Reading the comments on this blog and other places, it's obvious that many Cub fans live and die in the here and now. That's fine. It's a fan's peroragative and I sometimes find myself running on the same emotional roller coaster.
Having said that, let's look at what the future entails. I think we owe Jim Hendry a debt of gratitude for nixing the old Cubs don't spend money storyline. He spent like a drunken sailor. For the most part, he did ok. He brought together a team which won back to back division titles for the first time in our history and have put together their first stretch of 3+ years in a row of over .500 baseball in over 35 years.
But it's clear that he's at the end of his rope and givin the huge number of drastic moves made by this team, I'd be willing to bet that his ouster is coming and soon.
I say this not to jump around and talk about how happy I am but rather to point out some very pertinent facts:
Fact 1) The Cubs finally have a decent farm system. For the first time in near a decade, it's fair to say that there are at least 4 legitimate major league regulars or starting pitchers sitting in the Cubs' system (even with Castro in the majors). These players are going to come up and make an impact on the team and help keep the team payroll at a manageable level
Fact 2) Between now and the start of 2012, 5 of the 8 $10 Million per year salaries are going to come off the book. The list includes the Good, Bad and Ugly of Cub salaries (Ramirez, Lee, Fukudome, Lilly, Silva). That's about $50-55 Million (when you factor in raises given to some of those who stay) that the Cubs will be able to play with.
Fact 3) The Rickets family appears desirous to keep spending that money. This is obvious when one considers the gymnastics employed to keep that Toyota sign.
Fact 4) Someone other than Jim Hendry will be making those decisions. With Hendry's replacement and a new field manager, the Cubs are likely to have a totally new management team begining in this off season.
Fact 5) No other team in the NL Central has the resources that the Cubs do. The closest team are the Cardinals but they have less of a revenue flow as far as I can tell and they will have over $50 Million of salary committed to two players very soon.
Fact 6) The Players that are prospects in the system currently play the positions that are the hardest and most expensive to find. The Cubs are loaded in the middle infield and have a solid center field and thirdbase prospect. Very few of the team's prospects are all hit/no glove first basemen who will have to DH when they are 30.
Fact 7) If the Cubs are smart, they will have four extra high round picks in the 2011 amateur draft. And just remember, someone other than Jim Hendry will be making those picks.
I know that 2010 has been rough and will continue to be and I suspect that 2011 will not be much better but beginning in 2012 and stretching thru about 2017, the Cubs have a chance to be one of the best teams in baseball every single year.
The odds suggest that they will win a World Series during that stretch, maybe even two.
It's coming Goat Rider Nation. Be patient.
I've come around to the belief that the Cubs will be better off letting Hendry go now and letting Randy Bush be the GM on an interim basis.
Kurt was right. The next several months are critical to the Cubs' future success. When I say critical, I mean CRITICAL. The Cubs have a fairly high draft pick coming up in June and have two trading chips they could use in Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly. We need someone who believes (even if it's not true) that's he's responsible for turning this team into the dynasty that it should become. Hendry has to know that his time is up.
If Hendry stays, I hope he does NOT trade Lee or Lilly and I hope he does nothing or very little in the trade market at all even to help "fix" some of the Cubs' problems. We aren't going anywhere this year but the future is very bright. It probably won't come until 2012 but everything the Cubs do over the next 20 months or so needs to be with the intention of building a ball busting team that will run roughshod over the NL Central and hopefully the NL and baseball as a whole from 2012-2017 at the very least.
The 2010's are going to be the decade of the Cubs, Jim Hendry will have very little to do with this. It is time for us to begin building THAT team.
When the Cubs first made the Zambrano to the bullpen move, I was skeptical. Zambrano is, if not the Cubs best pitcher, their second best or maybe third best behind Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly. I never cared about the amount of money he was paid but I did care that he would be pitching fewer innings. Giving fewer innings to one of your best pitchers only works if you don't drop that number by too much and figure out a way to increase the leverage situations he will be coming in.
If the Cubs had used Z as sort of a 6th starter and had him pitch almost every 7th and 8th inning. If they had used him to come in 6th inning when the other team's middle of the lineup was coming up and if they had made sure he got a minimum of 5 innings per week, this could have worked. It could have been a good idea. Fewer innings but better innings. More important innings. Work him on 1-2 days rest at most and alternate him in that role with Sean Marshall. It may have even allowed the Cubs to go with an 11 man or even a 10 man pitching staff.
But has that happened? No. Z moved to the bullpen on April 24, almost 2 weeks ago. He has just barely cleared 5 innings. He should be at least at 10 innings by now. He is being used as a standard 8th inning "set up" guy. Piniella and the Cubs could have done something useful. They could have turned Z into the team savior. Instead he's buried. He needs to go back into the rotation. He's a better pitcher right now than all but one of the Cubs' current rotation. Only Ryan Dempster is obviously better. If Piniella doesn't know what to do with Z in the bullpen, it's time for that experiment to end.
After the 2010 season, two key Cubs are going to become free agents. I wanted to devote my next two posts to these players and what I think the Cubs should do.
At first base, Derrek Lee has been an above average player for some time. He is going to be, quite possibly, the best player at his position to enter the free agent fray after 2010. Here is a quick and dirty look at the tiers of first basemen and what it will probably take to get them.
Top tier. There will be nobody from the Pujols/Howard/Fielder/Gonzalez tier available in the 2010 free agent season so these are the main guys:
Lee currently earns $13 Million and will be 35 next year. He's very good defensively and has an established wOBA around .370 or so. He also has a serious attachment to the Cubs. Having said that, he's aging and probably wouldn't want to take much of a pay cut. Plus if he leaves, the Cubs get back 2 draft picks, whereas if they sign most of these other guys, the Cubs would lose only 1 draft pick.
Dunn currently earns $12 Million and will be just 31 next year. Dunn's established wOBA is over.380 meaning he's on the whole a better offensive player and younger than Lee. In fact, many of Dunn's offensive numbers compare favorably to the $125 Million man in Philadelphia. I believe Dunn's value is often depressed by his low batting average and terrible defense. Given his age and offensive contributions, if he becomes available, I'd hope the Cubs would look past his shortcomings and give him a nice below market offer. I don't believe the Cubs should be willing to go over the $12 Million he made last year.
Pena currently earns $10 Million and will be 33 next year. He has the advantage of being left handed and has an established wOBA in the .375 area. I believe he is going to be asking for $16 Million plus and I don't think the Cubs should even consider this. I think if he drops down below $12 Million, he would become a bargain and then the Cubs could jump on him. Not likely the Cubs will go for him.
Konerko currently earns $12 Million and will be 35 next year. He currently is experiencing a career year (contract drive?) and may be overpaid for his season. Given this, I'd hope the Cubs would just say no. He's a big, lumbering, right handed hitting first baseman. We could just keep Lee. BTW, Konerko's established wOBA is only about .360, well below the rest of these guys.
Cantu is playing third base for the Marlins and will be just 29 next year. He is earning $6 Million this and may choose to play third where he would be more valuable to some other team. I don't believe he is right for the Cubs, despite his age, and his established wOBA is only .340.
Second Tier: Usually not going to have to spend a draft pick for one of these guys:
LaRoche is probably my favorite of this group. A .355 wOBA ing have bat will travel first baseman who is just 31 and would sign for less than $10 Million and not cost a draft pick. He'd probably sign a one year contract also but even if he does ask for 2, I don't think it would be totally out of the question. He's a clear drop from Lee but would provide the team flexibility, especially for the 2011/2012 off season.
Huff signed with the Giants for one year and $3 Million this off season. He will be 34 in 2011 with an established wOBA of .345. He's not bad at under $5 Million but I'd rather have LaRoche.
Injruy prone left handed hitter who will be 35 in 2011. Established wOBA around .350 with very little added defensive value. I'd go with a different plan instead of signing either Branyon or Huff.
Looking at the group above, I think the Cubs should either try to resign Lee for under $12 Million per year on a short term contract, or sign Dunn for around $12 per year on no more than a 3 year deal, or sign LaRoche to a 1 year deal for under $10 ( or a 2 year deal for under $18)
Of these choices, I'm partial to the LaRoche move only because if it's a 1 year deal, we can take a shot at a big name player at this position in the 2011/2012 off season while at the same time taking advantage of a net 2 high round draft picks for losing Lee.
I think that since 2011 is probably going to be a transitional year for this club, they should try not to do anything rash like signing Jorge Cantu to a 4 year deal or something this offseason.
Post Script: Many people may suggest moving Soriano to first base and installing Tyler Colvin in left field. I'm opposed to this for a few reasons. The player I'd really like to see the Cubs get eventually plays first base and Colvin will not come close to replacing Lee's production at the plate ever. The idea of Soriano trying to dig throws out of the dirt is also very worrisome to me! However, I would do that instead of stooping down to sign Branyon or Huff or Troy Glaus or someone like that.
The Cubs walk rate is on the rise. It was down closer to 8 but now it's up to 9.8% and rising. The Cubs are sixth in the NL in this category now and I think they have room for growth.
When you look at the team, you notice that Geovanny Soto is sporting a ridiculous 25.9% walk rate. That should come down but Soto has always had a nice eye. Other than him, only Lee is inflated (just a little at 17.4%). Ramirez is right on his career norm at 8.3% and the following players need to get a move on:
Kosuke Fukudome: 11.3%. Fuku has been over 15% in this first two years. At 15% he comes close to justifying his salary. The problem is, other than playing right field, he is mediocre at all other things he does with the bat. He needs to either keep hitting over .300 with power or start walking even more than he does now.
Ryan Theriot: 6.0%. The Riot has a career walk rate of 9.0% and needs to be closer to that. He currently has an unsustainable .400 BABIP which will come down. If he wants to maintain his value, he needs to get on base in other ways.
Marlon Byrd: 2.5%. This is beyond comical. Byrd has a career walk rate of 7.1% which is ok for a player with his other skills. He dropped into the 5% range in his supposed career year of 2009 and is now down to this joke. No matter what, if he can't get back to the 5-6% ratio here, he will be an out making cipher and will not be worth even the small amount of money he is getting.
The question comes up in this discussion. Who is Juan Cruz?
Well, after a fairly long career, I think we know what we have here.
Cruz is a fly ball pitcher who strikes out a ton and walks way too many. His tendencies make him generally hard to hit but when he does get hit, he often gives up home runs and needs to blow people away to get out of tough spots.
Unfortunately, his most recent performance (2009 I'm talking about) suggests that he is still doing all the bad things he does but has seen a marketed drop off of his K rate:
K rate by year:
So, if he's closer to a 12 K's per 9 IP pitcher, the Cubs should take a shot, if he's closer to the 7 K per 9 guy from last year, forget it.
One point in his favor is he's K'd 11.8 batters per 9 in 2010 before being released.
I think he's a better pitcher than Justin Berg. As a matter of practice, that is the only hurdle he has to jump. If there's even a little chance he can be the dominant pitcher from 2007 and 2008, he's worth the minimum salary.
I agree with Kurt. Let's give him a try.
I'd like to see more plate discipline but we have a player here!
Castro hit his first HR of the season last night. HIs fielding percentage and range factor are Up at shortstop and he's hitting .380 on the season.
I'm sure that .380 is partly the residue of luck but the guy makes contact. He has now fanned a total of 117 times in his minor league career (1030 PAs). He has struck out 7 times this year and has also hit 7 extra base hits. He's driving the ball and making contact. He's stolen 4 bases in 5 attempts and he seems to be playing good defense. Other than the plate discipline, he's nearly perfect. I'd like to see the Cubs show some patience here. Leave him in Double A for one more month at least and then move him to Triple A.
Having studs like Castro will make 2010 and 2011 easier to take while we wait for the inevetible post 2011 spending spree.
Outside of the Cardinals, the NL Central does appear winnable this year. If the Cubs can string a few wins together, they might be able to finagle 85 this year and take the division. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals are going to fail? Probably not, but it is possible.
Right now, the Cardinals are greatly outperforming their statistical indicators while the Cubs are slightly underperforming there's. This has more to do with St. Louis' 4 game lead over the Cubs than any major difference in quality.
St. L GP-13 RS-59 RA-40
Chi GP-13 RS-54 RA-64
So the Cardinals have outscored the Cubs by a small amount while crushing them in the ability to stop the other team from scoring. Makes sense, but consider this:
Cubs wOBA- .328
So the Cubs have more run potential than the Cardinals on offense. It's early, but at worst these teams should be about tied in runs scored.
The actual ERA's are hugely different but the fielding independent team ERA's are almost identical so far. The Cubs have seriously underperformed their xFIP.
These things have a tendency to work themselves out but as of right now, without looking at the glove work where I am sure the Cardinals have a slight advantage, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals are that much better than the Cubs.
It's a long season everyone. I predict that at some point this year, the Cubs will pass the Cardinals for first place if even for just a short time. It's too early to abadon hope.
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I do not believe that the Cubs should give up on 2010 but I do think they need a contingency plan in case it looks like they are falling well behind in both the division and wildcard races. Looking forward to 2011 and beyond needs to be a priority for this team.
The first player they need to look at is Derrek Lee. Now at the moment, Lee is in the 5th year of a $65 million deal. He's done a pretty good job of earning that $13 million per year and is currently having a very nice season for the Cubs.
I like Lee and I suspect the Cubs' brass does also. So here is my take on what needs to be done:
1) Approach him about waiving his No Trade Clause
2) Insist a potential trading partner give up at least 2 Grade B or better prospects who are currently residing at the Double A level or higher.
3) If no trading partner exists, let Lee finish the season with the Cubs and offer him arbitration after the season.
4) When he struggles to find a taker at the price tage he has come to expect, offer him $8 Million(per year) for 2 years.
Derrek Lee is going to be 35 in September and even though he is a good hitter. Good hitters who can play first base adequately are a dime a dozen in the current major league environment. Adam LaRoche got a 1 year, 6 Mill contract this past offseason. I don't believe that as good a player as Lee is, he is that much better than LaRoche, especially when one considers that Lee is 5 years older. He is simply not going to find the free agent market amenible to what he may expect.
OTOH, if Lee leaves, he leaves, the Cubs need to have a backup plan and while one doesn't appear to exist on the team. There are always players like, well, like LaRoche who are available every year for around the same price we would offer Lee. such a player might not perform quite as well as Lee has but would probably cost half as much and could be let go at the end of the season. Lee would net the Cubs 2 draft picks if he is a Type A Free Agent and that would be almost the same as trading him.
All salary data is courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts
Some notes after today's frustrating game:
1)Cubs are now 2-4 in 1 run games and 3-6 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs this year. It's frustrating but with a little luck, the Cubs would have a much better record.
2) Aramis' K rate is alarmingly high in the early going this year. Coming into today's game, He was striking out close to 35% of the time. His career K rate is only 15%. I'm hoping this isn't something that continues.
3)Geovany Soto is fine. I think the Cubs are hurting themselves by keeping him in the 8 hole. This is where you should place your worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher). If you don't put the pitcher there, I can think of at least 2 or 3 players who would better suited for that spot over Soto.
4) Despite today's blown save, I am very happy about Marmol's control this year. After today's game, Marmol has walked just 2 betters in 6.2 innings. It's early but if he can keep his walk rate significantly below 4, he is likely to make the All Star team.