Tagged: Ted Lilly

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.

Cubs Reshuffling Zambrano into the Rotation

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.

Time For a Quarter Final Review: The Starting Rotation

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.

Spring Training Series: Up on the mound- Ted Lilly

The biggest question mark for the Chicago Cubs going into the 2010 season is the focus for today. If you were to look over his statistics since he was signed back before the 2007 season, many of you might be wondering how I could possibly be calling Ted Lilly the biggest question mark for the Cubs this year. You could argue that he has not only been the most consistent starting pitcher the Cubs have had these past three years, but also the most reliable. So how could this even be a considerable topic for a pitcher who has proven his worth time and time again, year in and year out? The easy answer to the questions of why and how, is based solely on his injured shoulder and how he performs when he returns to the rotation. If Lilly did not need to undergo surgery to fix his injured shoulder, then this wouldn’t even be an issue. Unfortunately for the Cubs, this is all too real of a concern.

 

No Cubs pitcher has collected more wins over the past three years than Lilly, so losing him for any amount of time is going to hurt the club; even if he only misses tow or three starts at the beginning of the year. That, however, is another issue all together with Lilly. At the moment, there is no clear cut date on when he will make his triumphant return to the starting rotation, and the date has been changed more often than a Chicago White Sox fan’s diaper when he realizes the Cubs are still the number one team in the town. The original date had Lilly being able to return in the middle of April, until he had to take a few days off due to a sore knee, which ironically took place a few days after an unnamed source stated that Lilly would not return until June. When the sore knee came up, that looked like more of a reality than a rumor. Thankfully, the knee turned out to be fine, but he had fallen behind to rest the knee. Because of that rest, the new date to return was now penciled in at the end of April or the beginning of May. Better than the June date, but still a later return than anyone could want. Now that some more time has passed, Lilly is now ahead of schedule, and is penciled in to return by sometime in the middle of April. When that will be, is still to be decided, and who you listen to, Lilly or Cubs Manager Lou Piniella.

 

Regardless of when Lilly will actually be returning, he will still be looked upon as a much needed fixture in a shaky Cubs starting rotation. He will need to pitch like he has since he first put on his Cubbie Blue pinstripes. The question remains though as to how his shoulder will react in a real game situation. As of this writing, Lilly has been limited to throwing in a simulated game and throwing batting practice. Neither one of those situations allowed him to give his arm the workout that is needed to see how well his shoulder has recovered. Lilly as stated that his arm feels great, and he is ready to get into a Spring Training game, but Piniella isn’t so sure. While Lilly wants to get into two Spring Training games before the Cubs leave camp, Piniella does not want to push him too far too fast, and risk losing him for a longer period of time. I can see both sides of this very clearly; the question though is who do you put more trust in?

 

Piniella knows that Lilly is a Bulldog and will pitch through the pain even if he is limited with what he can do. Lilly on the other hand knows his body and how far he can push things better than Piniella, and says he is ready to get into some game action. If Lilly isn’t quite ready yet, and he goes out to pitch in a real game situation too soon, he could be out a lot longer than anticipated. In this case, I have to side with Piniella. While both situations would have Lilly out until the middle of April, Piniella’s will take just one extra trip through the rotation. Even with the thought of having one of the lesser qualified pitchers who are trying to win a spot in the rotation in Lilly’s place, I think I would much rather have one extra start from them if we could ensure that Lilly was ready. Even with one of them making an extra start, while every game is important, should not hurt the team that early in the year. If he comes back too early and has a lengthy setback, this team will not be able to recover. Piniella’s better safe than sorry look at the Lilly time table is the route to take.

 

When he does return though, if he is anything close to what he has been, the Cubs rotation could be rounding out quite nicely.  Lilly has all the tools to be a very successful pitcher once again, and prove that he is one of the better pitchers on the Cubs staff. Despite missing roughly seven starts in 2009, Lilly had what could be considered the best year of his career. His 3.10 ERA and his 1.056 WHIP (Walks and Hits by Innings Pitched) are both career records for him. His 22 Home Runs allowed are also a career best for him, in seasons when he was a full year starter. While he may not be an overly dominating pitcher who can throw the ball through a wall, he knows how to pitch to batters to get them out. There is no reason to believe that he will not be able to continue pitching this way if he is fully healthy, and that is what I will use while making my predictions for him for 2010.

 

Lilly will only miss three starts, so he will be limited to just 31 games. In those 31 starts, I see him going 15-10 with an ERA around 3.30. As your number two or three pitcher, those are acceptable statistics, especially with out having pitched the full 34 games he would have gotten in a full year,

With injuries starting to pile up, is there panic in Cubbie Nation

Well, the Chicago Cubs are about halfway through Spring Training, and things do not appear to be going there way at all. The injuries in Cubs camp seem to be piling up, and even the most optimistic of fans have got to be getting at least a little worried. The Cubs would be in a great spot to compete, if they were to just stay healthy. So far though, the staying healthy part seems to be a major problem. A few of the more important pieces to the Cubs roster are the ones who are facing these injury concerns. Hopefully they are able to get healthy before the start of the season, which is just three weeks away.

As we know by now, the man who was supposed to be the main right handed setup pitcher in the Cubs Bullpen, Angel Guzman, is done for the year and needs arm surgery. Unfortunately for Guzman, not only will the surgery for his injured arm put him out for the season, he could also be facing the end of his career. The Cubs already had several questions in the bullpen this year, and losing Guzman adds several more questions to the list. Now, the Cubs must find a new reliever who can be a dependable setup man from the right side of the mound. That will be a daunting task, as there were already several questions about what other right handed pitchers they would be able to realistically depend on to give stability to the bullpen. Currently, the plan is to throw Esmailin Caridad into the right handed setup role. With him looking like one of the main competitors to fill one of the voids in the bullpen, they Cubs must now search even harder to fill an empty slot. That wont be the easiest thing to do, especially considering that the Cubs are lacking in dependable right handed pitching arms. The Cubs biggest trouble spot on the team, has become an even bigger problem.

As long as we are on the topic of losing a player that the Cubs can not afford to lose, the most important piece of the Cubs offense has gone down with an injury. Aramis Ramirez, who missed half of last year with a separated shoulder, left the game on Saturday with what they are calling sore triceps. While they are currently saying that the injury isn’t serious, and they are not too concerned with things at the moment, how many times have we heard that line before? Hopefully the sore triceps are of no concern, and he was just taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. Much like with Guzman, losing Ramirez for any length of time would be a devastating blow to the Cubs lineup. There is no side stepping the issue, if Ramirez is seriously injured, you can write off the Cubs for the 2010 season. Even though the Cubs are better equipped if Ramirez goes down, with Jeff Baker and possibly Chad Tracy in camp for the start of the season, the drop off from Ramirez to either one of those too is too great.

Another player who is currently facing injury woes is the gold glove first baseman, Derrek Lee. In a game earlier in the week, Lee fouled a ball off of his foot, and was taken out of the game. Currently, the reports are stating that he only has bruising on the top of his foot, but that doesn’t mean there is no need for concern. His return date to game action keeps getting pushed back, and he has yet to return to game action. He was scratched from the lineup for Thursday’s game and the Cubs announced he would be in the lineup on Saturday. Well, the game came, and Lee was nowhere to be found, he had been scratched again. Now, the Cubs are saying he will return to game action on Tuesday. My guess would be, the Cubs are just being overly cautious with him. If this were not Spring Training, Lee could very well be in the starting lineup and be ready to contribute every day. Perhaps they are thinking that they would rather be safe than sorry. Most likely, this is the reason Lee has not returned, but one can never be too sure. Anytime a player fouls a ball off their foot, you have to be worried about the chance they broke a bone, much like Reed Johnson did last year. The reports say Lee only has a bruise, but teams have been known to not tell the whole story when talking about players injuries. Hopefully this is not the case with Lee.

I wish the injury concerns stopped there though, but alas they do not. Starting pitcher Ted Lilly is also on the road to recovery. He has had a few setbacks along the way, but appears to be back on track, and maybe even ahead of schedule. Lilly is currently trying to fight his way back from a minor off season surgery to his shoulder, but has missed time with his rehabilitation with a sore knee and a case of the flu. Both of which forced him to sit out for a few days. Recent reports though are good, as he is back to throwing off of a mound, and he has said that he is determined to pitch in at least one Cactus League game this Spring. If he is able to do so, he may not miss nearly as much time as feared, and could be back by early May at the latest. This would be the best news we could get, because the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the starter who will be a place holder for Lilly, has given mixed results from every pitcher who is a contender. In a perfect world, Lilly will be good to go by the middle of April; that would be the first time the Cubs would realistically need a fifth starter. If Lilly can not make his return until late May or early June, the Cubs starting pitching staff will not look strong at all. Jeff Samardzija had a great first outing of the spring, but got knocked around in his second outing. The exact opposite can be said about Carlos Silva though. He became public enemy number one after his first spring outing, but looked great in his second. Personally, I don’t look too much into Spring Training stats, but Id rather see my starting pitching contenders not get knocked around.

So far in camp, these are the four main injuries to cast a shadow of concern on Cubs camp. With three weeks remaining, the only one which we know will hurt us for the regular season is the loss of Guzman, as he is done for the year at very least. If Lee and Ramirez are only day to day, then they will be fine to start the year. However, if the Cub are not being completely truthful on their injuries, we could be in for a very long season. Lilly’s injury is the Wild Card though, as we know what his status is and how much time he is estimated to miss.

The question you need to ask yourselves though, is this too early to start panicking about injuries? The Cubs are saying that Ramirez and Lee are not sitting out with serious injuries, but any injury which will limit them is a serious blow to the Cubs chances. Missing a few games here or there wont hurt them in the long run. But if they are forced to sit out for a stretch of games at the start of the season, even with the Cubs “light schedule” could be a blow to any chance they have of competing.

A Preview of Cubs Spring Training 2010

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.

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.