With the start of Spring Training only days away, the fans of the Chicago Cubs can finally look forward to the 2010 season. After everything that went wrong with the previous years ball club, Cub fans were left with a bitter aftertaste in their mouths, and need a reason to believe that this year will be different. That is what Spring Training is all about, a fresh start and a new beginning. After last season, Cub fans everywhere are looking for just that. While most of the positions are already set, and locked in, there will still be some good competition that all fans should want to keep an eye on.
Lets start with the only competition that will be taking place for a starting job. That competition is for the starting second baseman’s job. There are two men who have their eye’s on the prize for this job, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker. Many fans would see Baker as the odds on favorite to win the job after he performed so well after the Cubs acquired him in a trade from the Colorado Rockies. He finished the year with a .288 batting average, but hit over .300 for the Cubs with a .362 on base percentage. Those are some pretty good statistics for a second baseman and, I for one, would not be too upset if he was the one to leave camp as the starter. The only problem I have with this, is I am unsure how much trust to put in Baker to continue to play the way he played last year. We fans, and management, have been fooled more times than we would like to admit when looking at a player who put up half of a good season. Need an example? Just look at Baker’s competition in Fontenot.
One reason why Fontenot might get the nod as the every day starter at second base, is because he is a left handed bat. If he isn’t starting the game, the Cubs have only one left handed hitter in the lineup. However, if we learned anything last year, we learned that Fontenot might not be starter material. In 2008, Fontenot put up some amazing stats considering he was only being used in part time play. What he was able to do in limited time, made Cub fans crave to see him getting more starts. That desire to see him get more time, also helped the Cubs decide to trade fan favorite Mark DeRosa. Last year though, Fontenot got his chance at starting, and we watched him fail to provide what we needed him to give us. In 16 more games, and getting 134 more at bats, Fontenot saw his batting average fall from .305 to .236. Management had also thought we would see him deliver more power with more time, that too failed to meet expectations. He only hit nine homeruns, the same amount he hit the previous year, while driving in only three more runs. Fontenot is a prime example of why you should not want to see a half year stud, taking over an every day job.
One of the other competitions that will be taking place, is for the fifth outfielder’s job. The starting outfield is already set with Alfonso Soriano in left field, Kosuke Fukudome in right field and Marlon Byrd patrolling center field. Newly signed Xavier Nady will be the fourth outfielder and will be backing up both Fukudome and Soriano. That leaves three outfielders competing for the fifth outfielder. Those players are Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin. While I like the versatility of both Colvin and Fuld, who can play all three outfield positions, I would give the nod to Hoffpauir myself, as he would be a welcomed left handed power bat off the bench. While Hoffpauir’s statistics are nothing to get excited about, he would provide more of a threat off the bench than either Colvin or Fuld.
In all honesty, I would say that this job would come down to Hoffpauir and Fuld, with Colvin being sent back down to the minors. While he is still in development, I would rather see Colvin get at bats everyday, something he wont be able to do in the major leagues. You don’t want a young player wasting away on the bench in the major leagues, let him continue to grow and play ball in the minors. While I said I would give the nod to Hoffpauir, don’t count out Fuld making the team. One of the competitions that will be taking place for the infield spots may actually work in Fuld’s favor, and give him a better chance of breaking camp with the team.
The battle for the infield bench jobs will also have the most competition. There are only two jobs open on the bench for backup infielders, with four players vying for them. The four men are Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Andres Blanco and whoever does not win the starting second base job between Baker and Fontenot. This competition will likely be watched the closest, as there are many things to factor in when filling the voids. Blanco is the only man in the group that can backup the Short Stop position. Yes, there is Sterlin Castro, but I am not considering him. I will get to him at a later date. Because of him being the only viable backup to Ryan Theriot at short, I feel he would have to be a lock to make the team. He is aso able to play second base.
If Blanco is a lock to make the team, as I think he should, that leaves Fontenot or Baker competing with Tracy and Millar for the final spot. With these three men in competition you need to factor in the Ramirez effect. The Cubs current third baseman rarely plays the whole season, and usually missed a chunk of games every year. The team needs someone who can back up Ramirez. While all four men can play third base, Tracy would be the best at the position. He can also back up Derrek Lee at first base, which would make Hoffpauir less of a necessity, meaning he could be sent down to the minors and Fuld could make the squad.
Management has come out and said that Millar and Tracy will be competing with one another for a bench job , which could mean that there could be a trade towards the end of Spring Training involving the odd man out in this competition. If Blanco makes the team, which I believe he should, who ever doesn’t win the second base job could likely be traded.
The problem with Tracy, is he doesn’t exactly have a great bat. His offensive production has fallen off dramatically since his first couple of years in the majors. So with Tracy you need to figure out what you need more. Do you need a good bat of the bench, or do you need a dependable replacement for Ramirez if he is forced to miss some time?
Millar is another issue, because like Tracy his offense is nowhere near what you would want in a bench player. However, he can play both corner infield spots, and if you are a believe in clubhouse chemistry there wouldn’t be a better man to add to the mix. I am not sure if I would pick him to beat out the other three candidates, but maybe he surprises everyone and pulls an ace out of his pocket.
With Ted Lilly possibly missing the first month of the season, there will be an extra spot in the pitching rotation. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells will lead the rotation, with the Cubs needing at least one more pitcher to fill out the rotation. With the month of April spreading out games and usually having a good number of off days, you wont really need a fifth starter until April 18 against the Houston Astros. Lilly said that he was targeting the middle of April for his return, so there may not be a need for a fifth start, which would be the best thing for the Cubs.
However, there will still be a need for a fourth starter until then, and that pitcher will become the fifth starter once Lilly returns. The likely candidates are Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva. If I were to put my money on one of them, I would nominate Gorzelanny to fill out the rotation. For one, he is a lefty, something the rotation will lose with Lilly being out. But why him over Marshall? That is an easy one. While Marshall has never gotten an extended look in the starters role, he hasn’t been able to show that he belongs as a starter, over the role we are used to seeing him in, and that is as an excellent arm coming out of the bullpen.
Silva was brought in, but his recent track record does nothing to inspire you that he would be anything better than what he has been the past four years. While he is likely to make the team, he might be demoted to the bullpen and mop up duty if he is unable to show any signs of improvement.
The one pitcher who might surprise people is Samardzija, though I am not ready to put my faith in him. Various reports from the Cubs player development staff have stated that he has shown a lot of good progress. If he has grown into the starters role, than he could give Gorzelanny some good competition, though I think I would rather see him sent to the minors to continue to work on his mechanics and developing a new pitch or two.
The bullpen is the final spot where we will see a lot of competition. Though, much like with the starting pitcher competition, there are the likely favorites. We already know that Carlos Marmol will be the closer, and Angel Guzman and Jeff Grabow will be the likely setup men. Others who are likely to make the squad are Jeff Gray, and if he doesn’t make the rotation Marshall. That leaves two spots in the bullpen for four other candidates. The most likely candidates are, Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, John Gaub, and Jeff Stevens. However, both Samardzija and Silva might also be in competition for the bullpen spots. This will be the most important competition in camp. The better your bullpen is, the better your team will be. For the final two spots, I have no idea who I see making the team. Whoever wins those last two spots will have earned them with this crowd that is in competing.
Well, hope springs eternal Cub fans, and this Spring Training is bound to give you all a lot of hope. Everything begins on February 17 when pitchers and catchers report.
With only three weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report for the Chicago Cubs, the roster is getting a minor overhaul, with a few new additions being added into the mix. While Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry hasn’t gone out and signed the top names in the market to improve the club, as he did in years past, he has added some much needed role-players who will shore up some of the much overlooked spots in the Cubs roster last year. Sure, you look at the names that have been added to the mix this year, nothing jumps out at you, but sometimes the smaller things are what make the biggest difference.
Within two days, the Cubs added in two players who will be a big help to their chances in 2010. Tuesday afternoon, they reached a deal with outfield Xavier Nady, who will make the roster as the teams fourth outfielder. Today, they signed former Arizona Diamondback infielder Chad Tracy to a minor league contract. Both these additions, while minor, will have a great impact on the stability of the ball club, making them more competitive and ready for a disaster. Something they were not ready for last season. While their signings are a welcome site to some Cub fans, to other players on the team, they are just another roadblock to over come.
For the past month, when word broke that the Cubs were still looking to add one more bat to the bench and one more arm for the bullpen. The most popular names being mentioned for the bench were former Cub, Reed Johnson, former Chicago White Sox player Jermaine Dye, former Tampa Bay Ray, Jonny Gomes and Nady. Obviously by now we know that Nady was the man chosen. With his signing, all signs were pointing to Sam Fuld being the odd man out, simply because the Cubs needed Micah Hoffpauir on the active roster to back up first baseman Derrek Lee. I feel that Nady was the right choice out of the group. He is a lot younger than Dye, and has more power than Johnson. With Gomes reportedly looking to rejoin the Cincinnati Reds, Nady was the best choice available. While he is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, reports from scouts say that Nady is now throwing the ball over 150 feet, and with a month left until Spring Training, he has plenty of time to continue building up his arm strength.
With Nady in the books, most fans were under the impression that the Cubs were done looking for position players and would focus on their search for a relief pitcher. However, we were thrown for a surprise this afternoon when the announcement of Tracy’s signing was made public. This move was essential, as the Cubs now have an actual bench player who is able to backup Aramis Ramirez at third base. The problem (at least for the trio of Andres Blanco, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker) is that now the team has one extra outfielder and has to decide which one will be shipped out to the minors, or in a trade. If I had to chose which infielder to ship out, I would have to tell Fontenot that his time is up. They can not get rid of Blanco, who is the only player currently on the 25 man roster who can back up Ryan Theriot at short stop. Blanco can also backup whoever wins the second base job, which means the choice should be between Fontenot and Baker. The interesting thing about the Tracy signing, is that he can also back up Lee at first base, which makes Hoffpauir less of a necessity to carry on the active roster, and opens the door for Fuld to be brought back, as he can play all three outfield spots.
With these two additions, five current players are now wondering about their future with the club. The two odd men out be shipped out in a trade, or sent to the minors for an insurance policy Either way, apparently the team will now have some real battles for positions in Spring Training just took on new life, as no bench role is seemingly promised to anyone, except for possibly Nady. In the outfield, we will see Hoffpauir and Fuld trying to beat out the other to be the fifth outfielder, but don’t forget about Tyler Colvin. He will be in Spring Training as well, though has to be seen as a long shot to make the team. As far as the infield battle goes, there are two separate position battles. First, Fontenot and Baker will each try to out do the other to win the starting second base job. The one who doesn’t win the job will join Blanco and newly acquired Tracy for the two backup infield jobs. Starlin Castro will also be making an appearance in Spring Training, though he should be considered a long shot at best to make the team out of camp. If he does, Theriot will be moved to second base, and the Cubs will have four players competing for two spots.
Spring Training just got a lot more interesting, and the Cubs are seemingly far better prepared for disaster. How you can be overly disappointed in these moves are beyond me. Are Nady and Tracy standout All-Stars? Not by any means. However, they will be key contributors to the success of the 2010 Cubs.
While no one knows for sure what moves will be made to prepare for the 2010 Chicago Cubs, I can make one guarantee. No matter what moves the Cubs make, there will be a large percentage of fans upset that one of their favorite players will no longer be with the club, at least not on the opening day roster. Unfortunately, there are not enough positions, or bench roles on the club for everyone’s favorite players. The fans want the players that they are currently watching have some success, but ultimately, most of these young players will likely be forced to start the season in Triple A. Before I go into my in-depth looks at the various openings in the Cubs roster, I think fans need to realize the difficulty of making decisions with what the team already has.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Cubs have a tremendous amount of outfielders. While having more then you need is better then the alternative of having too few, the decisions that will be made will send shockwaves through the fan base, and upset a good majority of fans. One thing that we know for sure, is that Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will both be brought back as the starting outfielders, and Milton Bradley will be traded at some point this winter. The problem lies with who will fill in the final three voids in the outfield.
With Reed Johnson entering free agency at the end of the year, there are many fans who will be demanding the Cubs re-sign him. Sounds easy enough, sign him to a deal, and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. Fair enough, but then there are only two slots left. Who else should make the team? Fans love the way that Sam Fuld plays, and they have seemingly fallen in love with recent call-up Tyler Colvin. If you want both of them on the roster, then you can more less kiss Jake Fox goodbye. You cant keep him if you want Johnson, Fuld and Colvin. What about Micah Hoffpauir then? Fans want to see him on the team as well. If you take him, who do you leave off? Five current players for three slots, you don’t have to be a genius to do the math, they wont all fit. The solution? Let Colvin and Hoffpauir head back to the minors where they will be able to play everyday. Case solved, or is this only the beginning of the problem?
Everyone knows that the Cubs will be doing everything in their power to trade Bradley to get him as far away from the team as possible. The outfield problem gets all the more difficult if the Cubs get another outfielder back in the deal, or if they sign a free agent bat. If either of these are the case, then the choices for your outfield get more frustrating, for the management staff of the Cubs, and for fans who will get even more upset that their team is not keeping another one of their favorite youngster on the active 25 man lineup. With the possibility of the team adding an outfielder from outside the organization, you know have only two open slots for the outfield. Do you want to re-sign Johnson? If so, then management and fans will have to make a tough decision between Fuld and Fox, unless you want to add Colvin and Hoffpauir into the mix as well. Five players for two slots, there will be plenty of fans who will be upset that one of their choices will not make the team leaving Spring Training.
If you thought that the outfield would be the extent of the tough choices, wait until you see the infield situation. With Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Theriot all but guaranteed to keep their starting jobs, there are three spots left. There is the need for a second baseman, and two backup infielders, one of which will be Aaron Miles, unless he is traded. The easiest solution would be to have Jeff Baker playing second base, and picking through the remaining players to be the final infield backup spot. The players to choose between would then be Andres Blanco, who is out of options, and Mike Fontenot. If you wanted, you could keep Fox over these two, then most problems are solved. The team could keep Johnson and Fuld, depending on if they bring in a free agent or make a trade for an outfielder, they might even be able to keep Colvin. Case closed, everyone wins right? Not so fast.
Much like with the outfield situation, the Cubs could very easily sign a free agent to come in to play second base. That makes the infield problem all the more difficult. The choice for one spot is between Baker, Fontenot and Blanco, add Fox in if you want to keep both Johnson and Fuld. An easy solution would be to try and trade Miles, then the team could be able to keep two of these players, as well as having a second baseman. Having Baker and Fox as the backups would be nice, but missing the defense of Blanco would hurt.
The only way everyone’s favorite position players can make the team, is if the Cubs do not try to trade for or sign any players at all. Then they can have an outfield of: Soriano, Johnson and Fukudome, with backups of Fuld and Fox. The infield would be: Lee, Baker, Theriot and Ramirez, backed up by Blanco and Fontenot (assuming they would trade Miles). With Cub’s manager Lou Piniella likely to carry seven bullpen pitchers as he always does, the team only has room for five back up players, counting the backup catcher. That’s a decent team, but would you consider this team to be championship material? I am not so sure.
Something has to give among the fans demands. They all want the Cubs to go out and sign this player or that player, but also to keep all these other players. With the roster being limited at 25 players, the fans must be willing to accept any and all moves that are going to be made. They can not keep everyone they want to, as well as add everything they think they need. There just isn’t enough room on a 25 man roster to sooth everyone’s wants and demands. The fans must ask themselves one question, do you want to add bigger or better players, or do you want the young guns to get the playing time? Pick your side and stick to what you decide. You cant have everything.
With the 2009 Chicago Cubs season all but over, the attention of the fans, and hopefully General Manager Jim Hendry, will be how to fix the mess that they currently find themselves in. As a whole, I honestly do not believe that much needs to be done; only a little bit of tinkering. Sure Hendry needs to pull off a miracle trade in order to get rid of Milton Bradley, but other then that, I believe that our team does not need too much work. With most of our team already in place, and with the key pieces already locked in, all that remains is to find one or two key elements which will bring us back to the championship form the Cubs found themselves in the previous two years.
The first, and in my eyes the most important, piece to the championship puzzle that Hendry must bring into the fold, is a true leadoff hitter. The Cubs need an explosive bat at the top of the order that will be able to put the team in the best position possible to score early and often. They need a player who not only has the ability to hit and get on base at a high level, but also has the ability to steal second or third when they get on base. Presently, the Cubs have two options for leading off, neither of which fits all three areas of need.
With Kosuke Fukudome, they have a player who is able to fill the need for a great on base percentage. The downfall for having Fukudome lead off is because he has not proven that he can hit at a high level. His batting average, while slightly improved over last year, still sits at a mediocre .256. Even if he were able to show that he can hit closer to .300, he lacks the true potential to be a stolen base threat. Fukudome, while he can be a decent number two hitter, should not be looked upon to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs next year. His qualifications do not meet the standard of what the ball club needs.
As far as Ryan Theriot, much like with Fukudome, he does not fit the ideal description of a leadoff hitter either. While he is able to hit at a respectable level and get on base close to a .350 average, he does not have the true speed to make him a stolen base threat either. While he does lead the team with 21 steals, only being caught seven times, he does not run enough to put the fear into the opposing team’s pitchers or catchers. His ideal position in the batting order would be either second or eighth in my eyes. While you want to take advantage of his ability to get on base for your sluggers, we saw in 2008 what his presence at the bottom of the order could do for our offense. With Fukudome batting second in a line up I would write out, Theriot would be a nice fit in the eight hole.
The Cubs could also look at using some of their minor leaguers to fill the void at leadoff. This option is very intriguing, as he has shown to be a great defensive player, making several amazing plays in the outfield. While his batting average is still a bit lower then you would like to see your leadoff hitter have, his on base percentage is amazing, hovering around .380. The one draw back, is he apparently does not have enough speed to be the stolen base threat the team requires. However, we do not know fully what he can do, as he has only been allowed to steal base three times, of which he was caught once. I would not be opposed to his leading off, if they were unable to find a suitable replacement.
If none of these three option fit Manager Lou Piniella’s desire, that leaves us with a need to be found outside the organization, and a limited availability for positions to play. The Cubs need to find a leadoff hitter who can play one of three or four possible positions. Fukudome can play either Right or Center field, and while Theriot has mostly been used at Short Stop, he is also capable of playing second base. While there are many options that will be available for the Cubs to sign once the free agency period starts in November, most of them are already in the 30s, and will all come with a hefty price tag. The list is long, and I will not list them at the moment, but rest assured, I do have my favorites already picked out, and I will let you know that sooner rather than later.
In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Piniella mentioned that the Cubs top priority should be to add another power bat to the middle of the order. As I mentioned, I believe that finding a true leadoff hitter should be on the top of the Cubs wish list. However, do we really need another power hitter on the team? With Alfonso Soriano being moved permanently out of the leadoff role, he would be a nice addition to the heart of the order. That is, of course, if he is able to give the team the power numbers he gave them during his time here. If he is able to do so, then the need for another power hitter becomes lower on the wish list.
Another reason the team may not need another power bat added to the lineup is Geovany Soto. While he has raised red flags with his performance this year, I for one am not willing to give up on him. He has shown exactly what he is capable of when he fully prepared for the season. He has admitted that he slacked off in the off season, and did not prepare himself the way that he should have. I am willing to write off 2009 as a rookie mistake, even though he is no longer a rookie. Lesson learned, and he has earned the chance to redeem himself with the level of play he displayed at the end of 2007 and all of 2008. All he needs to do is revert to doing whatever he did in those two years, and I believe that he will be back to everything the team expected of him. If both Soriano and Soto return to form, then there is no need whatsoever to go out and spend a lot of money on another power bat for the middle of the order. If they both fail to accomplish what the team needs from them, there are two options that could fill the bill, though I would advise against them.
In the outfield, you can play either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox in Right Field. If I had to choose between the two of them, I would choose Fox over Hoffpauir, because Fox has more upside. With that being the case, I would severely advise against either one of them playing in the outfield, especially with Soriano playing in the opposite corner. The team can not, and should not, depend on an outfield which would have less than average defenders in both Left and Right Fields. While I would greatly welcome both of them to the bench, I do not want to see either as the everyday Right Fielder. Fukudome would collapse with all the ground he would have to cover in Center Field.
While you can never have enough power in the lineup, the money would be better served elsewhere. However, much like with the speedster that the Cubs should be looking for, the team would need to find a player who can hit for power, who also is able to play one of the previously mentioned four positions. Again, there are many options that may be available, but all would come with a hefty price tag, and are all in their early to mid 30s.
With the slight improvements in mind to help the everyday lineup, the focus should then move to the bench and the backups for each of the replacements. The bench portion of our team is a mess, but in a good way. The Cubs have more pieces then they know what to do with. In the outfield, assuming the Cubs sign a free agent, they have the options of re-signing Reed Johnson, Fuld, Fox and Hoffpauir. Some would question why I left out Tyler Colvin, but that is simply because of his lack of experience, and the Cubs lack of space. He would benefit well from having a little more time in the minors, mainly because he could have an everyday job playing in Triple A. If the Cubs were to sign a free agent for the outfield, chances are only one or two of these players would be on the Cubs bench, that is assuming they decide to re-sign Johnson. If the Cubs decide to have one of them be a starting outfielder, they can keep three of the players. While the Cubs said they wanted to resign Johnson, his time with the Cubs would likely come at the expense of Fuld.
If you thought that the outfield situation was a tricky one to work out, take a look at the log jam the Cubs will be facing with the infield backups. In my opinion, the Cubs need to sign a player to play second base. While Jeff Baker has played very well since coming to the team, I am not completely sold on him being the everyday player at second base. We fell into this trap last year with Mike Fontenot, thinking he would be able to produce the entire season the way we saw him perform in limited time in 2008. If we carry two backup outfielders, that limits us to only being able to carry two back up infielders. There are a few people I would love to see make the team as role players, but only one of them will get the nod, mainly because the Cubs are stuck with Aaron Miles for another year. That means that two of the following three men will not make the team, if the Cubs sign a second baseman. The Cubs can keep Baker, Fontenot or Andres Blanco. Personally, I would let Fontenot go, either by a trade or sent back to the minors. That would leave Piniella and Hendry with the tough decision between Baker and Blanco. This, of course, could all be solved if Baker becomes the starting second baseman. While I don’t know if he can be dependable as an everyday second baseman, he has got to do better then Fontenot. That would also allow us to keep Blanco on the team.
The way the starting rotation for the Cubs will likely only carry over four of the five starters from this year. Love him or hate him, Carlos Zambrano will likely return to the team next year, along with Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells. While Rich Harden would be a welcome commodity, there are far too many rumors floating around that he will not be brought back. If he is willing to give the Cubs a discount, and not demand a long term deal, he may be brought back, but according to some baseball analysts he will get a contract worth at least $10 million a year. With his injury history, that would not be a quality investment. That would leave the Cubs one starting pitcher shy, but they have a few names who could step into the role as the fifth starter for 2010.
The in house options that the Cubs can consider for the vacant starters job are Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Gorzelanny. From the way the end of the season is winding down, with Samardzija and Gorzelanny getting a few starts, you would be led to believe that the competition is currently limited to these two men. While Samardzija has looked very shaky in his outings this year, out of the bullpen and with his first start, he looked impressive in his second major league start. Gorzelanny on the other hand has been more then impressive in most of his starts with the Cubs. Whether or not they will be able to fill in and give us what we need will be determined once Spring Training commences. However, if neither of them impress, they can always look to free agency, and there are a few starters out there that could be
The bullpen is another mess that needs to be fixed, however this may be fix may not be all that difficult. We have our closer in Carlos Marmol, but after him everything else is a crapshoot. While Angel Guzman has looked amazing this year, he once again ended the year with an injury. If he could stay healthy, he would be an amazing set up man for the eighth inning. John Grabow is a free agent at the end of the year, but from all things I have heard, the Cubs want to resign him. That leaves four pitchers left to fill in the remaining bullpen spots. The Cubs have a slew of young arms that could fill those roles, like Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg. They could also use Marshall as the second lefty in the bullpen. If those three all make the team, that leaves one spot open for any number of guys. However, like everywhere else, there are plenty of options to sign in free agency.
While the Cubs have needs, they don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone. All of their holes can be solved in house. However, over the next few days and weeks, I will break down my thoughts on the possible targets who I think the Cubs should go after for all the open spots that need to be filled before the 2010 season beings. Just to recap, those positions are: Center Field or Right Field, Second Base or Short Stop, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers. All the Cubs need is a little bit of tinkering, and they will be more then fine for he following season.
What a way to start off the month of June, for both the Chicago Cubs and for Alfonso Soriano, a leadoff homerun is always a nice way to begin a game. However, the next three batters all make outs, so you have to take the good with the bad I suppose. As you can guess, I am doing a partial live blog, as I am writing this during the Cubs game with the Atlanta Braves, so I will have sections on my game thoughts during my current state of the Cubs post. Hopefully this will work out and make a good read for all my faithful readers. Anyway, on with the point of this article. In my opinion, the Cubs are looking like they could very well be in some trouble, but at the same time you cant really panic too much either. I will explain both side of the argument as I go on tonight. Speaking of going on, Randy Wells just completed a five pitch 1-2-3 inning, talk about your good ways to start a ballgame. Lets see if he can keep this up, and get his first win.
As things stand as of this writing, the Cubs are one game over the .500 mark, and stand four games out of first place. Granted, on paper, their record and number of games back does not seem that bad when you consider how much of the season there is left to play. Counting tonight’s game, the Cubs have 113 games left in their season. While there is still plenty of time to turn things around, there are some trends that are continuing to run their course which are very troubling. There are quite a few Cubs in the lineup, as well as on the bench, who have an obstacle or two that needs to be overcome in order for the Cubs to have success. While baseball is a team game, you need to have the individuals contribute on a consistent basis to ensure success. That is something that the Cubs are not doing regularly. After one and a half innings, the Cubs are leading 2-0. Congrats to Wells on getting both his first major league hit, and RBI. You have to love a pitcher who helps his own cause.
The first player on the list is veteran first baseman Derrek Lee. While he had a impressive month of May, hitting .313, his overall batting average is still at a measly .248. I know that when you start off slow, you will have to bust your *** in order to get your average and statistics back up to a respectable level. While you can look at last month as the possible start to Lee’s emergence back to a threat, other stats would tell you otherwise. Wells, by the way, just pitched another 1-2-3 inning, he is looking good early on. When you take a look at his splits with home verse road, his road stats are nothing short of embarrassing. He has a single homerun on the road, and is batting .196. With that coming in only 15 games, you have a small sample size, but you may also see this as a trend which will wind up hurting the team. If Lee continues to play poorly on the road, he wont be too much help in the heart of the order. That being the case, there isn’t much we can do about the situation. Lee is making $13 million dollars this year and next, so trading him will be all but impossible. Finding a team that is willing to take on a declining first baseman and his contract will not be easy. Even if you do find one, Lee still has to approve the trade in order for anything to work. With that being the case, you can all but count out a trade involving Lee. So you can bench him for Micah Hoffpauir if you wish, I will get back to that in a moment. The Cubs go down in order in the top of the third, but are still leading 2-0. Can Wells continue his gem of a game into the bottom of the inning? We will find out soon enough.
Lets talk second base, we have no real second baseman at the moment. Bobby Scales and Andres Blanco are the main second baseman until Aramis Ramirez returns from the DL. While both are playing decently, you are not getting the production out of either of them you would like. Both men, are light hitting infielders who will not give you much in terms of power. What else do you expect from two minor leaguers? That’s not to say that the Scales story is tarnished, I am happy for the guy that he finally made the big leagues. But he is not an every day player. We need someone who will hit for a good average, which he is not with his .239 average. Great story, but not a great player. Im sorry, but I have to be honest on this. Blanco is just as bad thus far in his career. After nine games he is hitting .111. He will likely get most of the starts at second, so he does have time to turn things around, but you cant like what you have seen from him offensively. He is your prototypical traditional shortstop, all glove and not bat. He has made some really nice defensive plays, but we need something better at the plate then what we are getting. What do you know, Wells pitches another 1-2-3 inning setting down the Braves in order in the bottom of the third.
Our shortstop, Ryan Theriot has cooled off after an impressive start, and has powered down after a powerful beginning to the month. Figures, Milton Bradley looks as though he injured his knee trying to leg out an infield single. He went into the clubhouse, and is likely out of the game. Looks like Reed Johnson will be going into the game. More on both of them later, back to Theriot. While he hit .317 in April, his average dropped to .273 for the month of May. Not a bad average by any means, but when he started to drive the ball with more power, his average has also fallen. I would rather have the Theriot we saw in April, high average and no power, then the mid average with average power. That’s just me though, you may feel differently. His range is also starting to trouble me, as there are times when you watch him play and you know he shouldn’t be a shortstop, as he doesn’t have a very powerful arm. Arm strength cant be helped, but his approach at the plate can be. We need him to go back to what he was doing in April. Well, the Cubs went down in order, a quick top of the fourth.
Filling in for Ramirez, is Mike Fontenot. His .224 average is nothing close to what we had hoped or planned to see out of him as a starter this year. He hit very poorly in April with a .232 average, only to follow that up with an even worse May hitting .216, and Wells hit second batter of the inning to give the Braves their first base runner. While his average is way down, so are his power numbers. He has not hit a homerun since May 3 against the Marlins. We expected more power and a much better average from Fontenot considering what we saw out of him in limited time last year. One could guess that Fontenot has been over exposed now that he is playing every game. This was a concern for a few people going into the season, although many Cub fans wanted to see him playing every day. Though looking back at last years stats, he never really showed much power to begin with, he only had big hits in key moments when he got a chance. Personally, making him an everyday starter is not looking like a smart decision. As far as the current game goes, after the hit batter, Wells got the next batter to hit into a double play to end the inning.
I don’t even want to start on Geovany Soto, but I can not allow him to go untouched. He has simply fallen fast and hard. He has put on a lot of weight, and just simply does not appear to have the same drive that he had last year. I don’t know what is wrong with Soto that is making him look like the player he was for most of his career in the minors, but he has definitely taken several steps backwards. He is nothing like what he was last year, which is also a key factor contributing to the Cubs poor play. Once again, the Cubs go down in order, and from the way things are going we may need Wells to continue pitching the way he is, as I don’t know if we will score another run. Back to Soto, the Cubs were heavily depending on him to be the player he was last year, and counting on similar numbers. They are not, and I fear will not, get those numbers from him. They need to find another place to get that production. Where that comes from, I have no idea
Our grand leadoff hitter, Soriano, isn’t so grand right now. Sure, he led off the game with a homerun, but overall his numbers are pretty damn pathetic. His batting average is in the mid-.200s, and he is getting on base, just above .300. Those are not the stats you want from the guy who is hitting in the first slot in the batting order. That being said, leading off a game he is still hitting above the .300 mark. That doesn’t make up for his poor average though, as we need him to be much better then he has been this month. He needs to heat things up in the month of June. While Ramirez is out best hitter (and all around player) the offense usually goes with Soriano. The better he plays, the better the Cubs offense works as a whole. That is why he must turn things on again, and break out of this funk that he is in. If he can not, the Cubs will be dead before Ramirez gets back. You can say move him out of the leadoff spot, but that may not even make a difference at this point. Maybe his homerun to start the game will get his motor running. Speaking of the game, Wells is through five, with the only base runner coming on a hit batter, who wasn’t really hit.
Bradley, who left the game with an strained muscle in the leg, looks as though he is starting to warm up as his average is slowly starting to rise up into the mid .200s. Considering how he started the season, that is a good sign. However, his leaving with an inured leg can not be a good sign, as he will be out for a few games at least. That’s not something you want to see with a player who is starting to heat up. As poorly as he looked to start the season, and as much as you wanted him out of the lineup in April; you want him in the lineup now that his bat is heating up. Hopefully he wont be out long.
Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome are both playing excellent ball, and I have no complaints for either one of them. Johnson will see more playing time with Bradley likely to miss time, and many fans will love that. Both men are swinging the bat very well, and could help jump start the on again, off again Cubs offense. Not much to say about these two, so I will leave things as they are.
That brings me to the minor league phenom duo of Hoffpauir and Jake Fox. Why am I combining these two players? Simple, they are more or less the same type of player. Both are listed as first baseman and outfielders. Fox has played at catcher and third in very limited chances, but he himself has said that he is basically lost when playing the field. Fox is a designated hitter in waiting, mainly because he is a defensive liability. Hoffpauir is another interesting case, as he is also a man with out a position. Neither one should be playing every day, for various reasons. Hoffpauir’s average when starting a game is in the mid to low .200s like most others in the starting lineup, but around .400 when he pinch hits. Just my two cents, take that as you will. Cubs score a couple more runs and now lead 4-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
That’s about all when you look at the offense, the pitching is another matter all together. We have gotten some tremendous pitching the entire month of May from the starters and bullpen alike. The Cubs got a lot of dominant pitched games from their starters, a lot of which got wasted on the last road trip with the lack of offense. The starters haven’t been the only pitchers to step up their games, the bullpen has also started to put things together. Everyone is starting to settle into their roles, and are starting to do what they are supposed to do. Granted, you have had a few ugly innings from members of the bullpen, but overall, they have looked good lately. Much like with Johnson and Fukudome, there is not much to complain about here. The pitching has spoken for themselves this month, and we need them to continue to do so. Even when our offense finally wakes up completely, we need our pitchers to continue to dominate the opposition. Speaking of pitching, Wells puts up another 1-2-3 inning on the Braves.
Well, I gave you reasons for concern, how about ending on a positive note. Honestly, that is hard to find. You could go back to last years schedule, but we were 16 games over .500 at this time last year (same day, but more games played) and we were in first by 3.5 games. Nothing much going on there. Cubs get a runner to second, but that’s where he stays. Time for the bottom of the seventh. However, go back two years, with Cubs Manager Lou Piniella’s first year with the team. The Cubs were nine games under, and 7.5 back. We all know how that regular season ended for our boys in blue. I know that this is a massive stretch, but you need to get a positive in there somewhere. Do I think the season is over, not at all. We should be cautiously optimistic, as I still believe we have a team that can win the division, or at very least the wild card. The Cubs have time to make up some ground, but things will not be easy. All I can say, is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Sadly, my blog will end here as the no hitter also came to an end with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Way to go Wells, you pitched a hell of a game. Now you just need to finish things off.
Please note, that I am writing part of this while the Chicago Cubs are playing tonight.
You just had to know the trends would not last forever, they couldn’t. The Cubs offense would not be slumping all season long, they would break out sooner or later. That is exactly what they did last night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they score a total of eight runs, three more runs then they scored on the entire road trip. You would think, that with score eight runs, the Cubs won the game. Yeah, you would think that, but you would be wrong. The great pitching the Cubs were getting on the road trip, also came to an end, as the pitching staff as a whole gave up 10 runs. That just figures, don’t you think? The Cubs get all that great pitching without getting the run support, and as soon as the bats wake up the pitching has a set back. Just seems to be the case
As far as the offense goes, and the sudden break out that occurred last night, they are still a pathetic group to look at. While they were able to pound the Pirates, who have been the doormat of the National League for over a decade, this is still an offense which is struggling more then anyone could have imagined. To see just how bad this offense has been performing, all you have to do is look at the statistics. We have two of or everyday players batting over .300, which is pretty damn pathetic. Aramis Ramirez, who is going to be out for at least another month is hitting .364, while Kosuke Fukudome is batting .308. After those two, Ryan Theriot is the next leader on the batting average as far as everyday players go with his .273 average. No one on this roster should be holding their heads high in regards to their offensive outputs as they are all playing disgraceful baseball. While every player on the team is putting up disgraceful numbers, there are a handful of guys in the lineup who are appearing as though they may be ready to break out completely. Derrek Lee and Milton Bradley have both been playing better baseball then they had been for the majority of the season.
As soon as the calendar switched from April to May, Lee has seemingly flipping the switch, and his bat has come to life. While Lee put up a pathetic .189 batting average in April, he is hitting at a .333 clip for May, and his average has climbed to a .248. While his current batting average is still really ugly, Lee is starting to play the way he has his whole career. He may not match the power numbers that he has put up over the course of his career, but he has four months to get 15 more homeruns which will be close to his career average in homers. Lee coming to life is a great sign, as the Cubs need him to be the player that he has always been.
Bradley on the other hand, his climb back up to respectability will be a much longer road to hike. While he is still struggling to break the .200 mark, he has been taking some good swings and hitting the ball hard. With the contact he is making, the hits will start to fall and his average will rise. The problem Bradley will have is keeping his mouth shut when the situation involves the umpires. While I can see the argument he made, to a very limited point, when he claimed the umps were all out to get him, you do not, under any circumstances voice your frustration to the media. Nothing good can ever come from publicly questioning the umpire’s agenda. If you honestly believe that the umpires are out to get you, what do you think publicly complaining about them is going to do? Get them to back off and call things fair? If they do have an agenda against Bradley, his calling them out if the fashion he did will only upset them even more. Now, he is calling out Paul Sullivan for baiting him into saying what he said. Perhaps his media ban should be brought back into effect, he will get into less trouble that way. Outside of Lee and Bradley, all of the other struggling Cubs (Fukudome and Ramirez excluded) have done nothing to impress anyone.
You can say that Theriot has impressed by showing signs of power, but with that power came a massive dip in average. He went from a very impressive .317 April average, all the way down to .273 thanks to his hitting .229 for May. While his power bat has awoken, he sacrificed everything that made him a great two hole batter.
Don’t even get me started on Alfonso Soriano, while he is hitting over .400 while having the first at bat of the game, his batting average as a whole has fallen to a pathetic .253. Sadly, his average is the third best in terms of active everyday players. If your leadoff hitter is hitting that poorly overall, you will not win many games.
Mike Fontenot, whose batting average is only 10 points higher then Bradley’s (who is bringing up the rear in terms of everyday players) is showing that he is not an everyday player. You can talk about how the change in position has hurt his play, but that is the biggest load of bull you can say. The good ball players can adapt and continue to play well, even with a position change. You want proof? Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have all changed positions, and are all still dominant players. Say what you will about steroids when you talk about A-Rod or Pujols, but they did not let a change in position hurt their offensive output.
Micah Hoffpauir is another one of those players who is slowly proving that he should not play everyday. There is a reason he has not gotten a starting gig with the Cubs all those years he was in the organization. While his .267 average is far from the worst on the club, he has played in the last four games as a starter and has one hit in 16 tries. I know that four games is a very small sample size, so lets break things down like this. In every game he starts, he has 18 hits in 75 at bats for a .240 average as a starter. As a bat off the bench he is 5 of 11 for a .455 average. Again, small sample sizes, but the numbers are not pretty when he starts a game.
Geovany Soto will not escape my complaints, as he has completely fallen off what he was expected to be. He appears to be much heavier then he was in his Rookie of the Year campaign. You can point fingers and lay blame on the World Baseball Classic all you want for his poor play, but you can not blame that event for him not being in shape. His .214 batting average is simply disgusting, considering everything he accomplished last year. He won the ROY award, and was the first National League rookie catcher to ever start an All Star game. Other then not being in the shape that he should be in , I do not know what is wrong with him. Whatever is causing his struggles, Soto needs to figure things out fast.
While the pitching staff had a bad night last night, for the most part they have been solid. With the obvious exception of Neal Cotts who I have been voicing my displeasure with all season. I wont get into him tonight, but I don’t think that he will be on the roster too much longer. He definitely will not finish the season on the 25 man roster.
The Cubs have a little over four months of baseball left to play in the regular season, and are currently five games out of first. They have time to turn things around, but if the offense continues to show very little signs of life, they will not be able to hang around for long. The good news, we are currently in the top of the second inning with one out. The Cubs lead 1-0, thanks to a solo shot by Fukudome. Come on Cubs, you need to snap this losing streak.
The Chicago Cubs offense continues to struggle, as they have now slipped into a six game losing streak. Compiled with these streak of ineptitude is scoring a grand total of three runs in the last five games of this streak. In those five games, the Cubs pitching staff has done a fantastic job, holding the opposition to 15 total runs. When your pitching staff only gives up an average of three runs a game, you should be able to win at least one of those games. However, when you cant score, you wont be able to win a game. Changes need to be made, though I don’t know exactly how much tinkering can be done with the team.
Last night, Cubs Manager Lou Piniella shook up the lineup, while giving Alfonso Soriano the night off. With the Cubs All Star left fielder out of the lineup, Ryan Theriot moved up a slot in the batting order to bat leadoff, with Kosuke Fukudome also moving up a slot. Milton Bradley slid into the three hole, and the man replacing Soriano in the field, Micah Hoffpauir batted fifth. This is a batting order that I can live with, especially if everyone moves down a slot with Soriano’s return this afternoon, giving us a lineup that looks like this, Soriano-Theriot-Fukudome-Bradley-Derrek Lee-Mike Fontenot-Geovany Soto-Bobby Scales. However one change that I can not live with, is something that Piniella hinted at doing last week.
Last week, Piniella claimed to be thinking over the idea of moving Soriano back to second base and putting Hoffpauir in left field. As I stated in my last blog, that would be one of the worst ideas he has ever had. The offense is struggling enough to outscore the other team, we don’t need to give them more runs by fielding a poor defensive team. While the offense, on paper, would look very nice, with the lineup I listed above (only with Hoffpauir hitting sixth in place of Fontenot) the defense would be too bad for us to overcome. However, that is a change which I fear is coming soon. Piniella is quickly losing patience, as are several Cub fans.
I know that this is not up to my usual standards, but there isn’t much else I can say about this team. I have voiced my disapproval and frustrations for a week now. Hopefully I can actually write about something more positive then an ugly loss or a pathetic offense. As things stand, the S.S. Cubs is sinking fast.