I guess that I just hold the opinion that if the team isn't going to sign any free agents, then they should at least be doing their do diligence in attempting to put together some trades. I have a hard time seeing how a ballclub that is likely not going to get much support from the farm system, in the form of call-ups, while making few high dollar free agent signings will be enough. The cubs have got to be willing to break out of this wait-and-see mode of doing everything and step outside of their comfort-zone. The team could do much worse by doing nothing than by exploring the possibility of moving some of their players for a reason other than dumping salary. At some point a significant trade needs to be consumated that helps the team in ways that the farm system and free agency can't. If the economy remains as it is, then the landscape of this game will have to change with it, and the result will be many teams saddled with players they can't afford.
There are certainly endless possibilities depending on what the team is looking to add along with what they're willing to give up. So I'll throw a few ideas out there to stir the pot.
-trade Ted Lilly & Ryan Theriot ----> to Braves for Yunel Escobar & Jair Jurrjens.
-trade Gaudin or Gregg & Mike Fontenot ---> to Nationals for Cristian Guzman
-trade Fontenot, Gregg, & Weurtz ---> to Yankees for Robinson Cano
-trade Ronny Cedeno ----> to Padres for Justin Hampson
-trade Vitters, Harden, and Hart ----> to Rangers for Josh Hamilton
I'm not trying to say that any one of these trades could, would, should, or may happen. I'm simply saying the team should look to be active in making trades as a way to improve the performance of the team on the field, especially if they're not willing to sign free agents or value draft picks in any way shape or form. I don't view standing pat as others improve around the league to be a good formla for advancing any further than the previous two seasons.
There remains a little over 3 weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and despite that fact around 100 free agents remain unsigned; some of which are extremely talented players that are struggling to find employment. The cubs' roster right now resembles a can of sardines, with hardly enough room for everyone; but right now is the time that the cubs could land a player they didn't expect to for much less than they would have ever imagined possible. Speculation has run amuck this off-season concerning players the team could consider adding to the roster for 2009 yet little has transpired outside of signing Milton Bradley. So as usual, I will toss another idea out there for cubs' fans to chew on:
Sign Orlando Hudson to a 1-2 year deal.
The opportunity is there, and he would be a certain upgrade at 2B. Mighty Mike Fontenot could then subsequently be used to further facilitate the Peavy trade talks or he could be put on the market to see what value he could bring in a another trade. In any case, O-Dog would be an uprade at the position over Font or even DeRosa for that matter. Hudson's defense is unmatched by most other players in the league at his position, and he provides another hitter in the order switch hitting. Imagine slotting Hudson in the 2 hole, after Soriano and before Aramis, where the cubs could potentially have switch hitters in the 2nd & 4th spots in the order. Not to mention the fact that the improved infield defense would aid the cubs' pitchers. I realize that Hudson is an injury risk, but all players in the league are to a degree, and who's really to say how Fontenot would hold up as an everyday starter anyway. Beyond Hudson's risk for injury there is very little else that would cause concern in adding a 3 time gold glover to the cubs' infield. So I said it, and now I expect most of the members of Mighty Mike's fan club to take aim and start throwing bombs in my general direction.
There have been recent grumblings around the baseball hotstove that Adam Dunn isn't likely to get anywhere near the type of money or years he is after. Some reports have even been bold enough to predict that he will take a 1 year deal for significantly less money than he expected so that he may re-enter the free agent market next off-season to land a more favorable deal.
With all that being said, why don't the cubs enter into the mix and talk with Dunn about bringing him to the team on a 1 year deal? If the team could land him on a 1 yr deal for $5-8M then why not? Even after signing MB it still makes sense because the team could use Dunn in the OF or at 1B. Dunn would add even more of an attack from the LH side of the plate, he could provide insurance in case of injuries, and having him on the roster could help to give more off days to Lee, Bradley, and Soriano. Adding Dunn could potentially give the team another big bat to further separate the big hitters in the middle of the order while adding further balance as well. This is a deal that would make a lot of sense for both Dunn and the Cubs, as he has been quoted as saying that Chicago would be his 1st option and the team could add more to its LH attack. The biggest dimension that Dunn could potentially add to this team comes in the form of a DH for Interleague games as well as a World Series matchup, where the team could boast a ridiculous pitching staff alongside an American League-caliber lineup. The move makes sense for so many reasons, and the best part is that there is virtually no bidding war for Dunn's services that the team would have to engage in - Hendry would simply have to beat out the lowly Washington Nationals again.
Imagine the lineup possibilities:
Soriano - Fontenot - Ramirez - Bradley(CF) - Lee - Dunn - Soto - Theriot
Fontenot - Soriano - Bradley - Ramirez - Dunn - Lee - Soto - Theriot
Those are both scary top-to-bottom. I realize that the team's defense would suffer with an OF of Soriano-Bradley-Dunn, but it wouldn't be everyday and using Dunn in tandem with Fukudome could limit that defensive risk. I personally like the move because its short-term, low-cost, lends lineup and roster flexibility, provides insurance for many different injury risks, and the guy is available with few suitors and he wants to play in Chicago. Dunn and Bradley combined take the cubs left-handed hitting presence from non-existent to extremely dangerous overnight, where adding them extends the meat of the order from 3 to 6 with incredible L/R balance. I would put adding Adam Dunn near the same level of effect as adding Jake Peavy to the team, and the biggest reason for that is the cost involved in acquiring the 2 players.
The cubs are coming off of a 97-win season, where the team went to the Playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since man took flight in an airplane. Changes have been made in this offseason to the players that will be on the field, and most hope to have a new ownership group in place by Opening Day. The 2009 Cubs' team looks to bring a more balanced attack offensivley, with an extremely nasty pitching staff, and a restructured bullpen to close out games.
However, I see one problem outside of the team's control that could have a significant impact on the way this season plays out: And that is playing in the CUPCAKE NL CENTRAL
In 2009 the Cubs will play close to 50% of their scheduled games (80) against their feeble counterparts in the NL Central. Its hard for me to view playing half of the season against second-rate opponents as a good precursor to the Playoffs. I think that playing so many games against a lower-level of competition puts the Cubs at a distinct disadvantage when October rolls around. Simply by being in the division they are in, the Cubs will not see the type of competition throughout the regular season that gets a team primed for the Postseason. I for one, believe that the Yankees/Red Sox/Rays are all better teams because of the intense competition throughout the season between the teams within the division. Look no further than last season, where the Cubs and Angels were each the best teams in their respective leagues throughout the regular season. But both had few meaningful games down the stretch and each team looked unprepared and exited the Postseason quickly. Consistently playing the best competition in the game is what makes a team get better. The Cubs are currently in a situation where they get to bully teams for the better part of the season, while at the same time being shielded from some of the better competition in the other divisions. Then the Playoffs roll around and the team has to suddenly "turn it on" because meaningful games are being played, but no one on the team is in a rhythym because none of the games the last 2 weeks meant anything anyway. Just look at the pitchers that are in the NL Central, where very few aces exist and most of what is there isn't going to get a team ready to face a Cole Hamels or Johan Santana in the Playoffs.
The cubs face one of the most difficult challenges a team can face; which is improving without having much quality competition to consistently challenge them.
Sign Rickey Henderson to a 1 year deal for 2009.
How awesome would that be? Yes he may be 50, but I'd rather have him as the 5th OF than Joey Gathright. Just listening to the guy talk is hillarious enough, and maybe he could teach Alfonso how to lead-off while he's on the team. It would be the 1st player to ever be elected to the Hall and then come back and play, why not in Chicago, the city where Henderson was born? Who knows maybe the guy can still play, I wouldn't doubt it. At least invite him to spring training because Rickey is the Greatest.
Fresh off the heals of Milton Bradley's signing Hendry has come out and stated that he would like to add another pitcher, for either the rotation or the bullpen. I can't argue trading for Jake Peavy much, as he is far better than anything the team would give up to get him, but I can't see the logic in adding another mediocre pitcher (such as a Tim Redding, who praise Jesus agreed to a 1 yr deal w the Mets).
I think the need to fill the 5th starter slot is being a bit overhyped, and there are other needs the team should address instead. A team's 5th starter is usually sqeezed at the beginning and end of each season, where with extra off-days the team can skip the 5th spot in the rotation if they so choose. So basically, a team's 5th starter isn't usually getting the ball in April, September, or the Playoffs. Look at the role Marquis played in 2008; the cubs will need to find someone to replace the 28 starts and 167 innings he threw, but I think there are players already on the roster very capable of filling that vacancy. Guys like Chad Gaudin, Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, Rich Hill, Angel Guzman, Randy Wells, and Smardjz could all fill the void. Where even if no one guy throws lights out, I would bet that you could get 28 starts out of those 7 guys while getting similar numbers that Marquis would have put up. I would argue that getting a reliable lefty for the bullpen is a greater need than finding the 8th cadidate for the 5th starter role.
Assume that the cubs land Peavy tomorrow, and the Megatron Rotation comes together; with Peavy, Zambrano, Lilly, Harden, & Dempster. This also means that Ryan Dempster is slotted into that spot in the rotation that could be skipped 5-10 times throughout the regular season and the same spot in the rotation that won't exist in a Playoff Series. So if Demp is willing to pitch in any role, then adding Peavy makes sense. Then again, having a staff with 3 out of 5 starters being somewhat injury prone, it could make sense to use a 5th starter for the entire season to limit each pitchers' starts and give them extra rest days throughout the regular season. If the cubs had the Megaton Rotation, and all 5 guys took the ball every time they were supposed to start then each member of the rotation would get 32 starts minimum.
Zambrano has made 30+ starts in each of the last 6 seasons.
Peavy has made 30+ starts in 4 of the last 6 seasons.
Ted Lilly has made 30+ starts in 5 of the last 6 seasons.
Rich Harden has made 30+ starts 1 time in the last 6 seasons.
Ryan Dempster has made 30+ starts 1 time in the last 6 seasons but he did make 30+ starts in 3 other seasons earlier in his career.
The rotation could work for the first 162 games, but it could be tricky to find a way to utilize 5 starters in a 5 or 7 game series when the Playoffs roll around. Dempster could add some stability to the bullpen assuming he could effectively go from being a starter to a reliever at the end of the season, but thats tough to do and a lot to assume. Another possibility is putting Rich Harden in the 5th spot in the rotation, where he can be skipped easiest if he needs extra time between starts since he is the highest risk for injury. In any case, I would love to see Jake Peavy on the roster, but if the team can't complete the trade to get him then I think the cubs should look to add a lefty reliever to the bullpen.
Zambrano - $17.75M
Soriano - $16M
Ramirez - $15.65M
Lee - $13M
Dempster - $8M
Lilly - $12M
Fukudome - $11.5M
Bradley - $10M
Harden - $7M
Vizcaino - $3.5M
Reed Johnson - $3M
Aaron Miles - $2.2M
Chad Gaudin - $2M
Neal Cotts - $1.1M
Smardjz - $2M
Gathright - $0.8M
Wuertz - $0.8M
Those players total near $125M
Players not included in the total: Soto, Marmol, Theriot, Fontenot, Gregg, Guzman, Pie, Hart, Hoffpauir, Marshall, Cedeno, Hill
The cub's offseason seems to be speeding towards completion, but the moves yet to be made could greatly impact the performance of this team in the coming season. As it stands today, the team is pretty well set in the outfield and the infield, and now the team only looks to add a backup catcher, a lefty for the bullpen, and a 5th starter - all of which could possibly be filled from within the organization. So here are a few moves that could be made to round out this roster and head into 2009:
(1) Make a 3 team deal with the Padres and Giants. The trade would look something like this:
Cubs trade --> Derrek Lee (to SF), Sean Marshall (to SD)
Padres trade --> Adrian Gonzalez (to Cubs)
Giants trade --> Jonathan Sanchez (to SD)
(2) Complete a trade with the Orioles. A deal can be made that would surely benefit both teams involved, especially if the Orioles can't sign any of their star players to extensions.
Cubs trade --> Mike Fontenot, Ronny Cedeno, Felix Pie, Chad Gaudin, & Hill/Hart
Orioles trade --> Brian Roberts
(3) Go completely insane and make another deal with the Marlins, even though every other deal the cubs have made with them has been awful.
Cubs trade --> Rich Harden, Ryan Theriot, Felix Pie, K Hart, W Castillo, & J Vitters
Marlins trade --> Hanley Ramirez
(4) Stick with what the team has, make a few minor trades, and sign a free agent or two. The way it looks Pie and Cedeno are headed out of town; either west to San Diego or east to Baltimore, but certainly somewhere. Once the Pie/Cedeno situation is resolved, then the team likely will get a backup catcher such as Paul Bako, and from that point on the talk will likely only involve acquiring pitchers for the back-end of the rotation and the bullpen. The free agent market has some interesting names that could fill the cub's pitching needs.
Pitchers available for rotation: Andy Pettitte, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz
Pitchers available for bullpen: Joe Beimel, Juan Cruz, Trevor Hoffman
I would prefer to see any one of the names listed above on the roster as opposed to Jason Marquis part 2, also known as Tim Redding. At this point, nothing is certain; except that soon moves will be made and I am still the proud owner of a healthy imagination.
With Milton Bradley signed lets look at the 25 man roster heading into 2009:
Simply from a numbers standpoint 5 guys won't make the final cut. Some of the guys could remain in AAA for the season, while others are out of options and likely wouldn't clear waivers. Two spots on the roster could be cleared if the team could find a place to trade Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno for a decent return, as each are buried up to their necks on the depth chart anyway. Its also an unreal expectation to be able to carry 6 OF, 7IF, & 2 C, so something has to give with a couple of the position players. All signs point to trades coming soon.
Each of these ideas, in my opinion, would be a better use of $10M than signing Milton Bradley to a 3 yr $30M deal:
1.) Finish the Peavy deal
2.) Sign Bobby Abreu (RF)
3.) Sign Adam Dunn (RF)
4.) Sign Derek Lowe (SP)
5.) Sign Oliver Perez & either Joe Beimel or Juan Cruz (SP & RP)
6.) Sign Orlando Hudson (2B)
7.) Make a trade for Brian Roberts (2B)
8.) Make a trade for Michael Young (SS)
9.) Use the money to sign some of the team's current players to longer deals
10.) Hold onto the money until the trade deadline & use it to make a trade then
Some of the moves wouldn't even take the full $10M, while others (especially Lowe) would take a little more than that. The signing of Milton Bradley looks like an act of desperation, where the team is paying too much to get too little in production. For that type of money I would rather have Geovany Soto and Rich Harden signed to long-term deals as opposed to knowing that Milton Bradley was going to be on the Cubs through 2011. The point I am trying to make here is that there are much better uses for that kind of money than signing a player, that never stays with any team for a long amount of time, to a 3 year deal. There are better, more valuable players already on the team that the money could go to, along with better options still available on the market.