Tagged: Milton Bradley

Time to Break Out the Hot Stove for the Chicago Cubs

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.

Advertisements

With the Cubs Season All but Over, Let the Autopsy Begin

Now that the Chicago Cubs season has officially ended, or at least realistically, lets look back and see where everything went wrong. You can point fingers at whomever you wish, but you would still only be partially correct in your assumption. There are several factors which by themselves could have been enough to cripple a team for the year, but when you put them all together you get sure fire disaster. While I am sure that I will overlook a few things which added to the failure of the 2009 Cubs, I believe that the following is what contributed the most to the demise and heartbreak.

In order to properly start the autopsy of the 2009 Cubs, we need to go back to the end of the 2008 season, when the Cubs were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not long after the series ended, Cubs Manager Lou Piniella threw out a statistic which showed that not one time in the entire season, including regular season games, did the Dodgers use a left handed pitcher against us. Using that as a jumping point, he claimed that the Cubs were too right handed, and he wanted to add some left handed bats to the lineup. One of the casualties of this statement was Mark DeRosa who quickly gained popularity with the Cub’s faithful fans. With his departure, the Cubs lost a big part of the clubhouse, and in the long run, helped to strengthen the competition when the Cleveland Indians traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals.

There are a few reasons why DeRosa was traded, one of which was that Piniella wanted to become more left handed in the batting order. Other then the desire to become more left handed, one factor which was rumored, was that Piniella wanted DeRosa gone because of his comments after the Cubs lost their second game in the National League Division Series, where he said that the Cubs backs are “against the wall”. That statement upset Piniella. Whether or not that rumor is true, I don’t know. Another reason why DeRosa was looked at as being dispensable was because of the surprising play of Mike Fontenot. The way he played throughout the 2008 season in limited playing time, fans were clamoring for him to get more playing time. When he was given that chance this year, he showed that he is not an everyday second baseman, as his batting average plummeted into the low .200s. If Fontenot had performed up to expectations, there would be a lot less fans disappointed that DeRosa was traded. Finally, the financial reason for his trade has to be mentioned. They had to trade him to free up some room in order to have enough money to sign a free agent who could bat left handed. While Cubs General Manager will ultimately get the blame for the trade, he was only doing what a good GM will do. Give his manager the team he wants.

Another loss, which hurt the Cubs and helped the competition, was the trade of Jason Marquis. While there was a good majority of fans who disliked Marquis, he was a big loss. Not even taking into account how good of a year he is having with the Colorado Rockies, he was a big part of the team the two years he was here. Even though his ERA was in the mid 4s, he was above .500, and a big innings eater. What more would you want from your 5th starter? While the Cubs could have used him, there was some good which came out of his departure, and that’s the emergence of Cubs rookie right hander Randy Wells. If Marquis was still a part of this ball club, we may never have known about this talented pitcher, who will hopefully be able to continue his success next year.

In what could have been the biggest mistake by Hendry in the offseason was replacing Kerry Wood with Kevin Gregg. The mistake was not in letting Wood go, but in trading for Gregg to replace him. While I will freely admit that I was one of the defenders of Gregg for most of the year, he blew up at the end of the season beyond anything I could defend. Thankfully, this is a mistake which the Cubs don’t have to live with for long. Gregg is a free agent at the end of the year, and he will be someone else’s problem next year.

I said the trade for Gregg could have been the biggest mistake Hendry made in the offseason; the reason that wasn’t the biggest, is because he also signed Milton Bradley. This was the biggest mistake Hendry has made since becoming the Cubs General Manager. I won’t buy into all the fans complaining about the failure to sign Raul Ibanez, because who could have envisioned he would be having a career year at this stage in his career? However, there were plenty of other options who should have been signed over Bradley. While the fans were against him from the start, he never did anything to win them over. From having a horrible April, to forgetting the number of outs there were in an inning, to the bickering with the fans and media he dug himself into a hole that no one could have gotten out of. Things got so bad with Bradley, that even on days he collected hits on his first two or three at bats, he got booed when he made an out in that same game. Now, he has been suspended for the remainder of the year, and will likely be traded after the season. Now, we can fully understand why Bradley has been on so many different teams in his career. Bradley does have talent as a ball player, he just needs to learn to shut up.

The trades and free agent signings aside, what really cost the Cubs their season were the injuries. I know the old cliché says that you can’t use injuries as an excuse, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Cubs have suffered through more injuries then any other team in the Majors, with the exception maybe of the New York Mets. Nearly everyone on the Cubs starting 25 man roster spent at least two weeks on the disabled list, if not just sitting out for a week. The stat has been mentioned several times, the Cubs only had their desired roster together for a total of two games the entire season. That is a very tough obstacle for any team to overcome.

I wont mention every injury the Cubs faced this year, because that could take forever; however , the biggest and most damaging injury for the Cubs, was the loss of their best player for two months. When Aramis Ramirez left a game in mid May with a separated shoulder, Cub fans everywhere knew the team was in trouble. You cant lose your best player, and biggest run producer and survive easily. Sure, there were mistakes that were made immediately following his injury, such as the failure to bring up Jake Fox to fill the void, but nothing could have completely covered for the loss of Ramirez. As good as Fox has shown to be with the bat, he is no Ramirez. He has also shown that he is limited defensively, which has limited his chances at an every day job.

Along with the loss of Ramirez, our top four pitchers all spent time on the disabled list as well. The injuries to the pitching staff this year brought back bad memories of the 1985 Cubs season where every member of the starting rotation was on the disabled list. While I was not old enough to witness the season, I have read and heard a lot about what transpired. When you lose one of your starting pitchers for a period of time, you are bound to struggle. When you lose all of them, you are in for a long and stressful season. The Cubs have a tremendous pitching staff, and was supposed to be the strength of our team. However, the injuries to the starters hampered our success, even though I believe we are still near the top, if not at the top, in the quality starts category. While their injuries hurt us, they did everything they could to keep us in the games.

The other injury which caused our season to fall apart, was Alfonso Soriano’s bad knee. Soriano has had the worst season of his career, and fans wouldn’t let him forget how bad he was playing. I give Soriano all the credit in the world for trying to play through the injury and help the team in anyway he could. Unlike some other players, he wanted to stay on the field and earn his money. Sadly, his play suffered as the season went on. Love him or hate him, Soriano is a big key to the success for the Cubs winning. When he struggles, the team struggles. Despite his poor defense in left field, his bat is a key ingredient if the Cubs are too succeed. Over his first two years here, Soriano has played very well for us giving us what we expected, except for the speed. He has given the Cubs his career average in homeruns and in batting. He has admitted that he had a bad year, and I believe he will be better next year, now that he is having the knee taken care of.

Speaking of having bad years, two players come to mind other then Soriano. They would be Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto. In regards to Dempster, he has not been close to what he was last year, and that hurt us. The Cubs were expecting him to come close to what he did to earn his new contract. While he hasn’t been horrible, he has been less then what was expected. You can partly pin that on what was going on with his personal issues and his newborn daughter’s complications, but he would never use that as an excuse. However, you should note that once those complications were resolved he started pitching better, and as we had hoped he would all season long. Does that mean he is back to form and we can expect this from him next year? That remains to be seen, but you are seeing signs that would point to the answer being yes.

With Soto, there are a few things you can point to with his season falling off after his Rookie of the Year campaign. For starters, he participated in the World Baseball Classic. For the record, and if you read one of my earliest blogs you would know this, I hate the fact that these players miss Spring Training to play in this event. If the competition doesn’t help us win the World Series, I don’t want our players anywhere near those games. Soto played in the WBC and missed a lot of time in Spring Training, and when he did show up, he was out of shape. To start off the season, he also suffered a shoulder injury which placed him on the shelf for a good stretch of games. I am not willing to write off Soto after one bad year, and I feel he will return to form next year. His not playing up to expectations was a major blow to the Cubs offense, as he did not give us anything close to what he thought we would be getting from him.

These are the things that I look to when I think about what went wrong with the 2009 Cubs. I remember, way back in Spring Training, we were picked to win the division easily “Unless everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.” Well, that is exactly what happened this year. The Cubs faced adversity from all sides, in the end they were not good enough to overcome. All we can do as fans, is look forward to next year and hope for the best.

Cubs Gain Ground in Wild Card Race, Despite Poor Play Against Lesser Teams

While the Chicago Cubs gained ground in the Wild Card race over the past week, putting up a record of 3-3 against the New York Mets and the lowly Washington Nationals has got to deliver a fatal blow to the confidence of several fans. You would have thought, that when playing against the Nationals, the Cubs would have been able to sweep them, or at very least win two of the three games. However, that was not the case, as they lost two of three games, putting them behind the eight ball almost immediately out of the gate. They would have to sweep the Mets to get close to being back on par of where they should be at this point in my 40 game breakdown. That, however, was also not the case as they lost the final game of the series, which prevented the Cubs from sweeping the Mets. There is still plenty of time to gain the ground that was lost in the next four games of the home stand, but we would have to win all four of those games. Considering the Cubs are playing the Houston Astros for three, and the Chicago White Sox for one, that task may be easier said then done. However, there are a few things which the Cubs can do which will assist them in winning all four of the following games.

The first thing that needs to be done, to help the Cubs further their chances in winning enough games to make the playoffs, is get Jake Fox into the lineup everyday. For now, he is filling in for Alfonso Soriano in left field. With the way that Soriano has been playing this season, that is an ideal place for him to stay for the remainder of the season. However, we all know that will not be the case, so there has to be another way to keep him in the lineup. We could play him at third base when Aramis Ramirez needs a day off, as well as at first when Derrek Lee needs one as well. Throw him in right field for Milton Bradley once in a while as well, though I would not bench Bradley completely as he is playing very well lately and getting on base at a high percentage. Ideally, he would be able to play his original position well enough where he wouldn’t be a complete disaster. I am talking about playing catcher, where we are not getting much offense from at all this season, despite the recent hot streak from Koyie Hill. However, we can likely count that option out as well, as there are reasons why he was moved out from behind the plate. Watching him behind the plate trying to catch a Carlos Marmol slider gives me the cold sweats. I worry about Geovany Soto or Hill trying to catch the ball when Marmol is on the mound. No one knows where the pitches are going, and having a lesser experienced catcher behind the plate. However, this could be avoided by bringing in Soto or Hill for late inning defense. Though, I am not sure I would be comfortable with Fox behind the plate for an entire game. All I know is that I am glad this is not my decision to make.

Another thing I would do, is play Jeff Baker at second base every day. I have seen enough of Mike Fontenot to last me a lifetime, and Aaron Miles can join Fontenot on the unemployment line for all I care. Last year, everyone thought that Fontenot would be a great second baseman, and that his numbers in limited play would only get better with the more playing time he received. Obviously, everyone that wanted to see more of Fontenot was wrong. We were fooled yet again by a player who had a good half year. This is the same reason why I do not want to see Baker given the job as our second baseman next year, but for the remainder of this season, I will take what I can get. He is our best, last and only option at second base. Keep him playing, and keep Fontenot on the bench. Use him the same way you did last year, meaning very sparingly in moments where he has the highest chance of success.

Finally, after today’s outing by Carlos Zambrano, I would shut him down for a little while. His first two outings since coming off the disabled list have been nothing short of disaster. Throw Tom Gorzelanny back into the starting rotation for the time being. He has done well in his limited starts since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in any case, can he do any worse then what Zambrano has done these past two starts? I don’t think the Cubs would be any worse off if they started Gorzelanny instead of Zambrano. The Cubs Ace pitcher, and I use that term very loosely right now, needs some time off to clear his head. He is not doing the Cubs any favors by throwing up clunkers every time he takes the mound.

The Cubs have the pieces to make a run at the Wild Card, but their time is running out. They can not afford to lose to the teams that they should be able to beat handedly. If they continue to lose games to mediocre teams like the Nationals, they will be on the fast track to sitting at home during the off season. These next four games must end with the Cubs winning all four if the Cubs want to hold on to their slight chance to make the playoffs. While a 7-3 home stand gives us the .700 play in the final 40 game plan I laid out, you would have hoped that with the teams the Cubs were playing they would have been at a higher pace. I don’t like the chances of us winning the last four games of the home stand, but you can never be too sure. The Cubs are 5.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, and are still in fifth place.

The Big Blue Train Wreck, and What Can Be Done

I love the Chicago Cubs, and I also love my fellow Cub fans. As a whole, I would have to say that I believe that we are the most passionate, devoted and loyal fan base in all of sports. You would have to be in order to follow a team which has not won a championship in over 100 years. There is only one problem that I have with Cub fans as a whole; and that’s when they allow their passion to overtake their common sense. When they start thinking with their heart, instead of their heads, that is where the problem comes in. Don’t get me wrong, they do this because they are so passionate that they overlook such things as reality at times. This mainly comes into play when the discussion moves to the Cubs and changes that they say need to be made. At times, I find myself as a part of this very same group on fantasizing fans hoping and pleading that certain things can be done to improve the team that I love so dearly. Discussions with a few of my fellow fans have inspired today’s blog.

In an honest moment, any Cub fan would have to admit that this season has been nothing short of a train wreck. All of the baseball analysts said, at the beginning of the season, that the Cubs would win this division unless everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. As a matter of fact, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. I know that the old cliché is you can’t blame injuries, and use them as an excuse, but sometimes, that is exactly what has derailed a season. Look at the Cubs, how good could you expect them to be when they have lost 4/5 of the starting rotation for a period of time?  I don’t know many teams that could survive the season after such a disaster. On top of that, we lost our best hitter in Aramis Ramirez for two months. Injuries cannot be used as an excuse, but they sure make one hell of an alibi. When you don’t have your expected 25 man roster for more than two games by the time August has reached the end, you will be in bad shape. I don’t care how deep of a team you have. Back up players are nice, but not if you have to watch them every day. There is a reason why they are bench and platoon players.

Several fans are pointing fingers at various people for the Cubs failures. Some blame Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, while others blame Manager Lou Piniella, with the rest pinning the blame on the players, who are actually the ones who have the most to say about what happens in a season. The truth is, all three are to blame for the mess that the Cubs are in. This is why several Cub fans are demanding change to take place before next season takes off. They are hoping and praying that when the sale of the Cubs to Tom Ricketts is official, that these changes are going to be made. The firings of Hendry and Piniella are high on that list, as well as the trades or departures of several other players. The question that arises from these wishes though, is how likely are the chances that Ricketts will pull the trigger and makes these changes that many fans are calling for? In my opinion, the chances are slim, but I am just like you, only a fan. Let’s take a look at why I think these changes will likely not get made.

For starters, how about we look at Hendry and Piniella? These two men are first on the list because they are the management team of this club. Before the 2009 season began, Hendry was signed to a four year extension, which means he is under contract until the year 2012. If Ricketts chooses to fire Hendry as one of his first orders of business, he would be stuck with paying him for the remaining three years of his contract. I am not saying that this won’t happen, I am just using a little bit of logic. With regards to Piniella, the Cubs already picked up his option for the 2010 season, which is worth $4 million dollars. I believe that the only way Piniella doesn’t come back next year is if he decides to walk away and retire. By the way he has looked this year, so broken and unmotivated, I would say that would be about a 50% chance. You never know though, maybe Ricketts wants to have a fresh start with a fresh management team. If that’s the case, he will have to own up to eating a lot of money that will be going to people for doing nothing. I honestly can’t see that happening, so the Cub fans may have to be stuck with both Hendry and Piniella for at least one more year.

As I have stated in the past, if Hendry is fired, who would want to take over the job with the mess that we are left with as far as payroll goes? Breaking down the contracts for next year alone, we have eight players who are more than likely guaranteed to be on the club next year making a total of $99.125 million dollars. Yeah, that math is correct. That means the Cubs will have a very high payroll next year, much higher than this year, even if they keep the same 25 man roster they planned to keep this year. I know what many of you are saying though. Why don’t we trade some of these over paid bums and get some salary relief? Which of them would you like to trade? These nine players will be very hard to move, and mainly because of the contracts that they have.

Three of the eight players are in the outfield, Milton Bradley makes $9 million next year, Kosuke Fukudome makes $13 million, and Alfonso Soriano will make $18 million, which makes him the highest paid Cub for 2010. These three players will likely still be here next year, as their contracts will make them near impossible to move. Soriano has a full no trade clause, and still is owed $90 million over the next five years. I cannot imagine any team that would be willing to pick up that contract. If the Cubs wanted to move him, they would have to pay a good portion of that salary. Having paid $900 million for the team, can you see Ricketts picking up maybe another $50 million? Easy for us fans to say that he needs to, but that’s because we are not dealing with our own money. Even if we do find a team willing to take him, if Soriano does not want to be traded, he won’t be.

How about Fukudome? He has two years and $26.5 left on his contract, which also has a trade protection clause built in. I cannot find out what that protection is, but I am sure this will make him harder to move. He has been playing well, so the Cubs might get a few calls about him, but the Cubs may need to eat some of his salary as well.

Bradley may be the easiest to move because he does not have anything in his contract to prevent a trade. The only thing which may keep him from being traded is his ugly history in baseball. This caused many teams to shy away from him during the offseason. He will make $9 million this year and $12 million next year. If he was playing better this season, without that ugly start of the season slump, the Cubs may have been able to move him easier. With his playing the 70 plus games this year, he guaranteed the final year of his contract, though if he ends the season with an injury and is not on the 25 man roster by April 15 of the following year, the option year goes way and has to be earned again in a much harder way.

With the infield, we have Ramirez and Derrek Lee on the list. Would you really want to get rid of either of these players? Ramirez is our best hitter, and Lee is a gold glove caliber first baseman. Both are keys to the Cubs success, but they could both likely gather interests from other clubs. Their salaries are reasonable; Lee has one year left on his deal and makes $13 million next year, but also has a no trade clause. Teams would line up for him, maybe give us a good prospect or two back for him, but would he want to go?

With Ramirez, he has $15.75 due to him next year and 2011 is a player option which also has a million dollar pay cut, which makes you wonder if they want him to option out of that year. If he decides to stay, 2012 is a team option which brings him back up to $15 million. His no trade clause expires at the end of 2010, but that’s because he can become a free agent. Will teams want him if they may be on the hook for over $44 million? Perhaps, but you can never be too sure.

That brings me to the pitching staff. These contracts are led by Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Ryan Dempster. Obviously, Lilly would be the easiest to trade, as he is worth every penny of his $12 million he is set to earn next year. However, the Cubs would be stupid to get rid of him. He has been our most consistent pitcher since he was signed. But he could get us some decent prospects in return.

Dempster on the other hand, has had a horrible season. This makes his $12.5 million for next year look to be a bad figure. He has a total of $40 million left of his contract over the next three years. With how he has pitched this year, I cannot see too many teams knocking on the Cubs door for his services.

Finally, we have Zambrano, otherwise known as “El Torro Loco”. His antics have gotten on Cub fans nerves the past few seasons. A lot of fans are want him to go, but his contract will make him next to impossible to move. Next season alone, he will make $17.875 million dollars, with another $35 guaranteed in the two years that follow. He has a vesting option for 2013 if he gets enough consideration for the Cy Young award in either 2011 or 2012. Like most of the players listed, he has a full no trade clause. We would have to find a team he was willing to go to, as well as convince them to pick up his whole contract. If they did, don’t expect to get any decent prospects back.

These are the eight players who will be on the team next year, unless they are somehow traded. Don’t count on them being moved though, as their contracts are not too attractive to other teams. We will have them for the long haul. You can call for their heads all you want, but they will be here no matter how much you complain. That means, we are limited to three position players, and two starting pitchers and our entire bullpen which can be replaced fairly easily.  All of them are either on one year deals or their rookie contracts.

If 2009 was a train wreck with these players, we may very well see the same outcome next year. Though maybe not. Perhaps this was just a bad year for Soriano, if he can return to what he did his first two years here, we will be in good shape. Fukudome is starting to play the way we had expected, and Bradley has even started playing well. Ramirez is a stud, when he is healthy and Lee will start out slow as he does every year, but will put up his typical numbers. Maybe Dempster will pitch like he did in 2008, and Zambrano will actually start taking care of his body and be in shape. I think Lilly is the least of our concerns, as he has been very dependable. If Ryan Theriot plays as he has and Geovany Soto breaks out of this ugly mess of a season and shows up prepared next year we will be in good shape. I know I am talking about a lot of what ifs, but they are all we have to go off of. I am not going to write off Soto, because of a bad year. Perhaps last year was lucky, but on the same note perhaps this year was unlucky. If he can get in shape and stay that way, I have no doubt that he will be a fine player for us next year.

I am not sold though, however, on the various players some fans are falling in love with. They are Koyie Hill and Jeff baker. Hill has a good story, but as a .200 hitter you don’t want to see him in the lineup every day. As far as Baker goes, do you really want to depend on another player who has had a good half a year? How did that work out with Mike Fontenot?

Ricketts has a lot that he needs to do, but very little wiggle room to do get things done. He must get us a real second baseman, and rebuild the bullpen with guys that can be depended on. Those are the main two areas that I think need to be updated. As much as fans want other changes made, you may have to be happy with just these changes. Others may come in time, for the immediate future you may have to settle for these and these alone.

After a big series with the Brewers, Cubs are set to get a important trio back

With an unimpressive series win against the Pittsburg Pirates, a series which should have been a sweep, the Chicago Cubs make news for a few reasons. A number of players are slated to return by the start of next week, players who could be of great help to the ball club. Speaking of help coming, the Cubs have traded for yet another young middle infielder, as they try once again to find a man to play second base who can give them some production. Right now, the Cubs are entering a very critical point in their season, as they play 11 games, eight of which are with the two teams at the top of the division, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The series with the Brewers, not to use an old and tiring cliché, is the biggest series of the season to date. With the Cubs currently sitting in fourth place, and three and a half games behind the division leaders, this series looms large With a sweep of the Brew Crew, the Cubs would find themselves a half game ahead of the Brewers. However, even with a sweep, the Cubs would be unlikely to be in first place at the end of the weekend, with the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds playing one another in a series starting on Friday. The pitching match up would seem to favor the Cubs in each game, but with the deep slumber the Cubs offense has been in, that may not matter. The Brewers have a good offense, and while their pitchers are less then stellar, they could very well keep our hitters in check. If the Cubs do get swept, they will be an unthinkable seven and a half games out of first place. If that happens, the Cubs must wave the white flag and start looking towards next year, and tell Aramis Ramirez to do what he needs to do in order to get ready for the 2010 season.

Speaking of Ramirez, currently, the Cubs have three players on the disabled list who are all scheduled to come off around the same time, which is Monday July 6, when a series with the Atlanta Braves us scheduled to begin. As I mentioned, the Cubs have Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman, all of which are on the 15 day disabled list, are making progress and becoming closer to returning to the 25 man roster. These three men have been key components to our team, and have been sorely missed. With their returns, the Cubs will be as close to full strength as they have been in a long time, which cant hurt their chances.

With Johnson’s return, we will get back a quality outfielder, who will allow Piniella to give more days off to struggling outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley. Johnson is a fan favorite, who is well loved because of his willingness to sacrifice his body to make a play; which is something we have seen on more then one occasion. With his return, we can expect that Piniella will continue the platoon he had implemented for most of the season, with Johnson playing centerfield on days the Cubs play against a left handed pitcher. Most fans would rather see him have an every day job, but him back in part time duty will more then likely be a big boost to this ball club. When Johnson returns, this likely means that newly called up Sam Fuld will be sent back down to the minors, The only other option, would be to come up with a phantom injury to one of the other outfielders.

The Cubs bullpen has been a very inconsistent piece of the team, and one reason why they have struggled lately. With Guzman going down to injury, the bullpen took a big hit. The man the Cubs have been waiting for had finally seemed to be putting things together, and pitching the way everyone thought he would. If he is able to continue to pitch the way he was before his injury, the Cubs bullpen gets a lot stronger, giving Piniella another late inning option to help the Cubs keep the lead. If Carlos Marmol continues to inconsistency, Guzman can easily slide into the eighth inning hole, allowing Marmol to slide into a less stressful inning. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of two pitchers. Either Kevin Hart or Jeff Samardzija will be optioned back to the minors.

That brings us to the more important player of the group, who is scheduled to play in some minor league games this weekend. Without a doubt, the most important player for the Cubs, Ramirez has been the more costly loss. The Cubs third baseman has been lost since early May, and the Cubs offense has suffered without him, scoring a run less a game on average. While he is the Cubs bet hitter, I fear some fans may be expecting too much of him on his return, and expect him to be a savior for this ball club. However, Ramirez came out with some troubling comments in the paper this morning. When talking about rejoining the Cubs, Ramirez had this to say, “It’s going to be hard the rest of the year because I’m not even close to being where I want to be, it’s still sore and it’s going to be like that — some days good, some days bad.” That is a problematic quote from the Cubs slugger. He still says that he isn’t close, which means we may not see what we are used to out of him. I still believe that he should be shut down for the remainder of the year, so he can get ready for next year. Though, if the Cubs are able to make up some ground against the Brewers in a four game series that starts tonight, his coming back may be worth the effort. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of a few young Cubs. Either Andres Blanco or Jake Fox will likely be sent back down. Either one would be a tough loss as Fox has impressed with the bat and Blanco has made stellar plays with his glove. Another possibility, though a long shot, would be to send down Mike Fontenot who has failed to impress all season, and hasn’t come close to meeting expectations.

Speaking of roster moves, the Cubs made a very minor deal today. They traded away young Double A pitcher Al Alburquerque to the Colorado Rockies for second baseman Jeff Baker. If you ask me, this is a waste of a move, as he is just another version of some of the players we already have, On the season, he is hitting just .130, however that is just in 12 games. In his career he is hitting just .250, albeit in under 600 at bats. Yeah, he is still trying to figure out the game, and still trying to put the pieces together for his major league career, but at the moment I don’t see much upside to this trade. I hope that he proves me wrong, and that he figures things out. But at the moment, I am not impressed with this move, and they just made a move to make a move.

The series with the Brewers will begin in less then a half hour, we need to do no worse then a split. Winning three of four would be preferred, as would a sweep obviously, but losing the series is unacceptable. Come on Cubs, go out there and beat the Brewers. End the first half on a high note.

After embarrassing game with the White Sox, time for some to face the firing squad

With today’s loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs have once again proved what I said my last time out. This ball club is just simply not that good. Today’s game is just another example of how far away they are from being a respectable team, which is capable of competing for the World Series championship, let along the division title that most of the people in the media thought was a certainty. Fans throughout the city are pointing fingers at everyone from General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Piniella, all the way down to the players on the field. They are well within their right to do so, as each and every one of them deserve to be taken to task for the garbage that we watch.

Lets start at the top, as Hendry is the main man responsible for building this team. Hats off to him for trying, something we can honestly say no other General Manager has done in any of our lifetimes. He has gone above and beyond, and constructed the teams that brought us back to back playoff appearances; which is something that this team hasn’t don’t since they last won the World Series in 1908. However, with as much praise as he got for those two division crowns, he must also get the blame for building the current ball club. He gets nothing but credit for trading away busts in Hee Sop Choi and Bobby Hill to bring us veterans like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. But if you get credit for the good things, you must also sit back and take the blame when things don’t go right. Over the past three years, he signed three free agents who are now apparently more trouble then they are worth. Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley are all turning into massive busts, though some of them were there long before this season.

The first big free agent Hendry signed, was also the “biggest fish” on the market coming into 2007. When you are talking about Soriano, he is an all or nothing hitter who has been showing that he is more of a nothing this season then ever before. To make matters worse, his defense seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by. Losing balls in the sun, making late breaks on what should be routine fly balls is completely unacceptable. I know that left field is not his natural position, but come on, you have been out there for three years now, learn to run a proper route to catch a damn ball. While you are working on things, how about taking some more swings in batting practice or the in the cages. Stop trying to hit home runs every damn time, and just try to get on base. With his albatross of a contract, and ever declining skills, he is just about unmovable, so get used to seeing him in the Cubs everyday lineup until his contract is up.

After the Cubs failed to even win a game in the playoffs that year, Hendry went out and once again reeled in one of the “biggest fish” on the market in Fukudome. In his defense, just about every team was going after him, and just about every Cub fan was thrilled when he was finally signed. No one could have predicted he would have turned into as impressive of a bust as he has. Even though he has been an amazing player in April and good in May, once the calendar turns to June, he turns into a pumpkin. While everyone in baseball thought that Fukudome would be a great addition when he was being scouted, Hendry deserves to get blamed for signing the biggest bust in recent memory. Much like Soriano, the Japanese Import has a contract which will make him rather hard to trade. Who would want a player who cant put a full season together? Sure, he has above average defensive skills, but when it comes to the bat, he is irreverent. Again, like Soriano, he will be here until his contract is up. The bright side? His contract isn’t nearly as long as Soriano’s.

Again, the Cubs failed to win a playoff game, so Hendry got desperate. He traded away fan favorite Mark DeRosa, non-tenured Kerry Wood and signed a slew of switch hitters including this years bust of a free agent Bradley. I will be the first to admit that I was fully wrong about him. I defended him left and right, but I have had enough of this team, so I am taking the gloves off and giving him what he deserves. He is a complete waste of talent, and a man that should never have been brought here. The whole idea of bringing him here was to get more left handed, and to bring a power bat that could hit from the left side, but Bradley has been nonexistent from the left side of the plate. He has been so bad, that Piniella has admitted he is thinking about working a platoon with Micah Hoffpauir, who because he is a natural lefty bat, would get most of the at bats. Way to waste $30 million Hendry. I have not been one of those Cub fans who have been lamenting the trade of DeRosa, but I have to admit we would likely be better off with him. He would be hitting better then any of the men who replaced him in Bradley, Mike Fontenot or Aaron Miles. All three have been very impressive in their failures. Much like both of his outfield counterparts, Bradley will be impossible to move thanks to his contract. Unless someone thinks they can solve the puzzle that is Bradley, he will be a Cub for another two years.

Our outfield situation has got to be the worst combination of bats in all of baseball. Three seasons, three outfield busts. For this, Hendry you deserve to be degraded and raked across the coals. As much as I would have to agree with the current statements of most Cub fans that Hendry should be fired, as I stated in another post, I don’t think he should be. Not because he deserves more time, but because handing over an unfixable mess to a new General Manager would not be fair to him. He did earn some leeway with three division titles in six years, this mess of a team is making everything he did, a distant memory.

With Piniella, who you can make the argument that he is clearly on his final year of the “Lou Piniella Retirement Tour”, as he seems completely uninterested in anything that is going on during the course of a ball game. Even in the post game press conferences, he looks like a lost little boy putting on a shame of a press conference which makes him look more like a rookie manager then the grizzled old veteran manager that he is supposed to be. While he can only play the players that Hendry gives him, and he cant not swing the bat for the players or field the ball when they are on defense, he still gets a lot of blame for the mess we are in. After the sweep in the 2008 playoffs, Piniella wanted changes made. He wanted more left handed bats, and according to some reports, he was not happy with DeRosa who said the Cubs had their backs against the wall. He wanted DeRosa traded, and being a good General Manager, Hendry gave his manager the ball club he wanted. They both deserve to stew in their own juices, as they are both responsible for this mess. On the bright side of things, neither man will be around much longer. The sooner we can move on the better. I just feel bad for whatever General Manager has to inherit this mess of a ball club.

To top things all off for Piniella, he crossed the line with his comments at Bradley the other day. While his actions are inexcusable, Piniella had no right to call him a “piece of ****”. In Bradley’s defense, he was the one with the cooler head, and did not respond in similar fashion. There have been many other Cubs who have thrown tantrums which did not draw the fire of Piniella. Even Carlos Marmol who threw his own cry baby tantrum a few innings later escaped Pineilla’s wrath. If he is going to call out one player for his antics, he should be calling them all out. They are all acting like little leaguers on the field, and behaving like immature children because they are underperforming. Yeah, I want them to be upset because they are sucking up the place, but they have all gone overboard with their actions.

Another player who is becoming a thorn in my side is our supposed Ace, Carlos Zambrano. His antics on and off the field are getting frustrating to watch. He loses his cool far too easily, and that hurts him when he is on the mound. Classic examples are in his last game, when he corrected predicted a suicide squeeze, but on the pitchout, he threw the ball away. The next pitch, he drilled the batter. From there, everything went down hill for him. I have been calling him out since his explosion on an umpire which got him suspended. Zambrano needs to grow up, or move on. Sure, he is very talented, but his temper costs him far too many games. He allows himself to be taken over by his emotions, and that limit’s his ability to be as great as he could be.

With Ramirez coming back in about two weeks, things could possibly be on their way up. Currently, the Cubs are in fourth place, only three and a half games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are also only one and a half games out of last place. With 90 games left, they can still realistically make the playoffs, especially in this very weak division. However, with the way they have played as of late, they are not giving off much confidence that they will be able to climb the hill back to the top of the division, or to do anything in the playoffs. I don’t know about you, but things are looking bleaker as every game passes.

Bradley’s attitude could lead to big problems

The sad story that is Milton Bradley has taken yet another turn, and as is the usual case, the turn has been for the worse. On a day when Chicago Cub fans should be celebrating a win over their south side counterparts, the Chicago White Sox, and off the field issue takes center stage. With the Cubs this year, that shouldn’t come as much as a surprise, as we have seen a few Cubs put on a show with their antics in the Cubs dugout, as well as a very animated display by Cubs ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano. However, yesterday was Bradley’s turn to put on an over the top display of frustration, though this time we have to trust what we hear as his display was not caught on camera. At least not on the Comcast feed which was hosting the Cubs broadcasters yesterday. There was no video of anything he may have done to upset Cubs Manager Lou Piniella the way he did.

According to all reports, after Bradley’s at bat in the top of the 7th inning, Bradley took his temper out of the Gatorade cooler in the dugout. This shouldn’t be anything new, as Zambrano as well as Ryan Dempster each took several swings at the dearly departed Gatorade machine that once sat in the dugout. During his post game press conference, Piniella stated that he had had enough of this, but no one knows if he meant enough of Bradley’s antics, or the teams as a whole. Either way, after the incident took place, Piniella told Bradley to take his uniform off and go home. Thankfully, Piniella told the media that he had sent Bradley home, or we would have a whole other mess on our hands with a player leaving the game early. That was my initial thought when Len Kasper and Bob Brenley reported that Bradley had left the stadium. That makes things that much easier to take then when Sammy Sosa left the game early a few years ago, as well as Zambrano’s reported departures from games as well. In this case, Bradley was only doing as he was told.

I am not excusing his antics, whatever they were, but should we not be surprised by them? There have been others, as well as Carlos Marmol who threw his glove at the Gatorade cooler after he threw up an embarrassing third of an inning. Makes you wonder if Piniella had said something to him about his tantrum, or if Bradley as his only target. After Zambrano’s highly animated altercation with the umpire, Piniella laughed the situation off. He didn’t make too many comments about the various players who assaulted the Gatorade machine. Whatever Bradley did, which we will likely never know as there as no television coverage of the incident, must have been bad enough to get Piniella to throw him out of the stadium. Whatever happened went unnoticed by everyone, including Kasper and Brenley who immediately thought of an injury when they noticed Ryan Freel playing right field in place of Bradley.

We don’t know the whole story, and likely never will. One thing we do know, or at least have a better idea of, is that this relationship with the Cubs is not working out, at least not with Piniella. The Cubs manager has stated that he will likely start a platoon between Bradley and Micah Hoffpauir, with Bradley facing only left handed pitchers. Not exactly what you want to see out of your $30 million athlete. This is a relationship that I can not see lasting much longer. Whether Piniella steps down at the end of the season, or Bradley is somehow traded, I don’t see this lasting past this year. Bradley’s actions, whatever they were, are in no ay excusable; nor are the tantrums of anyone else. Sadly, this will likely not be where this ends.

In a tribune article, Alfonso Soriano had some un kind words about Bradley. He stated “I have no problem with him, I think he’s a great guy. The only problem with him is his [combative] attitude sometimes in the game. A lot of people don’t like that, but that’s him.” That’s not where his thoughts ended though, he also stated that if Bradley “is not 100 percent to help the team, we don’t need him.” Those could be fighting words, and we could see an altercation between our corner outfielders, much like we saw between Zambrano and former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in 2007. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t know if Bradley will take these comments too lightly, and sparks may fly between the two of them, which could lead to one of them being traded away. Or, maybe this could light a fire under one or both of them. Players don’t need to get along to make a team successful. If you need an example, look at the 1970 Oakland Athletics, they hated one another but went on to in three straight World Series championships. Regardless, you never want to see teammates fighting. Something has to be done, and fast.