Tagged: Kosuke Fukudome

The Trade Deadline for the Chicago Cubs Has Flat Lined

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.

Trade Candidate: Kosuke Fukudome

One of the more talked about players on the Chicago Cubs around the trade deadline is Kosuke Fukudome. He may not be the best player on the ball club but, according to published reports, he may be the most coveted by other teams. Whether or not the reports are more agent and Cubs induced remains to be seen, there are four teams that have been linked to a possible trade with Fukudome. Of that group of teams rumored to have interest, only the Cleveland Indians have been named as a possible suitor.

While I can only speculate on who the other teams may or may not be, the Indians may actually be the perfect fit for him, as they are suffering through injuries to two of their outfielders, with Shin Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore both hitting the disabled list. One would think that he would fit like a glove on that team, who desperately needs a live body to fill out the void. He provides little spark in the offensive side of the ball, outside or his ability to work the count and compile a very respectable on base percentage, but his defense is still well above average. With the range he is able to provide, the Indians would love to get their hands on him.

There is no question that Fukudome should be traded, as he has no place on the Cubs next year or in the future. With that being the case, why should the Cubs keep him for the stretch run in a lost season? I can not answer that, can you? At least with Carlos Pena, there is a good chance that the Cubs would want to bring him back, as they have no obvious in house replacement at first base. However, with Fukudome’s departure, there are any number of players who fans would love to see taking the field everyday in his place.

The Cubs may have to eat some of his remaining contract, which is about $4 million, in order to move him, but why not? Even if the Cubs have to eat everything that he is owed, there is no downside to making the move. They would have been spending the money regardless, and with the trade they will get a prospect back in the deal. The quality of that prospect will likely depend on how much money the Cubs take on of the deal, as I believe that the more money they pay on his contract the better the prospect will be. On top of that, the Cubs can begin to develop his replacement as early as today, depending on when he is traded. The players who the Cubs can slide in to replace him should satisfy the masses no matter who they chose.

Personally, I would call up Brett Jackson and let him start his major league career in a pressure free environment. By all accounts, he is the future center fielder for the Cubs, and should be breaking camp with the big club as early as next year. If Fukudome is traded, move Marlon Byrd over to Right Field and let your young prospect continue his progress at the big league level.

That is what I would do, but perhaps the Cubs will disagree. They may chose to play the veteran fan favorite Reed Johnson on a daily basis, or at least until his back gives out as we have come to expect. This would fly in the face of everything the organization has ever said though about playing for the future. Johnson may be in the team’s plans for next year, but as a fourth or fifth outfielder. There is very little chance he would be the every day right fielder, so I doubt this is the move that they decide to go with long term for the remainder of this year.

Then we have fan favorite Tyler Colvin who has struggled more often than not in his time at the big league level. True, he hit 20 home runs last year when getting close to regular playing time, but his batting average was well below average and his defense is subject. He will not dazzle you with his range or his arm. Perhaps those qualities that he lacks will improve if he is given the chance to play more. That is a reasonable outlook on the kid, and what the Cubs may decide to do if the feel that Jackson still needs a little bit of seasoning before getting the call up. I would not be completely against this move, as we would get to see if he can improve when he is given regular playing time but, seeing his batting average dip below .100, doesn’t really give me much optimism for his ability to succeed in the future.

The final choice to fill the void if Fukudome is traded, is none other than the scrappy Tony Campana, who already has a portion of the fan base clamoring to see more of him. Whether they think he will be a future star in the majors, or they just want to see less of the “over paid bums” who currently reside in the outfield I do not know. But I for one hope they do not turn the reigns over to Campana. Other than his speed, I have yet to see him give us anything that I would see as talent. Granted, this is all in limited time, but he has yet to even give a sparkle of excitement. We have seen that his fielding is not that great, and his arm strength is lacking. He makes former Cub Juan Pierre look like he has a cannon; okay maybe not, but Campana has a very weak arm and I shutter every time I see him playing the field. As a pinch runner, there is no one I would rather see, but as a fielder he would likely be last on the list; yes, even behind the man who fans call a butcher in Alfonso Soriano.

As you can see, the Cubs have four in house options to replace the very tradable, and apparently sought after, Fukudome. In fact, two of them are currently on the roster, but the two I would rather see getting the playing time are down in the minors.

Fukudome should be traded, and why they are making the Indians wait another day is beyond me. The Cubs must know that they likely will not get that great of a prospect back, no matter how much money they eat of his remaining deal. The only holdup would have to be a hopeful “bidding war” between the interested teams, seeing who would be willing to eat the most money and who could deliver the best prospect. But again, with all the intelligence and news sources out there, the only visible team that has let their interest known, are the Indians. The longer they wait, the better the chances are that Fukudome stays and, the longer we have to wait for the rebuilding to finally begin!

The Chicago Cubs Have Finally Won Three in a Row! Now What?

After nearly two months I am back with yet another blog. What can I say, I have been a complete lazy bum as of late, and I have not given the attention to my blog for the Chicago Cubs that I should be. I will not make excuses for my lack of blogs, but come on, watching this complete suckfest game after game, would you want to spend even more time on them? Okay, so that was an excuse, and that will be the last one that I give, at least for myself. No more looking back, the time has come to look forward. Not only for myself, but for the Cubs organization as a whole. If you are ready, we can once again continue our path into the World Series Dreaming view of the Cubs.

If you can remember back far enough, about a month and a half ago, I wrote a blog about waiting until the year after next. In that blog I wrote how I felt was the best case scenario for the Cubs chances to be a competitive team again, and when fans can start to see a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. In case you do not want to look back or remember that far back, allow me to summarize for you. In my mindset, whether I am right or wrong, I see very little chance of the Cubs being competitive again until the year 2013 when all of these current long termed contracts, save for Alfonso Soriano, will be completely off the books and our beloved Cubs can start anew, hopefully not signing mega-length contracts again like we did for our vilified aging left fielder.

In current news, the Cubs have finally put together a winning streak. We have been teased with such a thing several times this year with winning two in a row, but never have we been able to celebrate such an accomplishment. Sure, we have swept series, two in fact, of the one game and two game caliber, but never have we been able to put together the elusive winning streak. No longer can we saw that, as yesterday some fans celebrated like the Cubs had just won the World Series! To be honest, I smiled a bit as well, and who can blame any of the Cub fans for feeling at least a little overjoyed with finally accomplishing the seemingly impossible feat.

But in an honest moment, I must confess that I felt a little disappointed when all was said and done as well. While I love my Cubs, and I enjoy each and every single win that we are able to rack up, all that win did for us yesterday was to keep us from acquiring the number one pick in next years Amateur Draft. Do not misunderstand what I am saying, I am not hoping for losses. But in a lost year, and who can call this season anything but that, the Cubs need to look towards the future and to start the rebuilding process which will be able to being in the year 2013. That includes building the farm system, which is built primarily on the draft. At the moment, yesterday’s win moved the Cubs into the third spot in the draft. Still a good pick, assuming there is enough amazing talent to last, but usually in every draft there is only one sure fire stud that you can say without a doubt will be a future star. With the Cubs currently holding the third pick, unless the Houston Astros and Baltimore Oriels suffer major brain cramps, they will have very little chance of drafting that player.

Add that into the report from Bruce Miles, who was on the weekly “Hit and Run” show yesterday morning on 670 The Score, which said that Cub fans should not expect any major moves before the deadline, and yesterday was a gloomy day despite the win which brought such happiness to Cubs Nation. In my opinion, not trading as many of these players is a massive mistake. Move as many of these older veterans as you can, and save as much money as possible. I fully understand that some players will be more difficult to move based on the size of their contracts, Soriano for example, but even if the Cubs must eat $40 Million of his remaining $60 Million owed between now and the end of 2014 (roughly $6 Million left for this year and $18 Million each of the next three years) you are still saving $20 Million which can be used on players to fill out the roster.

While every fan has their own personal favorites, only one player should even be considered untouchable, and that is Starlin Castro; although some fans have made a solid argument why even he should be considered a trade candidate if the right deal came about.

That being said, there are at least five players whom the Cubs should move if the opportunity should arise, and clear some salary off of the books. This shouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out which five, but I will let you know anyway.

The Cubs should look into moving all three starting outfielders, yes that includes fan favorite Marlon Byrd, and both corner infielders. I know that in the past Aramis Ramirez has stated that he will not accept a trade because he loves the city of Chicago and the fans of the Cubs, but recently his agent has come out and acknowledged that he may in fact consider a trade in August once his family leaves for the Dominican Republic for the children to return to school.

Fans may object to trading the players who are producing when they should be looking into getting rid of those players who are not. What they need to realize that teams chasing a pennant will want those very players who are producing and not a player who is not putting up the desired numbers.

There are several other players whom I know Cub fans would not mind seeing traded, but those are the top five in my opinion whom should be moved for one reason or another. I will get into why I feel each one of those five should be traded over the next five days. Yep that is a promise that you will get a fresh blog every day this week as I try to get back in the habit of updating my blog on a regular basis.

For now, there are only six days left until the non-waiver trade deadline. Stay tuned, there may be a trade made by our Cubs at any moment, or we may just see out beloved boys in blue stand pat and hold out hope that the team catches fire!

Tom Ricketts Faces Scrutiny, Maybe a Little too Early

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.

The Perfect Lineup For the 2011 Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Field: Kosuke Fukudome

Every year Chicago Cub fans have the debate as far as who should be the every day right fielder, and this year is no different. You have your fans who demand that Tyler Colvin be given the job, and given a chance to show what he can do when given a full time shot. Then you have the other half of the fan base, who wish to see Kosuke Fukudome continue to start in right field and play every day. So far in Spring Training, if you go off what appears to be the lineup that has been run out most often, Cubs Manager Mike Quade believes that Fukudome should be the starting right fielder for the 2011 season; and I fully agree with him.

I bet some of you are wonder why I would want a player who struggles every year to deliver a batting average or power numbers that make him respectable. Granted, Colvin has the power numbers that fans like to see out of players, but that is the only place where Colvin has the edge. In just about every other statistic and skill that matters, Fukudome has an edge.

In the same amount of at bats last year Fukudome had less home run and RBI, but that is where everything ends for the young Colvin. Fukudome not only had a higher batting average, a higher walk percentage, lower strike out percentage and more importantly, a higher on base percentage by over 50 points. Based on that final statistic alone, Fukudome should not only get the nod to be the every day right fielder, but he should also be permanently placed into the starting line up at lead off. At least against the right handed pitchers, as he struggles badly against left handed hurlers.

The main problem with Fukudome, and where he loses most of his support amongst the fan base, is his very inconsistent play. He annually has a torrid April and May, but his June and July numbers are horrid sending him into the tank. While his batting average suffers and generals dips month after month, one thing that never falters is eye at the plate. He has a very keen batters eye, and that makes him dangerous; especially in the lead off spot. With him getting on base at a near .400 clip, he will be on base a lot for the heart of the order just waiting to be driven in.

I have often made comparisons between Fukudome and the Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. The base premise of my comparison says that Fukudome is Dunn without the power, but with a glove. Both  men struggle to hit for an average that could be considered respectable, but most men are beasts in the on base department. Both men know how to draw a walk, and getting on base is the most important non power statistic in the game. Get on base any way you can, and you give your team a chance to get another run. That is why Fukudome should get the job ahead of Colvin. Nothing against the kid, in fact he should be crucial to this teams success in the coming year, and I will get into that soon, but Fukudome is the man to get the job done in right field for the Cubs.

Who knows, perhaps this will be the year that Fukudome is finally able to put forth a complete season of acceptable baseball with the bat. However, nothing that he has done so far in his major league career has suggested that this is even possible. He will likely never hit for a high average or for the power that he was expected to bring with him from the Japanese League. However, if they would actually decide to keep his Japanese hitting coach with the big league team all season, instead of just the few month or two, maybe he could carry his hot April and May throughout the season. I know that is a long shot, but what could the possible downside be? He can not go through any bigger of a slide as the year goes on then he normally does. I believe that experiment would be worth a few hundred thousand more, or whatever you would have to spend to keep him over here.

For the upcoming season, with Fukudome likely leading off, he likely will not have many RBI opportunities, which is okay. The lead off hitter is not expected to be a big run producer. His job is to simply get on base for the big boppers behind him. Getting on base should continue to be his primary weapon on offense. I see him doing what he typically does, hitting for around .260 with maybe 12 home runs and perhaps 50 some RBI. I would also expect him top get on base around close to a .380 average. Of course, if he actually has a respectable batting average, his on base percentage could easily top the .400 mark.

Are the Chicago Cubs Planning for 2012 while Rebuilding for 2011?

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.

Fire Sale Series: Kosuke Fukudome

With reports coming out yesterday of the Chicago Cubs doing all they can to trade Kosuke Fukudome, he makes perfect sense to be the target of today’s subject in my Fire Sale series, and how likely the Cubs are to have one. Out of all of the players on the team, Fukudome seems to be the one they are most desperate to move, so they can clear a spot in the outfield for hot prospect, rookie Tyler Colvin.

When you look at his history, you would have to be surprised to see how many fans are hoping he gets traded. Even before he declared his intentions to play in the United States, baseball fans were clamoring for him, even Cub fans. When he was signed by the Cubs, the fans were ecstatic, even though the price tag may have been a bit more than they would have liked. However, the Cubs were not even the highest bidder for his services, which had to seem like a victory and give the indication that the Cubs got a steal when they signed him.

Yesterday, reports came out that stated the Cubs were so desperate to trade Fukudome, that they have stated they are willing to eat the remaining $8 million he is still owed for the remainder of this season, as well as half of the $14 million he is owed for 2011, which is his final year on the deal. When a team comes out and states they are willing to eat more than half of a player’s contract, you know they really want to get rid of him, and get at least a little bit of salary relief.

While the Cubs are actively shopping Fukudome, and are willing to eat most of his contract, the problem of his no trade clause still remains. While he does not have a full no trade clause, he is still able to reject a trade to a number of other teams. How many teams that is, or which teams they are, I am not sure. However, he will have no say if a trade is made to one of the teams that are not on his list. This, along with the Cubs willingness to eat $15 of the $22 million he is owed, makes him much easier to trade than either Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez.

There is only one slight problem in trading Fukudome. According to the same report that said the Cubs were willing to eat this money, they are still having a hard time finding any team willing to take him on, most likely due to his sever drop off after the first month of the year.

For his career, Fukudome hits .335 in April, but tails off as the months go on. May his career numbers have him hitting a respectable .276 as well as .271 in July. However, that is where the respectability ends. For June, he hits .220, August is .241 and September he has a lowly average of .193. His on base percentage is still great, always around the mid .300s, but the lack of hitting and driving in runs overshadows the getting on base at a high clip. With two and a half years of tape and statistics to look at, you can hardly wonder why teams are not fighting to get him.

With his contract being easily manageable with the Cubs taking on most of the money, there is no other explanation why teams would be balking at the idea of giving up prospects to bring him on board. If that doesn’t speak volumes about his perceived worth around baseball, nothing will. So while there may be several fans wishing for his departure, there just may not be much of a demand for his services around the league. Fans may have to come to grips with the idea that they may be stuck with Fukudome for another year.

The only other possibility, depending on how desperate the Cubs get, they could bite the bullet and digest the final $7 million he is owed. After all, what is $7 million more if you are already willing to eat $15 million? Actually, that is still quite a bit more, almost half as much, but I digress. This way, they could get possibly get a team interested knowing they have no financial attachment at all in bringing him on board. If they can’t, they could just cut him all together. While this is a possibility, I am not sure how likely this would be. Everything falls on how desperate the Cubs really are to get rid of Fukudome.

For now, Fukudome seems to be the first, and possibly only, player that may be moved.

Time For a Quarter Final review: The Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Blame Game with the Cubs offense

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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