Dismantle the team.........
For the second straight season, the Cubs have been swept out of the playoffs. Once again I was reminded by Cardinals fans how the Cubs once again choked in the playoffs. This doesn't surprise me because the city of St. Louis is more dependent on the failures of the Cubs than the success of their own teams, but that is another story for another day.
I admit it I am one of the fans Kurt refers to as being negative. I simply consider myself as realistic, but at times stark realism is negativism. After losing game 1, I felt the Cubs had a slim or no chance of coming back to win the series. It had nothing to do with curses, goats, or manbear pig. Zambrano's inconsistency in the last month of season was the reason. Which Zambrano would the Cubs get? Would we get the Zambrano that pitched a no hitter, or would we get the pitcher who was lit up 16 runs in the other three games. Yet, in game two he pitched a very good game. If the infield didn't play like they were T-Rex's with short stubby arms, he would have come out smelling like roses.
Outside of Zambrano, the majority of the Cubs players had a terrible series. This has prompted fans to scream out to dismantle this team. Given their frustration, we can understand why they feel this way. However, we should remember one thing. This team was designed to "reach" the postseason. Soriano was a great regular season player. His hot streaks helped turn this club around on a number of occasions, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. He is not a great playoff performer. This season he was batting .252 against right handed pitching. Translation, that is a .252 average against good and bad right handed pitching. Did Soriano choke in these playoffs? No, he simply did what he normally does. It just happened to be against quality pitching. Aramis Ramirez disappeared as well. Historically, he hadn't hit very well against the Dodgers pitching, but outside of that something else should be noted. Many pundits and fans lauded his success in later innings. This may have him appear as clutch hitter, but this also a product of facing mediocre to bad relievers. He was about a .260 hitter in the first six innings of game this season. That was both against good and bad pitching. A large chunk of his power production came from the last third of a game. Now, to our friend Double play Lee. Fifteen of Derrek Lee's home runs have come with the bases empty. His batting average is the lowest since 2004. Is that what the Cubs need in a number 3 hitter.
With all this being said, let us remember one thing this team was built to reach the playoffs. The Cubs have to beat down the Pirates of the world to reach the post season. When the Cubs reach the postseason, they still need players who can perform. This doesn't mean dismantling the entire team. It means replacing some of the parts that are not working. I think Zambrano's performance the last two postseasons is cause for optimism. In both games he came up big, it is too bad his teammates didn't return the favor. The question is which teammates should be replaced. I think Derrek Lee should be safe. Even with the gaff in game 2, his glove has been crucial to the Cubs success. I think even though that Hoffpauir has been impressive he hasn't shown a solid enough fielding ability to overtake Lee. In fact, he should be used as trade bait. I will return to that in a second. Derrek Lee also batted .308 on the season with runners in scoring position. I really believe Derrek Lee should remain on this team, but he should not be a number 3 hitter. Sure, he hit only one measily home run in that situation, but he also had 63 RBIs. Aramis Ramirez as I have stated before has been less than mediocre in the early part of the game, and he has been bad against good pitching. After considering these facts, who would you consider his replacement? The two good third basemen who are available on the free agent market are Chipper Jones and Hank Blaylock. Chipper Jones is getting old has some issues with injuries. Blaylock hasn't been very good since 2005 having to deal with injuries of his own. Hank hasn't played over 100 games since 2006. Another great stat is the fact that the only third basemen that have done better than Ramirez this past season are Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and Chipper Jones. Given the fact that A-Rod grounds into a lot of double plays and is anything but clutch leaves David Wright as the only real player that would be an improvement on Ramirez, it is safe to say A-Ram is staying put. Clearly, I think Aramis should keep his job. Now, we come to short stop. Ryan Theriot is solid but clearly not spectacular. He has a decent bat, but lacks a strong arm. If you look at who is available, there are clearly slim pickings. Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Rentaria, Rafael Furcal, and Cesar Izturis are free agents for 2009. I may as well cross a line through Izturis; we all know how that experiment went. The Cubs tried to sign Furcal before the 2006. Given his injuries, he may be a cheaper acquisition. If the Dodgers continue their postseason success, he will be resigned. Cabrera wouldn't be bad addition except his overall numbers(sans power)are not better than Theriot. Theriot's arm hasn't caused the Cubs a great deal of trouble either. At second base, we have the two headed monster, of Fontenot and DeRosa. DeRosa is coming off a great regular season, and outside of a miscue in the second game of the playoffs has been one of the only bright spots in the playoffs for the Cubs. He shouldn't go anywhere. Soto will stay at catcher. Given his penchant for hard work in the offseason, he will be better next year even if his power numbers could possibly dip. He can develop more patience at the plate and he could be better than Brian McCann of the Braves. Now, here is the area where the real offensive mess is: the outfield.
Given Soriano's regular season production and contract it would be hard to dump. The only real replacement would be to sign Manny Ramirez and to deal Soriano with the promise of paying a chunk of the salary. With Manny, you have to ask yourself which Manny will show up. He has been gangbusters recently because he knows he can get an A-Rod type deal if he does well. The question is what about year two or three of whatever deal he gets? Would he find a hidden room in the ivy to sneak between innings? When the Cubs signed Soriano I was ecstatic, I couldn't remember the last time the Cubs signed someone of his caliber. The previous season (during 2006) I was screaming that the Cubs should make trade with the Pirates for Jason Bay. I couldn't believe the Cubs snagged someone who I thought was better. In hindsight, I wish the Cubs could have traded for Bay. He is a good fielder, and decent hitter. I think Soriano has been great, my only problem (okay I guess outside of swinging at everything) is the fact he can not hit anywhere but in the lead off spot. He would be better served hitting behind a decent batter. I feel it is detrimental to the Cubs having hit behind a pitcher. Despite the fact that the Cubs pitchers have hit decently this season, they are still fairly close to a guaranteed out. Meaning that there will be a guaranteed out when Soriano comes to the plate on the second or third passes through the lineup. There was a reason why Pinella batted Theriot 8th in game one of the Dodgers series. Theriot gets a hit, Dempster sacrifices him over and Soriano gets a hit that sends Theriot home. It is too bad for the Cubs it didn’t work out.
Center field is a major question mark. There were rumors that Jim Edmonds would retire after this season. He came back strong after signing with the Cubs. I would love to see what he could the entire season. If he returns, will there be anything left in the tank? If he retires, the Cubs are left with Reed Johnson, unfortunately it seems like Johnson is best suited for facing left handed pitchers. He had a nice year for the Cubs, and it would be great to keep in that role again. There isn't a quality center fielder in the coming free agent class. I really wanted the Cubs to sign Aaron Rowand before this season. Unfortunately, management is still enamoured with Felix Pie and his inability to hit anything outside of a fastball.
Right field is a mess because Fukudome so far has been a flop. Maybe flop is a bit harsh, but the Cubs are paying him $48 million over four years to bat under .260. He is a great fielder if nothing else. It is too bad the Cubs will probably continue starting him next year. I am not 100% sure what they expected from him. Scouts predicted he would bat .290 have 15 home runs and maybe drive in 75-90 RBIs. Boy did he fall short of that. I really hope that Jim Hendry didn't expect him to be a 20+ home run guy. He had decent power in Japan, however their parks are smaller. Consider that Ichiro had a couple of seasons where he hit over 20 home runs and you get the general idea(also Ichiro is nearly legendary here). Vladimir Guerrero is a free agent(with player option), but given the size of Fukudome's contract there is no way there will be another right fielder. Of course, if Fukudome is fed up with the United States and goes back to Japan that is another story.
Barring any trades of monumental proportions there is really no way this team could be dissolved and rebuilt to be an instant World Series contender. There is one move the Cubs should do. I am simply not sold of Rich Harden's health. Toronto's Roy Halladay wants out of town, the Cubs have an extra first baseman burning a hole in Hendry's pocket. Lyle Overbay has not been spectacular at first for the Jays. Hoffpauir could be converted to a right fielder(maybe with the Cubs?.) I saw package a deal for Halladay including Hoffpauir. Halladay has two more years on his current deal. In the long run $15 million a year will be cheaper than shelling out a lot of cash on long term deal for Sabathia.
Conservative commentator George Will once mused, "Cubs fans are 90% scar tissue." That speaks to how resilient Cubs fans are in the face of continued failure. With this level of loyality, as fans we can only hope this team can finally bring us winner. For the time being, we need to accept that this is built for getting to the playoffs. Hopefully, one more piece will be the keystone for a championship run. Till then we will have to revert to the old mantra, "There is always next year."