Tagged: Marlon Byrd

Fans Want the Kids to Play, but Do Not Want a Rebuild. Time to Make Up Your Minds

Yesterday, after Aramis Ramirez declared that he would be filing for free agency, I wrote up a blog which voiced my opinion that the Chicago Cubs should now begin the rebuilding process. Some fans agreed with the thought process, while others completely disagreed. This is probably the most confusing situation for most Cubs fans to be in, as a majority of them are completely contradicting themselves when saying they do not want to sit through a rebuilding phase.

For starters, there is a portion of Cub fans who have strong feelings against the Cubs, a big market team, going through a rebuilding phase. They do not believe that a team in a major market should ever have to rebuild, and be able to spend the money needed in order to contend. This is very true to a point, that would be what is expected from a team in one of the three biggest markets in the country. The problem comes into play, is that several fans of the Cubs want the team to bench, trade or cut several of the current veterans on the team to play various kids.

You will not go a single day without hearing at least one fan begging Cubs management to trade Alfonso Soriano or to just outright cut him. They beg and plead for the Cubs to give more playing time to both Tony Campana and Tyler Colvin. This situation will not take place unless Soriano is off the team, or at very least regulated to bench duty.

Fans also want to see Bryan LaHair get more playing time, if they want to see Campana and Colvin more the only likely position for him to play would be at first base. You could put LaHair in one of the corner spots, and either Covin or Campana in center, but I feel that would be counter productive. No one wants to see Colvin playing center field again, last time he was out there was a disaster. You could put Campana in center, but if you want him to make the team next year, you have to think about who you would rather have playing center field, him or Brett Jackson. No offense to the scrappy Campana, but I would rather have Jackson roaming centerfield and let Campy learn to play the corner. That means Byrd would remain in center leaving LaHair the odd man out, unless he plays first base. With LaHair at first base, that would result in the benching of Carlos Pena. He can not play third base so he would also be out of a job.

Then we have the problem of third base. Several fans want Ramirez back, while others do not want to waste the money on him since he rarely shows up in April and only occasionally comes to play in May. This leads up to who replaces him? There are no good free agent third baseman out there this off season or next, so that would lead to another kid playing third.

You see the problem yet? To me, a vast majority of fans can not make up their minds as far as what they want. They want to see the Cubs play the kids, but they also do not want the Cubs to go into a full rebuild mode. So I propose a question to all the fans out their who take the time to read my blogs.

Do you want the Cubs to ditch the veterans and play the kids to see what they have, or do you want the Cubs to go out and buy players to help them contend? You can not really have things both ways. Sure, you can do a mix of kids and veterans, but you would then have to decide which kids you want to see. Fans will have to chose between the overflowing population of young outfielders and which kids they really want to see.

Which kids do you want to see playing, and which are you willing to write off? From all of the calls for playing time I have seen on my Facebook page (http://www.Facebook.com/worldseriesdreaming) fans want to see a team filled with kids, but they do not want a rebuilding phase.

Confused yet? So am I.

With Ramirez Declaring for Free Agency, Let the Rebuilding Begin

Around 2:30 this afternoon, news broke that Aramis Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer, informed the Chicago Cubs that his client will opt out of the final year of his deal, which also happens to be a team option, and file for free agency. However, Ramirez’s agent would not rule out the possibility that he would re-sign with the Cubs in the off season, but only if the team was not in full rebuild mode. In other words, unless the Cubs make a huge splash in free agency, likely by signing either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, his tenure with the Cubs is likely over, even though he has claimed in the past that he wanted to retire a Chicago Cub.

Since joining the Cubs midway through 2003, Ramirez has put on a show for the Wrigley Faithful and has cemented a place for himself in Cubs history. In his nearly eight years with the ball club he has become the second greatest third baseman in Cubs history, right behind the late great Ron Santo. He was also the first long term third baseman the Cubs have had since Santo was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the end of his career. With his apparent departure, you have to wonder when the Cubs will once again be able to fill the vacant hot corner. Last night, 30 years past before they found a solid fixture, hopefully this time the fans do not have to wait so long for a permanent replacement.

With the third base free agent class being very weak, Ramirez becomes the best player available at that position, and should draw a lot of attention from several teams who need someone at third. The bidding war for the aging veteran will likely surpass whatever amount the Cubs would be willing to spend to bring him back, unless he gives the team he says he wants to return to a “home town discount”. With this being the final long term deal of his career, I am not so sure that he will be willing to give a significant discount to the Cubs in order to finish his career with them.

Now that you have a pretty good idea that Ramirez’s Cubs career is over, in my own opinion, the time has come to do what is best for both the player and the team. Sit A-Ram down for the remainder of the season and play a young player over at the hot corner.

How does that benefit Ramirez? The answer to that is quite easy. He has an injured qaud, so in the interest of his health, he should be sat the remainder of the year. Let the injury heal so he can fully heal before any physical that he would need to take before signing a new contract. I doubt Ramirez would have much problem with that scenario as he gets paid whether he plays or not. Why risk making an injury worse if you are about to reach free agency? I believe he will be happy to sit out the remaining six games while the Cubs begin the rebuilding process.

The question then turns to which kid do you throw at third base for the remainder of the year? You could turn to the kid who is playing there today, DJ LeMahieu. Let him test his ability and skill while the Cubs get a good look to see if he can play every day at the major league level. Sure, this is September baseball and no teams have advanced scouts so you need to take anything these call ups do with a grain of salt, but you would get an idea of what he can do.

Another option would be to allow Starlin Castro to spread his wings and fly over at the hot corner. He may not be a bad option, especially since he does have a strong arm and good range. Add in to his ever growing power, he could grow into an excellent option over there. Then the problem would be who plays short stop, or who plays second base if Darwin Barney shifts over as well. Time will tell how the Cubs will handle the third base position going forward, but you can be sure things will be interesting.

There is some good news that comes with the departure of Ramirez, even for those fans who do wish he would return. The Cubs will be saving the $16 Million that he would have made next year, which can be spent elsewhere, perhaps on the pitching staff or a certain first baseman who shall be left unnamed. That is not the only good news however. From the sound of some of the reports, because Ramirez was the one who opted out of the 2012 deal and not the team, the Cubs may in fact be off the hook for the $2 Million buyout to the contract. So that is another $2 Million that the Cubs can use to rebuild a ball club that seemed to have fallen apart. Heck, they might even be more willing to ship off Alfonso Soriano knowing that they suddenly have this extra money that they can throw into a deal to help a team pay his contract. However, that “saved money” might actually be put towards the Carlos Zambrano going away package.

Ramirez declaring for free agency, six games before the season actually ends, should open the flood gates that should have been opened for the trade deadline back in July. That means letting Carlos Pena walk, trading Marlon Byrd and trying desperately to send Alfonso Soriano packing. Without Ramirez, there is little reason to sign Pujols, Fielder or even bringing Pena back.

Let the rebuilding process begin. The only question is will Cub fans be willing to sit through a few years of what could be sub .500 baseball while the kids grow and learn on the job?

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: Marlon Byrd

One member of the Chicago Cubs who should be traded, but likely will not be, is Marlon Byrd. Despite being the most tradable player on the team, we have not heard anything about other teams being interested in him. There are several reasons why Byrd should be drawing interest from the other teams, one being that his contract is very affordable, and will not be a hindrance on any team who wants him. He is still owed around $2 Million for this year, and a very reasonable $6.5 Million in 2012. Considering that he is actually a pretty good hitter and defensive outfielder, I am mystified as to why there are no reports of other teams at least even inquiring about him. Although, perhaps there are teams interested and the Cubs are just absolutely refusing to move him; at least right now.

In my opinion, the Cubs should be at least looking into trading Byrd before Sunday’s trade deadline, or at very least in the off season. There is little reason why the Cubs should be keeping him around past this year. Sure, he is the best outfielder on the Cubs roster right now, and if he is traded the Cubs will have to depend on a lesser talent, but that should not prevent the Cubs from trying to move forward. With Kosuke Fukudome now officially traded, another one of the players I mentioned as replacements for Fukudome would likely be replacing Byrd if he is moved, so I can understand why trading him midseason might not be an appetizing thought for the Cubs brass or the fans. There is a huge drop off in both offensive and defensive capability between Byrd and the “scrappy” Tony Campana who last time he played center showed why he should never play center field until he can actually throw the ball a little better; that would leave Reed Johnson whose back may not hold up long enough to allow him to play every day.

I am sure that fans would complain if Byrd is traded, but they need to look at the whole picture, and not just what is right there in front of them. The question fans must ask themselves, is how close are the Cubs to competing for the World Series, and can they make a legitimate run next year. If the answer is no, then Byrd absolutely must be traded. If you honestly think that the Cubs are just a move or two away, then yes Byrd should stay; at least until you see if those moves will be made.

Along with being one of the most beloved players on the team, fans see him as a part of the future, maybe not realizing how old he is. When his contract expires next year, Byrd will be 35 years old and nearing the end of his career. He may have a good year or two left in him, but how much are you willing to give to an aging center fielder? He may be willing to re-sign after 2012 for another two or three year deal at roughly the same thing he made on this contract, or perhaps he will want more of a pay day knowing it will be his last contract that will actually pay him a decent salary. No guarantee that he will give us a discount because he likes playing here, and if he continues hitting .300 with home runs in the teens, I am sure another team will offer him something that might be too rich for our blood.

For those fans will contend that the Cubs can still contend next year, and that Byrd should be a key part of that contending team there are some things to consider. While I do not disagree that there is a possibility that they can contend, a lot has to fall in place for the Cubs to be considered a legitimate contender in 2012. The first thing that needs to happen, is the Cubs must sign one of the two top first baseman that will be on the market. They need to bring in either Prince Fielder (who is my own personal choice) or Albert Pujols. Without either one of them, the Cubs will need to bring back Carlos Pena, and hope that he actually does something to help the team in April rather than waiting until May to turn things on. If the Cubs fail to sign either one of the three first baseman in the off season, then all chances of them competing next year could be realistically considered gone.

I love Byrd, and have enjoyed the entertainment that he has provided the past year and a half, but I still say that he should be traded if the opportunity is brought up to the Cubs. Unless everything falls right for the Cubs, competing next year will be very hard to do. There are far too many “what ifs” for the Cubs next year in order for them to compete. As mentioned already, if they do not sign either Fielder or Pujols and they do not bring Pena back, that delivers a devastating blow to any chance they have and should open the flood gates for the rebuilding and retooling that needs to happen sooner or later. On top of that, the Cubs need Ramirez to produce from the start of the season, and not wait until June to start earning his paycheck, even though his hot streak has made him look like the best third baseman in the majors according to all major statistics. They also need Geovany Soto to put up his rookie year numbers, and for Alfonso Soriano to contribute anything positive, which he is barely earning a half a WAR share at the moment.

If you are not sure if all of those things are possible, then the time of acceptance that keeping Byrd is rather pointless. Trade him to a team with a better chance of contending, save some money and start playing one of the young outfielders currently sitting on the bench or playing in the minors.

Pathetic Baseball Against a Pathetic Club

In what may have been the most pathetic display of baseball I have ever seen, and trust me there has been a lot over the years following the Chicago Cubs, the game they played Tuesday night against the Houston Astros may just take the cake. Nothing but lazy and sloppy defense came out of this game, and buried the Cubs in a 5-0 hole before the second inning was over. There is not one single player who is at fault, as a matter of fact there are several who helped doom the Cubs before you most people could find their seats.

Firstly, I never want to see James Russell ever pitch in a game for the Cubs again, much less start a game for them. Being placed on a 50 pitch count, the youngster making his first career start could not even get out of the second inning before reaching his limit, and allowed five runs to cross the plate. To think, we yell at Carlos Zambrano for being at 80 pitches in the fifth inning, that is nothing compared to the crapfest that Russell delivered to us. Perhaps he should be sent back down to the minors so that he can work on not only learning how to manage his pitch counts and work on not throwing more than 25 pitches per inning, but also working on throwing balls that are not hit as though they are on a batting tee.

To make things worse, our substitute pitcher on the night failed to cover first base on consecutive bunts to lead off the bottom of the first. I do not care who the base runner is, that is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated. If he is to stay with the major league roster, he better make sure to take bunting drills every day until he is able to get to first in time to field a throw.

The rest of the pitching was just as bad, however Jeff Samardzija was not great, but not bad at all coming out of the bullpen. He gave up two runs over three innings of work, and I will take that effort every time out of him. As much grief as I, and all Cub fans, give him, he deserves credit for a decent outing. Jeff Stevens and Marcus Mateao put up scoreless innings to help the Cubs as much as they could, but that is where all good things ended for the Cubs pitching staff. John Grabow came into the game and decided to take whatever doubt there was in the minds of the Astro fans that this game was still in jeopardy; as he usually does when he comes into a ball game.

Russell’s less than pathetic pitching was not helped by any of his outfielders, all three of them decided to take the night off from defense. We are used to seeing Alfonso Soriano drop the occasional fly ball or bobble a ball when he goes to make a play, so that is nothing new. However, not to be out done, both Marlin Byrd and Tyler Colvin got in on the act by misplaying the same ball that was bouncing to the wall. Colvin also allowed a ball to drop right in front of him later in the inning, when he could have likely made a sliding or a diving catch. If that were Soriano, he would have been barbequed for that lack of hustle, but hey fans love Colvin and Byrd so those two plays likely will not get a mention elsewhere. Add in Reed Johnson dropping the ball that was scorched to deep center and you have every single outfielder coming up short on fly balls. Johnson though, did have a very impressive effort on a fly ball to the following hitter, reminiscent to the remarkable catch he made against the Cincinnati Reds a few years back, which he just missed catching.

The outfield defense, or lack thereof, was not the end of the ugly defensive play in the first two innings. Everyone’s favorite new player, Darwin Barney, also had a brain cramp which allowed another runner to cross the plate. After Soriano bobbled the ball, he threw a strike to second base which helped get Bill Hall in a rundown between first and second. Granted, the base runner was out of the baseline (which the umpire completely missed) but the tag should have been applied before the runner from third was allowed to cross the plate. Or, if you are smart, you ignore the runner between first and second and throw to third or home to keep the other guy from scoring. I know he is young, but that is something that you should learn early on. Let’s not forget the two blunders in the eighth inning by Blake Dewitt. After Johnson dropped a deep fly ball, he threw a strike to Dewitt, who likewise dropped the ball. He also committed an error on a ball hit right to him. Another ugly defensive error to add to the mix.

The hitting has not been horrible, they did get a few good hits to land. The problem comes into play when you take into account that they had very little, if any, timely hitting. Even in the sixth inning when there were men on second and third with only one out, the Cubs could not even score a run as Hall caught a blooper hit off the bat of Soriano into “no mans land” which would have scored a run. Granted, Colvin actually got a hit, which was actually turned into a home run, but for the most part the hitting was perfectly pathetic. Another example would be Reed Johnson leading off the eighth inning with a double, only to be stranded with the next three men making outs. They showed some signs of life in the ninth getting the first two men on base, second and third with no outs, but could only muster a single run, not that I really expected them to actually score the 10 runs needed to tie the game.

To steal a line from one of my favorite baseball movies, “Bull Durham”, “this is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.” Sadly, the Cubs went 0-3 with this obvious concept of baseball. The pitching, the hitting and the defense all completely dropped the ball early on in today’s game, leaving the Cubs sitting behind the figurative eight ball.

With the Cubs having one more game against these Astros tomorrow, all we can do is hope and pray that Zambrano is on his game and can give this team some serious innings while twirling a gem. If we lose tomorrow, we are going to have a very ugly road trip as we head to Denver to face the Colorado Rockies for a series starting Friday. Even if we win tomorrow, we face the likelihood of ending a road trip with a record of 3-6 or 4-5. Not a good way to come home if you have any hopes of contending in your division.

After Nine Games, Frustration Boils Over For Both Players and Fans

I know the Chicago Cubs season is only nine games old, and we still have 153 to go, but there are already some things coming to be known about this team that I do not like whatsoever. You can tell me all you want that there is still plenty of time to turn things around (which is true) and that the season is still early (again, true) but that does not mean that you can not have things that you are not happy with, and things which must be improved if you plan on having any type of success at all.

Currently, after dropping a series to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs stand with a record of 4-5. Thankfully, they are about to start a three game series with the bottom dwelling Houston Astros, a team which is a good bet to get back on the right track and to start some sort of a winning streak against. However, you could have very easily said the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the series from the Cubs to start the season. If they can not sweep this pathetically awful team, or at very least win the series, you might as well pack your bags and call the season over. Sorry for the negativity this early on, but like I said, there are just a few things which are grinding on my nerves.

First and foremost, is the starting pitching. Going into the season, the impression was that we had a pitching staff which had some really good potential. However, after nine games, the pitching staff has been anything but good, Outside of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the other three pitchers have not been living up to expectations. Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have gotten smacked around pretty well their first two starts, and have both left much to be desired. Carlos Zambrano on the other hand, has not been bad, but has not been all that impressive. Sadly, the best two starts we have gotten this year comes from the two pitchers that we have just placed on the disabled list.

What is even more troubling, is new addition Garza is already not happy with our pitching coach Mark Riggins. Apparently now that we are out of the thin air of Arizona, which he blamed for his poor Spring Training, he needs a new target, and Riggins seems to be just that target. God forbid anyone ever takes responsibility for their own performance, There is always someone else that is responsible for your sucking. What I find funny, is that in his close to a decade with the Cubs, I do not remember one incident of a pitcher ever calling out Larry Rothschild for anything. Not Kerry Wood, not Carlos Zambrano, no one. But, that is another argument for another day, one not likely to be worth arguing because much like with Alfonso Soriano, Cub fans have already made up their mind on him and hate him, blaming him for all the woes of the pitching staff. But, I would just like to point out that in one off season he has appeared to have fixed A.J. Burnett, not an easy task.

Another thing that is completely ticking me off right now, is Marlon Byrd. I do not know what he was thinking yesterday, but why in the blue hell did he decide to steal second base with Aramis Ramirez up at the plate? That was likely one of the dumbest moves  that I have seen from the Cubs in a very long time, and believe me that is saying something. You could tell that he either misread a sign, or completely went on his own because of the swing Ramirez took on the pitch Byrd decided to run on. Ramirez tired to protect Byrd by at least making some contact, almost sacrificing himself in the process. So Byrd not only cost us a base runner and an out, but he cost Ramirez a strike. Thanks a lot Byrd!

What is worse, is his post game interview when he was questioned about his base running blunder. He could not admit fault, which I would completely accept, but instead he got snippy with the media and told them to “beat it”. Grow up Mr. Byrd, yes you are hitting but you have no speed and should not have ran, especially not in that situation.

The we have our golden child, Starlin Castro! I love this kid, and I am more excited about him than I am about anything we have had in a long time. He is phenomenal with the bat, and every time he steps up to the plate you are always feeling like he is going to get a hit. That is how impressive this kid is. He is going to be a star! The only problem is, he is a tremendous liability with the glove. He has tremendous range, and can get to just about any ball hit on his side of second base. He also feels that he can make every throw, which is both good and bad. He has a rocket for an arm, so he always feels like he can nail a runner at first. But he needs to learn when to make a throw and when he needs to just hold on to the ball. Add into the mix that he can not apparently take a throw from a catcher, as you could see by his getting drilled on a throw from Geovany Soto on Saturday. Yes, he is still young and can learn, and his limited time in the minors probably did not help his learning process, but he needs to improve, and fast.

Those are the three things that are irritating me early in the season, however there was one roster move which is seriously scaring me. That is the Cubs signing Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The first question that should cross your mind here, is why. He is old, well past his prime and likely has less than nothing left in the tank. He was likely the only pitcher the Cubs could sign, due to the severely limited fund they have; especially since they had to pay Carlos Silva $11.5 Million to go away. But why sign  him?

I am afraid that I know why. Either Wells or Cashner will be missing some significant time, and the Cubs are not too enthusiastic about either Casey  Coleman (who got manhandled by the Brewers yesterday) or James Russell who will be starting on Tuesday against the Astros. Hopefully this is not the case and he is just here to fill a roster spot in Triple A. The Cubs say that the injuries of Wells and Cashner are minor, but we have heard that all before.

Alright, I have vented. I am ready for some more Cubs baseball! Going against the Astros should bring the Cubs some easy wins. Just as long as the pitching actually is clicking, but I will not hold my breath.

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.

Center Field: Marlon Byrd

A year ago, when the Chicago Cubs signed Marlon Byrd to a three year, $15 Million contract, several eyebrows were raised. Fans were wondering why exactly they signed him, when they have so many young outfielders who seem to be ready to make the leap to being a Major League player, such as Tyler Colvin. There was seemingly no reason at all for the Cubs to add another outfielder, and create an even bigger logjam in the outfield. To many fans, this was just another nail in the Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry’s coffin. Another reason several fans wanted him fired.  However, after his first year with the team, everyone knows that Byrd is the word!

The 2010 season opened several people’s eyes showing them just who Byrd was, and what he could do to assist the Cubs in winning some games. He went out there day in, and day out busting his ***, proving that the previous three years were no fluke, that he had figured something out which improved his game. The light came on for Byrd, and he became an offensive threat, maybe not with obscene power numbers, but with just enough power to make him dangerous.

Unfortunately for Byrd, he is connected with Victor Conte, the known steroid deal who helped over inflate Barry Bonds’ arms, head and power numbers catapulting him into legendary status. While Byrd vehemently denies taking steroids because he says that Conte would not want to go through more trouble like he did with Bonds, the questions will always be there. Byrd stated that he started talking with Conte because he was worried about accidentally using something on the banned substance list and being suspended. So he went to someone who knew what they were doing with supplements. Whether Byrd is using steroids or not, one thing can not be denied. As soon as he started working with Conte, his offensive game dramatically improved. Do not take this as my saying that he is taking steroids, there is a very good chance that everything Byrd is taking is 100% legitimate. I am just simply stating that the questions and suspicion will be there for the remainder of his career.

On top of his offensive efforts that he is able to bring, you can not forget about all of the defensive gems from last year. Byrd never left you wanting more when he took the field, and more often than not, he delivered when you least expected him to. Whether you are talking about his behind the back catch in center and his game saving defensive play in the All Star Game, Byrd became an instant hit with Cub fans.

Following up on his 2010 season might be hard for him to do, but not at all impossible. However, he can not be the team’s best hitter if they expect to go anywhere. As I pointed out in previous blogs, the Cubs needs Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano to step things up, and lead this team offensively if they want to go anywhere. That is not to say that Byrd can just sit back and relax, he still needs to deliver another quality season for the Cubs to have success.

For the upcoming season, I can see Byrd hitting for an average of around .280 with around 15 home runs and about 80-90 RBI if men are getting on base in front of him. I know I have been saying that a lot with these past few players but, to be completely honest, that is what needs to happen for this club to have success. You can not lean on one person alone. Nor can you lean on two or three, everyone needs to step up to the plate and deliver when their name is called. Byrd can not be the main offensive weapon, but he needs to be an instrumental one; especially because he is going to be hitting in the heart of the lineup.

Fire Sale Series: The Players You May Want to Keep

As the Chicago Cubs continue to fall out of contention, the voices of the fans who are demanding a fire sale are getting louder. If you have been following my blog for the past week, you will have read just how difficult a time they will have in trading away the main players some fans want gone. The players who have seemingly been given contracts which are far too long, and worth far too much money, are more than likely stuck here thanks to the no trade clause built in. That is, of course, unless General Manager Jim Hendry can work some magic and find a team the players want to go to, who is willing to pick up their contracts. In doing so, the Cubs may be handcuffed for a few years on moves they can make, forcing them to go on the cheap with a total youth movement, which most fans seem to want anyway.

If the Cubs are going to go through with a fire sale, all I ask is for them to trade away anyone they are able to deal who is 30 years of age or older. This will include some very popular players, and will very likely upset a good number of fans. However, fire sales are not made to please the fans, they are made to clear roster space for younger players, while also helping save money to fill any void in the roster that can not be filled in house. The question still remains though, who can the Cubs trade and who wont they be able to?

However, outside of the main five players, the Cubs have a lot of talent which other teams may be more than willing to take on. Their are three starting pitchers which teams may be willing to give up some top talent for, which wont require the Cubs to eat any money to get rid of them. While trading them away may not be ideal to most fans, because they are fan favorites who are playing well, moving them might be the best thing the Cubs could do.

First and foremost, the Cubs should be strongly considering trading away Carlos Silva. While this trade will likely be met with the loudest complaints, mainly because he is our best pitcher this year, his value will never be higher. At the moment, Silva has roughly $17.5 Million left on his deal, of which the Seattle Mariners are paying roughly $7.5 Million. While he comes at a bargain, and will only cost $6 Million in 2011, the question you need to ask yourself, is how much longer can he keep up this amazing turnaround, and wondering if he will be able to match this effort next year. If you have any doubts at all in either case, the trade has got to be made now. While other teams will likely have this same thought about his potential, they may very well be interested enough that they would make a deal if they feel he can help them win this year. After all, the only World Series you can win, is this years World Series. While he has been our best pitcher, if the Cubs can move him, I say make the trade.

Another pitcher, would be Ryan Dempster. While he is still owed roughly $20.5 Million over this year and next, with a player’s option worth $14 Million, he would still be a pitcher who other teams would covet adding to their pitching staff. Without a no trade clause, there isn’t much that would stand in the way of the Cubs dealing him away for prospects. Since his move to the rotation, Dempster has been a very consistent pitcher who always keeps his team in the game, what contending team would not want to add a pitcher like him to their team? A great clubhouse guy, with a contract which wouldn’t be a huge financial burden would be a huge trading chip that could bring back some top notch prospects. I love Dempster, and everything that he brings to the ball club, but if you can not realistically see the Cubs contending before the end of the 2012 season, the best thing to do would be to trade him for prospects who could help us contend in the years to come.

The final start the Cubs have, which may draw some interest, is Ted Lilly. With his normally consistent performances on the mound, and his expiring contract, he may very well get looks from teams around the league. After all, baseball teams are always looking for a good left handed pitcher. With just about $6 Million remaining on his deal for the 2010 season, he will not be a financial burden for any team that would be bringing him in. Even if the Cubs have to eat some of his remaining contract, that will not hurt them in the future years, and I doubt the Cubs are considering re-signing him with so many talented pitchers who are waiting in the wings to be promoted to the majors. The only thing that could be standing in the way of a deal, is his limited no trade clause. He is able to block a trade to a few teams, none of which I know, but there are plenty of teams he has no say in being traded to. However, with his competitive nature, he may not use his no trade clause to block a trade if he is able to be sent to a contender.

The tradable players are not limited to the starting pitchers though , there are a few other players that would draw interest. While a few of them may very well be fan favorites, and would draw a backlash by fans if they are dealt, if the moves are in the best interest of the Cubs future, I say make the move.

A player that fans may riot if he is traded, is Marlon Byrd. He has been one of the few players on the roster who is actually playing up to expectations , and carrying his own weight to help the team win. With just about $13 million remaining on his contract through 2012, and the way he has performed recently, any team looking for an outfielder would have to be drooling if they knew he was available. A trade of Byrd could very well bring back a good prospect or two. While he is playing great for the Cubs now, you have to think about what is best for the Cubs and their chances in the future. He would be the last everyday player I would consider trading because he is one of the few producers, but that’s not to say I would not trade him if the right deal came along. Moving him, would allow the Cubs to call up another highly touted outfield prospect and help to groom him to be the star fans believe him to be.

Another outfielder which may draw some interest, that fans would not miss, is Xavier Nady. With a half way manageable contract, he is owed roughly $1.8 Million this year, unless he reaches his games played bonus worth $2.05 Million. I’m not sure how many games he has to play in order for that bonus to kick in, but I would be willing to bet he gets there. While that pending bonus may make teams leery about making the trade for him, he could catch someone’s eye, especially if the Cubs eat the bonus money, which would have no affect on any year but this year. They may not get that great of a prospect back for him, but his departure would give the Cubs another vacant roster spot which would allow them to give another rising player some time at the major league level.

While there are several bullpen and bench players who would also interest the fans to see leave, such as John Grabow, Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot, the final player I will mention is Ryan Theriot. Sure, he is a scrappy player who has earned favor with many Cub fans, he may have burned a bridge with the Cubs when he over valued his worth in the previous off season, taking the Cubs to their first Arbitration Hearing since Mark Grace in the early 1990s. With the Cubs winning the case, and paying him less than he felt he was worth, you can almost guarantee that he will be taking the Cubs back to Arbitration next year to get that raise he feels entitled to. Whether or not Hendry and the Cubs want to go through that headache again may be the main reason he is dealt before the All Star break, or in the up coming off season. This move, if the Cubs feel he is ready, would allow them to bring up another quickly rising short stop named Hak Ju Lee, who some scouts say is so good that he would push Starlin Castro over to second base. Whether or not Lee is ready, will go a long way to determining how serious the Cubs will consider trading Theriot. They may not get much back for him, but could avoid another potential off season headache.

If fans want to have a fire sale, they need to look at every aspect of the idea. They can not just focus on the thoughts of trading away the players with the bloated contracts who are not playing up to expectations. You have to take into consideration every player who is getting up their in age, including some fan favorites who are playing well. Because let’s be honest about something. Who are teams more likely to be interested in trading for, players who are older, over paid and under performing? Or would they rather have players who are playing to their potential who do not have contracts larger than their egos? When you ask for a fire sale, and for the Cubs to start rebuilding, be careful what you ask for. You may just get what you don’t want in return.

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.