Tagged: Training

The Bullpen Takes Shape

The bullpen for the Chicago Cubs is finally set. With the departure of Carlos Silva, better late than never, the team opted to go with Marcos Mateo to round out the middle relief portion of the pen. With seven pitchers in the Cubs pen, they are prepared to go into battle, and believe they have more than enough to sustain any lead which is handed to them, or to keep the game within reach if a starting pitcher is pulled with the Cubs trailing. In case you missed the official announcement as far as who is in the pen, allow me to fill you in.

Outside of the newest addition of Mateo, the Cubs will also be taking left handed pitchers James Russell, John Grabow and Shawn Marshall. The other three men in the pen will be right handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood and of course Carlos Marmol. This may not be the most talented bullpen in the league, but they are not the worst bullpen either.

Obviously, as with every team, there are pitchers in the pen which the fans are less than pleased to see making the cut. You do not have to take too long to think about who those pitchers are for the Cubs. Take a few seconds to think about that, and come back. I will start with those three.

I am not sure which pitcher is the least desired of the bunch, but I will start with Grabow; only because he comes first alphabetically. When he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, he did not do a bad job at all. A very respectable stat line backs that up. The problem comes into play with Cubs General Manager extending his contract, and paying him more than he was worth. Nothing was more evident of that than his poor performances in the 2010 season, which you might be able to write off to his being injured most of the year. Right now though, he appears healthy so there are no more excuses. If he pitches well as he did in 2009, he will be a nice addition to the pen. However if his performance mirrors last season, then the Cubs will be in trouble.

Russell is likely the most tolerable pitcher of the three less desirables, only because he is young and still has a chance to rebound from his first year, which was not that great. Being the third left handed pitcher in the pen, he is likely to be a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Put in to get one tough left hander out. Perhaps if he succeeds as a LOOGY, he may be used for full innings at some point this season. Regardless, in his second season, first full season, he may not have much of an impact if he is used for one batter a game. He might be the most irreverent pitcher in the pen, unless Grabow gets injured again.

Then we have Samardzija, who appears to be the bane of all Cub fan’s existence. He has yet to live up to expectations, even though he has had his moments where he has looked like everything we have been hoping for. However, those moments of greatness have been too far and few between. Perhaps this year, which is his final guaranteed year, he may finally be close to figuring things out, and become a real major league pitcher. The Cubs have not done anything to help him out on his quest though. They rushed him through the system, and threw him from bullpen to rotation and back again so many times that his head is likely still spinning. Not to defend his defaulting talent, but pitchers are creatures of habit and like to know what their role is. If you are constantly changing what they are supposed to do, you would be hard pressed to fully blame him for his failures.

Mateo is a flame thrower, and could really help the ball club by blowing people away. Not much is known about him, nor how he will convert to the big league level, but looking at his skill set, he could turn into another solid setup man in the near future.

With Marshall, you have a pitcher that many fans would love too see be given a full year to prove himself in the starting rotation. However, I feel he is best served in the bullpen; ironically he seems to agree. In a recent interview on 670 The Score, he mentioned that he actually likes pitching in the bullpen better because he doesn’t have to use all of his pitches, and has no need to set up various pitches for later use.  If he continues to have his great success in the bullpen, then our left handed setup portion of the pen will be well taken care of.

Then we have long time fan favorite, and returning Cub, Wood. Many fans will say that the team made a massive mistake allowing him to leave in free agency two years ago. That is a mistake that was rectified this year when he came back to the Cubs at a massive discount. If he pitches as well for the Cubs as he did for the New York Yankees last year, the Cubs will have no problem getting the ball to Marmol in the ninth.

Finally, we have the strike out and walk machine  himself. As I noted in a previous blog about him after he got his contract extension, he is the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball of the past four years. That being said, no one strikes more fear into batters than he does, and he does not allow people to get hits off of him. If he didn’t walk the world every other time out, or hit at least one batter an inning, he would be unstoppable. If the ball gets to him, your chances are high that the game is all but over. He may give you a heart attack every time out, but he gets the job done.

For me, and most likely everyone else, the key to the bullpen is the back end. With Wood and Marshall in the set up roles, you will not see many leads evaporate before closer Marmol has the opportunity to lock down the save. In many ways, the setup pitchers are more valuable to a team than the closer, and the Cubs may very well have two of the best. If they perform as well as they have done in years past, these three could turn every outing into a three inning affair.

With the Cubs starters slated to get 73 wins, at least in my starting pitchers thread, the bullpen will need to win at least 15 games in order for the Cubs to be a viable contender for this season. Bullpen wins and losses are very hard to predict, so I will not even try. I will just repeat that they will need to be responsible for at least 15 wins, and that is to only have a shot to compete. The pen has holes that will have to be over come, but the back end is more than enough to give you hope.

Andrew Cashner Rounds Out Cubs Starting Staff

With a week left until opening day, the Chicago Cubs have finally announced their full five man starting rotation. The top three have been known since training camp opened. Opening day starter Ryan Dempster will be followed by Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza. Even though the official announcement only came a week ago, every knew that Randy Wells belonged as the teams fourth starter, and the fact that he had to compete for the job was a complete joke. The fifth and final starting pitching job, a battle between youngster Andrew Cashner and Carlos Silva has finally been decided; and the winner is Cashner . What this means, is I can finally finish my look at the 2012 ball club.

With Cashner beating out Silva or the fifth starting job, two birds were just killed. One on hand, the Cubs get to begin to build towards the future and use  Cashner to develop at the big league level. On the other hand, the have a young pitcher  with some upside in Cashner starting over Silva, whose better days are far behind him. This was the best possible move the ball club could make for both the present and the future. The Cubs are finally doing something that actually makes sense.

Today, we look at the starting pitching staff for the 2012 club and what I feel we can expect from them for the year to come.

With the Cubs tabbing Dempster to be the opening day starter, the team is already on the right path to having a successful season. Nothing against Zambrano, but over the years he has had some of his worst starts in his career on opening day. You do not need to go back much further than last years exploding disaster to get a good idea of how this usually go for him. Whether he is too amped up or not, I can not tell you, but Zambrano on opening day does not usually work out.

Looking at Dempster, he has been our most consistent pitcher over the past few years, which is probably why he will get the honor. There is no reason to believe that the trend for him will not continue Figure a good record of 16-10 with an ERA around 3.45

Zambrano, I think is the key to the whole rotation even though he is not labeled as the “ace” of the staff. However, he is still likely our best starter and might very well show that this year. The move to take him out of the opening day starters gig is more of a change of trends than a slap in his face.  I see him having one of the best years of his career. I can easily see him putting up a 17-12 record and an ERA close to 3.65.

New comer Garza is switching leagues, going from the American to the National, which should help him out. However, he is also going from a pitcher friendly park to one that favors the hitters. Normally, I would give a pitcher a boost in his statistics with a switch like this, but in Garza’s case, I am not sure I can see that. For Garza, I would not be surprised to see a record of 12-10 with an Era around 4.00.

With Wells, the man who was made to compete for a job when he should not have had to, I expect a nice year from him. He has shown to have the ability to pitch well in big situations, but has never been able to get decent run support from him team. Both years as a starter, he should have won high totals, but was never able to do so because the Cubs could not score for him. I think that this is the year that all changes. Wells could very well put up a record of 16-11 with an ERA close to 3.25 earning him the recognition he truly deserves.

Finally, we have Cashner who is the wildcard in this lineup. We do not have any idea what to expect out of him, so making a predication for him would make little to no sense. But when have I ever let that stop me from doing anything? Cashner will have a shaky record of 12-11. His ERA will likely be near the low 4s. Not to spectacular, but that will be a start for him. We are better off by far having him than Silva though, no matter how well Cashner does.

By my count, the Cubs starters will be responsible for 73 wins and 54 losses, which is not all together a bad thing. That will be 19 games over .500. If they work out the way I think they could, the Cubs might have a legit shot of making some noise in the division. That means that 35 games will be decided by the bullpen, which just so happens to be the last positional blog I will be doing this spring. That one will be up tomorrow.

Players Who Will make the 2011 Cubs, Who Should Not

As we move closer to opening day for the 2011 baseball season, fans across baseball are starting their discussions as far as  who should make the team, and who should not. So far, if you have been following my blogs the past few weeks, you will have seen who I feel will make the club, and who should be starting where amongst them. I have yet to take a look at the pitching staff, as there are still several spots open for competition, and there are a few candidates that could make either the rotation or the bullpen. So I am holding off on those topics of conversation for likely another week.

However, I must clarify my positioning on these players. While I blog about them being players who I feel will make the team, as they are obvious choices, that is not saying that I want them to make the team. Much like with every fan with every other team across baseball, there are players who are likely to make the Chicago Cubs who fans, for the most part, want to see sent packing. In case you are unsure who they are, the three musketeers are Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija and Koyie Hill.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not hear someone mention that one of these three should be cut, as they will be doing more harm than good for the team. They do not care how much money they would need to be given, nor what the aftermath would be following their departure, they just want them gone faster than the time I would need to actually write this blog.

With Hill, he is making around $850,000 and would be the easiest person who could be cut, with the least amount of financial damage. He would also be the player who would be the most easily replaced on the roster, because we have a good young catcher in Wellington Castillo would be able to easily do just as much as Hill on any given day. Being the back up catcher, you never want to see him in the game more than what is necessary, so if there was any sort of dip in production from the backup catchers role, that would be almost too small to see unless you study the statistical lines day by day and break down the WAR numbers to the millionth percentile. Basically, there would be  no drop off if this move was made. Unfortunately, because he was tendered a contract, the Cubs management team obviously feels he adds value to the team.

Samardzija is an absolute eye sore to the roster, and has been ever since he was first brought up to the majors. He has never shown the promise that scouts saw in him when he was drafted, and continues to give the fans of the Cubs stomach pains every time his name is brought up. Unfortunately, he is out of options and can not be sent back to the minor leagues, so the team would have to try to sneak him through waivers if they chose not to carry him this yera. That should not be a problem because what team would take him and that contract? If he clears waivers they can send him back to the minors, or chose to walk away. In either of those cases he would still be paid which is the same as just deciding to outright cut him and eat the $3.5 Million that he is still owed. Sadly, they are apparently deciding to keep him on the roster and throw him into the bullpen where he can hopefully do the least amount of damage. Personally, I would only use him in mop up duty when the Cubs have a big lead or a unthinking deficit that is not likely to be overcome. Cubs could easily replace him, because he has not done much to warrant his stay on the Cubs roster. Surely the team could find a pitcher that can do the same job, only better in the minor league system.

As far as Silva goes, the best thing I can say about him, is that at least he is not Milton Bradley, though he is hated in the clubhouse almost as much, if not more, that Bradley ever was. The standing ovation they were reported to give Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry when he announced  that Bradley was gone, will easily be repeated if the same news is given about Silva. When he was brought here in a trade last off season, fans were just thrilled to get rid of Bradley and did not care what, if anything, they got out of Silva. Fortunately for the Cubs, they got a hot start out of the oversized pitcher, and he started 8-0. With the Cubs seemingly looking like a nose diving team, I was leading the charge of the thought that he should immediately be traded while he was actually looking like a competent pitcher again. Obviously that did not happen, and he is still around tormenting those fans who thought that he should not have been traded. Much like with Samardzija, he would be a tough pill to swallow as he is still owed about $8.5 Million (which includes the $2 Million buy out). Finding a replacement for him should not be difficult either as he is a pretty pathetic pitcher. Thomas Diamond, or another young gun could easily slide into his spot and do things more efficiently as well.

If you add up all the money that these less than wanted players are to make in 2011, you have a grand total of close to $13 Million. Writing that high dollar amount on a check would be painful no matter how much money you have. Now the thought process would be, that you are going to have to pay them the money anyway, so why not just pay them to go away and replace them with someone of more talent. One flaw, is because you would be paying them, as well as the players who would be taking their place. Granted, their replacements would all be minor leaguers who make the league minimum so there would not be too much more to spend.

Sadly, I do not think that these players will be cut between now and opening day, so we will sadly have to live with them for the duration of the season. However, there is good news. All three of them will likely be gone come the end of the season, and that will be $13 Million coming off the books; granted that would be seven months later than what would have been appreciated. The only one of them who even has a glimmer of hope to remain with the team next year is Hill. But that would be very unlikely as the Cubs do have Castillo who is banging on the door waiting for his opportunity to stick with a big league team.

Maybe the logic that these players are bad will strike the Cubs, and they will surprise me. Perhaps they will give the fan base what they are desperately craving and satisfy their taste for blood. Considering the talent level of these three is severely lacking, that could only help the prospects for the 2011 season. 

The Bench: The Rest of the Bench

As Spring Training continues, so does my look at the team we can expect to see leaving Mesa, Arizona. Having covered the players who will be tagged as the every day starters, as well as the biggest threat coming off the bench, Tyler Colvin, the time has come to look at the remainder of the bench. If a team is going to be successful, they need to have a deep bench, and have some sort of depth. Today, we will see if that is the case for the Chicago Cubs, or if they will have a problem in the upcoming season.

For the Cubs, they will have a five man bench, which most likely will consist of Colvin, Jeff Baker (who will be in a platoon with Blake DeWitt), Koyie Hill, and there is currently a battle for the last two spots. One battle is for the remaining outfield spot between Reed Johnson and Fernando Perez. The last infield spot is between Augie Ojeda and Darwin Barney. Both Johnson and Ojeda were big fan favorites when they were with the team in their first stints, and have regained their fandom with their return on minor league contracts. Personally, my choice for the last two spots would be Perez and Barney, because they are both young players and have a lot more upside to offer for the season. However, because of their experience, Johnson and Ojeda might have an edge in taking the final two spots.

Sadly, outside of Colvin, the Cubs have absolutely no depth to work with this season; at least not with the current batch of players they have contending for a spot. None of them are anything special, nor would they give you much hope if they need to play an extended period of games.

Having already covered Baker in my blog on second base, and with Colvin already being singled out in my last blog, I will not touch on them, because I would be repeating myself. So I move on to the other players who will fill out the bench.

There is only other player who is guaranteed to have a job this year, though I would much rather see Wellington Castillo, but that is not my choice. With Hill, you have a dependable defensive catcher who can call a good game, sadly for him that is where the praises come to an end. He adds almost nothing offensively, and is a massive drop off from Geovany Soto. I do not mind him getting the occasional start, but if we have to see him too much behind the dish, the Cubs will be in for a very long season, and likely one that does not offer a chance at a playoff birth, let alone a division title. We can only hope that Soto stays healthy all year, and Cubs Manager Mike Quade does not feel the need to play Hill nearly as often as former manager Lou Piniella thought he should play.

In the outfield, you have Johnson and Perez competing for the final spot. Johnson is getting the support of the fan base, as well as one current member of the Cubs Marlon Byrd. He has the experience, and fans have a pretty good idea of what they can expect to get out of him on a daily basis, even though he is an injury risk and is getting up their in age. With Perez, he is a player who is of the mold of what Sam Fuld was. He brings with him a good glove, and a fair amount of speed. If you feel as many of us do, that this is a rebuilding year, then Perez should get the gig so he can learn on the job and be better prepared for the years to come. If you think that the Cubs are going to be a contender, then the reverse is true and Johnson should get the gig.

The last position battle is between Ojeda and Barney, they will be the main backup for Aramis Ramirez and Starlin Castro. While Ojeda is the seasoned veteran he does not add much offensive, though he does have a pretty decent glove which can aid in the defense. Barney, much like Perez, is a young player trying to learn on the job. I believe that he is an all around better player than Ojeda, and should ultimately get the job over him. I can not see anything that Ojeda does better than Barney. However, if Quade would rather have another veteran presence on the team, then there is no question that Ojeda should get the job.

As you can see, I am highly unimpressed with anyone on our bench, outside of Colvin. Our every day players are strong enough to get the job done, and we can live with a player from the bench giving them the occasional day off, but that is all we can afford. If there is any sort of significant injury to any one of our everyday players, our team will very likely be sunk. There is just not enough talent on the bench to carry a team if they are called upon too often. With the history of injury some of our players have had, most obvious with Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, we could very well be in for a very long, and disappointing season. All because our bench is filled with far too many deficiencies.

The Bench: Tyler Colvin

With the everyday positional players set, at least from the looks of the typical line ups Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade has been running out most frequently throughout Spring Training, we turn our attention to the bench. Typically, I would group everyone into one blog as not to over sell them to anyone due to their lesser individual importance than the every day players. However, for one player in particular, I feel that a separate blog is a necessity because  of his importance to the team! The man I am talking about, is none other than Tyler Colvin.

While I do not believe that he should be the starting right fielder for the Cubs in 2011, I do feel that he should still be in line for a heavy workload and an increase in at bats. The way I envision the Cubs using Colvin this upcoming year is as more of a super sub. Colvin can play all three outfield positions, as well as backup first base as we have seen on a limited basis here in Spring Training. What the Cubs should do for Colvin, is to get him four starts a week. In the process of doing so, the three starting outfielders will get one day off a week, along with Carlos Pena at first base.

This is the best of all worlds, and should satisfy the wishes of all fans no matter the preference of who should be starting where. Those that think Kosuke Fukudome should get the everyday right field job are happy because that is exactly what has  happened. Those who want Colvin to start in right so he can get the at bats he deserves also win, because he will be getting an ample amount of time in the field and  more at bats than he has had in a season.

This may not be what the fans want, but this plan of action will give them a taste of what they can expect next year when Colvin takes over in right field when Fukudome’s contract runs out. They will also get an idea of if he can handle first base if the Cubs do not retain Pena or sign either of the top two free agent first basemen in Albert Pujols or Price Fielder.

As I mentioned before, with this plan of action, everyone wins. The stat heads who want Fukudome to start and lead off due to his on base percentage win. The Colvin fans win because  the kid will be getting a lot of playing time and an increase in at bats. The Cubs will also win, because their players will be kept rested throughout the season, ensuring a healthy and fresh team if they reach the playoffs. In a way, you could say that Colvin’s success coming off the bench is the key to the entire season.

With this format, when Colvin does play, he should be inserted into the lower half of the line up due to his less than stellar ability to get on base. Hitting him between the fifth or the seventh spot in the line up would be the best spot for him. You could take advantage of his power ability, while taking the pressure off of him for having to get on base.

If this trend is used for Colvin, he could have similar statistics to what he was able to do last year. He has not showed the ability yet to put up a high average, though some would say that is because he has limited chances at the plate, so I can not predict an average higher than .260 for the kid. However, he could very well have another 20 home run 60 RBI year if he is used correctly.

He might not get the most at bats, but he should easily get more than enough to make his fans happy. If Quade is smart, and so far I have no reason to believe that he is not, he is already thinking along these  lines and trying to figure out ways to get him into the line up as often as he can.

The Perfect Lineup For the 2011 Chicago Cubs

Today, because you are finished with my look at the individual positions and who should be starting for the Chicago Cubs, I will give you my thoughts on what I feel would be the perfect line up to run out everyday. Thankfully this is made much easier because Cubs Manager Mike Quade and I are in full agreement on who should be playing everyday. The one thing we do not agree on, is how they should be lined up. So far in Spring Training, based on the line up that has been run out most often, Quade is looking  at running out this line up.

Kosuke Fukudome
Starlin Castro
Marlon Byrd
Aramis Ramirez
Carlos Pena
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Blake Dewitt
Pitcher of  the day,

While I agree with three of the nine spots in the line up, I feel that the others should be shuffled around for reasons that I am about to explain. In my mind, the line up should look like this.

Kosuke Fukudome: This one Quade has right. With his precise at the plate, there is no one better to  hit lead off. What he lacks in batting average, which tends to be his main down fall with the fans, he makes up for in drawing walks. That is the main objective for any lead off hitter. Get on base for the big boppers behind you.

Geovany Soto: Cuttently, Quade has him batting seventh in the lineup. In my honest opinion, this is a big mistake. He is the teams best on base percentage guy and should be at the top of the line up batting second. Much like with Fukudome should be batting lead off, getting on base is the most important thing  for your first and second hitters. The reason Soto should be hitting second, is because he does just that. Because he has a keen eye at the plate, and has a fair amount of power, pitchers will need to pitch to him very carefully if he is hitting second. They do not want to walk him, and give you best run producers a chance to drive him in, so they will have to throw him pitches to hit. Doing so could cost them dearly.

Aramis Ramirez: The Cubs need a power hitter in the three hole, and  that just is not Marlon Byrd.  These two men should be flipped in the order. History has shown that if there are men on base for Ramirez, that chances are he is going to drive them in. He is the Cubs best run producer, and has been for the past few years, and needs to bat in the first inning. With Fukudome and Soto hitting in front of him, he will typically always have someone on base for him to drive in.

Marlon Byrd: I know what you are thinking, if Byrd isn’t powerful enough  to hit in the three spot, why hit him clean up? I think he should hit clean up for those exact reasons. He is a good line drive hitter and can move guys over and drive them in without the use of a home run. In some instances that is a better weapon than a home run hitter. He gives you a different aspect to think about. If Ramirez is unable to drive the previous guys in, Byrd almost certainly will. Besides, I feel that having power back to back is a waste and kind of is easier on the pitcher who does not need to chance his thought process when the batters change. You typically pitch all power hitters the same way.

Carlos Pena: He should be hitting fifth, exactly where Quade has him. Left handed power in this spot is very nice. A line drive hitter right in front of him could mean that there is typically someone on base for him to try and drive in. While his average has not been very good the past few years, he still has the power numbers to make him a big threat with men on base.

Alfonso Soriano: Once again, Quade gets the decision right to bat him here. While he is no longer the big 40 home run threat that he once was, he is still very capable of hitting at least 20 home runs. He will never have another good year of stealing bases either, which is why he is not batting higher in the line up. Because he still has some decent power, he still has to be considered a threat at the plate.

Blake Dewitt: He is not a strong hitter, and can occasionally draw a walk. I will not tiptoe around this guy at all, he is our weakest hitter. The reason I have him hitting seventh instead of eighth is because you do not want two easy outs back to back. Perhaps with another year of professional baseball under his belt he will be able to surprise us with something. Either way, I am not expecting much out of him. Only good thing I can say about him, is that he is better than Ryan Theriot because he can occasionally draw a walk.

Starlin Castro: The very reason Quade likes him hitting second is why he should be hitting eighth in the order. Someone who can hit at a high average at the bottom of the order is a good way to help turn the line up over and get back to the top of the order. If you have three low average guys at the bottom of the order (no Soto is not a low average hitter, but his power says he should be hitting higher) you will have three easy outs all in a row. That is something pitchers dream of, you are basically handing them an easy inning. Throwing a .300 hitter here helps keep the offense rolling. Add to the mix that he can draw a walk, which is a very important aspect for anyone who is going to hit in the eight hole. Pitchers will tend to pitch around this hitter in order to get to the easiest out in the line up, the pitcher. Yes, the pitcher is the easiest out even if we are talking about Carlos Zambrano. This guy needs to get on base for the pitcher to move over with a sacrifice bunt and to reset the line up.

A line up like this would give the Cubs the best chance to win on a daily basis. Granted, that is assuming everything works the way they should. While we may not have the most talented line up in baseball, I believe that you can still make noise if you put things in the proper order. Perhaps Quade’s line up is better than my purposed one.

Right Field: Kosuke Fukudome

Every year Chicago Cub fans have the debate as far as who should be the every day right fielder, and this year is no different. You have your fans who demand that Tyler Colvin be given the job, and given a chance to show what he can do when given a full time shot. Then you have the other half of the fan base, who wish to see Kosuke Fukudome continue to start in right field and play every day. So far in Spring Training, if you go off what appears to be the lineup that has been run out most often, Cubs Manager Mike Quade believes that Fukudome should be the starting right fielder for the 2011 season; and I fully agree with him.

I bet some of you are wonder why I would want a player who struggles every year to deliver a batting average or power numbers that make him respectable. Granted, Colvin has the power numbers that fans like to see out of players, but that is the only place where Colvin has the edge. In just about every other statistic and skill that matters, Fukudome has an edge.

In the same amount of at bats last year Fukudome had less home run and RBI, but that is where everything ends for the young Colvin. Fukudome not only had a higher batting average, a higher walk percentage, lower strike out percentage and more importantly, a higher on base percentage by over 50 points. Based on that final statistic alone, Fukudome should not only get the nod to be the every day right fielder, but he should also be permanently placed into the starting line up at lead off. At least against the right handed pitchers, as he struggles badly against left handed hurlers.

The main problem with Fukudome, and where he loses most of his support amongst the fan base, is his very inconsistent play. He annually has a torrid April and May, but his June and July numbers are horrid sending him into the tank. While his batting average suffers and generals dips month after month, one thing that never falters is eye at the plate. He has a very keen batters eye, and that makes him dangerous; especially in the lead off spot. With him getting on base at a near .400 clip, he will be on base a lot for the heart of the order just waiting to be driven in.

I have often made comparisons between Fukudome and the Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. The base premise of my comparison says that Fukudome is Dunn without the power, but with a glove. Both  men struggle to hit for an average that could be considered respectable, but most men are beasts in the on base department. Both men know how to draw a walk, and getting on base is the most important non power statistic in the game. Get on base any way you can, and you give your team a chance to get another run. That is why Fukudome should get the job ahead of Colvin. Nothing against the kid, in fact he should be crucial to this teams success in the coming year, and I will get into that soon, but Fukudome is the man to get the job done in right field for the Cubs.

Who knows, perhaps this will be the year that Fukudome is finally able to put forth a complete season of acceptable baseball with the bat. However, nothing that he has done so far in his major league career has suggested that this is even possible. He will likely never hit for a high average or for the power that he was expected to bring with him from the Japanese League. However, if they would actually decide to keep his Japanese hitting coach with the big league team all season, instead of just the few month or two, maybe he could carry his hot April and May throughout the season. I know that is a long shot, but what could the possible downside be? He can not go through any bigger of a slide as the year goes on then he normally does. I believe that experiment would be worth a few hundred thousand more, or whatever you would have to spend to keep him over here.

For the upcoming season, with Fukudome likely leading off, he likely will not have many RBI opportunities, which is okay. The lead off hitter is not expected to be a big run producer. His job is to simply get on base for the big boppers behind him. Getting on base should continue to be his primary weapon on offense. I see him doing what he typically does, hitting for around .260 with maybe 12 home runs and perhaps 50 some RBI. I would also expect him top get on base around close to a .380 average. Of course, if he actually has a respectable batting average, his on base percentage could easily top the .400 mark.

Center Field: Marlon Byrd

A year ago, when the Chicago Cubs signed Marlon Byrd to a three year, $15 Million contract, several eyebrows were raised. Fans were wondering why exactly they signed him, when they have so many young outfielders who seem to be ready to make the leap to being a Major League player, such as Tyler Colvin. There was seemingly no reason at all for the Cubs to add another outfielder, and create an even bigger logjam in the outfield. To many fans, this was just another nail in the Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry’s coffin. Another reason several fans wanted him fired.  However, after his first year with the team, everyone knows that Byrd is the word!

The 2010 season opened several people’s eyes showing them just who Byrd was, and what he could do to assist the Cubs in winning some games. He went out there day in, and day out busting his ***, proving that the previous three years were no fluke, that he had figured something out which improved his game. The light came on for Byrd, and he became an offensive threat, maybe not with obscene power numbers, but with just enough power to make him dangerous.

Unfortunately for Byrd, he is connected with Victor Conte, the known steroid deal who helped over inflate Barry Bonds’ arms, head and power numbers catapulting him into legendary status. While Byrd vehemently denies taking steroids because he says that Conte would not want to go through more trouble like he did with Bonds, the questions will always be there. Byrd stated that he started talking with Conte because he was worried about accidentally using something on the banned substance list and being suspended. So he went to someone who knew what they were doing with supplements. Whether Byrd is using steroids or not, one thing can not be denied. As soon as he started working with Conte, his offensive game dramatically improved. Do not take this as my saying that he is taking steroids, there is a very good chance that everything Byrd is taking is 100% legitimate. I am just simply stating that the questions and suspicion will be there for the remainder of his career.

On top of his offensive efforts that he is able to bring, you can not forget about all of the defensive gems from last year. Byrd never left you wanting more when he took the field, and more often than not, he delivered when you least expected him to. Whether you are talking about his behind the back catch in center and his game saving defensive play in the All Star Game, Byrd became an instant hit with Cub fans.

Following up on his 2010 season might be hard for him to do, but not at all impossible. However, he can not be the team’s best hitter if they expect to go anywhere. As I pointed out in previous blogs, the Cubs needs Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano to step things up, and lead this team offensively if they want to go anywhere. That is not to say that Byrd can just sit back and relax, he still needs to deliver another quality season for the Cubs to have success.

For the upcoming season, I can see Byrd hitting for an average of around .280 with around 15 home runs and about 80-90 RBI if men are getting on base in front of him. I know I have been saying that a lot with these past few players but, to be completely honest, that is what needs to happen for this club to have success. You can not lean on one person alone. Nor can you lean on two or three, everyone needs to step up to the plate and deliver when their name is called. Byrd can not be the main offensive weapon, but he needs to be an instrumental one; especially because he is going to be hitting in the heart of the lineup.

Shoddy Defense Lights Silva’s Short Fuse

When Carlos Silva took the mound today for the Chicago Cubs fourth Spring Training game, he was preparing to start his battle to win a spot in the rotation. What he was not counting on though, was the defense behind him committing three errors in the very first inning; all before there were even two outs made.  Aramis Ramirez committed an error right before Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee hit a two run homer tying the game. Starlin Castro also committed another error, his second of the Spring, as did catcher Koyie Hill when he was called for catchers interference which deleted an inning ending double play.

Whether or not there were a multitude of errors committed behind him, giving up six runs in the first inning is no way to make the team, let alone the starting rotation. Pitching around the errors behind you is part  of the game, and something all pitchers must do if they want to be successful. Earlier in the spring, Silva was claiming that he should not have to be in a competition for a job this Spring, and I have got to completely agree with this statement. The competition for the final two spots in the starting rotation should not include Silva at all. Today’s outing just furthers my belief that his spot on the roster should go to someone more deserving.

If his poor pitching today was not enough to show Cubs Manager Mike Quade that he did not belong in the starting rotation, then he may very well have another reason to leave him out in the cold. After the error filled first inning, Silva returned to the dugout and got into a heated altercation with Ramirez; the fight was quickly broken up. When you are fighting for a spot on the team, fighting with your teammates should immediately take you out of contention, and get you your walking papers.

Granted, Silva is not the first Cubs pitcher in recent memory to get into a fight with a teammate in the dugout. Carlos Zambrano famously got into a fist fight with Michael Barrett, an altercation which far exceeded the little skirmish that took place today. The difference between the two fights, as well as the two pitchers, is that Zambrano actually has talent and  the ability to pitch.

People wrote off Zambrano’s crazy antics as being competitive, and letting his emotions getting the best of him. A majority of fans loved seeing him get upset, because that showed them that he cared, that he wanted to win. So why not give Silva the very same benefit of the doubt? Why not write off this fight as the same emotional, competitive nature that people use to defend Zambrano? The answer to that is simple.

Whether you like the circumstances or not, start athletes get preferential treatment. They get more slack, and people turn their heads more frequently than when lesser players cross the lines that should not be crossed. Zambrano attacked Barrett, and Barrett was the one sent packing. Zambrano beat the living hell out of the Gatorade machine, and we haven’t seen that machine since. Unfortunately for Silva, he does not carry the same amount  of pizzazz as Zambrano, and he can easily be dumped without anyone giving a second thought.

While Silva is in the final year of his contract, and is still owed $12 Million for 2012 ($5.5 Million of which is paid by the Seattle Mariners), finding a trade for him still may not be easy without chipping in a few more million to take the edge off. That would still be cheaper than giving him his outright walking papers, which may be the course the Cubs are forced to take.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

Earlier in the off season, I mentioned that Aramis Ramirez was one of the two keys to the Chicago Cubs season; meaning if the Cubs are going to go anywhere, they will need these two men to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Today, the other key to the Cubs season, Alfonso Soriano is my main focus.

I know how things go around here, and the argument never changes. On one side you have fans clamoring for the Cubs to cut Soriano, or to trade him. They want the Cubs to eat the contract and to replace him with someone they feel can do a better job. They rue the day that Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry signed him, and say this signing is more than enough ammunition to give Hendry his walking papers. Then you have the other half of the fans who always remind people that there were very few people who were actually crying foul when he was signed. They will remind you that most people celebrated the arrival of a player who could help lead us to the promise land.

While that has not happened yet, you can not dispute the facts that he was the main reason the  Cubs did anything in his first two years on the ball club. He was the main reason the Cubs won the division in 2007 and in 2008. His bat carried the Cubs to the playoffs, and made them a team that you could not take too lightly. Of course, with this you will always hear the retort of “yea, but where was he when the playoffs started?” This is true, his bat disappeared in the playoffs, just like the offensive attributes of Derek Lee, Ramirez and several other key players for the Cubs. If you want to call him out for his offensive struggles in the playoffs, don’t forget about everyone else who joined in him the massive failures that were the two playoff runs.

However, as good as his first two years were, his last two years were just as bad. In his first two years, Soriano hit .299 and .280, a combined 62 home runs and 145 RBI with a WAR (wins against replacement) total of 11.2. Pretty damn impressive if you as me. However, because baseball is a what have you done for me lately sport, his last two years were pretty pathetic. His batting average dropped to .241 in 2009, and .258 in 2010. He only totaled 44 home runs and 131 RBI (which while not great is only 18 homers and 14 RBI off from when he carried the Cubs) in the same two year span. His WAR numbers also took a nose dive as he total only a 2.9 over his past two years, sadly he earned that number entirely last season as 2009 he was no better than a replacement player at all.

Keeping his poor season in mind last year, he was second on the team in both home runs, RBI and runs scored, so if he was a bum last season, so was everyone else. Granted, these past two years he has not lived up to the hype and he certainly has not earned the money he is being paid, but that does not change the fact that if the Cubs are going to go anywhere this season, they need Soriano to  get back into form. No, not the 40-40 guy we thought we were getting when we signed him four years ago, but the guy we saw back in 2007 and 2008.

For several fans, “sorry-ano” or “sore-arm-ano” as some of them like to think he is called, is washed up and should be taken out of the lineup. I will not argue that he is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but I do think that he has at least one or two more good years left in him. He will never earn the $18 million a year that he is now making for the next couple of seasons, but he will be able to give you enough to make you a competitive team.

If the Cubs are able to get him to hit somewhere between his first two years and his last two years, the team will be in fantastic shape. If he can deliver a season where he is able to hit for an average of at least .270 and produce his typical 20+ home runs a season with close to 70 RBI, then we will have something going this year. Is he capable of putting forth statistics like these? Absolutely he is more than capable of doing so. In fact, as I have said, if he can not deliver statistics that are at least close to these, the Cubs chances for the 2011 season will be dwindling down into nothingness.

So whether you love him or hate him, want him to play or be benched, you need to cheer for the guy and support him.