Pitching will tell the tale for the Cubs in 2011
The only "impact" hitter the Cubs possess, past, present, or future, is Alfonso Soriano, and his category is, of course, "past". So, even if he has his current "typical" .800 OPS year, and even if every other member of the offense has an above-average statistical year, the Cubs will still finish in the middle of the pack offensively in the NL. Considering the salaries being paid, that's not OK, but otherwise, that would be acceptable if we had solid pitching and defense to back that up.
AJ pointed out the other day that, except for third base, the defense isn't going to lose us any games. The past year or so, an effort was made to replace Soriano in left during late innings. It might be time to, instead, consider doing that for Ramirez. It was different when ARam was our most consistent late-inning run producer. It was also different in his younger days when he was characterized as 'lazy'. At this point in his life, he may honestly just be this slow. It is the manager's job to address this situation, and hopefully Quade has these types of late-inning defensive thoughts.
Which leaves the pitching, and well, damn. I consider myself to know more about hitting than pitching, but I don't think we are very well equipped going forward.
I think we have Dempster, a #2 starter. If we are to go with his last 10 starts last year, Zambrano is a nice #3 starter (the slot he held during the "glory" years mid-decade), but there's a catch, and it isn't just that he makes Ace Money. Personally, I love to watch the man play, but if we are talking about winning, we need consistency and excellence that can be relied on. You cannot rely on this Toro. If your lawnmower crapped out as often as Z does, you'd push him to the curb.
I thought Hendry was going to do just that last month. The right whispers were there. Nothing has happened on that front. Maybe, though, now that Cliff Lee is now with Philly, the Yankees will need to do something big, because that is what they do. Maybe we'll hear some new rumors soon. (UPDATED)
What else do we have? One more year of Silva the Hutt, who reverted to his true blobular self in the 2nd half. There's mediocre lefty Gorzellany, who is being shopped. There's noted nightlife lover Randy Wells, who early this year I compared to Greg Maddux because he doesn't have a 'big arm', but seems to know how to pitch when all is right. Wells can be part of a staff if he prioritizes. To me, he is worth more in a trade than on our staff.
There has been word lately of efforts to get Matt Garza from the Rays. This would be more exciting if there was, like, any chance in hell it could happen. The question came up - why would the Rays make this deal? If it could make their team better! If somehow the Rays and Jim Hendry could hammer out a good old-fashioned "value" trade, where we sent them something of roughly equal value to what we would receive.
The problem is, to my knowledge, the last time Hendry was involved in a true "value" trade was the big Nomar deal in 2004. All of Hendry's trades since have either been: desperation dumps of Sammy Sosa and Milton Bradley; favors to players like Ted Lilly and Greg Maddux; or the occasional fire-sale swap with the Pirates. I doubt Hendry has the ability or the stones to make a straight value-for-value trade, where he gives up, say, Wells and/or Gorzellany, along with top prospects, or something that involves one of our young players with experience, like Colvin or Castro. At least, I don't trust him to do it right.
I fail to see what is so special about Casey Coleman. I have never seen why the Shark was worth the money he has been paid, although I grasp the concept it had to do with the eventuality that he might have opted to play football instead, it doesn't justify why it was given to HIM. It is a hope of mine, though, that the new pitching coach has a rapport with him that Rothschild never had.
In the best of situations, we need two of the afore-mentioned starters to step up. However, we are going to need three, because we don't have a staff Ace. Therefore everyone steps up a rung. And, if sometime between now and spring training, Zambrano opens up his ugly mouth and says something unforgivable, which COULD happen at any given moment that he is awake, then Hendry will be forced into another of his patented 'addition by subtraction' dumps, and all we'll have is Dempster and dumpster.
Bullpen? Thank God for Sean Marshall. This is about the time of year, typically, when the "Marshall is a good soldier, he deserves a chance to start" refrain is sung. This year, though, nobody dares. He has to stay in the pen. Otherwise, we rely on surgi-zombies Grabow, Caridad, and Guzman, along with Andrew Cashner and Rafael Dolis, two guys with huge arms and absolutely no idea about how to pitch.
Then of course we have our closer, the Harry Potter of the majors. Carlos Marmol set records last year for both percentage of pitches swung at and missed as well as strikeouts per nine innings. Honestly, I thought the 1977-79 Bruce Sutter was the most unhittable force of all time - Marmol crushed his stats, simply crushed them. Thing is, though, both Sutter and Marmol pitched for fifth place teams. I have always maintained that the secret of his success is how hard he concentrates on his task. Can he keep up that level of concentration to close games that matter? Nobody knows, do we?
So that brings us to the point where we go get some pitching help. I will come back soon with some possible candidates, but one of them is not Kerry Lee Wood. Now, I love me some Wood. Great guy, historical guy, diabolical stuff, cute, perky wife. Great in the community, loves the Cubs and Chicago. But he also represents something we need to get away from: unrequited Cub Hope.
The Ricketts need to pull a 180 in terms of historic direction. I am afraid Wood represents the way things used to be done here: work hard, not smart. When at first you don't succeed, throw harder; tear yourself apart, go on the DL. Suffer the crush of over 100 years of Cubs karma; resign yourself to your fate. I feel that happened to Wood, as it happened to Grace, Sandberg, Banks, Williams, and on and on.
If the Cubs are ever going to win it all, it will need to be with new blood. Could it be Castro? Soto? Marmol? The Korean kids in Peoria? I dunno, but it won't be with Kerry Wood, God bless him and his 20 Ks and his Game 7 loss and his tattered shoulder and the burden of 102 years on top of him. We need to find some help elsewhere.