Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Three days after the Cubs' haircut.

My grandfather raised seven children. Doing so helped him generate a vibrant cadre of sayings for all types of situations. When the pot roast was gone: "Eat gravy bread." Dipping a roll in leftover gravy was supposed to keep hungry mouths from yapping.

There was even a standard procedure for the not-so-rare occasion when a child would come home from a trip to the barber with a haircut he didn't like: "Wait three days, and it'll look great."

The Cub farm system took a pretty substantial haircut several days ago when Jim Hendry pulled the trigger on the Matt Garza trade. When the deal was announced, I immediately went into apologist mode; I'm an optimist, so I wanted to make the deal seem good, even if it wasn't.

Now, I've waited my three days since my team's farm system was trimmed, but unfortunately my grandfather's advice has failed me. The Garza haircut does not look great.

My first reaction to the deal was to call it a successful conversion of unknown quantities into certain production: Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee appear to have tremendous upside, but both are a long ways from the majors. And look what happened to Josh Vitters! (And Felix Pie, and Corey Patterson, and Brian Dopirak, and so on and so forth.)

But the longer I think about it, the more I'm convinced that adding Matt Garza in 2011 is going to be nearly identical to an addition the Cubs made in 2007. It's something I touched on on Jan. 7, and something that Cubs Billy Goat Blog seemed to agree with on Tuesday.

Isn't 2011 Matt Garza basically the same guy Ted Lilly was in 2007? Actually I'm sure I could write an entire saber-style post about the accuracy of that statement, but bare with me here: both guys are pretty-good-but-not-great, both are young-but-not-that-young at the time of acquisition, and both were sorta-kinda-but-not-really-cheap.

So what's wrong with getting back 2007 Ted Lilly? Undeniably, he was a valuable pitcher. But more importantly, he fit in: the Cubs were truly a championship-caliber team, with aging-but-not-old veterans throughout the line-up.

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Now, the proverbial window appears to have closed completely on this team. Where is its star power? Aramis Ramirez used to be deserving of one of my favorite GROTA nicknames, but do you really expect Clutchy McClutcherson to play 120 games at full health this year? Derrek Lee is gone. Alfonso Soriano is 35. And Kerry Wood, God love him, is supposed to save our bullpen?

The 2011 Cubs roster has plenty of above-average players, but lacks superstars (although plenty of folks are being paid like Hall of Famers). Could Archer have become this team's #1? Could Lee have finally provided the line-up with a legitimate lead-off option?

I guess the best thing about bad haircuts is that the hair always grows back. You just have to wait a while.

If I might add:

This post ignores the breakout potential of Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer.

Some reflections

LOL @ breakout potential of Sam Fuld. Thanks for that, A.J. It softens my displeasure at this deal ever so slightly.

Now that I've had two weeks to cool off, I can look at this deal from the Cubs' point of view and at least see what they were trying to accomplish. Here's a guy who is 27 years old, reaching the prime of his career. He has a career ERA under 4.00 and has spent his entire career facing the DH. He's got playoff experience, and he was the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the 2009 ALCS. Sounds like a guy that is ready to become a full fledged Ace, the kind of pitcher that every team needs and only about ten of them have.

The problem is that the Cubs don't understand the subjectivity of ERA or the concept of regression to the mean. Garza is a flyball pitcher with a career FIP of 4.26. His career xFIP is 4.45, indicating that he's been lucky that more of his flyballs allowed haven't left the yard. Now he's moving from a fairly neutral offensive stadium to a park that punishes flyball pitchers all summer. Ruh roh.

A.J., I think your comparison with Terrible Ted is spot on. He was a very good pitcher for the Cubs, but he was always a complementary piece. That was just fine when this team was leading the National League in runs scored. He was not capable of dragging the team into the playoffs singlehandedly, and neither is Matt Garza. The Cubs are probably going to miss the playoffs in 2011 (I expect us to finish in 4th place.) Four or five years from now, this deal could look realllllly ugly for Cruller Jim. I only hope that by then, he's no longer making personnel decisions for the Chicago Cubs.

In a word: Yup.

In a word: Yup.

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