to climb the hill back to the top of the division, or to do anything in the playoffs. I don’t know about you, but things are looking bleaker as every game passes.
This is probably the hardest thing that I have had to write so far this season, but the time has come to do so. While I am a very optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs, and always believe that they still have a shot, I am having a harder time believing that with every game that passes. The expectations all throughout Spring Training said, that this was the team to beat in the National League. However, as more and more games pass, those expectations are looking to be well over what the team really and truly is turning out to be. Time to start facing what could very well be fact, the Cubs just are not that good.
You can point to any number of reasons why the ball club has failed miserably up to this point, but none of them are all too realistic. I know people are going to point fingers at Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry who traded a good club house guys in Mark DeRosa and non-tendered long time Cub, and another good clubhouse guy Kerry Wood. But come on, DeRosa being in the lineup would not help Alfonso Soriano who is hitting in the low .200s, or Kosuke Fukudome who is continuing his annual slide into baseball obscurity. DeRosa being on the team would not be the difference maker in Geovany Soto who, while he is starting to hit again, has seemingly forgotten what he did to make him the rookie of the year last season. While DeRosa as a good club house guy, he would not be the difference maker that everyone thinks he is. Sure, he would have been nice playing third base with Aramis Ramirez out of action (and I will get to this in a bit), but he would not make that big of a difference.
As far as Wood goes, if he was in the bullpen for the Cubs this year, his presence would not be a magical solution to Carlos Marmol who cant seem to find the plate anymore on a consistent game to game basis. He would not have helped out Neal Cotts when he was here, nor would he have a positive effect on Aaron Heilman or David Patton. His presence on the ball club wouldn’t keep Rich Harden healthy, or Carlos Zambrano sane. Whether he was in the bull pen or not, would not be the difference in this team having a good bullpen, or a bad bullpen. He is only one man, and can not change how good others are.
Another mistake Hendry made, was not having a legitimate backup for Ramirez, who has now missed close to two months. I wont lie, I was worried about him not signing someone that could play third base. Ramirez has missed time every year, so having a backup should have been a priority for the club, yet nothing as done to protect the ball club for just this instance. But at the same time, you can not point to his absence as being the sole reason the club is dying a slow death. As good of a hitter Ramirez is (and he is the Cubs best hitter), one player should not make this much of a difference. Look at what is going on with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they lost Manny Ramirez for 50 games, and they have not skipped a beat. He is their best hitter, yet they are still going strong and are looking like the best team in all of baseball. The Cubs losing Ramirez was a big blow, don’t get me wrong, but the Cubs have players who are too good to allow this team to look so bad.
Speaking of Ramirez, I don’t think that he should be brought back this season. Not with the way the team is playing now. I think this way for a few reasons, and here they are, all lined up for you. No one knows what condition he will be in when he returns. No one knows how close he will be to full power, and if he will be able to give us anything close to what he normally could. If the Cubs are playing this poorly when he gets back, even if he is at full strength, he may not give the Cubs enough of a boost to make any noise in the second half. Finally, he is likely going to need shoulder surgery in the off season to help correct the damage which has been done to his shoulder. I say, sit him out and allow him to get that surgery now. Give him as much healing time as possible so he can return next year as close to 100% as he can get. This year is just about a lost cause anyway, start looking forward to the 2010 season.
I don’t want to hear that the Cubs are only 3.5 games out of first, they are nothing more then a .500 ball club. I know that in 2006 the St. Louis Cardinals were a .500 team and that they went on to win the World Series. But they are the exception, not the rule. This team does not look like they have anything going for them right now. They win four straight games, then they go out and lose four straight by doing the same exact thing they have done all season; fail to hit with runners in scoring position. The Cubs lead the league in runners stranded in scoring position, and that’s not a stat you want to brag about.
The time has come to say goodbye to this season, time to play Steve Goodman’s classic song “A Dying Cub fan’s last request”. Who knows, maybe the Cubs sweep the Chicago White Sox this weekend, and go on a lengthy winning streak. However, with the way this team has inconsistently played, I don’t see anything in the cards that tells me they will.
I wont go anywhere, I will still follow the Cubs and root them on. I will still post my thoughts on a regular basis, and I would love to be proven wrong in the end.