Random thoughts on trades, transactions, and other changes
One of the biggest misconceptions in baseball is that it takes a while for a team to gel. For example when Dusty Baker came to Chicago he was inheriting the beginnings of a solid core of players, but because there were a number of new guys and young players he felt he'd need time to succeed. On the contrary, the talent level was so high in those early days that Dusty actually looked like a good manager for about a year and a half.
It's sort of the same with Lou's situation. He inherited a last-place team with a pile of new, high-priced players. The first couple of months of the 2007 season were just about as ugly as the last couple of years of Dusty's ... er, reign ... but the players came together, they gelled, and the sheer level of talent eventually overcame the bad habits that they brought with them into the season.
The Cubs actually have a pretty good core of players right now, many of whom have been a part of the team for a while. Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marmol, Soto, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Fukudome, and Bradley represent a solid group of mostly young - or in their prime - guys who have either been with the team for a while or should remain with the team for a while. Consequently, the Cubs have won the division for two consecutive years, which hasn't happened since they began mass-producing cars back when your great grand-pappy was wearing short-pants.
Yet, in spite of the success, maybe because we're bored, anxious, and waiting, some fans keep tossing out trade and free agency ideas which are sometimes interesting and other times ludicrous. It's kind of a Yankee-fan mentality thing which isn't necessarily actually good.
What I mean is this: things aren't broken right now. There is very little to fix. We sort of talked about this back in October, too. Sure, the Cubs got knocked out of the playoffs, and while the worst was happening before our very eyes some extremist fans wanted to take a "slash and burn" approach. After all, clearly these guys couldn't handle the pressures of playoff baseball in Chicago. They had to go. None of them should come back.
(This was ignoring the fact that we'd just seen the team enjoy a 97-win season, the most wins since 1945.)
Here's the thing we're forgetting: the playoffs are a crapshoot. Colin might disagree, but the best team does not win. The hottest one does. At points in the 2008 season the Cubs couldn't lose if they tried and at other times they couldn't win if they'd bribed the umpires. That's just the way it goes. The trick is to get there constantly because the more often you do something the more likely you are to get good results. (Point of fact: between 1945 and 2008, the Cubs reached the World Series just once. Sounds about impossible until you consider that between 1945 and 1984, they reached the playoffs not at all. It's hard to win when you never get there.)
I will submit then one simple argument: every team - even the one that wins the Series - has to look to upgrade every year. It's good to have a solid core of players but the trick is to continue to add to that core. No team should wait until they have to subtract because a guy is no longer effective. The Cubs entered the off season with a few pressing needs: 1) Get rid of the deadweight Marquis. 2) Balance the lineup to include more lefties. 3) Bring in a middle-of-the-lineup hitter who can step in and replace Derrek Lee in the 3-hole or Aramis Ramirez at cleanup. 4) Improve the bullpen.
It cannot be contested that they did #1, which likely means they are stronger in the rotation by default. They also now have 2 additional lefties in the everyday lineup, meaning that they succeeded with #2. Although Piniella isn't likely to shake things up the way he should, the Cubs have clear and superior alternatives for last year's lineup (which, by the way, was still outstanding). The only thing they haven't really addressed was #4, although how much worse they are is extremely subjective and very debatable.
Oh, and the Cubs just might bring in a guy who we could essentially call The Fourth Ace. This team is loaded. Huge changes are not necessary. They don't need a new second baseman - they already have one, a guy who worked hard to earn his chance.
So, let's let them be. Let's be excited that they're so potentially good. At least that's what I will be doing for the next few months.