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.
For those of you who may have missed it Tuesday night, MLB Network's Hot Stove had a segment where they analyzed the Cubs' offseason and where they feel that the team is compared to where they were entering the playoffs last year. Some of the key points that were brought up:
Key Additions: P Aaron Heilman, P Kevin Gregg, IF Aaron Miles, OF Milton Bradley
Key Losses: P Jason Marquis, P Kerry Wood, IF Mark DeRosa, OF Jim Edmonds
Addition by Subtraction?
The question brought up was whether or not they put back more than they lost. The guys on the show all pretty much agreed that their was a big question mark in the middle of the infield and around the backup situation for Ramirez and Lee since DeRosa was traded. Obviously, Hendry feels that Miles is a good replacement for DeRosa's versatility and I would have to agree. DeRosa was average at best at all of the positions he played last year. He wasn't a gold glover at any position which was obvious so I think that Miles can easily fill the role. Offensively, Fontenot, given a similar number of at bats, would have performed very similarly to DeRosa in almost every catagory, so Fontenot could end up replacing DeRosa's bat. The one thing that wasn't replaced however, was DeRo's locker room presence. What affect will this have? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that I will miss him when the media starts turning to guys like Soriano for post game interviews. UGH!
5th starter and who's in center?
This is funny actually because when you look back a year ago they were asking the same questions. This was obviously before Dempster had a good spring training and a career year. The only thing that really is different about this year is that there is only one spot in the rotation guys will be competing for and we have two guys who can hit in the majors (well...kinda) competing for the starting CF job. The guys on Hot Stove made a quick reference to these positions, but pretty much brushed past them feeling that they are big question marks that Hendry and Pinella will need to address come spring training. I, however, don't feel that this is the case. CF is going end up being a straight platoon like last year with Fukudome taking the place of Edmonds and I am content with that. The 5th starter job will end up being a competition between Heilman and Marshall. Pinella doesn't seem to be a fan of Gaudin, so I consider him out. At this point, you could flip a coin with Heilman and Marshall. Who knows? What I would like to see happen (and also is the likely scenario) is to have Heilman as the Cubs' 5th starter will Marshall being the swing man. This would make the most sense because it would give the bullpen a second lefty and provide insurance in case of a needed day off (Harden) or injury (Harden). This scenario would leave Shark in AAA getting ready to become a big league starter. Stashing Shark away for a few months would be huge for the Cubs if...and this is a big IF...Harden stays healthy and pitches like he did in the second half last year because he would be a VERY valuable trade piece at the deadline. It's too early to speculate on July trades, but in a perfect world, it would happen.
Hothead vs. Hothead
Now that Milton Bradley has signed with the Cubs and is being looked upon to balance the Cubs' lineup, people are waiting for Lou and him to go at it much like Big Z and Barrett. You put two historically explosive guys in the clubhouse together you can expect some fireworks, but for some reason, the guys on Hot Stove don't think so. And the odd part is...I agree. I think that Bradley will be great for the Cubbies and for their clubhouse. They need to lose that "You blew the game, but it ok, you tried your best" attitude that they seem to have. Bradley is the man to light that fire and really give it to someone when they lose a game they should have won. Lou seems to have lost his edge in his old age (sorry Lou) and I think that MB is the guy to bring that back. I see this becoming the Kobe Bryant/Phil Jackson love affair for baseball. But...I could be wrong and we could see Bradley break Pinella's jaw for taking him out of a game. Either way, I'll take him.
All in all, I think the offseason hasn't been that bad. It really isn't much different than last year. I mean we signed our big name lefty to play right field, we have questions surrounding CF and the fifth starter spot, and we were glued to our computers waiting for that big trade to come through only to see our Trade-O-Meter stay at Nuh-uh for 90% of the offseason. I am sure Hendry still has a few minor things up his sleeve, like he always does, but if the season were to start tomorrow, I would take this team even with the question marks...and so should you.
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.
I'm convinced that there is only one way the Cubs can win a World Series: repeated playoff appearances. This theory is backed by the ninety-something years before the '07 and '08 teams, during which time the Cubs never appeared in the playoffs more than once in a row.
Having said that, I feel very good about the Cubs' chances in the NL Central this year.
Look around this division. What do you see? In reverse order of their finishes in 2008:
Pittsburgh - Paul Maholm might win 10 games, but I don't see anyone else in their rotation that stands a chance of doing so. If you don't have starting pitching, you don't stand a chance over the course of a regular season in my book.
Cincinnati - The only other team in the division with a robust rotation that could get them to a bunch of wins in 2009. Harang's 2008 was atrocious, and I blame it all on Dusty Baker's using him in a relief appearance for no freaking reason. Of course, Dusty will be back in Cincy this year, and is just as likely to make a similarly stupid pitching move. But if Harang returns to form, Volquez and Cueto improve, and Arroyo provides some stability in the #4 spot, they have something there. They also have a closer with experience, something St Louis lacks. On offense, I guess they need a lot of help from Votto and Bruce, but Votto is damn good. Griffey and Dunn are gone, so the outfield defense adds by subtraction. I'm gonna take these guys as the Cubs' stiffest competition in 2009.
St. Louis - Carpenter is still hurt. Mark Mulder can't throw 85 (is he also gone?). That leaves Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse as their front-of-the-rotation starters, and Joel Piniero and Todd Wellemeyer in the back, with a Spring Training success story filling the rotation out. I see a lot of potential for quality starts, but who do they give the ball to after the 6th inning? Russ Springer is gone, and Jason Isringhausen is no longer Jason Isringhausen. It's a good team that will win a lot of games, but I just don't see how they prevent enough runs to win 90 of them.
Houston - Two good starters, two crappy ones. A couple solid relievers, a lot of crappy ones. A few great hitters, and a few crappy ones. There's some talent here, but not enough to win consistently. Oswalt looked bad at times last year, Wandy has never been good on the road, and then their third starter is Brandon Backe? Oy vey. Not too frightened. They'll suck for a long while, make their late push, and end up in the 85-win range.
Milwaukee - Ben Sheets is likely gone, as is CC Sabathia. Without those two, their rotation is really really weak. I expect the same type of results from Jeff Suppan that I do from Jason Marquis, and he's their 2nd starter. These guys could finish 5th in the division.
So that's everyone. The way I see it:
That's a division where the Cubs should win a lot of games. 95 is very reasonable, and that has to be a playoff bound team. Right?
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.
With Heilman coming in and Olson gone, let's recategorize our current pitching staff to see what is reasonable to expect for 2009 as of today.
Four of our starters are easy:
Z, Demp, Lilly, Harden
The "bona fide" relievers:
Marmol, Gregg, Cotts, Vizcaino
Then the swingmen, who might start or relieve, but will be on the 12-man:
Marshall, Gaudin, Heilman
That's 11 of 12, leaving one spot for the three pitchers left on our roster without options:
Wuertz, Guzman, Hill
Then there are the AAA guys, who might be major league ready, but simply don't fit as of right now, and will likely be in the minors since they have options:
Samardzija, Stevens, Hart
I think that's where the list ends for possible '09 contributors, although someone like Cashner might also surprise. Who knows.
So guys, what do we do with all these arms? Who starts? Relieves? Pitches in Iowa? Is traded?
This post will sound totally irrelevant for a while, and for that I apologize. But I swear, it's related to the current ownership turnover.
I worked in a toy shop on the North Shore of Chicagoland for all 4 years of my high school life. It was great, but it featured a lot of rich and irritating folk. Let's just say that after 7 hours of being told you had no idea what you were talking about by some little old lady dressed like she walked out a Prohibition-era bar, all manners and ideas of civility would occasionally escape me. It's a freakin toy, lady, not a nuclear weapon, stop freaking out about whether your 2-year old grandson will love it.
I grew up with two main loves in sports. The Cubs, and hockey. I did not love the Blackhawks. The way the whole organization was handled, the fact that they were never on T.V., it all was so irritating. So when this kid (who became my best friend) moved to my town from Toronto and turned me into an obsessive Maple Leafs fan, it suffices to say, I actually began to hate the B'Hawks. I felt bad about this; I mean, it's a Chicago team. But, with the Leafs on NBC all the time, how do you even compare?
As all responsible Hawks fans know, the real problem began at the very top of the organization. William W. Wirtz (now memorialized with a bizarre WWW patch on the sweaters). He believed that T.V. would cause people to not attend the games and thus ruin his franchise...despite mounds of evidence from every sport to the exact contrary.
I hated the man.
One day in 2005, around 4:30 p.m. after an unbelievable day at the toy shop where I worked, an elderly man walked in with two small children. The children ran around the store grabbing at toys, over and over. They picked the most expensive things in every section they went to. Each time their grandfather told them that no, this was a small shopping trip and that they would have to save their money for anything bigger.
After about 20 minutes, he finally came up to pay. He handed me his credit card, and I began to run it through our old-school hand-pressed machine. I realized it was one of those "Fan Club" credit cards from the Blackhawks, so I started talking to him about how much I loved hockey. He asked me if I was a Blackhawks fan.
I said no. I said that I hated the way the owner treated the fans and that I didn't understand why I couldn't watch them on T.V. and instead had to resort to a team that I had no connection to. My money quote was "why would that man be so greedy as to care more about ticket sales than fans?" I finally read the name on the card:
William W Wirtz.
I suppose what matters most isn't the fact that he didn't say anything to me after that, or that I was so scared I didn't say anything, or the fact that my boss almost fired me for saying that to the owner of the Blackhawks.
The look in his eyes was so devastated, so hurt and just honestly confused. I hated him because I thought that he was greedy. Maybe he was. But to him, he was doing the best for the Blackhawks. Maybe that's a thin line, but I have certainly looked at the way people own their teams differently from then on.
Maybe it was just a momentary thing for him, but I honestly believe in that moment I hurt him. I said in person what a million journalists had said in print, but I was the 16 year old kid who didn't know any better and said it right to him and laughed at his name and reputation. I'll never forget that look.
So, Mr. Ricketts, I wish you all the luck, and if you care even a little bit as much about the Cubs as Mr. Wirtz cared about his Blackhawks, at least you'll try your best.
I for one just wanted to let you know where I stand specifically on the 2009 season. I've also got a buddy named Rob who, I think, feels similarly, so since there's two of us, you better take us seriously.
As the new owner of your favorite sports franchise, you're probably excited about the prospect of getting involved in the baseball side of things--making the deals, signing off on big, flashy new acquisitions, and so on and so forth. I bet you're totally psyched about the prospect of getting behind the wheel on things like the pending Jake Peavy deal, and making things happen for our beloved club. I have to say, I'm pretty jealous.
As you well know, many trades in our sport involve two types of players. Most often, one team gives up "young, talented prospects," in exchange for "proven major league level talent." For example, you may be asked to give up some prospects, such as Josh Vitters, Sean Marshall, Garrett Olson, Kevin Hart, Ronny Cedeno, Angel Guzman, and others in exchange for a Jake Peavy-type starting pitcher (in which case, for God's sakes, PULL THE TRIGGER MAN!!!!).
A well-run franchise often balances the need to succeed in the present, with a sense of preparing for the future; win now, while keeping SOMETHING in the farm to build on for the next go-round. This concept of balance brings me to my request for the 2009 season.
Good sir. I implore you. SCREW BALANCE!
You have just purchased a team that is prepared to win now. It is not perfect, but it is damn near close, and much closer than every team in its division, much less its league. Members of the baseball media have led us fans to believe that a deal for Jake Peavy is, at the very least, possible. I strongly urge you to give up whatever it takes to complete this deal.
Furthermore, if Jim or Randy or any other member of Cubs' brass approaches you with a deal that improves the 2009 team, PLEASE do not let 2015 get in the way of that deal. Of course, as I've already mentioned, this team is already really good, and shouldn't need many more upgrades, but you get what I'm saying.
For my part of the bargain, I promise I will not get huffy at any point before 2015 if the Cubs flat out suck. I will direct my attention to the newest Cub acquisitions obtained via the draft. I will go on and on about how spectacular they are, while the glorious veterans of yesteryear slowly fade into average-ness. I will wear my Soto jersey with pride as we restock the farm and prepare for another run at greatness.
The window is closing, Ricksy. Hurry up and win while there's still time.
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.
Hello, New Owner of the Cubs. On the off chance that this makes the main page and you actually read it, I'm writing this letter. (Duh.)
A little background info: I'm 20 years old, I live in North Carolina (where we have no pro team). I became a Cubs fan because the local minor-league team used to be a Cubs affiliate, and because of WGN, Harry Caray, and Sammy Sosa, as well as the movie "Rookie of the Year". (I still maintain Sosa did not use steroids until it is proven otherwise, however foolhardy this may be.) I am writing this letter because, although I am only 20, I fear I will not see the cubs reach, let alone win, the World Series in my lifetime. The only time they got close, our idiot manager didn't go out to talk to his rookie pitcher after a play involving a certain not-to-be-named fan, and we proceeded to give up 8 runs in the inning after leading 3-0 and being 5 outs away from the World Series.
I have the following requests:
1. Do not increase the Cubs' payroll *unless you think it will help them reach or win a world series*. We're willing to pay higher ticket prices to see a winning team, but if we suck, after a few years it'll get a bit old (see: Wrigley attendance records during the 1960s.)
2. Do not change the name of Wrigley Field *unless the money will go directly into payroll*. This includes any increases made to the scouting budget, a department we have historically sucked in. Also, if you change the name, try to keep Wrigley in there somewhere, i.e. "Wrigley Field at General Motors Stadium" rather than "General Motors Field". (I still refer to the White Sux ballpark as Cominsky.)
3. Increase the scouting budget. This is a department we have historically sucked in.
4. See if Greg Maddux is at all interested in being a pitching coach. He may not be able to help guys throw 100 MPH, but he can help the older guys stay crafty. He's also a pretty good opposing player scout from what I hear, as well as a good source of levity in the clubhouse.
5. Focus on winning, or at least reaching, the World Series. (Once we're there, schmurse over, and winning won't be so hard as reaching -- it's a virtual coin-flip, maybe even a rigged one given that any Cubs team that can break the schmurse has to be pretty damn good.)
6. Look for bargains, especially at backup positions. We want backups who can play defense -- hitting is a bonus, not a necessity. We don't really have a backup first baseman other than Daryle Ward, who can't play defense -- Doug Mientkiewicz might be a cheap remedy, for example.
7. Build the farm system. I know I keep talking about scouting and player development, but that's because we've sucked at it for as long as I've lived.
8. If you have the opportunity to make a trade or free agent signing (or a combination of trades and signings) that you feel gives us at least a 25% chance of winning the world series, but it will make the team suck for up to 5 years after that, PULL THE TRIGGER. After all, our current world-series-winning rate is 2 out of 104, less than 2%, while the sucking for a few years will pale in comparison to the 1946-1983 playoff drought.
9. If you can, aim to win the World Series while Barack Obama is still in office, just because we'd get to send the Cubs to meet with him, and he's a known White Sux fan, and we'd get to rub it in a little bit.
10. At the very least, win another world series before the Phillies do -- it's bad enough being tied for last place among original-16 franchises for world series wins (we have 2, 1907 and 1908, both over the tigers), I'd hate to be last by ourselves.
11. Do not be afraid to trade with the White Sox as long as it improves our team. If it improves their team too, fine by me -- I want revenge for the 1906 All-Chicago World Series, and no better way than by a modern Cubs-White Sox series.
12. Do be afraid to trade with the Cardinals, unless you are absolutely sure you are getting a good deal -- do NOT cause the next Brock-For-Broglio.
13. If the Cubs win the world series, consider selling cheap plastic replica world series rings for something like $50 each. I'm betting about a million of those would sell, at least. I'd buy one, anyway.
14. If we don't win the world series next year, and Jim Hendry doesn't pull some moves to try to improve the team between now and the trade deadline, fire the SOB. We're tired of him. Hire one of those Red Sox guys with all the brains.
15. Don't let Bob Uecker sing the 7th-inning stretch at Wrigley again. I like the guy, liked his book, but you don't sing "brewers" in place of "cubbies" at Wrigley.
16. I like powers of two, so I'm adding a 16th point. Uh... Consider getting a tape of Harry Caray singing the 7th inning stretch in place of actual live singers, most of whom have sucked (or worse, see Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Uecker.)