Tagged: Ryan Theriot

Fire Sale Series: The Players You May Want to Keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time For a Quarter Final review: The Offense

With the quarter mark in the baseball season upon us, what better time could there be to check in on the state of the Chicago Cubs, who have not lived up to the fans expectations. With only 123 games left, you can no longer say things are early in the season. However, at the same time, you can not say that there are not enough games left to make a move. The way the Cubs have played in the first 39 games of the year, you would be hard pressed to find a large percentage of fans who would be able to continue holding onto the hope that things can still be turned around.

Currently, the Cubs are sitting with a record of 17-22 in third place, only 5.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds. The second place team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are a half game behind the reds, and five games ahead of the Cubs. Using simple math, and the statistical argument of real games back as opposed to traditional games out, the Cubs are an ugly 10.5 games out of first place. With three quarters of the season left to go, there are still plenty of games left to make up ground, as long as the Cubs start getting their act together immediately. With 10 games left to play with the first place Reds and all 15 games left with the Cardinals, there are plenty of games left with the teams ahead of the Cubs to make a move. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be some major improvement in many areas.

In the next few days, I will look at the four phases of the Chicago Cubs, as they currently stand. The offense, starting pitching, bullpen and team defense. All four phases of the team are areas the team needs to improve in,

The first phase that needs to step things up is the offense. At the moment, the team is hitting .270, which is tied for the 8th best batting average in the majors, and have six hitters in the everyday lineup hitting over .300.

Of the players who have been with the Cubs the whole season, Marlon Byrd has been the team’s best hitter, putting up a .340 batting average with seven home runs and 25 RBI; all three of which lead the team. He has been one of the few players to come through in the clutch more often than not. If you think back to when he was first signed, many Cub fans were upset that they had “wasted” $15 million on him over three years, now however they appear to be singing a different tune as he has impressed the legions with his stellar play.

One of the biggest surprises in the Cubs offense, is Alfonso Soriano, who is hitting .323 on the year, but an eye popping .365 in the month of May. Last season, Soriano didn’t make too many friends among the Cubs fan base with not only his poor hitting, but his poor defense as well. This season, he had something to prove, and while his defense is still akin to a horror movie, his offensive outbursts are something that fans have been waiting to see from him. He will never live up to the massive contract he was signed to before the 2007 season, but he is still showing that he can carry a team offensively.

Ryan Theriot has continued to do what he has normally done since he got here, and that’s hit. Until recently, Theriot has been the Cubs primary leadoff hitter, but is now hitting in the second spot in the lineup, at least against the right handed pitchers. With his .316 batting average, he is collecting more than his fair share of hits, but his on base percentage of .348 is weak, because of the miniscule difference between the two stats. One aspect of his game that needs to be worked on, is drawing more walks, and striking out less.

Kosuke Fukudome has started off the season with his traditional April explosion, followed by a decline in play in May. He started off the year hitting .344 in his first month, but has cooled off to only .273 so far in May, but still has a respectable .315 on the year. While he has slowed down a little bit, he is still playing tremendously well, especially in the field. His patience at the plate, and timely hitting, has earned him the leadoff spot when there is a right handed pitcher on the mound.

Geovany Soto has rebounded quite nicely over his Sophomore season and is playing almost better than he did in his rookie year. Batting primarily in the 8th sport in the order, Soto has begun to show a tremendous eye at the plate. While his batting average sits at .301, his on base percentage is over .450. His four homers and 10 RBI may not look too impressive on their own merit, but when combined with his OBP and batting average in the eight hole, you have an impressive stat line. With how well he has been hitting, he probably should be elevated to a more important run producing slot in the lineup.

Even though he has only been with the Cubs for just over a week, Starlin Castro is hitting .361 in 10 games. His energetic play has gotten fans energized and given them reason to have hope for the future. With the way he handles himself at the plate, and runs right out of the box, fans have quickly fallen in love with him. Since being called up from triple A, he has taken over the eight hole from Soto in the lineup, with the occasional elevation to the two hole when Theriot has been given a day off. Where ever Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has put him in the order, he has shown that he can produce, which has some fans asking for him to be given a more important role, than batting in front of the pitcher.

While the statistics from these guys are impressive, if that is all you are looking at, you will be missing half the story. Sure, the Cubs can hit in no pressure situations with the bases empty, when runners reach base and are in scoring position, the bats seem to completely cool off. The Cubs just can not seem to be able to drive runs in on a consistent basis. If a player collects three hits in a game in four plate appearances, his batting average will look great. However, if his only out comes at a time when there are runners in scoring position, you are not doing your team much good. That appears to be the problem the Cubs are having, and one that needs to be solved if they have any serious plans of contending this year.

However, the problem comes to a head when you take notice of the two most important hitters in the Cubs lineup are continuing to be viewed as the two weakest hitters in the order. The two biggest problems in the Cubs offense remain to be Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, though signs point to both being on the right path. With the way the rest of the team is hitting, if Lee and Ramirez are able to come back to form, the offense will be in good shape, and able to carry the team to a lot more wins. If you are looking for some reason to have some optimism that these two are going to be able to contribute in the months to come, consider this.

Over the past 16 games, Lee is hitting a much improved .277, which is .047 points higher than he is currently hitting, and only .006 below his career average. While he has only hit four home runs on the year, the power will come as his hits start piling up. As the Cubs three hole hitter, which he should have been moved out of during his ugly month and a half long slump, the Cubs need him to start hitting on a more consistent basis. So far for the month of May he has looked to be doing just that, and has quieted some of his critics, but there are still plenty more who letting their voices be heard.

Ramirez on the other hand, who is still stuck in baseball hell, is hitting well below the Mendoza line. As a player who has been looked upon as the biggest RBI threat in the Cubs lineup the past several years, his poor play is reflective on the Cubs struggles to score runs. Last night, Ramirez hit the game winning home run against the Colorado Rockies, in walk off fashion. In doing so, he recorded only his third multi-hit game of the year. He has improved in the month of May, hitting .216, which is up .064 points from his April average, but he is still not doing enough to warrant hitting in the heart of the lineup. Until he shows that he can put together an elongated stretch of games where he is able to hit consistently, he should be lowered to the seven hole behind Soriano, with Soto moving up to batting fifth. This is a move that likely wont happen, and could very well be one of the key reasons the Cubs continue to struggle throughout the year to score runs.

The offense is not running at full speed, and that is what is keeping them from putting up the consistent offensive numbers that they should be putting up. If they are to have success, they need to start hitting with runners on base and in scoring position. Hitting with no one on base is all well and good, but if you consistently drop the ball in the situations that matter the most, you will never live up to your full potential.

Playing the Blame Game with the Cubs offense

The “New Nightmare on Elm Street” is coming to a theater near you, however the nightmare the Chicago Cubs are facing this year is the same one they experienced last season. All last year, the Cubs suffered through the ineptitude of being unable to score runs, and leaving far too many men on base. The offensive offense the Cubs are throwing on the field this year has got to be the most disappointing aspect of the 2010 Cubs season. You can throw the bullpen into the discussion if you want to, because lets face the bullpen gives you a gut punch every time you see Lou Piniella taking out a starting pitcher. However, to be honest, the implosive bullpen was always known to be bad, even way back when Spring Training began. On the Brightside, the bullpen has shown a sign of improvement since Carlos Zambrano was assigned to assist them in the eighth inning. The offense on the other hand, has turned into a complete frustrating situation, where you never know what you are going to get as an end result.

 

If you are looking to cast blame on the offense, you don’t have to look too far to find who is to blame. As a whole, the Cubs are leaving far too many men on the base paths, and everyone is to blame for that, though some are more responsible than others. While, as the old saying goes, “you win as a team, you lose as a team” the players you depend on the most, should get the front of the blame. For the most part, everyone else is doing their jobs as expected.

 

Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome are usually going to be slotted in the one and two spots in the batting order. Typically, your first two hitters in the order are there to get on base for the big boppers that will follow them. While they do not hold the top two spots on the team in on base percentage, they are still doing a great job at getting on base. Theriot is putting up a .333 batting average and getting on base at a .370 clip. His on base percentage could be higher, especially when you look at the batting average, but you can’t complain about someone getting on base nearly 40% of the time. Following Theriot in the order is Fukudome, who is also hitting .333 but has a very impressive OBP of .429. They are also knocking in their fair share of runs, with 11 RBI each. The blame for the lack of offense does not fall on these two men. However, the next two men are in the spot light.

 

With your first two batters getting on base at a very high level, you must depend on your three and four hitters, who unfortunately for the Cubs have been dropping the ball. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are supposed to be your main run producers, but they are not driving the runs in. As a matter of fact, the top two hitters in the lineup have more RBI than your power hitting run producers. Not only are they not driving in the runs, they are simply not hitting. Lee is in the midst of his normal April slump with a miserable batting average of .203, while Ramirez is stuck at .155. Neither of which are acceptable statistics from your best two hitters. While Lee has done this almost every year, and always rebounds to have a good season, the Cubs can not afford to have him not hitting right now. The Cubs need his bat to come to life sooner rather than later. Ramirez slumping as bad as he is, on the other hand, makes you worry because you have never seen him in as bad of a funk as he is now. While he looks to be coming out of the slump, he still isn’t hitting the ball the way we are used to seeing him. Add in his towering strike out numbers, and the amount of concern goes through the roof.

 

Your five and six hitters, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano are hitting the ball with force. Both are doing their jobs with the bat. Byrd is hitting .333 and Soriano is hitting .292, great batting averages for your fifth and sixth batters. They are driving in runs at a rate you would expect. Could they be doing better than they are? Of course they could, especially with how poorly Ramirez and Lee are doing at the job. The problem is, more often than not, Lee and Ramirez usually end the inning. Both Byrd and Soriano though, are surprising fans with their offensive output. Most fans thought Soriano was done, after posting a batting average around .250 in 2009. However this year, he is hitting the ball like the Soriano of old, though maybe without the power, and is actually showing patience at the plate. That is something Cub fans have been begging him to do since they signed him. With Byrd, fans were unsure what to expect from him, because he was coming from a hitters paradise in Arlington, Texas. So far this season, he is showing that he has learned how to hit, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. You would be hard pressed to put a lot of blame on either of these two.

 

Even the bottom of the Cubs order is coming through with hits. Both Mike Fontenot and Geovany Soto swing the bat much better than they did in 2009, though that wouldn’t be hard to do. In fact, Soto is leading the team in batting with a .362 batting average and an eye popping .516 OBP. Both are very impressive, especially when you take into account that he is hitting in front of the pitcher. Fontenot has also come to life, posting a .308 batting average and a .339 OBP. They are both playing up to and far beyond par, especially Fontenot who many wrote off before the season began. Batting in the seventh and eighth slot in the batting order, you don’t usually expect much, but they are doing their job and then some. Pinning the blame on them would be hard.

 

While everyone in the normal starting lineup, outside of Lee and Ramirez, is doing a tremendous job statistically speaking, they are all failing with runners in scoring position in key situations. They are all leaving far too many men on the base paths, which is a major cause of their failure to win more games. Blame the bullpen for a half dozen of the games that they have lost, because in the box score those pitchers do get the losses, but when you are only able to push across two or three runs in a game, you wont get the win that often. When you take a one run game into the late innings, you are depending on your bullpen to be perfect, which is not fair to expect from anyone. Yes, the bullpen has been horrid in the early stages of the season, but with signs of improvement of late, but the offense should get most of the blame.

 

If the offense is going to come to life, no matter how well everyone around them is hitting, Lee and Ramirez need to step up and start doing their jobs. A team can not survive if their top two run producers are not even hitting their weight.

Spring Training Series: Around the Horn- Ryan Theriot

With our look at the Chicago Cubs positional players continuing, today’s subject is an interesting one. Today, we look at the starting short stop, Ryan Theriot.  By every account, Theriot is not someone you would consider to be an everyday player; certainly not an every day short stop. That being said, you can not deny what he is able to do for the team to help them win. He may not be the best player on the team, but even with his limitations, he is an important key to the Cubs chances of success when he is in the lineup.

 

While Theriot is the starting short stop for the Cubs, that is not his ideal position. The natural position for Theriot is second base, a position he will ultimately switch back to when Starlin Castro is ready to be brought up to the majors. Theriot has limited range, much smaller than you would want from your short stop, and an arm which is not strong enough to make the throws a player in that position should be able to make. Every year since he was named the starting short stop for the Cubs (starting in 2008 when he started the year with the job) he has committed 29 errors in his 300 games. Even in 2007 when he was given the job, he committed eight errors in 108 games at short. Those aren’t exactly encouraging fielding statistics, just imagine how many he would have if there wasn’t a gold glove player waiting for his throws at first.

 

However, what he lacks in fielding, he tends to make up with the bat. While he lacks the ability to hit for power, he does know how to get base hits. He has finished his first two full years with batting averages of .307 and .284. However what is more important is his on base percentages of .387 and .343. Because he will likely be the primary leadoff hitter, he will be needed to take care of business. Looking over his career statistics, he does very well when leading off. In his 94 career games batting first, he bats .300 and gets on base at a .354 clip; both of which are fairly impressive from your leadoff hitter.

 

The problem with Theriot is he is strictly a singles hitter. Occasionally he will surprise you with a home run, and he will not hit you very many doubles or triples. Another issue with Theriot is he tends to fall off as the year goes on. Throughout his career, he will hit .299 in the first half, but only .277 in the second half. When you look at his month by month splits, he tends to fade every month, before having another spike midway through the year. However, his September batting average of .254 is very troubling, as is his .337 on base percentage. You can put up with his lack of power and extra base hits, as long as he is getting on base at a consistent level, but with his slide as the year goes on, you always have to hold your breath.

 

Perhaps Theriot just is not an everyday player, and needs to have an ample amount of time off in order to get the best out of him. Perhaps like with Mike Fontenot, he does not have the stamina to be an everyday player. This is not taking anything away from Theriot, because at the end of the year the stats are respectable, but they just simply not consistent. Consistency is something every team needs out of their players, and unfortunately Theriot is unable to give them that. Perhaps all Theriot needs to do is work on his conditioning; maybe he just needs to spend some more time in the weight room. Whatever his issue is with his yearly breakdown, he needs to figure things out so he can give his best to the Cubs throughout the year.

 

As far as what I predict for Theriot to do throughout the year. I see a .280 average with maybe seven homeruns and around 40 runs batted in. Not bad stats from a leadoff hitter, but you would love to see someone who can hit .300 and get on base at a very high rate, and do this throughout the season. You can not have your leadoff hitter taking a month or two off at any point through the year.

Cub Fans Must Choose Between Young Players, and Proven Veterans

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.

Time to Break Out the Hot Stove for the Chicago Cubs

With the 2009 Chicago Cubs season all but over, the attention of the fans, and hopefully General Manager Jim Hendry, will be how to fix the mess that they currently find themselves in. As a whole, I honestly do not believe that much needs to be done; only a little bit of tinkering. Sure Hendry needs to pull off a miracle trade in order to get rid of Milton Bradley, but other then that, I believe that our team does not need too much work. With most of our team already in place, and with the key pieces already locked in, all that remains is to find one or two key elements which will bring us back to the championship form the Cubs found themselves in the previous two years.

The first, and in my eyes the most important, piece to the championship puzzle that Hendry must bring into the fold, is a true leadoff hitter. The Cubs need an explosive bat at the top of the order that will be able to put the team in the best position possible to score early and often. They need a player who not only has the ability to hit and get on base at a high level, but also has the ability to steal second or third when they get on base. Presently, the Cubs have two options for leading off, neither of which fits all three areas of need.

With Kosuke Fukudome, they have a player who is able to fill the need for a great on base percentage. The downfall for having Fukudome lead off is because he has not proven that he can hit at a high level. His batting average, while slightly improved over last year, still sits at a mediocre .256. Even if he were able to show that he can hit closer to .300, he lacks the true potential to be a stolen base threat. Fukudome, while he can be a decent number two hitter, should not be looked upon to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs next year. His qualifications do not meet the standard of what the ball club needs.

As far as Ryan Theriot, much like with Fukudome, he does not fit the ideal description of a leadoff hitter either. While he is able to hit at a respectable level and get on base close to a .350 average, he does not have the true speed to make him a stolen base threat either. While he does lead the team with 21 steals, only being caught seven times, he does not run enough to put the fear into the opposing team’s pitchers or catchers. His ideal position in the batting order would be either second or eighth in my eyes. While you want to take advantage of his ability to get on base for your sluggers, we saw in 2008 what his presence at the bottom of the order could do for our offense. With Fukudome batting second in a line up I would write out, Theriot would be a nice fit in the eight hole.

The Cubs could also look at using some of their minor leaguers to fill the void at leadoff. This option is very intriguing, as he has shown to be a great defensive player, making several amazing plays in the outfield. While his batting average is still a bit lower then you would like to see your leadoff hitter have, his on base percentage is amazing, hovering around .380. The one draw back, is he apparently does not have enough speed to be the stolen base threat the team requires. However, we do not know fully what he can do, as he has only been allowed to steal base three times, of which he was caught once. I would not be opposed to his leading off, if they were unable to find a suitable replacement.

If none of these three option fit Manager Lou Piniella’s desire, that leaves us with a need to be found outside the organization, and a limited availability for positions to play. The Cubs need to find a leadoff hitter who can play one of three or four possible positions. Fukudome can play either Right or Center field, and while Theriot has mostly been used at Short Stop, he is also capable of playing second base. While there are many options that will be available for the Cubs to sign once the free agency period starts in November, most of them are already in the 30s, and will all come with a hefty price tag. The list is long, and I will not list them at the moment, but rest assured, I do have my favorites already picked out, and I will let you know that sooner rather than later.

In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Piniella mentioned that the Cubs top priority should be to add another power bat to the middle of the order. As I mentioned, I believe that finding a true leadoff hitter should be on the top of the Cubs wish list. However, do we really need another power hitter on the team? With Alfonso Soriano being moved permanently out of the leadoff role, he would be a nice addition to the heart of the order. That is, of course, if he is able to give the team the power numbers he gave them during his time here. If he is able to do so, then the need for another power hitter becomes lower on the wish list.

Another reason the team may not need another power bat added to the lineup is Geovany Soto. While he has raised red flags with his performance this year, I for one am not willing to give up on him. He has shown exactly what he is capable of when he fully prepared for the season. He has admitted that he slacked off in the off season, and did not prepare himself the way that he should have. I am willing to write off 2009 as a rookie mistake, even though he is no longer a rookie. Lesson learned, and he has earned the chance to redeem himself with the level of play he displayed at the end of 2007 and all of 2008. All he needs to do is revert to doing whatever he did in those two years, and I believe that he will be back to everything the team expected of him. If both Soriano and Soto return to form, then there is no need whatsoever to go out and spend a lot of money on another power bat for the middle of the order. If they both fail to accomplish what the team needs from them, there are two options that could fill the bill, though I would advise against them.

In the outfield, you can play either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox in Right Field. If I had to choose between the two of them, I would choose Fox over Hoffpauir, because Fox has more upside. With that being the case, I would severely advise against either one of them playing in the outfield, especially with Soriano playing in the opposite corner. The team can not, and should not, depend on an outfield which would have less than average defenders in both Left and Right Fields. While I would greatly welcome both of them to the bench, I do not want to see either as the everyday Right Fielder. Fukudome would collapse with all the ground he would have to cover in Center Field.

While you can never have enough power in the lineup, the money would be better served elsewhere. However, much like with the speedster that the Cubs should be looking for, the team would need to find a player who can hit for power, who also is able to play one of the previously mentioned four positions. Again, there are many options that may be available, but all would come with a hefty price tag, and are all in their early to mid 30s.

With the slight improvements in mind to help the everyday lineup, the focus should then move to the bench and the backups for each of the replacements. The bench portion of our team is a mess, but in a good way. The Cubs have more pieces then they know what to do with. In the outfield, assuming the Cubs sign a free agent, they have the options of re-signing Reed Johnson, Fuld, Fox and Hoffpauir. Some would question why I left out Tyler Colvin, but that is simply because of his lack of experience, and the Cubs lack of space. He would benefit well from having a little more time in the minors, mainly because he could have an everyday job playing in Triple A. If the Cubs were to sign a free agent for the outfield, chances are only one or two of these players would be on the Cubs bench, that is assuming they decide to re-sign Johnson. If the Cubs decide to have one of them be a starting outfielder, they can keep three of the players. While the Cubs said they wanted to resign Johnson, his time with the Cubs would likely come at the expense of Fuld.

If you thought that the outfield situation was a tricky one to work out, take a look at the log jam the Cubs will be facing with the infield backups. In my opinion, the Cubs need to sign a player to play second base. While Jeff Baker has played very well since coming to the team, I am not completely sold on him being the everyday player at second base. We fell into this trap last year with Mike Fontenot, thinking he would be able to produce the entire season the way we saw him perform in limited time in 2008. If we carry two backup outfielders, that limits us to only being able to carry two back up infielders. There are a few people I would love to see make the team as role players, but only one of them will get the nod, mainly because the Cubs are stuck with Aaron Miles for another year. That means that two of the following three men will not make the team, if the Cubs sign a second baseman. The Cubs can keep Baker, Fontenot or Andres Blanco. Personally, I would let Fontenot go, either by a trade or sent back to the minors. That would leave Piniella and Hendry with the tough decision between Baker and Blanco. This, of course, could all be solved if Baker becomes the starting second baseman. While I don’t know if he can be dependable as an everyday second baseman, he has got to do better then Fontenot. That would also allow us to keep Blanco on the team.

The way the starting rotation for the Cubs will likely only carry over four of the five starters from this year. Love him or hate him, Carlos Zambrano will likely return to the team next year, along with Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells. While Rich Harden would be a welcome commodity, there are far too many rumors floating around that he will not be brought back. If he is willing to give the Cubs a discount, and not demand a long term deal, he may be brought back, but according to some baseball analysts he will get a contract worth at least $10 million a year. With his injury history, that would not be a quality investment. That would leave the Cubs one starting pitcher shy, but they have a few names who could step into the role as the fifth starter for 2010.

The in house options that the Cubs can consider for the vacant starters job are Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Gorzelanny. From the way the end of the season is winding down, with Samardzija and Gorzelanny getting a few starts, you would be led to believe that the competition is currently limited to these two men. While Samardzija has looked very shaky in his outings this year, out of the bullpen and with his first start, he looked impressive in his second major league start. Gorzelanny on the other hand has been more then impressive in most of his starts with the Cubs. Whether or not they will be able to fill in and give us what we need will be determined once Spring Training commences. However, if neither of them impress, they can always look to free agency, and there are a few starters out there that could be

The bullpen is another mess that needs to be fixed, however this may be fix may not be all that difficult. We have our closer in Carlos Marmol, but after him everything else is a crapshoot. While Angel Guzman has looked amazing this year, he once again ended the year with an injury. If he could stay healthy, he would be an amazing set up man for the eighth inning. John Grabow is a free agent at the end of the year, but from all things I have heard, the Cubs want to resign him. That leaves four pitchers left to fill in the remaining bullpen spots. The Cubs have a slew of young arms that could fill those roles, like Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg. They could also use Marshall as the second lefty in the bullpen. If those three all make the team, that leaves one spot open for any number of guys. However, like everywhere else, there are plenty of options to sign in free agency.

While the Cubs have needs, they don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone. All of their holes can be solved in house. However, over the next few days and weeks, I will break down my thoughts on the possible targets who I think the Cubs should go after for all the open spots that need to be filled before the 2010 season beings. Just to recap, those positions are: Center Field or Right Field, Second Base or Short Stop, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers. All the Cubs need is a little bit of tinkering, and they will be more then fine for he following season.

The Big Blue Train Wreck, and What Can Be Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stick a fork in them, the Cubs may just be done

Today, I am going to cut straight to my thoughts, because lets face facts. The 2009 version of the Chicago Cubs, at least right now, are completely pathetic. Just about everyone on the 25 man rosters, save for the pitchers and one or two of the batters, are looking absolutely pathetic. The way they are swinging the bats, they are looking as though they do not even belong in the major leagues. Sure, there are a few hitters who are able to hold their own, but for the most part this team has got to be the worst offensive team I have seen on the north side of Chicago in a very long time.

When you have player like Alfonso Soriano, who more less demands to bat leadoff because that is the only place he can hit, batting in the low .200s, your offense is already starting behind the “eight ball”. I have defended him in the past when the discussion comes to the leadoff situation, but no more. He says he cant hit anyplace but leadoff, but guess what, he isn’t hitting there either. Who care about previous declarations about him staying in the leadoff slot, he needs to be dropped immediately. If he isn’t going to hit, I would rather see him not hitting in the seven or eight slot. The problem that comes up with that, is which of the under performing scrubs do you throw in to that slot? None of the players are playing well at all, and would still likely leave us with an early hole to dig out of.

The heart of out order is barely beating at all, but at least they are showing signs of a pulse. Derrek Lee has been on a tear as of late, one of the few Cubs to actually show that he cares. Granted, he is hitting only .273, but he brought his average up to a half way respectable level in this current stretch. Then you have Milton Bradley, who like Lee is showing signs of life with his bat. However, with his offense starting to wake up, his defense completely fell off the face of the planet as we all saw yesterday. Bradley is still in the pathetic zone of the .220s, but his hits are starting to trickle in. Though not fast enough to make fans forget about his ineptitude. Yesterday, he made several defensive and offensive mistakes that have occurred many times in many players careers. His problem was they all took place in the same game. Losing a ball in the sun, losing track of the number of outs and making a costly base running error overshadowed his great day at the plate.

How about “Cajun Connection” of Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot? Theriot’s “power bat” has gone to his head, and he has seen his average take a massive dip. He has struggled so mightily that he has been dropped down in the order, only to be replaced by his LSU team mate Fontenot who is also looking rather pathetic at the plate. Watching him play baseball these past two months makes me miss Mark DeRosa even more then I thought was ever possible. While Fontenot has improved his play at third, DeRosa wouldn’t have taken so long to look like a half way legitimate third baseman. Hell, his offense would have been a massive upgrade as well, as we can now see that Fontenot is not, I repeat NOT, an everyday player.

How do you say bust in Japanese? Once again, after a great start to the season, Kosuke Fukudome is starting to look like the world biggest bust to ever play the game of baseball. Sure, he looked great in April and the first part of May, but since then he has looked like a lost little puppy dog, just as he did last year at this same time. His average is still a respectable .270, but he wont stay that way for long. We are likely watching him take another ride on the super slide. Unlike last year, our offense is not good enough to continuously run him out onto the field in hopes that he will “figure things out”. He needs to be benched, or sent down to the minors. Whatever the case is, get him out of our lineup, and throw Reed Johnson in.

Speaking of busts, how about one year wonder Geovany Soto. He has reverted back to his early days in the minor leagues, and has forgotten what he did to improve his game to make the majors and win the rookie of the year award. Scratch that, he has either forgotten, or decided not to. Nowadays, he has turned into a fat blob behind home plate who cant hit for a decent average with warning track power. His reverting back into what he was is a devastating blow to this ball club as he was being leaned on hard to put up similar numbers to his rookie year. Instead, he is looking to join Jerome Walton on the wall as players who win the award, then retire without telling anyone.

The only saving grace to this season, is the pitching. The starting pitching has been outstanding, and they have either been hung with an undeserving no decision, or an even more undeserving loss to show for their efforts. The bullpen has even stepped things up, helping the Cubs starters keep this lackluster offense in the game. However, their efforts have also gone to waste with the offense in their deep slumber. The pitchers get a complete pass from me right now, as they are doing everything they can do to keep the Cubs in the game. When you close to the Major League lead in quality starts, there is no way you can blame them for the losses which keep piling up. Short of throwing a shutout every time out of the gate, there is nothing else they can do to help this team actually win a game.

That brings me to Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Piniella. How excited were we when Piniella came here, and Hendry started spending money. My how those days have started looking really sour right now. Piniella looks to have turned into Dusty Baker on that bench, with the “deer in the headlights” look. He is at a loss with this team right now, and I cant say that I can blame him. But when a manager starts saying, “I don’t know what else I can do”, maybe, just maybe, the time has come to cut him free. While I do not think that firing Piniella will do this ball club any good, perhaps that’s just what needs to be done. As far as Hendry goes, all credit for actually spending money the past few years, he actually landed some big fish that people wanted in Fukudome and Soriano. But they have turned into two of the biggest busters we have seen in a while. I would say that the time has come to blow this team up, but I fear that will not be as easy as one would think. With all these longer term, high dollar contracts with no trade clauses, they are almost immovable. Sad to say, that basically means we are stuck with these guys. Every last one of them will more then likely finish off their contracts here. So get used to these bums, as there is very little Hendry can do, unless he finds a trade where he can match contracts dollar for dollar. Congrats Hendry, you got some top names in free agency, but you screwed yourself over in the long run. Thanks for trying though.

Who would have thought the loss of Aramis Ramirez would hurt this club this much. While losing your best offensive player is always painful to the offensive production, you should not see this much of a decline. When he comes back, I fear the Cubs will be too far out for him to matter. At the same time, you have to wonder how much of an impact he will actually have. As much as this pains me to say, the Cubs season may be a week or two away from realistically being over.

Playing the blame game on the Cubs loss to the Braves

Last nights game ended in a train wreck, and the Chicago Cubs managed to steal a loss from the jaws of victory. Before everyone starts pointing the finger at the closer Kevin Gregg, bring the finger back in to your fist, because he is not the first player that should receive the blame for that loss. Not even close to being the first. In my mind, there are five men who all need to share in the blame just as much, if not more then Gregg. Those players Carlos Marmol, Ryan Theriot and Geovany Soto. You might want to add in Cubs manager Lou Piniella into the mix as well for people who should receive blame for what should have been a win against the Atlanta Braves. Lets go back in time, and relive this game, going in the order of the mistakes that were made. First one up, is Piniella.

Can someone tell me the reason Piniella pulled Randy Wells from the game in the 8th inning when he had only thrown 83 pitches? I know that Atlanta is a warmer climate area, and you can get dehydrated easily if you are not careful. But come on, Wells was pitching a gem, and he was pulled after two batters in the 8th inning. Sure, the first two batters got on base, but the man earned the right to at least attempt to finish the game after pitching so well. He took a no hitter into the 7th inning, one out away from finishing with seven no hit innings. Okay, so the first two batters got on base, and if Wells gave up a homerun, the score would be 5-3, but hasn’t he earned the right to give things ago, and try to finish? Maybe he was spent, and Piniella saw this from the dugout. I can halfway understand this move, especially the thinking that Marmol could come in and save the day for the young pitcher, and get him his first win. However, I think that pulling Wells was the first mistake of the game, and Piniella gets part of the blame.

Enter Marmol into the game, and he started off the inning very poorly. With a run already in, thanks to a homerun off of Wells, and a runner on base Marmol came into the game to keep the score at 5-1. However, a few walks, and a hit batter later they scored an additional two runs. Time to face facts guys, the lock down, sure fire bet to get you out of a jam, is not the same guy we have seen in previous years. Marmol is pitching very poorly this year, at least compared to what we have come to expect out of him. His wildness is starting to hurt us in the pen, and is giving up the inherited runners that he is trying to keep from scoring. Granted, his ERA is still in the low .300s, but that does not show how many runs he has allowed to score. He is supposed to be the glue that holds this bullpen together, but he has not performed up to expectations. Where have we heard that before with this team? Alright, he got out of the inning with the Cubs still leading, but the runs he allowed to score would hurt the Cubs. Marmol doesn’t get the most blame, but he is the second guy in my eyes. Enter Gregg into the ninth, but he is not next in the order of things. That honor belongs to Soto.

What has happened to our young stud behind the plate? Simple, he has gotten fat, and has apparently forgotten how to catch a ball in the dirt. The pitch wasn’t great, don’t get me wrong, but a good catcher should be able to block that pitch in the dirt. Because Soto was unable to do so, the drop third strike came into play, and a runner reached base. The following fly ball should have ended the game, instead we still needed to get an extra out. Soto is who I blame more then anyone for this loss. If a catcher cant block a ball in the dirt, he is just about useless, especially if he cant hit the ball. The game should have been over with Gregg notching another save, without allowing a run to score. Instead, Gregg is the goat in this game because he gave up the tying homerun. Never mind that Soto called for a fast ball against Jeff Francoeur, which is basically the only pitch he can hit. A good pitcher I supposed to trust what his catcher calls for, if you cant trust your catcher’s calls, then he is no good to your pitching staff. However, Gregg was the man who gave up the homer to tie the game.

That’s right, the man who Cub fans love to hate gets stuck with the blown save. He is the main everyone was quick to point the finger at, calling him the man who lost the game. But as I just showed you, there were three other incidents which put us behind the eight ball. Yeah, he threw the wild pitch, and the eventual homerun ball, so he gets the blame too. However, he should not be the first person to blame. He isn’t Kerry Wood, and nowhere near as good of a pitcher, but he is our closer, like him or hate him. He will get more opportunities, and he will blow another save or two and will deserve the full blame, but I don’t buy that this time around. The final mistake, goes to a man who made a costly error that wasn’t called an error.

The ball that Theriot misplayed, led to what would be the eventual winning run. He should have gotten that ball and should have been able to throw out the base runner. There is no telling what may have transpired had he gotten him out, we could very well have lost the game anyway . But that is a play you have to make, especially in extra innings when one hit makes all the difference. Yea, the play was a tough one to make, but not one that was impossible.

Sadly, all five of these people helped contribute to the loss the Cubs suffered last night. You can make up your own mind as far as who to blame. If you want to single out a single player, by all means do so. Whatever reason you want to believe for that person being to blame, may very well be the right decision. If you want to blame a group of players, take your best shot, you are most likely right. Baseball is a team sport, so if you win as a team you also lose as a team. Mistakes were made, and they all led to the loss. There is n fairness blaming one single player.

State of the Cubs & Live game blog

What a way to start off the month of June, for both the Chicago Cubs and for Alfonso Soriano, a leadoff homerun is always a nice way to begin a game. However, the next three batters all make outs, so you have to take the good with the bad I suppose. As you can guess, I am doing a partial live blog, as I am writing this during the Cubs game with the Atlanta Braves, so I will have sections on my game thoughts during my current state of the Cubs post. Hopefully this will work out and make a good read for all my faithful readers. Anyway, on with the point of this article. In my opinion, the Cubs are looking like they could very well be in some trouble, but at the same time you cant really panic too much either. I will explain both side of the argument as I go on tonight. Speaking of going on, Randy Wells just completed a five pitch 1-2-3 inning, talk about your good ways to start a ballgame. Lets see if he can keep this up, and get his first win.

As things stand as of this writing, the Cubs are one game over the .500 mark, and stand four games out of first place. Granted, on paper, their record and number of games back does not seem that bad when you consider how much of the season there is left to play. Counting tonight’s game, the Cubs have 113 games left in their season. While there is still plenty of time to turn things around, there are some trends that are continuing to run their course which are very troubling. There are quite a few Cubs in the lineup, as well as on the bench, who have an obstacle or two that needs to be overcome in order for the Cubs to have success. While baseball is a team game, you need to have the individuals contribute on a consistent basis to ensure success. That is something that the Cubs are not doing regularly. After one and a half innings, the Cubs are leading 2-0. Congrats to Wells on getting both his first major league hit, and RBI. You have to love a pitcher who helps his own cause.

The first player on the list is veteran first baseman Derrek Lee. While he had a impressive month of May, hitting .313, his overall batting average is still at a measly .248. I know that when you start off slow, you will have to bust your *** in order to get your average and statistics back up to a respectable level. While you can look at last month as the possible start to Lee’s emergence back to a threat, other stats would tell you otherwise. Wells, by the way, just pitched another 1-2-3 inning, he is looking good early on. When you take a look at his splits with home verse road, his road stats are nothing short of embarrassing. He has a single homerun on the road, and is batting .196. With that coming in only 15 games, you have a small sample size, but you may also see this as a trend which will wind up hurting the team. If Lee continues to play poorly on the road, he wont be too much help in the heart of the order. That being the case, there isn’t much we can do about the situation. Lee is making $13 million dollars this year and next, so trading him will be all but impossible. Finding a team that is willing to take on a declining first baseman and his contract will not be easy. Even if you do find one, Lee still has to approve the trade in order for anything to work. With that being the case, you can all but count out a trade involving Lee. So you can bench him for Micah Hoffpauir if you wish, I will get back to that in a moment. The Cubs go down in order in the top of the third, but are still leading 2-0. Can Wells continue his gem of a game into the bottom of the inning? We will find out soon enough.

Lets talk second base, we have no real second baseman at the moment. Bobby Scales and Andres Blanco are the main second baseman until Aramis Ramirez returns from the DL. While both are playing decently, you are not getting the production out of either of them you would like. Both men, are light hitting infielders who will not give you much in terms of power. What else do you expect from two minor leaguers? That’s not to say that the Scales story is tarnished, I am happy for the guy that he finally made the big leagues. But he is not an every day player. We need someone who will hit for a good average, which he is not with his .239 average. Great story, but not a great player. Im sorry, but I have to be honest on this. Blanco is just as bad thus far in his career. After nine games he is hitting .111. He will likely get most of the starts at second, so he does have time to turn things around, but you cant like what you have seen from him offensively. He is your prototypical traditional shortstop, all glove and not bat. He has made some really nice defensive plays, but we need something better at the plate then what we are getting. What do you know, Wells pitches another 1-2-3 inning setting down the Braves in order in the bottom of the third.

Our shortstop, Ryan Theriot has cooled off after an impressive start, and has powered down after a powerful beginning to the month. Figures, Milton Bradley looks as though he injured his knee trying to leg out an infield single. He went into the clubhouse, and is likely out of the game. Looks like Reed Johnson will be going into the game. More on both of them later, back to Theriot. While he hit .317 in April, his average dropped to .273 for the month of May. Not a bad average by any means, but when he started to drive the ball with more power, his average has also fallen. I would rather have the Theriot we saw in April, high average and no power, then the mid average with average power. That’s just me though, you may feel differently. His range is also starting to trouble me, as there are times when you watch him play and you know he shouldn’t be a shortstop, as he doesn’t have a very powerful arm. Arm strength cant be helped, but his approach at the plate can be. We need him to go back to what he was doing in April. Well, the Cubs went down in order, a quick top of the fourth.

Filling in for Ramirez, is Mike Fontenot. His .224 average is nothing close to what we had hoped or planned to see out of him as a starter this year. He hit very poorly in April with a .232 average, only to follow that up with an even worse May hitting .216, and Wells hit second batter of the inning to give the Braves their first base runner. While his average is way down, so are his power numbers. He has not hit a homerun since May 3 against the Marlins. We expected more power and a much better average from Fontenot considering what we saw out of him in limited time last year. One could guess that Fontenot has been over exposed now that he is playing every game. This was a concern for a few people going into the season, although many Cub fans wanted to see him playing every day. Though looking back at last years stats, he never really showed much power to begin with, he only had big hits in key moments when he got a chance. Personally, making him an everyday starter is not looking like a smart decision. As far as the current game goes, after the hit batter, Wells got the next batter to hit into a double play to end the inning.

I don’t even want to start on Geovany Soto, but I can not allow him to go untouched. He has simply fallen fast and hard. He has put on a lot of weight, and just simply does not appear to have the same drive that he had last year. I don’t know what is wrong with Soto that is making him look like the player he was for most of his career in the minors, but he has definitely taken several steps backwards. He is nothing like what he was last year, which is also a key factor contributing to the Cubs poor play. Once again, the Cubs go down in order, and from the way things are going we may need Wells to continue pitching the way he is, as I don’t know if we will score another run. Back to Soto, the Cubs were heavily depending on him to be the player he was last year, and counting on similar numbers. They are not, and I fear will not, get those numbers from him. They need to find another place to get that production. Where that comes from, I have no idea

Our grand leadoff hitter, Soriano, isn’t so grand right now. Sure, he led off the game with a homerun, but overall his numbers are pretty damn pathetic. His batting average is in the mid-.200s, and he is getting on base, just above .300. Those are not the stats you want from the guy who is hitting in the first slot in the batting order. That being said, leading off a game he is still hitting above the .300 mark. That doesn’t make up for his poor average though, as we need him to be much better then he has been this month. He needs to heat things up in the month of June. While Ramirez is out best hitter (and all around player) the offense usually goes with Soriano. The better he plays, the better the Cubs offense works as a whole. That is why he must turn things on again, and break out of this funk that he is in. If he can not, the Cubs will be dead before Ramirez gets back. You can say move him out of the leadoff spot, but that may not even make a difference at this point. Maybe his homerun to start the game will get his motor running. Speaking of the game, Wells is through five, with the only base runner coming on a hit batter, who wasn’t really hit.

Bradley, who left the game with an strained muscle in the leg, looks as though he is starting to warm up as his average is slowly starting to rise up into the mid .200s. Considering how he started the season, that is a good sign. However, his leaving with an inured leg can not be a good sign, as he will be out for a few games at least. That’s not something you want to see with a player who is starting to heat up. As poorly as he looked to start the season, and as much as you wanted him out of the lineup in April; you want him in the lineup now that his bat is heating up. Hopefully he wont be out long.

Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome are both playing excellent ball, and I have no complaints for either one of them. Johnson will see more playing time with Bradley likely to miss time, and many fans will love that. Both men are swinging the bat very well, and could help jump start the on again, off again Cubs offense. Not much to say about these two, so I will leave things as they are.

That brings me to the minor league phenom duo of Hoffpauir and Jake Fox. Why am I combining these two players? Simple, they are more or less the same type of player. Both are listed as first baseman and outfielders. Fox has played at catcher and third in very limited chances, but he himself has said that he is basically lost when playing the field. Fox is a designated hitter in waiting, mainly because he is a defensive liability. Hoffpauir is another interesting case, as he is also a man with out a position. Neither one should be playing every day, for various reasons. Hoffpauir’s average when starting a game is in the mid to low .200s like most others in the starting lineup, but around .400 when he pinch hits. Just my two cents, take that as you will. Cubs score a couple more runs and now lead 4-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.

That’s about all when you look at the offense, the pitching is another matter all together. We have gotten some tremendous pitching the entire month of May from the starters and bullpen alike. The Cubs got a lot of dominant pitched games from their starters, a lot of which got wasted on the last road trip with the lack of offense. The starters haven’t been the only pitchers to step up their games, the bullpen has also started to put things together. Everyone is starting to settle into their roles, and are starting to do what they are supposed to do. Granted, you have had a few ugly innings from members of the bullpen, but overall, they have looked good lately. Much like with Johnson and Fukudome, there is not much to complain about here. The pitching has spoken for themselves this month, and we need them to continue to do so. Even when our offense finally wakes up completely, we need our pitchers to continue to dominate the opposition. Speaking of pitching, Wells puts up another 1-2-3 inning on the Braves.

Well, I gave you reasons for concern, how about ending on a positive note. Honestly, that is hard to find. You could go back to last years schedule, but we were 16 games over .500 at this time last year (same day, but more games played) and we were in first by 3.5 games. Nothing much going on there. Cubs get a runner to second, but that’s where he stays. Time for the bottom of the seventh. However, go back two years, with Cubs Manager Lou Piniella’s first year with the team. The Cubs were nine games under, and 7.5 back. We all know how that regular season ended for our boys in blue. I know that this is a massive stretch, but you need to get a positive in there somewhere. Do I think the season is over, not at all. We should be cautiously optimistic, as I still believe we have a team that can win the division, or at very least the wild card. The Cubs have time to make up some ground, but things will not be easy. All I can say, is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Sadly, my blog will end here as the no hitter also came to an end with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Way to go Wells, you pitched a hell of a game. Now you just need to finish things off.