So this is what the highest paid team in the National League looks like; a team 11 games under .500 at 39-50, currently in 4th place, a team that if they're lucky might win 75 games. Jesus Pete, this team is up a creek without a paddle. With offensive production coming from nowhere and consistency never present, the cubs are at a point where if they were any other team in baseball they would blow this team up and start to rebuild. But instead welcome to Chicago where Jim Hendry is still strapped into the Captain's seat flying a plane full of explosives into the side of a mountain while both wings are on fire.
I hate to say it, but in terms of contracts&players the guy has run the organization into the ground. The Cubs are simply saddled with horrible contracts and underproductive players earning money they'll never bring back into the organization. The team has overpaid for nearly every single FA they have signed in Hendry's time, and almost every player was given a no-trade clause to boot. At the end of the day the team is left with an overpaid overcrowded outfield, two fading stars at the infield corners, and a former ace who's 3 weeks away from being ready to pitch out of the bullpen - super.
What sucks is any other organization in baseball would have been able to trade DLee or Aramis to get something of value for either of the two before their contract expires. Another team would trade a player like Ted Lilly to a contender. One of the 34 second baseman/utility men could possibly be dealt to a contending team that is dealing with injuries. Even bullpen arms like Howry or Grabow could be moved to get some younger players. The cubs are simply amazing; they have money falling out of their asses having the 3rd highest payroll in the game, yet the major league team is awful and they have no minor league system to speak of either. The team has almost become sort of like K-Mart where I'm not even sure how they exist anymore.
Cub fans have all been given the opportunity to watch a ship sink, with this 2010 version of the team. The team cannot compete or expect to win, the players that should be traded likely won't be for various reasons, and there are no prospects to be excited about calling up to take a look at in the second half. There is a large hole already shot straight through 2010, thats not too tough to accept, but its looking beyond this year that gets kind of scary. The team has an owner, so thats set. However, Jim Hendry should be sent packing and if Lou Pinella calls it a career that leaves 2 big time openings at the top of the pack. It would be tough to replace Mickey Mouse and Lou Pinella, but it would be interesting to see someone new get a fresh start at building a different cubs roster. I like the core that whoever comes next has to build with - Castro, Soto, Colvin, Cashner,&Marmol. Just please don't let it be RyneBerg is all I ask.
What is the price tag on the team's soul for 2010? Because apparently the Blue Jays are also wanting to know. The Cubs supposedly (according to beat writer MuskRat) are being engaged in trade talks concerning none other than Roy Halladay. This is officially the biggest catch-22 that Jim Hendry could've ever been blindsided by, and well worth a fair amount of debate as well.
On one side, how can you not complete the deal if its possible? Halladay is a true ace in this day and age, unlike any other pitcher currently on the roster, he's a true force. Night-in and night-out he goes deep into ballgames saving the bullpen and giving the team a chance to win every time he takes the ball. Hallady, most importantly, is a pitcher that gives the team a greater chance to win once the Playoffs begin.
On the other side Halladay is due a nice chunk of change in 2010 ($15+M) and his contract does not extend beyond the 2010 season. Acquiring Halladay is also likely to require a significant amount of the Cubs' top prospects, with no gaurantee that an extension can be worked out to keep him for more than one year.
My take: Do whatever it takes to get Roy Halladay, and then make moves to work around him on your roster. If this is a real possibility, few other moves could be made to improve a 25 man roster this much. The Blue Jays are looking to cut payroll and add top prospects, and realistically the only way the cubs can improve dramatically this offseason will be through trades. The Jays are likely looking to dump Halladay far away and outside of the Yanks/Sox, and the Cubs fit that bill. The biggest part of the entire deal would be extending Halladay beyond 2010, then its a no-brainer.
Well 2009 went about as bad as anyone might have guessed, with injuries and pitiful play crippling the team to a record barely above .500. Changes are around the corner, but nothing major seems imminent as Hendry has virtually tied his own hands, in terms of improving this roster. The cubs again enter another baseball season with a roster full of players of which they have no idea what kind of production they can expect from many or whether they could obtain anything of value in trade either. The Cubs are in a major state of flux right now without question, so I'll dust up a few issues they must combat this offseason.
-So MB is sure to be dumped somewhere, but how much will the Cubs be paying him to play somewhere else&what POS can they expect in return?
-Then what to do with the team's glut of 4A players; like Hoff, Fox, Marshall, Font,&Fuld?
-What free agents could fit into this roster/payroll&produce? The answer; not many.
-2010 doesn't sound too many alarms in terms of pitching. Marmol working as the closer will be much easier to stomach than Gregg, and Guzman along w Grabow, presumably, should provide a sturdy bridge to the 9th. The starters are a strength, but this group comes with its own question marks as well. Lilly's health, a Dempster rebound, what to expect from Wells/Gorz, and Z's erratic behavior and performance are all concerns.
***The biggest issue, in my opinion, is what does the team do to address their issues in the middle of the diamond --> 2B, SS,&CF? The team currently has very little presence at these positions, along with virtually no defense. Few teams are afforded much success without a strong presence in the middle of the diamond, so improving these areas must become priority numero uno. Starlin Castro is an intriguing option, but any time I hear the words "prospect" and "Cubs" in the same sentence it makes me cringe a little.
Things are good. The season is under way, and the cubs have shown some flashes of both good and bad so far in the first week, while their record sits at (3-2). The lineup is a completely different beast this year, despite that most don't agree with the order, it is early and I expect some changes eventually. But I really don't think that Lee&MB's slow starts are the biggest issues; other things such as the bullpen, Soriano, and Theriot are much more alarming. MB's average isn't much to be desired to this point, but he has had some great at bats nonetheless. He's currently seeing more pitches per at bat than anyone in baseball, with an average of over 5 pitches being seen, which is pretty amazing considering that one player in the lineup could potentially see 15-20% of the opposing pitchers' pitches over the course of a game.
The bullpen, well you know, its just bad right now. However, I do think that things could turn around given the arms down there. Two problems persist throughout the bullpen, and they are simply known as Cotts & Vizcaino. I think I would option Neal Cotts to AAA tomorrow, and then I would buy a fishing pole to give as a gift to Vizcaino after I released him.
Soriano is a problem not because of production but merely because of circumstance. I have to believe that if he continues to crush the ball the way he is right now, some consideration would have to be given to moving him down in the order to #3. Its pretty simple really, Sori is crushing the ball with no one on to drive in. Currently Sori has 7 hits, 5 of which are extra base hits, yet those hits have only resulted in 5 RBI (3 of which came on HR where he drove himself in). Too much production is being lost with Sori leading off.
Then poor Ryan TheRiot, he too is more circumstance than anything in this. He's getting on a whole lot, but not reaching home plate very often at all. In 5 games the riot has reached base 13 times (9 hits & 4 BB's) and only scored 2 times. So this, in a way, dovetails the problem of Soriano. Where Sori needs some AB's with runners on base, and the riot needs to hit if front of someone that can drive him in.
So I guess that pretty much puts me in the camp with those that want to see some lineup changes. But really, I don't think that there should necessarily be a set batting order, so-to-speak. I'm more of the opinion that different guys in the order should be ready to hit in different spots in the order based on the matchups and how the other players on the team are hitting at the time. But I'll throw a couple potential batting orders out there that I would like to see used:
vs RHP --> Riot - Fuku - Sori - MB - Aram - DLee - Font - Hill/Soto - P
vs LHP --> Riot - DLee- Sori - MB - Aram - Hill/Soto - Reed J - Miles - P
Well, I do like the idea of stealing O-Dog to play 2B this late in free agency. Nothing personal against Mike Fontenot, but their offensive production is close to a wash while Hudson's glove is in on a much higher level. In any case, there are probably people within the organization that are on both sides of this, but its certainly been considered. One article mentions as much, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe from 2/8/2009:
"Orlando Hudson, 2B, free agent: It's amazing that a player of this caliber remains unsigned, but lining up are the Cubs, White Sox, and Dodgers. A few Cubs organizational people really want Hudson, but the impending transfer of ownership from the Chicago Tribune to Tom Ricketts may hinder GM Jim Hendry's ability to do anything until it's complete."
I'm not trying to say that everyting the guy says is fact, but I would have to assume that he consulted various sources before he published it in an article in the Boston Globe. What he's suggesting isn't all that wild either. Fontenot is a nice 2B, but if the team can add an All-Star & GoldGlover at half-price and work him into the current payroll then the idea is probably worth exploring. Nothing says that Fontenot couldn't still be a valuable utility player and bat off of the bench as well as insurance to guard against various injuries. If the team can add Hudson for near the same cost as what they would have paid DeRosa if they kept him, then I would say that is one hell of a steal. They sign Hudson the team gets; a replacement for DeRo at relatively the same cost, 3 pitching prospects from the Indians, and Mike Fontenot is still on the roster as well --> What exactly does the team have to lose?
Perhaps the biggest wild card you can find anywhere on the entire Cubs' team roster going into 2009 is Jeff Smardzija. Some feel he should start in AAA as a starter and be called up later to be used when/as needed. Still some hold the belief that he should begin the season in MLB as a strong foundation in the set-up bridge that gets the ball to Carlos Marmol. Its a tough decision for any organization to face. Samardzija certainly can provide a valuable arm in the bullpen immediately, but many feel his long-term career path will take shape as a starter. So its quite a toss-up. Does the team leave him in AAA at the detriment of the bullpen and valuable outs late in games? Or do you work with what's currently in the bullpen and let Samardzija develop as a starter in AAA?
Samardzija just turned 24 years old, and he's a big kid at 6'5" 220 lbs. He possesses an above average fastball at this point, which he featured at 94.7mph on average, in nearly 70% of the pitches he threw in relief on the big league team in 08. He also has a few secondary pitches that need to be further developed, but its a clear possibility that both his slider and split-finger pitches could soon be plus pitches. Also his 56.5% first pitch strike rate is good with room for improvement in the future as well. The strikeouts will always be there for this kid, but if he can cut down on the walks he will be tough in any role.
As a a reliever -MLB- 27.7IP, 25K, 15BB, 1W, 1S, 2.28ERA
As a starter in the minors his numbers were a little less than stellar until he arrived in AAA in 2008. For the most part his ERA was in the high four's for the brunt of his innings in A and AA from 06-08. There is little argument that he was able to turn things around from the time he arrived in AAA going (4-1) which then launched him into the Cubs' bullpen in late July. There is little doubt that Samardzija's arm can be utilitzed by the cubs major league team in the very near future, however, its still unclear what level the Shark lands at or what role he can play in the teams' success in 2009.
It would be nice to see the Cubs stay ahead of the curve and lock up Geovany Soto to a long-term deal. A catcher with his ability is hard to come by, where I would argue that he is the best all-around catcher in the game today. In my humble opinion, the cubs should lock-up what they've got right now and sign this kid through his arbitration years with options extending beyond then. The cubs aren't going to find a better catcher anytime soon, and there certainly isn't anyone presently in the system that I see coming to take his job anytime soon either. Instead avoid the arbitration hearings, the strong possibility that Soto could become a super-two arbitration candidate after 09, and just pay the kid what he deserves right now. At this point, giving Soto a 4 or 5 year deal makes sense, as the team would be effectively buying out his arbitration years possibly even his first year of free agency.
Soto is young, at 26, and has caught in only 500-600 games since 2003. Soto is a productive hitter batting near .300 with 20+ HR power while putting up 80+RBI's. He was the unanimous ROY last season earning all 1st place votes except for 1, the starting catcher on the NL All-Star team, and he finished 13th in NL MVP voting. I would argue that he made a strong case for winning the Silver Slugger Award as well as a Gold Glove to go with all the other awards he got. He had virtually identical numbers as McCann offensively, with McCann having a higher batting average. But I would argue even more strongly that he should have won the gold glove over Yadi. Yadi played in less games, had as many passed balls, made twice as many errors along with a lower fielding percentage, but he threw out runners attempting to steal at a better clip than Geo (35% vs 27%). Few players on any team, at any position, can boast being as talented of a player on both sides of the ball as Geovany Soto.
The quantity and quality of the free agents that remain unsigned is astounding. The cubs are likely done making big acquisitions, as Hendry is presently forcused on trimming the roster of those that remain without options. In the moves that have transpired in the last few weeks alone (basically minus Wuertz-Pie-Olson-Cedeno-Hill and plus Heilman) the cubs have cleared some roster space and possibly put together a little payroll room to work with as well.
The free agents available pretty much fall into three groups. The first group includes the guys that have zero chance of being signed, for whatever reason. Players in this group would include Manny, Dunn, Abreu, Hudson, Pudge, and Ben Sheets. Most in the group are too expensive, some don't fit with the roster the team has assembled, and others are just too old or too big of an injury risk.
The second group would include players that can contribute to the 2009 roster by filling a minor role on the team. The roles these players could fill include the 5th pitcher in the rotation, a bullpen arm, or a backup infielder/utility player. Randy Wolf and Braden Looper have been mentioned as candidates to fill out the roation, but I don't view the acquisition of either as close to necessary. Some serviceable arms still remain available that could be used in the bullpen. Beimel, Reyes, or Ohman could all lend some protection to Neal Cotts in the bullpen. Juan Cruz wouldn't be a bad acquisition, but as a type A free agent he likely isn't worth losing the draft pick to get. The market is quite thin for utility players, but Kevin Millar or Rich Aurilia could make sense as a backup for 1B/3B and right handed hitter off the bench.
The third group of guys are those that remain who could be worth rolling the dice and taking a gamble on. The first guy out there I would consider taking a short-term gamble on is Pedro Martinez. He could be nasty at the back-end of the rotation, but health is a definite concern. If the team is serious about adding a starter I would consider Pedro long before Wolf or Looper, but each is a gamble in their own right. A second player I would consider taking a gamble on is Andruw Jones. I already know he was terrible in LA, and has slid down the hill of decline at least the last 3 seasons if not more. But it could be a pickup similar to Jim Edmonds' signing in 2008; scooping up a player that another team discards, pay him very little, and any production you get from him is gravy. Jones could be a very good platoon-mate for Fukudome in CF, which would allow Reed Johnson to then backup the corners. If it doesn't work out, Jones will be getting paid very little and could be released while Gathright and others are waiting to fill his spot on the roster.
Juan Uribe signed a one year $1M deal with the Giants. Would have been a nice piece to have off the bench, especially at that price. Swing and a miss Hendry.
A majority of what I write is often centered on how the cubs' roster could be managed more actively or aggressively, but I will be the first to admit that a good amount of the trades I throw out there are either overzealous or borderline ludicrous. I enjoy looking at different ways the team can improve, but I will make a concerted effort to dial it down a touch by only offering up the more sensible ideas that roll through my brain from now on.
Improving the cubs roster at this point is no easy task. There are few openings on the 25 man roster, players are still in the mix who are out-of-options, and payroll is inching towards its limit.
However, I see one additional move that could be made to improve this roster. Its a move that is sensible and realistic, but its one that is also a sure-fire way to improve the teams' roster heading into the 2009 season. The move I am suggesting is that the cubs consider adding a solid catcher to the roster to backup GeoSoto, one that is perhaps capable of contibuting more to the team than Paul Bako.
No team in baseball can avoid carrying a backup catcher on their 25 man roster, so it should be viewed as a viable role on any team. Geovany Soto started 133 games behind the plate in 2008 for the cubs, where most would argue that he could have used more time off than what he got to remain healthy throughout the entire season. So the cubs' backup catcher should be prepared to start roughly 30-45 games this season, which is approximately one quarter of the season. So my suggestion is basically to sign the best catcher they can to man the position, even if its someone that wouldn't necessarily be viewed as a backup. By finding a better backup I think it gives the team the confidence to use that player more often thus providing Geo with more regular rest. Soto had an amazing rookie campaign taking home ROY honors, but he had flashes of playing MVP-caliber baseball. Those MVP flashes of Soto will only be seen when he is healthy, and bringing in a solid backup would only help promote keeping Soto healthy. An idea such as this could even facilitate Soto working his way onto the field defensively at 1st or 3rd base to give Aramis or D-Lee rest while also giving Geo the day off behind the plate. Last season Soto's lowest batting average and lowest number of games played by month were each seen in the final month, where having a better backup could help to keep him healthy and fresh down the stretch.
There are 2 names that I will mention as options to fill this role; Ivan Rodriguez & Javier Valentin. Rodriguez would be the first choice, but also the hardest to acquire. Pudge would likely require the most cash, have the biggest issue with playing time, and come with the most competition to acquire his services. But if those issues can be resolved, then Pudge is well worth consideration for a spot on the cubs' roster. He brings leadership, WS experience, a solid bat, and above average defense; while this opportunity could potentially be welcomed by Pudge at this stage in his career. Javier Valentin is the man I would consider second. Valentin provides a veteran presence along with being a solid switch-hitter, and he also would come at a much lower cost than Pudge. The addition of either guy wouldn't be the most talked about move of the offseason, but it would be one that could greatly improve the health and performance of Chicago's biggest rising star - Geovany Soto.