I know the Chicago Cubs season is only nine games old, and we still have 153 to go, but there are already some things coming to be known about this team that I do not like whatsoever. You can tell me all you want that there is still plenty of time to turn things around (which is true) and that the season is still early (again, true) but that does not mean that you can not have things that you are not happy with, and things which must be improved if you plan on having any type of success at all.
Currently, after dropping a series to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs stand with a record of 4-5. Thankfully, they are about to start a three game series with the bottom dwelling Houston Astros, a team which is a good bet to get back on the right track and to start some sort of a winning streak against. However, you could have very easily said the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the series from the Cubs to start the season. If they can not sweep this pathetically awful team, or at very least win the series, you might as well pack your bags and call the season over. Sorry for the negativity this early on, but like I said, there are just a few things which are grinding on my nerves.
First and foremost, is the starting pitching. Going into the season, the impression was that we had a pitching staff which had some really good potential. However, after nine games, the pitching staff has been anything but good, Outside of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the other three pitchers have not been living up to expectations. Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have gotten smacked around pretty well their first two starts, and have both left much to be desired. Carlos Zambrano on the other hand, has not been bad, but has not been all that impressive. Sadly, the best two starts we have gotten this year comes from the two pitchers that we have just placed on the disabled list.
What is even more troubling, is new addition Garza is already not happy with our pitching coach Mark Riggins. Apparently now that we are out of the thin air of Arizona, which he blamed for his poor Spring Training, he needs a new target, and Riggins seems to be just that target. God forbid anyone ever takes responsibility for their own performance, There is always someone else that is responsible for your sucking. What I find funny, is that in his close to a decade with the Cubs, I do not remember one incident of a pitcher ever calling out Larry Rothschild for anything. Not Kerry Wood, not Carlos Zambrano, no one. But, that is another argument for another day, one not likely to be worth arguing because much like with Alfonso Soriano, Cub fans have already made up their mind on him and hate him, blaming him for all the woes of the pitching staff. But, I would just like to point out that in one off season he has appeared to have fixed A.J. Burnett, not an easy task.
Another thing that is completely ticking me off right now, is Marlon Byrd. I do not know what he was thinking yesterday, but why in the blue hell did he decide to steal second base with Aramis Ramirez up at the plate? That was likely one of the dumbest moves that I have seen from the Cubs in a very long time, and believe me that is saying something. You could tell that he either misread a sign, or completely went on his own because of the swing Ramirez took on the pitch Byrd decided to run on. Ramirez tired to protect Byrd by at least making some contact, almost sacrificing himself in the process. So Byrd not only cost us a base runner and an out, but he cost Ramirez a strike. Thanks a lot Byrd!
What is worse, is his post game interview when he was questioned about his base running blunder. He could not admit fault, which I would completely accept, but instead he got snippy with the media and told them to “beat it”. Grow up Mr. Byrd, yes you are hitting but you have no speed and should not have ran, especially not in that situation.
The we have our golden child, Starlin Castro! I love this kid, and I am more excited about him than I am about anything we have had in a long time. He is phenomenal with the bat, and every time he steps up to the plate you are always feeling like he is going to get a hit. That is how impressive this kid is. He is going to be a star! The only problem is, he is a tremendous liability with the glove. He has tremendous range, and can get to just about any ball hit on his side of second base. He also feels that he can make every throw, which is both good and bad. He has a rocket for an arm, so he always feels like he can nail a runner at first. But he needs to learn when to make a throw and when he needs to just hold on to the ball. Add into the mix that he can not apparently take a throw from a catcher, as you could see by his getting drilled on a throw from Geovany Soto on Saturday. Yes, he is still young and can learn, and his limited time in the minors probably did not help his learning process, but he needs to improve, and fast.
Those are the three things that are irritating me early in the season, however there was one roster move which is seriously scaring me. That is the Cubs signing Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The first question that should cross your mind here, is why. He is old, well past his prime and likely has less than nothing left in the tank. He was likely the only pitcher the Cubs could sign, due to the severely limited fund they have; especially since they had to pay Carlos Silva $11.5 Million to go away. But why sign him?
I am afraid that I know why. Either Wells or Cashner will be missing some significant time, and the Cubs are not too enthusiastic about either Casey Coleman (who got manhandled by the Brewers yesterday) or James Russell who will be starting on Tuesday against the Astros. Hopefully this is not the case and he is just here to fill a roster spot in Triple A. The Cubs say that the injuries of Wells and Cashner are minor, but we have heard that all before.
Alright, I have vented. I am ready for some more Cubs baseball! Going against the Astros should bring the Cubs some easy wins. Just as long as the pitching actually is clicking, but I will not hold my breath.
With a week left until opening day, the Chicago Cubs have finally announced their full five man starting rotation. The top three have been known since training camp opened. Opening day starter Ryan Dempster will be followed by Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. Even though the official announcement only came a week ago, every knew that Randy Wells belonged as the teams fourth starter, and the fact that he had to compete for the job was a complete joke. The fifth and final starting pitching job, a battle between youngster Andrew Cashner and Carlos Silva has finally been decided; and the winner is Cashner . What this means, is I can finally finish my look at the 2012 ball club.
With Cashner beating out Silva or the fifth starting job, two birds were just killed. One on hand, the Cubs get to begin to build towards the future and use Cashner to develop at the big league level. On the other hand, the have a young pitcher with some upside in Cashner starting over Silva, whose better days are far behind him. This was the best possible move the ball club could make for both the present and the future. The Cubs are finally doing something that actually makes sense.
Today, we look at the starting pitching staff for the 2012 club and what I feel we can expect from them for the year to come.
With the Cubs tabbing Dempster to be the opening day starter, the team is already on the right path to having a successful season. Nothing against Zambrano, but over the years he has had some of his worst starts in his career on opening day. You do not need to go back much further than last years exploding disaster to get a good idea of how this usually go for him. Whether he is too amped up or not, I can not tell you, but Zambrano on opening day does not usually work out.
Looking at Dempster, he has been our most consistent pitcher over the past few years, which is probably why he will get the honor. There is no reason to believe that the trend for him will not continue Figure a good record of 16-10 with an ERA around 3.45
Zambrano, I think is the key to the whole rotation even though he is not labeled as the “ace” of the staff. However, he is still likely our best starter and might very well show that this year. The move to take him out of the opening day starters gig is more of a change of trends than a slap in his face. I see him having one of the best years of his career. I can easily see him putting up a 17-12 record and an ERA close to 3.65.
New comer Garza is switching leagues, going from the American to the National, which should help him out. However, he is also going from a pitcher friendly park to one that favors the hitters. Normally, I would give a pitcher a boost in his statistics with a switch like this, but in Garza’s case, I am not sure I can see that. For Garza, I would not be surprised to see a record of 12-10 with an Era around 4.00.
With Wells, the man who was made to compete for a job when he should not have had to, I expect a nice year from him. He has shown to have the ability to pitch well in big situations, but has never been able to get decent run support from him team. Both years as a starter, he should have won high totals, but was never able to do so because the Cubs could not score for him. I think that this is the year that all changes. Wells could very well put up a record of 16-11 with an ERA close to 3.25 earning him the recognition he truly deserves.
Finally, we have Cashner who is the wildcard in this lineup. We do not have any idea what to expect out of him, so making a predication for him would make little to no sense. But when have I ever let that stop me from doing anything? Cashner will have a shaky record of 12-11. His ERA will likely be near the low 4s. Not to spectacular, but that will be a start for him. We are better off by far having him than Silva though, no matter how well Cashner does.
By my count, the Cubs starters will be responsible for 73 wins and 54 losses, which is not all together a bad thing. That will be 19 games over .500. If they work out the way I think they could, the Cubs might have a legit shot of making some noise in the division. That means that 35 games will be decided by the bullpen, which just so happens to be the last positional blog I will be doing this spring. That one will be up tomorrow.
As the Chicago Cubs continue to fall out of contention, the voices of the fans who are demanding a fire sale are getting louder. If you have been following my blog for the past week, you will have read just how difficult a time they will have in trading away the main players some fans want gone. The players who have seemingly been given contracts which are far too long, and worth far too much money, are more than likely stuck here thanks to the no trade clause built in. That is, of course, unless General Manager Jim Hendry can work some magic and find a team the players want to go to, who is willing to pick up their contracts. In doing so, the Cubs may be handcuffed for a few years on moves they can make, forcing them to go on the cheap with a total youth movement, which most fans seem to want anyway.
If the Cubs are going to go through with a fire sale, all I ask is for them to trade away anyone they are able to deal who is 30 years of age or older. This will include some very popular players, and will very likely upset a good number of fans. However, fire sales are not made to please the fans, they are made to clear roster space for younger players, while also helping save money to fill any void in the roster that can not be filled in house. The question still remains though, who can the Cubs trade and who wont they be able to?
However, outside of the main five players, the Cubs have a lot of talent which other teams may be more than willing to take on. Their are three starting pitchers which teams may be willing to give up some top talent for, which wont require the Cubs to eat any money to get rid of them. While trading them away may not be ideal to most fans, because they are fan favorites who are playing well, moving them might be the best thing the Cubs could do.
First and foremost, the Cubs should be strongly considering trading away Carlos Silva. While this trade will likely be met with the loudest complaints, mainly because he is our best pitcher this year, his value will never be higher. At the moment, Silva has roughly $17.5 Million left on his deal, of which the Seattle Mariners are paying roughly $7.5 Million. While he comes at a bargain, and will only cost $6 Million in 2011, the question you need to ask yourself, is how much longer can he keep up this amazing turnaround, and wondering if he will be able to match this effort next year. If you have any doubts at all in either case, the trade has got to be made now. While other teams will likely have this same thought about his potential, they may very well be interested enough that they would make a deal if they feel he can help them win this year. After all, the only World Series you can win, is this years World Series. While he has been our best pitcher, if the Cubs can move him, I say make the trade.
Another pitcher, would be Ryan Dempster. While he is still owed roughly $20.5 Million over this year and next, with a player’s option worth $14 Million, he would still be a pitcher who other teams would covet adding to their pitching staff. Without a no trade clause, there isn’t much that would stand in the way of the Cubs dealing him away for prospects. Since his move to the rotation, Dempster has been a very consistent pitcher who always keeps his team in the game, what contending team would not want to add a pitcher like him to their team? A great clubhouse guy, with a contract which wouldn’t be a huge financial burden would be a huge trading chip that could bring back some top notch prospects. I love Dempster, and everything that he brings to the ball club, but if you can not realistically see the Cubs contending before the end of the 2012 season, the best thing to do would be to trade him for prospects who could help us contend in the years to come.
The final start the Cubs have, which may draw some interest, is Ted Lilly. With his normally consistent performances on the mound, and his expiring contract, he may very well get looks from teams around the league. After all, baseball teams are always looking for a good left handed pitcher. With just about $6 Million remaining on his deal for the 2010 season, he will not be a financial burden for any team that would be bringing him in. Even if the Cubs have to eat some of his remaining contract, that will not hurt them in the future years, and I doubt the Cubs are considering re-signing him with so many talented pitchers who are waiting in the wings to be promoted to the majors. The only thing that could be standing in the way of a deal, is his limited no trade clause. He is able to block a trade to a few teams, none of which I know, but there are plenty of teams he has no say in being traded to. However, with his competitive nature, he may not use his no trade clause to block a trade if he is able to be sent to a contender.
The tradable players are not limited to the starting pitchers though , there are a few other players that would draw interest. While a few of them may very well be fan favorites, and would draw a backlash by fans if they are dealt, if the moves are in the best interest of the Cubs future, I say make the move.
A player that fans may riot if he is traded, is Marlon Byrd. He has been one of the few players on the roster who is actually playing up to expectations , and carrying his own weight to help the team win. With just about $13 million remaining on his contract through 2012, and the way he has performed recently, any team looking for an outfielder would have to be drooling if they knew he was available. A trade of Byrd could very well bring back a good prospect or two. While he is playing great for the Cubs now, you have to think about what is best for the Cubs and their chances in the future. He would be the last everyday player I would consider trading because he is one of the few producers, but that’s not to say I would not trade him if the right deal came along. Moving him, would allow the Cubs to call up another highly touted outfield prospect and help to groom him to be the star fans believe him to be.
Another outfielder which may draw some interest, that fans would not miss, is Xavier Nady. With a half way manageable contract, he is owed roughly $1.8 Million this year, unless he reaches his games played bonus worth $2.05 Million. I’m not sure how many games he has to play in order for that bonus to kick in, but I would be willing to bet he gets there. While that pending bonus may make teams leery about making the trade for him, he could catch someone’s eye, especially if the Cubs eat the bonus money, which would have no affect on any year but this year. They may not get that great of a prospect back for him, but his departure would give the Cubs another vacant roster spot which would allow them to give another rising player some time at the major league level.
While there are several bullpen and bench players who would also interest the fans to see leave, such as John Grabow, Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot, the final player I will mention is Ryan Theriot. Sure, he is a scrappy player who has earned favor with many Cub fans, he may have burned a bridge with the Cubs when he over valued his worth in the previous off season, taking the Cubs to their first Arbitration Hearing since Mark Grace in the early 1990s. With the Cubs winning the case, and paying him less than he felt he was worth, you can almost guarantee that he will be taking the Cubs back to Arbitration next year to get that raise he feels entitled to. Whether or not Hendry and the Cubs want to go through that headache again may be the main reason he is dealt before the All Star break, or in the up coming off season. This move, if the Cubs feel he is ready, would allow them to bring up another quickly rising short stop named Hak Ju Lee, who some scouts say is so good that he would push Starlin Castro over to second base. Whether or not Lee is ready, will go a long way to determining how serious the Cubs will consider trading Theriot. They may not get much back for him, but could avoid another potential off season headache.
If fans want to have a fire sale, they need to look at every aspect of the idea. They can not just focus on the thoughts of trading away the players with the bloated contracts who are not playing up to expectations. You have to take into consideration every player who is getting up their in age, including some fan favorites who are playing well. Because let’s be honest about something. Who are teams more likely to be interested in trading for, players who are older, over paid and under performing? Or would they rather have players who are playing to their potential who do not have contracts larger than their egos? When you ask for a fire sale, and for the Cubs to start rebuilding, be careful what you ask for. You may just get what you don’t want in return.
Today, Carlos Zambrano threw a simulated game, in order to stretch him out for his eventual return to the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs, which could come as soon as next week. This has re-opened the can of worms that was opened when the move was initially made, and new discussions have been brought up, such as why was he moved to the bullpen if you were just going to put him back a month later. This has been one of the biggest head scratching moves the Cubs have made in a long time, and I don’t mind telling you that how they are handling things is really upsetting me. The roller coaster ride that is the Chicago Cubs season, keeps surprising me.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. First and foremost, I don’t believe that he should have ever been taken out of the starting rotation to fill a void elsewhere. Was he struggling at the start of the year? There can be little doubt that he wasn’t having the kind of year that the team and fans would have been hoping for from their ACE pitcher. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best 10-20 pitchers in all of baseball over the past 10 years. Taking him out of the rotation was nothing more than a desperation move to begin with. I can fully understand why he was put in the bullpen, but that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of the move.
I can understand why he was moved, because they had a desperate need to get a strike out pitcher into the eighth inning to help get the ball to their closer Carlos Marmol. The players they had in that role were not getting the job done. John Grabow and Esmailin Caridad did nothing but throw gas onto an already out of control fire. They needed a fireman who could possibly extinguish any threat, and ensure the Cubs kept their lead, however small, and preserve a win. In the beginning, the move was called temporary. He was only going to stay in the bullpen until the Cubs were able to find a replacement, a pitcher they could depend on to get the job done. How long that would take was anyone’s guess, because the season was still young and no one would be giving up valuable setup pitchers this early in the season.
Zambrano’s ERA before the move to the bullpen was 7.45, with an eye popping 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings of work. Hitters were also teeing off on him, at a .317 clip. He was off to a horrible start, and looked like he was headed to a bust of a year, and would fail to come close to what he was able to do last year. However, if you take out that first start of the year, his statistics look far better. In is next three starts, his last ones before being exiled to the bullpen, he had an ERA of 4.00 (I know, still not great) but He threw quality start after quality start. Hitters were hitting only .274 against him. Much better than his statistics as a whole for all of his starts of the season. That just goes to show you how one bad start can kill a pitcher’s stat line, making things hard for him to come back to the expected performance. Think one bad start for a starting pitcher hurts a stat line, just imagine how hard things are for a relief pitcher to have a respectable stat line after a bad inning.
So the desperate move was made, and Zambrano was put into the pen. While the hope was that he would be a success, the outcome told a different story. Here is a brief look at just how things went for Zambrano in his month long bullpen stint. In his time in the pen, he had mixed results. He started off a little shaky, but he got the job done. He had a string of good outings, and then he had a bad one. After that, some more good outings, followed by a bad one. When they decided he was going to go back to the rotation, Zambrano put up a string of a few more good outings again.
If someone were to ask me if he should stay in the bullpen, I would have to say no. Not because he should never have been put in the pen to begin with, but because the results of the move has not done anything to help the team win games. As things stand, he has the second highest bullpen ERA of anyone currently in the Cubs bullpen, behind only John Grabow. If you want to add Bob Howry into that discussion as well fine, but with the Cubs he has pitched .1 inning and has an ERA of 0.00. I did not include him in the Cubs bullpen ERA because I don’t care what you do with other teams, all that matters is what you do for us.
In the bullpen, Zambrano has pitched in 11 games, pitching 11.1 innings. he has giving up six earned runs striking out nine but walking only two while giving up 16 hits. While this is a small sample size, they did not get the immediate results that they would have hoped to get from adding Zambrano into the bullpen. They did not get the lights out stuff they had hoped to get, so they are giving up on the experiment after a month, and putting him back where he is most comfortable. The question now becomes, who do you put into the bullpen to replace Zambrano?
The likely choice of who moves to the pen, is either Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. But why would you move one of the best two pitchers in the Cubs pen? As far as stuff, they are not the best, but you can not argue with results. Silva leads the team with six wins and is second on the staff in ERA, tied for second in fewest walks but also last in strike outs. Gorzelanny leads the team in ERA, but has the second most walks and second most strike outs in the starting staff. Gorzelanny has gotten screwed on his run support, which is evident in his 2-4 record. However, to make room in the starting staff, there are a couple outcomes which could make the decision a lot easier for the Cubs.
The Cubs could make a trade, in which case any of the current five starters could be moved for some promising young prospects and free up a little cash. If this is the case, count out Silva and Zambrano. They wont be moved at all. Silva because of what he is owed, and Zambrano because of what he is owed and a little thing known as a No-Trade Clause. Ted Lilly could draw some interest being in his final year, but his delayed start due to an injury and slow start might not get you too many takers. Ryan Dempster would be the most appealing starter for any other team to want. He has a manageable contract and is pitching well, despite his record. Gorzelanny, low money and is pitching well. He could be attractive to a team as well. Randy Wells could also draw some interest as he has pitched well, and is still under team control for a few more years.
The other possible move would be a temporary move. Gorzelanny or Lilly could be placed on the DL. Lilly could be explained away as his coming back to early, hence giving an excuse as to why he hasn’t pitched that well. Gorzelanny could go on the DL because he got nailed by a line drive. This would give the Cubs a little time to work out what they want to do.
Before you start in on the six man rotation talk, think about why that would never work. While you would get extra rest for your starting staff, which would allow them to go deeper into games, and limit the use of the bullpen, you would also be taking away starts from your best pitchers. In a normal five man pitching staff, assuming you don’t skip the fifth starter when you can, each pitcher gets 32 starts, with your top two starters getting 33 starts. In a six man staff, each starting pitcher would get 27 starts. Why would you want to take five starts away from your best pitchers? That makes no sense if you want to win. Perhaps taking the bullpen out of the equation would offset the fewer starts from the better pitchers (and lets be honest all of the pitchers are pitching well), but I still would not approve of or recommend such a move.
Whatever happens, whoever comes out of the rotation when Zambrano returns, we are sure to find out in a weeks time. I will make one guarantee though, whatever move is made, whoever is taken out of the rotation, there will be some loud grumblings coming out of Cubbie Nation.
While the Cubs continue to be in the range of the quarter mark of the season, now having played 40 games on the year, our look at the four phases of the Cubs as they currently stand. Yesterday, we took a look at the starting position players, and what was wrong with the offense. Today though, we look at another very important aspect of the team, that being the starting pitchers.
Before the season began, our starting pitching was looked at as being one of the weaknesses on the team. Most fans and “baseball experts” took a look at the Cubs starting staff and predicted doom and gloom for the team. They saw Carlos Zambrano and saw a player who was one mistake away from having a mental break down. Ryan Dempster was met with many questions because last season he was hot and cold. When they saw Tom Gorzelanny, they could only see a pitcher that was so bad, that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t even want him. Randy Wells didn’t do anything for them either, as he was coming off a rookie year where he caught many teams by surprise. Don’t even get me started on Carlos Silva, who everyone had written off after a couple seasons which would make anyone nervous to throw him out to start a game. With Ted Lilly slated to miss a month, most people around baseball were not expecting him to make an impact, and whatever he was able to give the team, would not improve the rotation enough to make it dangerous at all.
With no expectations being given to the Cubs starting pitchers, they quickly surprised the league by throwing quality start after quality start. Just about every time out of the game, the starting pitchers did everything they could in order to keep the team in the ball game, but unfortunately the offense let them down more often than not. In fact, towards the end of April, the starting pitching staff was ranked with the best in the Majors with a combined ERA under 2.50.
When you see that statistic, you may be wondering why I am including the starting pitching in the discussions of what needs to be improved. While they have started off the year in tremendous fashion, they have not been able to continue to dominate the opposing hitters. Now, half way through May and a quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs starting pitchers have a combined ERA just over 4.00. That is a far cry from being among the league’s leaders. The combined ERA of the starters though, may actually make the starting staff look worse than they actually are when you look at the individual performances of each pitcher.
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the Cubs pitching staff has been Silva. When the Cubs acquired him from the Seattle Mariners for Milton Bradley, fans and media looked at the deal as trading trash for trash. No one expected the Cubs to get anything out of Silva, so with him leading the team with five wins, the Cubs have obvious won this trade. Not only is Silva leading the team in wins, but he is also the team leader with a 3.35 ERA . Having pitched eight games, those are some fantastic statistics. But look a little deeper into his outings. In eight games, he has pitched an average of six innings per start allowing an average of only just over two runs per game. You could argue that Silva should be sitting pretty with a record of 8-0 right now, but 5-0 is something any logical Cub fan will happily take.
Dempster has come on strong again this year, though he has lost his last four outings. You should take notice that in only one of those games did he allow more than three runs, so he should not be held completely responsible for all four of those losses. His record of 2-4 does not reflect his solid ERA of 3.49, and even that stat line does not speak of how well he has pitched this year. In his eight starts on the year, Dempster has gone an average of seven innings every start, allowing just under three runs a start. Much like Silva, he is averaging a quality start every time he takes the mound. His main problem this season, has been his run support. In his eight starts, the offense has only supplied him with 20 runs. The way Dempster has pitched this year, he should have at least twice as many wins, especially when you consider he received two no decisions when he only allowed one run.
Gorzelanny, who starts tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, has been another pleasant surprise for the Cubs this year. His 3.60 ERA is better than most people would have expected from him through his seven starts. However, he has received even less run support than Dempster. Through his seven starts, he has allowed a very impressive average of just over two runs a game. The sad part of this story, is that his ugly record of 1-4 may be the biggest sign that the offense has been the biggest problem with this team, not the pitching. That isn’t to say that Gorzelanny is not without fault, as he is averaging just under six innings every time he takes the mound. With him leaving the game earlier than you would like, he leaves the door wide open for the bullpen to blow any chance of him recording a win. If he wants to start winning more games, he needs to start going deeper into games, and staying in for at least six innings. That is my only complaint with Gorzelanny.
Wells has posted an ERA of 4.13 with a record of 3-2 through his eight starts in his Sophomore season. Much like with Dempster and Gorzelanny, his stats make him look worse than he actually may be. He is averaging six innings per start, and just under three runs per game. That falls in line with the old standard of what a quality start entails. Much like with everyone of the other starters, his lack of run support has damaged his chances of posting more wins. While he has had a handful of poor starts, allowing more than three runs only three times, he has pitched well enough to have at least four or five wins; especially when he had two no decisions where he only gave up one run. He has been yet another victim of the teams hot and cold offense.
Lilly on the other hand, could be looked at as a disappointment when you consider how well he has pitched his previous three years with the Cubs. You can blame his unusual season on him still trying to come back from an injury if you like, but that does not mean he should not carry some blame with how he has been pitching. Much like the other pitchers in the rotation, Lilly’s stats fall in line with the basic requirements of what a quality start should look like. He has been going at least six innings in each of his games on average, while allowing just over three runs in each start. He has had only one bad start really, allowing six runs against the Arizona Diamond Backs, but two of his other starts he allowed four runs. If he had not of thrown six scoreless innings in his first start of the year, he would look a lot worse. In this case, his stat line makes him look better than he has actually pitched this year. He needs to step up his game, because while he practically has the same record as Gorzelanny with two less starts, he has also given up one more run on average. Whatever is troubling Lilly, he needs to step things up and pitch as he has his first three years with the club.
That brings me to Zambrano, the very pitcher who started the season opener. This season has been a roller coaster ride for Zambrano, who started the season opener and was then thrown into the bullpen to pitch setup; but is now being put in long relief to stretch him out so he can start again. Who moves out of the rotation when he returns is anyone’s guess, but that is at least a week or two away. Since he is returning to the rotation sooner rather than later, he deserves to be included in this discussion, if nothing else because he is a part of the combined ERA.
So far, Zambrano has been limited to only four starts on the season, posting an ugly ERA of 7.45 as a starter, with a 1-2 record. This has been a poor year for Zambrano, given this is a small sample size this year, because he has been getting knocked around. In his four starts, he is averaging just under five innings per start, which is heavily skewed by his only lasting 1.1 innings in his first start. He lasted seven, five and six innings in his three other starts. What may be more troubling though, is his average of our runs per start. A pitcher allowing four runs a game isn’t horrible, but that isn’t anything to brag about either. Even if you pitch a complete game every time out, you are still going to have an ERA of 4.00, which isn’t that good for a National League starting pitcher. When he returns to the rotation, he needs to pitch like the Ace he was tabbed to be. Statistically, he has been one of the best 10 pitchers over the last 10 years. He just hasn’t shown that much this year. The problem with stats, they tell you what you have done, not what you will do. So far this season, Zambrano has been a big disappointment, no matter what role the Cubs have used him in.
As a whole, while the Cubs have a team ERA over 4.00, the starters have lasted an average of over six innings per start, and allowed under three runs per start. With that statistical line like that, they should be winning more games. The over all stat line looks really bad, until you break things down a little bit. Could they be better? Of course, there is always room for improvement. Are they the reason why they are losing? No, the offense remains the reason the Cubs are losing. The pitching is doing all they can, they just have a sore back from carrying the offense the first month and a half of the year.
Every pitcher in camp for the Chicago Cubs comes with a question mark, including today’s subject Ryan Dempster. Going into the 2010 season, Dempster will be slotted into the number two slot in the starting rotation behind the Cubs Ace Carlos Zambrano. While Dempster is coming off a season with mixed results, there is reason to take an optimistic feeling going into the new year.
Last year Dempster was coming off a surprisingly amazing year. He was a starting pitcher for the first time as a member of the Cubs, after spending the previous two years as the teams closer. In 2008, Dempster was considered by most to be the teams best pitcher and earned himself the game one start in the ill fated National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I don’t need to remind you how poorly that game went. Regardless of the outcome, the Cubs had faith that Dempster would have continued success for the next few years, and re-signed him to stay with the team. This move drew mixed reactions from the fans. Some were angered by this signing because they saw Dempster as a one year wonder. Other fans were excited, because they saw the same promise that General Manager Jim Hendry saw, and thought that his 2008 performance was only the beginning of good things to come. However, things did not go well for Dempster as he struggled for half the year.
While no one likes players or fans who make excuses for poor play, in Dempster’s case there may be a valid point to be made. For over half the season, Dempster pitched with a heavy heart and a mind which had to be focused on anything but baseball. What was troubling him was his daughter’s illness, which is called DiGeorge Syndrome. I could not begin to imagine how hard of a time Dempster had playing a game while his mind was elsewhere. Fans, not knowing of his troubles at home right away, began to grumble about re-signing Dempster because his performance was far and away from what was expected. Thankfully for Dempster, and his daughter, this story has a happy ending which may give credibility to the excuses for Dempster’s poor start to the 2009 season.
Just after the midway point of the season, Dempster received encouraging news regarding his daughter, and learned that she was on the road to recovery. Around the same time that he learned of this, Dempster began pitching better and began looking like the pitcher we saw in 2008. His remarkable turnaround in the 2009 season, gives us hope that he will continue to pitch well in the year ahead. If he is able to continue pitching as he did in 2008, and the tail end of 2009, our pitching staff looks a lot better than was originally thought at the start of Spring Training. That being said, his struggles of last season must give you at least a little cause of concern. There is some good news though in terms of his Spring Training statistics; so far in camp Dempster has been putting up some very impressive and solid outings. Granted, this is still Spring Training so stats font mean much; however, if he was pitching poorly fans would be all over him. His mental block, though, is just one theory one what could have hurt his ability to come through for the Cubs for the entire season.
Going into 2010, Dempster will have to prove that he is the pitcher the Cubs signed, and continue to have success. What we should be able to expect from Dempster in the upcoming season remains to be questionable. You could say that he caught batters by surprise in 2008, and they adjusted to him in 2009 which caused the dip in his performance. If that was the case, then he made the proper adjustments to finish the year and get back on track. Expect the hitters to adjust again to Dempster’s pitching for the upcoming season. Hopefully this time around, Dempster doesn’t take as long to make any needed corrections.
Predicition time for the Clowned Prince of the Cubs. Dempster has the capability of winning close to 16 games, but may have to settle for around 14 to go with around 10 losses. While that isn’t a record you would like to see from your number two starter, that would be fine for your third pitcher in the rotation, which is exactly where He would be if Ted Lilly wasn’t going to miss the start of the season. I would imagine his ERA would be somewhere in the mid threes. Not great stats, but they are acceptable. If you combine those wins with the ones I predicted for Zambrano, you could have close to 30 wins coming out of your top two pitchers. While that is not a bad total, that is a lot better than what you got out of last years top two in the rotation. If they both reach the maximum number of predicted wins, you would be in the mid 30s, which would be outstanding and likely give you one of the best 1-2 punches in the game.
With the start of Spring Training only days away, the fans of the Chicago Cubs can finally look forward to the 2010 season. After everything that went wrong with the previous years ball club, Cub fans were left with a bitter aftertaste in their mouths, and need a reason to believe that this year will be different. That is what Spring Training is all about, a fresh start and a new beginning. After last season, Cub fans everywhere are looking for just that. While most of the positions are already set, and locked in, there will still be some good competition that all fans should want to keep an eye on.
Lets start with the only competition that will be taking place for a starting job. That competition is for the starting second baseman’s job. There are two men who have their eye’s on the prize for this job, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker. Many fans would see Baker as the odds on favorite to win the job after he performed so well after the Cubs acquired him in a trade from the Colorado Rockies. He finished the year with a .288 batting average, but hit over .300 for the Cubs with a .362 on base percentage. Those are some pretty good statistics for a second baseman and, I for one, would not be too upset if he was the one to leave camp as the starter. The only problem I have with this, is I am unsure how much trust to put in Baker to continue to play the way he played last year. We fans, and management, have been fooled more times than we would like to admit when looking at a player who put up half of a good season. Need an example? Just look at Baker’s competition in Fontenot.
One reason why Fontenot might get the nod as the every day starter at second base, is because he is a left handed bat. If he isn’t starting the game, the Cubs have only one left handed hitter in the lineup. However, if we learned anything last year, we learned that Fontenot might not be starter material. In 2008, Fontenot put up some amazing stats considering he was only being used in part time play. What he was able to do in limited time, made Cub fans crave to see him getting more starts. That desire to see him get more time, also helped the Cubs decide to trade fan favorite Mark DeRosa. Last year though, Fontenot got his chance at starting, and we watched him fail to provide what we needed him to give us. In 16 more games, and getting 134 more at bats, Fontenot saw his batting average fall from .305 to .236. Management had also thought we would see him deliver more power with more time, that too failed to meet expectations. He only hit nine homeruns, the same amount he hit the previous year, while driving in only three more runs. Fontenot is a prime example of why you should not want to see a half year stud, taking over an every day job.
One of the other competitions that will be taking place, is for the fifth outfielder’s job. The starting outfield is already set with Alfonso Soriano in left field, Kosuke Fukudome in right field and Marlon Byrd patrolling center field. Newly signed Xavier Nady will be the fourth outfielder and will be backing up both Fukudome and Soriano. That leaves three outfielders competing for the fifth outfielder. Those players are Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin. While I like the versatility of both Colvin and Fuld, who can play all three outfield positions, I would give the nod to Hoffpauir myself, as he would be a welcomed left handed power bat off the bench. While Hoffpauir’s statistics are nothing to get excited about, he would provide more of a threat off the bench than either Colvin or Fuld.
In all honesty, I would say that this job would come down to Hoffpauir and Fuld, with Colvin being sent back down to the minors. While he is still in development, I would rather see Colvin get at bats everyday, something he wont be able to do in the major leagues. You don’t want a young player wasting away on the bench in the major leagues, let him continue to grow and play ball in the minors. While I said I would give the nod to Hoffpauir, don’t count out Fuld making the team. One of the competitions that will be taking place for the infield spots may actually work in Fuld’s favor, and give him a better chance of breaking camp with the team.
The battle for the infield bench jobs will also have the most competition. There are only two jobs open on the bench for backup infielders, with four players vying for them. The four men are Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Andres Blanco and whoever does not win the starting second base job between Baker and Fontenot. This competition will likely be watched the closest, as there are many things to factor in when filling the voids. Blanco is the only man in the group that can backup the Short Stop position. Yes, there is Sterlin Castro, but I am not considering him. I will get to him at a later date. Because of him being the only viable backup to Ryan Theriot at short, I feel he would have to be a lock to make the team. He is aso able to play second base.
If Blanco is a lock to make the team, as I think he should, that leaves Fontenot or Baker competing with Tracy and Millar for the final spot. With these three men in competition you need to factor in the Ramirez effect. The Cubs current third baseman rarely plays the whole season, and usually missed a chunk of games every year. The team needs someone who can back up Ramirez. While all four men can play third base, Tracy would be the best at the position. He can also back up Derrek Lee at first base, which would make Hoffpauir less of a necessity, meaning he could be sent down to the minors and Fuld could make the squad.
Management has come out and said that Millar and Tracy will be competing with one another for a bench job , which could mean that there could be a trade towards the end of Spring Training involving the odd man out in this competition. If Blanco makes the team, which I believe he should, who ever doesn’t win the second base job could likely be traded.
The problem with Tracy, is he doesn’t exactly have a great bat. His offensive production has fallen off dramatically since his first couple of years in the majors. So with Tracy you need to figure out what you need more. Do you need a good bat of the bench, or do you need a dependable replacement for Ramirez if he is forced to miss some time?
Millar is another issue, because like Tracy his offense is nowhere near what you would want in a bench player. However, he can play both corner infield spots, and if you are a believe in clubhouse chemistry there wouldn’t be a better man to add to the mix. I am not sure if I would pick him to beat out the other three candidates, but maybe he surprises everyone and pulls an ace out of his pocket.
With Ted Lilly possibly missing the first month of the season, there will be an extra spot in the pitching rotation. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells will lead the rotation, with the Cubs needing at least one more pitcher to fill out the rotation. With the month of April spreading out games and usually having a good number of off days, you wont really need a fifth starter until April 18 against the Houston Astros. Lilly said that he was targeting the middle of April for his return, so there may not be a need for a fifth start, which would be the best thing for the Cubs.
However, there will still be a need for a fourth starter until then, and that pitcher will become the fifth starter once Lilly returns. The likely candidates are Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva. If I were to put my money on one of them, I would nominate Gorzelanny to fill out the rotation. For one, he is a lefty, something the rotation will lose with Lilly being out. But why him over Marshall? That is an easy one. While Marshall has never gotten an extended look in the starters role, he hasn’t been able to show that he belongs as a starter, over the role we are used to seeing him in, and that is as an excellent arm coming out of the bullpen.
Silva was brought in, but his recent track record does nothing to inspire you that he would be anything better than what he has been the past four years. While he is likely to make the team, he might be demoted to the bullpen and mop up duty if he is unable to show any signs of improvement.
The one pitcher who might surprise people is Samardzija, though I am not ready to put my faith in him. Various reports from the Cubs player development staff have stated that he has shown a lot of good progress. If he has grown into the starters role, than he could give Gorzelanny some good competition, though I think I would rather see him sent to the minors to continue to work on his mechanics and developing a new pitch or two.
The bullpen is the final spot where we will see a lot of competition. Though, much like with the starting pitcher competition, there are the likely favorites. We already know that Carlos Marmol will be the closer, and Angel Guzman and Jeff Grabow will be the likely setup men. Others who are likely to make the squad are Jeff Gray, and if he doesn’t make the rotation Marshall. That leaves two spots in the bullpen for four other candidates. The most likely candidates are, Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, John Gaub, and Jeff Stevens. However, both Samardzija and Silva might also be in competition for the bullpen spots. This will be the most important competition in camp. The better your bullpen is, the better your team will be. For the final two spots, I have no idea who I see making the team. Whoever wins those last two spots will have earned them with this crowd that is in competing.
Well, hope springs eternal Cub fans, and this Spring Training is bound to give you all a lot of hope. Everything begins on February 17 when pitchers and catchers report.
With 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.
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.
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.