One member of the Chicago Cubs who should be traded, but likely will not be, is Marlon Byrd. Despite being the most tradable player on the team, we have not heard anything about other teams being interested in him. There are several reasons why Byrd should be drawing interest from the other teams, one being that his contract is very affordable, and will not be a hindrance on any team who wants him. He is still owed around $2 Million for this year, and a very reasonable $6.5 Million in 2012. Considering that he is actually a pretty good hitter and defensive outfielder, I am mystified as to why there are no reports of other teams at least even inquiring about him. Although, perhaps there are teams interested and the Cubs are just absolutely refusing to move him; at least right now.
In my opinion, the Cubs should be at least looking into trading Byrd before Sunday’s trade deadline, or at very least in the off season. There is little reason why the Cubs should be keeping him around past this year. Sure, he is the best outfielder on the Cubs roster right now, and if he is traded the Cubs will have to depend on a lesser talent, but that should not prevent the Cubs from trying to move forward. With Kosuke Fukudome now officially traded, another one of the players I mentioned as replacements for Fukudome would likely be replacing Byrd if he is moved, so I can understand why trading him midseason might not be an appetizing thought for the Cubs brass or the fans. There is a huge drop off in both offensive and defensive capability between Byrd and the “scrappy” Tony Campana who last time he played center showed why he should never play center field until he can actually throw the ball a little better; that would leave Reed Johnson whose back may not hold up long enough to allow him to play every day.
I am sure that fans would complain if Byrd is traded, but they need to look at the whole picture, and not just what is right there in front of them. The question fans must ask themselves, is how close are the Cubs to competing for the World Series, and can they make a legitimate run next year. If the answer is no, then Byrd absolutely must be traded. If you honestly think that the Cubs are just a move or two away, then yes Byrd should stay; at least until you see if those moves will be made.
Along with being one of the most beloved players on the team, fans see him as a part of the future, maybe not realizing how old he is. When his contract expires next year, Byrd will be 35 years old and nearing the end of his career. He may have a good year or two left in him, but how much are you willing to give to an aging center fielder? He may be willing to re-sign after 2012 for another two or three year deal at roughly the same thing he made on this contract, or perhaps he will want more of a pay day knowing it will be his last contract that will actually pay him a decent salary. No guarantee that he will give us a discount because he likes playing here, and if he continues hitting .300 with home runs in the teens, I am sure another team will offer him something that might be too rich for our blood.
For those fans will contend that the Cubs can still contend next year, and that Byrd should be a key part of that contending team there are some things to consider. While I do not disagree that there is a possibility that they can contend, a lot has to fall in place for the Cubs to be considered a legitimate contender in 2012. The first thing that needs to happen, is the Cubs must sign one of the two top first baseman that will be on the market. They need to bring in either Prince Fielder (who is my own personal choice) or Albert Pujols. Without either one of them, the Cubs will need to bring back Carlos Pena, and hope that he actually does something to help the team in April rather than waiting until May to turn things on. If the Cubs fail to sign either one of the three first baseman in the off season, then all chances of them competing next year could be realistically considered gone.
I love Byrd, and have enjoyed the entertainment that he has provided the past year and a half, but I still say that he should be traded if the opportunity is brought up to the Cubs. Unless everything falls right for the Cubs, competing next year will be very hard to do. There are far too many “what ifs” for the Cubs next year in order for them to compete. As mentioned already, if they do not sign either Fielder or Pujols and they do not bring Pena back, that delivers a devastating blow to any chance they have and should open the flood gates for the rebuilding and retooling that needs to happen sooner or later. On top of that, the Cubs need Ramirez to produce from the start of the season, and not wait until June to start earning his paycheck, even though his hot streak has made him look like the best third baseman in the majors according to all major statistics. They also need Geovany Soto to put up his rookie year numbers, and for Alfonso Soriano to contribute anything positive, which he is barely earning a half a WAR share at the moment.
If you are not sure if all of those things are possible, then the time of acceptance that keeping Byrd is rather pointless. Trade him to a team with a better chance of contending, save some money and start playing one of the young outfielders currently sitting on the bench or playing in the minors.
One of the more talked about players on the Chicago Cubs around the trade deadline is Kosuke Fukudome. He may not be the best player on the ball club but, according to published reports, he may be the most coveted by other teams. Whether or not the reports are more agent and Cubs induced remains to be seen, there are four teams that have been linked to a possible trade with Fukudome. Of that group of teams rumored to have interest, only the Cleveland Indians have been named as a possible suitor.
While I can only speculate on who the other teams may or may not be, the Indians may actually be the perfect fit for him, as they are suffering through injuries to two of their outfielders, with Shin Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore both hitting the disabled list. One would think that he would fit like a glove on that team, who desperately needs a live body to fill out the void. He provides little spark in the offensive side of the ball, outside or his ability to work the count and compile a very respectable on base percentage, but his defense is still well above average. With the range he is able to provide, the Indians would love to get their hands on him.
There is no question that Fukudome should be traded, as he has no place on the Cubs next year or in the future. With that being the case, why should the Cubs keep him for the stretch run in a lost season? I can not answer that, can you? At least with Carlos Pena, there is a good chance that the Cubs would want to bring him back, as they have no obvious in house replacement at first base. However, with Fukudome’s departure, there are any number of players who fans would love to see taking the field everyday in his place.
The Cubs may have to eat some of his remaining contract, which is about $4 million, in order to move him, but why not? Even if the Cubs have to eat everything that he is owed, there is no downside to making the move. They would have been spending the money regardless, and with the trade they will get a prospect back in the deal. The quality of that prospect will likely depend on how much money the Cubs take on of the deal, as I believe that the more money they pay on his contract the better the prospect will be. On top of that, the Cubs can begin to develop his replacement as early as today, depending on when he is traded. The players who the Cubs can slide in to replace him should satisfy the masses no matter who they chose.
Personally, I would call up Brett Jackson and let him start his major league career in a pressure free environment. By all accounts, he is the future center fielder for the Cubs, and should be breaking camp with the big club as early as next year. If Fukudome is traded, move Marlon Byrd over to Right Field and let your young prospect continue his progress at the big league level.
That is what I would do, but perhaps the Cubs will disagree. They may chose to play the veteran fan favorite Reed Johnson on a daily basis, or at least until his back gives out as we have come to expect. This would fly in the face of everything the organization has ever said though about playing for the future. Johnson may be in the team’s plans for next year, but as a fourth or fifth outfielder. There is very little chance he would be the every day right fielder, so I doubt this is the move that they decide to go with long term for the remainder of this year.
Then we have fan favorite Tyler Colvin who has struggled more often than not in his time at the big league level. True, he hit 20 home runs last year when getting close to regular playing time, but his batting average was well below average and his defense is subject. He will not dazzle you with his range or his arm. Perhaps those qualities that he lacks will improve if he is given the chance to play more. That is a reasonable outlook on the kid, and what the Cubs may decide to do if the feel that Jackson still needs a little bit of seasoning before getting the call up. I would not be completely against this move, as we would get to see if he can improve when he is given regular playing time but, seeing his batting average dip below .100, doesn’t really give me much optimism for his ability to succeed in the future.
The final choice to fill the void if Fukudome is traded, is none other than the scrappy Tony Campana, who already has a portion of the fan base clamoring to see more of him. Whether they think he will be a future star in the majors, or they just want to see less of the “over paid bums” who currently reside in the outfield I do not know. But I for one hope they do not turn the reigns over to Campana. Other than his speed, I have yet to see him give us anything that I would see as talent. Granted, this is all in limited time, but he has yet to even give a sparkle of excitement. We have seen that his fielding is not that great, and his arm strength is lacking. He makes former Cub Juan Pierre look like he has a cannon; okay maybe not, but Campana has a very weak arm and I shutter every time I see him playing the field. As a pinch runner, there is no one I would rather see, but as a fielder he would likely be last on the list; yes, even behind the man who fans call a butcher in Alfonso Soriano.
As you can see, the Cubs have four in house options to replace the very tradable, and apparently sought after, Fukudome. In fact, two of them are currently on the roster, but the two I would rather see getting the playing time are down in the minors.
Fukudome should be traded, and why they are making the Indians wait another day is beyond me. The Cubs must know that they likely will not get that great of a prospect back, no matter how much money they eat of his remaining deal. The only holdup would have to be a hopeful “bidding war” between the interested teams, seeing who would be willing to eat the most money and who could deliver the best prospect. But again, with all the intelligence and news sources out there, the only visible team that has let their interest known, are the Indians. The longer they wait, the better the chances are that Fukudome stays and, the longer we have to wait for the rebuilding to finally begin!
As Spring Training continues, so does my look at the team we can expect to see leaving Mesa, Arizona. Having covered the players who will be tagged as the every day starters, as well as the biggest threat coming off the bench, Tyler Colvin, the time has come to look at the remainder of the bench. If a team is going to be successful, they need to have a deep bench, and have some sort of depth. Today, we will see if that is the case for the Chicago Cubs, or if they will have a problem in the upcoming season.
For the Cubs, they will have a five man bench, which most likely will consist of Colvin, Jeff Baker (who will be in a platoon with Blake DeWitt), Koyie Hill, and there is currently a battle for the last two spots. One battle is for the remaining outfield spot between Reed Johnson and Fernando Perez. The last infield spot is between Augie Ojeda and Darwin Barney. Both Johnson and Ojeda were big fan favorites when they were with the team in their first stints, and have regained their fandom with their return on minor league contracts. Personally, my choice for the last two spots would be Perez and Barney, because they are both young players and have a lot more upside to offer for the season. However, because of their experience, Johnson and Ojeda might have an edge in taking the final two spots.
Sadly, outside of Colvin, the Cubs have absolutely no depth to work with this season; at least not with the current batch of players they have contending for a spot. None of them are anything special, nor would they give you much hope if they need to play an extended period of games.
Having already covered Baker in my blog on second base, and with Colvin already being singled out in my last blog, I will not touch on them, because I would be repeating myself. So I move on to the other players who will fill out the bench.
There is only other player who is guaranteed to have a job this year, though I would much rather see Wellington Castillo, but that is not my choice. With Hill, you have a dependable defensive catcher who can call a good game, sadly for him that is where the praises come to an end. He adds almost nothing offensively, and is a massive drop off from Geovany Soto. I do not mind him getting the occasional start, but if we have to see him too much behind the dish, the Cubs will be in for a very long season, and likely one that does not offer a chance at a playoff birth, let alone a division title. We can only hope that Soto stays healthy all year, and Cubs Manager Mike Quade does not feel the need to play Hill nearly as often as former manager Lou Piniella thought he should play.
In the outfield, you have Johnson and Perez competing for the final spot. Johnson is getting the support of the fan base, as well as one current member of the Cubs Marlon Byrd. He has the experience, and fans have a pretty good idea of what they can expect to get out of him on a daily basis, even though he is an injury risk and is getting up their in age. With Perez, he is a player who is of the mold of what Sam Fuld was. He brings with him a good glove, and a fair amount of speed. If you feel as many of us do, that this is a rebuilding year, then Perez should get the gig so he can learn on the job and be better prepared for the years to come. If you think that the Cubs are going to be a contender, then the reverse is true and Johnson should get the gig.
The last position battle is between Ojeda and Barney, they will be the main backup for Aramis Ramirez and Starlin Castro. While Ojeda is the seasoned veteran he does not add much offensive, though he does have a pretty decent glove which can aid in the defense. Barney, much like Perez, is a young player trying to learn on the job. I believe that he is an all around better player than Ojeda, and should ultimately get the job over him. I can not see anything that Ojeda does better than Barney. However, if Quade would rather have another veteran presence on the team, then there is no question that Ojeda should get the job.
As you can see, I am highly unimpressed with anyone on our bench, outside of Colvin. Our every day players are strong enough to get the job done, and we can live with a player from the bench giving them the occasional day off, but that is all we can afford. If there is any sort of significant injury to any one of our everyday players, our team will very likely be sunk. There is just not enough talent on the bench to carry a team if they are called upon too often. With the history of injury some of our players have had, most obvious with Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, we could very well be in for a very long, and disappointing season. All because our bench is filled with far too many deficiencies.
The first two weeks after the World Series ends, are considered to be the most exciting period of the off season. With everything that goes on during this time period, you can understand why some people feel this way. Starting the day after the World Series ends, all players who are eligible to do so, can file for free agency, and their club has an exclusive 15 day period to resign them. During this time frame, the teams will hold their own private meetings, just to lay out a blue print for what they believe needs to be done for the up coming season. Also during this time, the General Manager meetings are usually held, which have officially started today, November 9. Here, the GMs will normally sit down with one another, and start discussing various trade ideas and scenarios just to get the idea out there to see if there is any real interest. This is when you will be overloaded with some crazy trade rumors floating around, but that is part of what makes the off season so much fun.
With the Organizational Meetings having already taken place, and the GM meetings just getting underway, there isn’t a whole lot to look at for the moment. Instead, lets focus on the five players who the Cubs have to make a decision on for the upcoming season. Both Reed Johnson and Rich Harden have already filed for free agency, which was expected and is a common practice, even if you want to stay with your current club. The Chicago Cubs have already begun contract talks with John Grabow, as he is also one of their free agents. Finally we have Chad Fox and Kevin Gregg who are also on the list of Cubs free agents. But who should the Cubs bring back for the 2010 campaign, and who shouldn’t they give a second thought to?
The first player on the list, is Grabow. Why is he first you ask? He is first because the Cubs have made themselves known to want him back. The Cubs are already deep into contract talks with him, and should be relatively close to announcing his signing. Since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Grabow put up an impressive 3.24 earned run average in 25 innings pitched. I believe that putting him in the back end of the bullpen to be your situational lefty reliever would benefit the team more then some would realize. Add him to the mix for Carlos Marmol at closer and Angel Guzman in a setup role, and you have the making of what could be an impressive tail end to the bullpen.
Sadly, Grabow may very well be the only one of the five free agents to return to the Cubs for the 2010 season. With the payroll only getting a slight increase from the 2009 campaign, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has to pick his spots very carefully and go over every option with a fine tooth comb. Would he like to bring back other players besides, Grabow? I am sure he would, but sometimes tough decisions have got to be made. Much like when he made the decision to let Kerry Wood leave in free agency, Hendry may be saying goodbye to another player who has gained popularity rather quickly with the Cub fans.
In his two years with the club, Johnson has made some extraordinary catches which will be on highlight reels for the Cubs for years. Who can forget his superman dive in Washington, or his stealing of a Grand Slam away from Prince Fielder? Unfortunately, Johnson may be forced to find a new home, despite how well liked he is in the clubhouse, because he may be asking for more money than the Cubs can afford. Last year, Johnson made $3 million and only played in 65 games due to a few injuries. His return to the ballclub may depend on how much he really wants to play for the Cubs, and if he is willing to take a fairly significant pay cut. As much as I would love to see Johnson come back, as would Ted Lilly who was sporting the ‘With Reed We Will Succeed’ shirt at the end of the season, I am afraid that this is just one more wish and hope that will be left unfulfilled.
Another player who is apparently heading out of town is Harden. Unlike with Johnson, who a majority of fans want back, the field is split on whether or not the Cubs should ask Harden back next year. Much like with Johnson, his return may very well depend on how much he wants to stay. With rumors floating around about Harden potentially in line for a multi-year contract worth around $10 million a year, that is a price that will be too high for a player who has suffered through as many injuries as he has had. His one and a half years in Chicago have been relatively injury free, starting 38 games and pitching over 200 innings. However, the rumored asking price, and length of contract would be far too rich for the Cubs to even consider. There are a number of young arms in the Cubs system that could slide in and take his spot in the rotation, saving the ball club millions of dollars.
As far as Gregg goes, there will not be a tear shed by Cub fans when he is given his walking papers. He quickly lost favor with Cub fans, pitching poorly and giving out games almost immediately. While he was able to put together good stretches in various points in the season, he quickly lost all of his bonus points by blowing what should have been an easy couple of saves in a row. Trading young prospect Jose Ceda for Gregg might have been one of the worst moves Hendry could have made in the off season. While he is considered to be one of the better players hitting free agency, the Cubs will not even consider giving him a contract extension. In fact, they will likely even pass on offering him Arbitration and give up the likelihood of getting draft pick from in just in case he accepts. If he accepts, the Cubs can non-tender him and nothing is lost. But why waste the time going through the entire Arbitration process? The Cubs will not give him a second look.
That brings us to the final member of the Cubs free agent list, that being Fox. He will definitely not be back with the Cubs in 2010. In fact, he should never have come back again. I give him all the credit in the world for wanting to pitch, and for continuing to try. However, sooner or later you have to know when to throw the towel in. When you can barely make a single outing without injuring your arm, you have to figure that the time has come to say goodbye.
Hendry has some tough decisions to make, and has likely already made up his mind on which of the players he wants to keep. With payroll being limited, you can not keep everyone you would like to keep, which means that you have to say goodbye to someone you love. Unfortunately, the signs are pointing towards Grabow being the only Cubs free agent retained. How the Cubs fill the new vacancies remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of minor league players up with the team next year.
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.
Coming out of the All Star break, the Chicago Cubs have put together a very impressive two weeks of baseball, compiling a very impressive record of 11-3. I know what you are saying about this stretch of game though. They played half of those games against some of the worst talent the National League has to offer. The Washington Nationals are the worst team in all of baseball, and the Cincinnati Reds aren’t all that much better. That being the case, the Cubs did exactly what they are supposed to do. Play the teams that are on your schedule, and beat the teams that you are supposed to beat. The Cubs did just that, winning all seven games against the two lowly teams.
With the Philadelphia Phillies was the series to look at. They are one of the best teams in the National League, and we knew they would give us a fight going into that series. How many people honestly thought we would sweep the Phillies, let alone win the series? Going into things, I thought that we would be lucky to win one game. This was a very interesting series when you look back at what happened. The Cubs got blown out in the opener, lost an extra inning battle for the second, and blew them out in the final. If you want a comparison, the St. Louis Cardinals blew out the Phillies in the first game of their recent series, but got blown out themselves in the final two.
Finally, that brings me to the Houston Astros, who while they are a better team then the other two, they are a far cry from a great team. However, by winning the series against the Astros, they added some much needed separation between them and a team that was, until recently, tied with the Cubs for second place. They won three of the four games, and now are a healthy four games ahead of the closest team behind them. A four game series is hard to sweep, so I figured we would lose at least one game. I thought that Roy Oswalt was going to be the one pitcher who would beat us. When he went down in the second inning, my hopes were raised that the Cubs would be able to sweep the series. However, our pitching staff had a one game implosion. We lost the game I figured we would lose, so no harm done. The Cubs still won three of the four games. What else could you expect?
Despite the teams the Cubs played, the offensive output has been very impressive. The most impressive would have to be the red hot Alfonso Soriano who is on fire in his new role as the Cubs six hole hitter. He has really adapted well, and has even stated that he feels he can be of more use to the team in his current spot when he admitted a three run bomb in a game, is a lot better then a leadoff homerun. Truer words have never been spoken. The offensive explosion might also have to do with the return of Aramis Ramirez. While he started off slowly when he finally came back, since the break ended he has looked like he has returned to for. He has once again looked like the RBI machine that we have all come to know and love since he came to Chicago.
One thing that may stand in the way of the Cubs going deep into October are the injuries. The Cubs just can not stay healthy this year. Every time the Cubs are about to reactivate a player from the disabled list, someone else gets injured and has to be put on. This has been the case all season long, as the Cubs have had their whole team healthy for a total of two games this season. Currently, the Cubs have five players on the disabled list. They are, Aaron Miles, David Patton, Ted Lilly, Geovany Soto and now Reed Johnson. In all honesty though, only three of them are important to the Cubs long term success.
Thankfully, Soto is close to returning from his oblique injury, and could be back over the weekend, or by early next week at the latest. No offense to Koyie Hill, but Soto is a much better offensive player. I give him all the props in the world though, he has caught almost every inning of every game since Soto went down, but we need Soto back in a bad way. With Lilly, who knows when he will be back. He is having arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and that recovery takes around three weeks to heal. Hopefully, that time off will allow the inflammation in his shoulder to die down. With his status being unknown, the Cubs made a trade which brings them back a pair of lefty pitchers. More on this in a moment. The final Cub on the disabled list, which we need is Johnson. He broke his foot when he fouled off a ball in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. He will be out for around a month at least.
The only good thing I can say about the team having all these injuries, is that for the most part, the entire team will be relatively well rested come September and October. Just about every member of the team has spent time on the shelf, whether they were on the disabled list or just missing a week due to a nagging injury. I think that the Cubs being where they are considering all the injuries they have had, is a miracle. Take this as a statement of how bad our division is, that or how good of a job Cubs Jim Hendry did in building this team to be as deep as they are. He has been ripped without remorse for some of the moves he has made, but considering how banged up we have been, they have been able to do a pretty decent job at filling the holes we have been left with.
As I mentioned, today the Cubs made a trade with their usual favorite trading partners, the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the trade, the Cubs acquired a pair of left handed pitchers, John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. In return, the Cubs sent out today’s winning pitcher Kevin Hart along with minor leaguers Jose Ascanio and Single-A Daytona infielder Josh Harrison. In my honest opinion, this is a good trade for our beloved Cubs. They were able to get another left handed pitcher to add into the bullpen to go along with Sean Marshall in Grabow. With Gorzelanny, he could very well slide into the starting rotation in Lilly’s slot until he is able to return, if he is able to do so at all this year. Marshall, I feel, will stay in the bullpen as he has had a tremendous amount of success since being moved into that role, 1.25 ERA in 25 games. Apparently he is much more comfortable pitching in relief then as a starter, where many Cub fans wanted him to stay when Carlos Zambrano returned from his injury. However, after Randy Wells has been outstanding in his stint with the Cubs, Marshall as sent back to his common role in the bullpen. Time will tell if these trades will have the desired effect, so I will not judge them fully until they have had some time to get work in. By give them some time, I mean more then just a game or two.
Well, the Cubs have 62 games left this season, and are currently in a first place tie with the Cardinals, though that tie will be broken by the end of the night one way or another. Tomorrow, the Cubs hit the road, and start the trip in Florida to face the Marlins. They get to face another one of the softer teams in the National League, and should be able to continue padding their stats, and hope that they are able to get some separation with the Cardinals to not only get into first place on their own, but get a comfortable lead with the season dwindling down. They will be on the road until August 10, and will face the Marlins, Reds and the Colorado Rockies. While the old saying goes, you need to play .500 on the road, on this 10 game trip, anything less then six or seven wins would be a disappointment. The Pennant race is getting exciting as the final two months are about to begin.