Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Roster Talk

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Now, what would I like to see happen this winter?

I mean, besides a massive overhaul of our "tags" dropdown menu?

In the spirit of Eddie's post last week, I will start by getting onboard the Carlos Pena bandwagon, such that it is.  We must be aware of the limitations the Wricketts have imposed, and understand that although Hendry may love the big Donkey, Adam Dunn, the owners have no intentions on taking on any more long term contracts at this point in time.  This coming year, and probably 2012, will be characterized by a short-term, seat of the pants approach to staffing a roster, which sounds like bad news.

thanks ChicagoistOf course, could it work out much worse than this past season?

So, even though I am not in love with a .197 batting average, it isn't like any of the other names mentioned (Dunn, LaRoche, and Huff) are high batting average guys, either.  I don't necessarily want Pena, but honestly, I don't want any of the other guys, either, and Pena is exactly the "buy low" kind of player the Ricketts will want.  I would probably bat him fifth or sixth, however.

I don't think it is time yet, though, to sign Starlin Castro to a long term contract.  He is under control for the next five years, it still remains to be seen that he can play the shortstop position (I think he will improve), and once again, you will not see the Wricketts (Wrigleys + Ricketts) enter any long term commitments this year.

I also disagree with Eddie on the aspect of a Fukudome trade.  Yes, he is a sunk cost and no, we won't get anything but a bag of used balls in return.  But even if we can realize a couple of million in salary relief, this would be useful.  More useful, in fact, than actually having him on the team.  We know what he is, and outside of his arm in right field, there is nothing else he brings that a replacement level guy has.

Speaking of replacement guys, I do think it is time to let Hoffpauir and Koyie Hill enter their next careers.  Why not let Wellington Castillo back up Soto?  And as far as Soto, I do understand that he is one of our remaining better hitters.  But one of the most intriguing developments of the past season was his .500 OBP as the eighth hitter.  Because of his eye and his relative strength as an eighth hitter, he drew a butt-tonload of walks.  It is unconventional, but I am not sure he is a good enough hitter to bat third (Byrd bats third in my lineup), and I am intrigued about the idea of a guy who gets on base every other time he walks to the plate. Yeah, he is followed by a pitcher....

I think Castro bats second, Byrd third, Ramirez fourth, Pena fifth, Soriano sixth, Colvin seventh and Soto eighth.  Leadoff would be Baker vs lefties and Barney vs righties.  Unless you like Blake DeWitt better than Barney, which I don't. He showed me nothing last year.  Which still meant he was better than Theriot, but maybe he could net us a decent relief pitching prospect.

Let Sam Fuld be Soriano's glove caddy, and have an open competition for the last bench spots amongst the Marquez Smiths and Brad Snyders of the world.  This should allow the club to concentrate more resources to refining the pitching staff, which is actually a much more high risk, high reward activity for 2011.

Without a talent influx from the farm system or a money infusion from ownership, our weak 2010 offense will not improve much next year.  If we can score 75 more runs than last year, we should be pleased.  The Cubs should concentrate their efforts on minimizing walks and improve situational pitching, which means solidifying the rotation and eliminating question marks in the pen. The 2011 Cubs will only go as far as their pitching and defense will take them.

How this gets done?  I'll let someone else address it.

Chief Says

Let's take a certain discussion from the comments to the front page.

On the "What do we owe?" post, Chief says like it or not, the Cubs will be forced to spend some money this offseason. The Cub fan base demands investment, and a $120 million payroll (that includes my rough estimates at arb raises) simply will not do.

So let's get wild here. Here's the link to 2011 free agents; who could the Cubs sign for next year? I suppose Everybody's Favorite Option would be to spend $100 million over five years on Cliff Lee, so for the sake of creativity let's look at alternatives. Here's everything I can see from going down the list:

IN THE FIELD

1) Sign Victor Martinez and move either him or Geovany Soto to first base.

2) Sign Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena to play first base.

3) Sign Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, Juan Uribe, Cristian Guzman, or Aaron Miles to play second base, move Aramis Ramirez to first base, and move Blake DeWitt to third. Apparently DeWitt's glove plays well there.

4) Sign Adrian Beltre, Ty Wigginton, or Miguel Tejada to play third base and move Aramis Ramirez to first base.

5) Sign Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford to play right field and move Tyler Colvin to first base.

ON THE MOUND

1) Move Randy Wells and/or Tom Gorzelanny and/or Carlos Silva and/or Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen and sign one or more of:

Jorge De La Rosa, Justin Duchscherer, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Ben Sheets, Javier Vasquez, Brandon Webb, and/or Jake Westbrook.

I'd argue relievers can't make a .500 team a 90-win team, but maybe you disagree.

-----

I'd rather put all we can towards the 2012 free agent class, which has some players with much higher ceilings. But if you like any of these ideas, then by all means.

Series (Pre) View...and the view isn't that pretty: Cubs at Colorado (July 30-August 1, 2010)

Well, I am a bit late on the turnaround with this preview due to a pool-induced bout with Jeff Baker temporary blindness syndrome.  For the sake of not wanting to re-live the carnage of last night, I will instead treat this like a two game series and also fill you in with the most relevant Cubs-related trade news.

On the trading front:

  • Carlos Zambrano is open to being traded and the Cubs have rejected a trade offer from the Mets for Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.  All I can say is: thank god.
  • The Twins, Yankees, Tigers and Dodgers have varying degrees of interest in Theodore Roosevelt Lilly.  Last night, it sounded like Lilly was basically destined for LA according to various talking heads on local Chicago sports shows.
  • The Diamondbacks have offered the Cubs Kelly Johnson in return for James Russell and Ryan Theriot. WHY HAS THIS DEAL NOT HAPPENED YET?  Johnson is the arbitration eligible player I'd much rather have at this point.
  • The Red Sox made a run at Sean Marshall a few days ago, but were quickly shot down by the Cubs.

I'll try to keep everyone posted about what goes down throughout the day as the trade deadline is my Christmas in July.

Now, back to the task at hand of looking at this series in the Mile-High City.

Tom Gorzelanny (6-5, 3.22 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (7-6, 4.34 ERA)
Tommy G is going to get the role of "stopper" today after that atrocious performance by the bullpen (again).  It just seems like it's one of those deja vu weeks where we get the joy of watching those same bullpen implosions that really destroyed the team out of the gate.  Since returning to the rotation, Tommy has been pretty damn good, going 4-0 with a 2.83 in five starts.  I once again reiterate that the John Grabow trade will forever be tied with the Alfonseca trade in the "getting a much better piece as a 'throw in'" lore.

Hammel has had an up and down season.  Hammel features a low 90s fastball, a pretty strong overhand curve, and a serviceable changeup.  While Hammel started strong and had great success at the start of the season, he has been hit pretty hard lately.  In his last three starts, Hammel has allowed 12 earned runs over 19.2 innings.  Hammel does well when he keeps the ball down, because his career success has been snakebitten in the past by the long ball.

"Good" Carlos (10-4, 3.76 ERA) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (3-3, 5.15 ERA)
De La Rosa was supposed to be sort of the "co-ace" of the team this season before going down with a torn flexor tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.  Since coming back, his peripherals haven't looked all that great: 1.40 WHIP, 4 HR's allowed in 16.1 innings, and two losses in three starts to show for it.  That being said, he is averaging a strikeout per inning.  He is coming off a good start against the Pirates where he went seven innings and allowed only three earned runs.

Silva sort hit an epic roadblock in his momentum train the two starts before he faced the Astros, not making it past the 2nd inning in both of those previous starts.  Those days are hopefully gone as now he has to resume being "good Carlos" with the fiery, anger-managed, trade-bait Carlos is back on the roster to be the ying to Silva's yang.

Conclusion
I am going to be glued to my computer and the television until the trade deadline passes.  Hopefully, the Cubs will be vigilant and try and acquire some good pieces for the next few years while dumping some salary in the process.  That Kelly Johnson trade would be a good start. 

Oh, and as for the current roster?  I honestly think we can take the next two games and win the series.  De La Rosa was at one point a dominant guy for Colorado, but this season he hasn't been (also, it feels like he's been in the league forever...).  Same goes for Hammel.  Two wins are possible, boys, make it happen.

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Reader Blog: Blowing up the 2010 Chicago Cubs and Building the 2011 Chicago Cubs.

Since the destruction of the 2010
Chicago Cubs is imminent, I figured I'd go through and see who I
would and wouldn't want out of this organization if it were me,
starting from the top.

Jim Hendry Must Go. The man has an
inability to spend money the right way. Sure, he's pulled off some
monster trades (Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton, Rich
Harden) and he's had his fair share of great free agent signings
(Reed Johnson, Ted Lilly) But the vast majority of his signings and
extensions have left the team severely handicapped. In short, The
Chicago Cubs will NOT win a World Series under Hendry, and that's the
goal, isn't it?

The Replacement: I don't claim to know
a lot of front office guys in the MLB, but if it were my decision,
it'd make sense to draw guys from the organizations that build teams
the right way and are regularly competitive (Boston, either LA team,
Minnesota).

Lou Piniella is an old man. He doesn't
want to be in Chicago, he wants to be in Tampa with his grandkids. He
needs to be replaced immediately. His coaching staff, on the other
hand, is something I'd keep intact. Larry Rothschild and Lester
Strode can stay, as can Mike Quade, Ivan DeJesus, Alan Trammel and
Rudy Jaramillo. However, to me, Matt Sinatro seems more like
Piniella's little helper than a real coach, so I say he needs to exit
as well.

The Replacement: Bob Brenly is probably
my favorite candidate, as I get to listen to his opinions on the team
most days. Steve Stone could be an interesting choice. Bobby
Valentine isn't really doing much and he could be a good option.

Tim Wilken isn't going anywhere. After
all, under him, the Cubs have developed a wealth of young talent
(Starlin Castro, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Colvin) and the farm system
still has a decent amount to offer (Jay Jackson, possibly Darwin
Barney). Wilken has earned his pay, and there is no reason for him to
be fired

And now, to the roster

The Starting rotation needs to be blown
up. Zambrano needs to be put on waivers or traded. Lilly needs to be
shipped to Minnesota or somewhere. Wells needs to go back to Triple
A. And the Cubs need to sign Cliff Lee to be the Ace of the
Rotation. Jay Jackson is called up to start and Tom Gorzelanny is
used in the rotation. When everything is said and done, my rotation
reads Lee-Dempster-Silva-Gorzelanny-Jackson.

The relief corps was criticized early
in the season as the reason the Chicago Cubs had done so poorly.
However, don't look now, but which Chicago team's bullpen has an ERA
of 2.80 in June. Carlos Marmol, Andrew Cashner and Sean Marshall
shouldn't be going anywhere. All three are young guys who have really
excelled in their roles. Jeff Stevens has proven that he has the
ability to be a solid middle reliever for years to come. However that
leaves four spots open. Bob Howry is an old man and John Grabow can't
throw strikes on a regular enough basis to deserve his spot, but our
good buddy Jim Hendry decided to give him a pretty hefty contract,
basically forcing him onto the 2011 roster barring an injury. Those
five, Marmol, Cashner, Marshall, Stevens and Grabow are fairly solid
pieces in the pen. However, the other two spots can be fairly fluid
in 2011. John Gaub, James Russell and Blake Parker are all
interesting options and Jeff Samardzija is having a nice year in
Iowa, so he may finally be able to pull it all together and finally
be an effective major league pitcher again.

Onto the Position players, first
striking at catchers. There really isn't much to say about the Cubs'
catchers. Geovany Soto has largely done his job this year, and Koyie
Hill is an adequate back-up. If either goes down, Wellington Castillo
also has the ability to be a quality backstop.

First base is the most interesting
issue for the Cubs. Derrek Lee should not be re-signed. There are two
angles to go with this problem. The Cubs could sign Carlos Pena to
mash homers for them after this season, or they could sign a stopgap
for 2011 and wait until next year to sign a big first baseman. Prince
Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols are all available after
the 2011 season. Pujols probably won't hit free agency, but the other
three likely will. Personally, I'd like to see Pena in a Cubs
Uniform.

Second Base is arguably the biggest
dilemma. O-Dog and Felipe Lopez are available, But I'd personally
like to see the Cubs inquire upon the availability of Chone Figgins,
Jose Lopez, Aaron Hill or Dan Uggla. I personally like Figgins
because he fills the leadoff void which desperately needs to be
filled on the North Side, and he's underperformed exponentially in
regard to his contract, so Chicago may be able to pull off another
swap of bad contracts with the M's. Perhaps the M's are somewhat
interested in Fukudome?

Third Base is pretty obvious. Ramirez
isn't going anywhere after this year, and if he performs in 2011, he
isn't going anywhere until after 2012. Likewise with Shortstop and
Left Field, Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano are stationary, albeit
for different reasons.

A lot of people have been impressed
with Marlon Byrd's hustle and hitting prowess this year. However,
it's no secret that one always needs to sell high. Assuming Brett
Jackson is ready or close to being ready at the end of the year, I'd
trade Byrd during the offseason and install Jackson as the starting
centerfielder. If not, I keep Byrd until Jackson is ready.

Finally, Tyler Colvin has more than
proven that he can hit major league pitching. The kid has earned his
right to play, and it's the job of the manager, whether it be Lou
Piniella or anyone else, to give him the playing time he deserves.
Fukudome needs to be traded. The Red Sox are rumored to be looking
for a defensive out fielder, and eating half the money on Fuke's
contract could possibly get him to Boston for a half-way decent minor
leaguer.

On the bench, I like Hill or Castillo,
along with Ryan Theriot and Jeff Baker. Sam Fuld would be my fourth
outfielder, and I'd sign someone like Mike Jacobs as a backup first
baseman. He's got a fairly decent glove and massive pop in his bat.
Perfect as a guy to come off the bench and pinch hit.

In conclusion, I leave you, the
GoatReaders with how I'd love to see this roster built for the 2010
season. I personally doubt that any of the deals I'd make are deals
that Hendry or his successor would attempt to make, but regardless, I
think that the team I propose here could win.

Subtracting the Money owed to Derrek
Lee, Ted Lilly and Carlos Zambrano and perhaps half the money owed to
Fukudome (as we can't expect anyone to want to trade for the WHOLE
contract), and adding a 20 million per year contract for Cliff Lee, a
15 Million per year contract for Carlos Pena and the 9 Million per
year contract for Chone Figgins, the Cubs spend roughly 7-8 Million
less in 2011 according to my plan that they do in 2010 before
arbitration raises.

Starting Lineup

2B – Chone Figgins

CF – Brett Jackson/Marlon Byrd

3B – Aramis Ramirez

1B – Carlos Pena

RF – Tyler Colvin

LF – Alfonso Soriano

C – Geovany Soto

SS – Starlin Castro

Rotation: Lee, Dempster, Silva,
Gorzelanny, Jackson

Bullpen: Marmol – C, Marshall,
Cashner, Stevens, Grabow, Gaub, Gray/Samardzija/Parker

Bench: Hill/Castillo, Ryan Theriot, Sam
Fuld, Jeff Baker, Mike Jacobs

GROTA Round Table: 2010 Predictions, Part 1

Round Table
Welcome to the Goat Riders of the Apocalypse 2010 Round Table ... Part 1.  

First, we'd like to welcome to you our new writing crew, Mike Wilkinson, Phil Kallas, and Peter Alford, who will be blogging regularly on the site as Probationary Junior Members (known better as Probies).  Apart from being the first three (of many) to respond to my call for writers, all are talented, experienced Cub fans who have terrific opinions, a working sense of humor, and, equally important, good grammar skills.  

I sent an EMail to those three, as well as our current stable of active writers (Rob, AJ, and Byron), asking them to discuss their thoughts on the 2010 season.  Little did I realize the epic length of the answers they'd all send back.  Thus, the 2010 Round Table will be broken up into parts ... many, many parts.  Maybe five or six.  I don't even know yet.  It's really effin' big.

Nevertheless, here's part one.  You are welcome to tell us how crazy we are (or aren't) in the comments.  Enjoy.

Over/Under
1. 90 wins

Rob - I am (for once) guardedly optimistic for 2010.  I have confidence that, barring injury, 24 of our 25 roster players will perform as well or better than expected.  I like our pitching staff, I think our defense will be improved with Byrd in CF and the Fooker in RF.  Nevertheless, I think this equates to 87-88 wins, so under.

Yarbage - I know Kurt and I are usually pegged as the optimists here at GROTA, but I really believe this team will play much better than last year.  Everything that could go wrong last year, did. So, the baseball world should balance out and the Cubs will be better in 2010. People forget that the Cubs were tied for first in August, before the thin bench finally gave way and Milton Bradley’s cancer spread throughout the clubhouse (I swear it’s the only time I will mention MB the rest of this post). So, I’ll go with the over, and I expect us to win around 92 this year. Hopefully, the Cardinals come back to earth a little bit and that should be enough for a playoff spot in 2010.

Byron - As I mentioned last month, it's been a long time since I've been this pessimistic about the team. Our starting rotation looks like those that contained Steve Trachsel, Frank Castillo, and "hinged" on whether Jim Bullinger was going to have a good year. I'd have set the bar at 85, and still taken the under.

Mike - Under.  Way under.  I'm honestly thinking .500 should be a reasonable goal.  Too many things could go wrong here.  Shaky bullpen, shaky back of the rotation, Soriano, the black hole in RF, etc. etc.  The only thing that makes me think more would be the weak division, as I think Pittsburgh and Houston are going to be brutal.  But even then, 85 would be a good #.  No way we win 90.

Peter - Under.  As much as I want to be optimistic, I am a bit guarded about my Cubs projections this year.  I see them falling just short of 90 with something around 88-89 wins.  I expect better-than-projected seasons for most of the starting position players barring any major injuries.  The starting 4 of Big Z, Dempster, Wells, and Lilly is a solid bunch and will perform well, even with Lilly expected to miss time.  Regardless of how well I think the starters and starting rotation will fare, I believe the bullpen will have some growing pains to start the season.  Outside of Marmol, the pen lacks identity and solidify roles.  Throughout the season, those roles will be carved out, but I think we might be in for a bit of a rocky ride until that happens.

AJ - Under, by one. Gains over last year's win total will be driven by improved offense at C, 3B, and LF. There's also plenty of room to improve at 2B, CF, and RF, and while I'm not expecting it to happen I wouldn't be surprised if the hitting was better from those spots too. Pitching should be about the same.  

Phil - I think if all of the answers to the questions surrounding the 2010 Cubs are "No major injuries and a metric ton of career high numbers", sure they can finish with over 90 wins. Sorry fellow Cubs fans, I don't see that happening. 85-88 wins is my prediction, and in the Central that may be enough.

Kurt - Under.  As much as I want the Cubs to be a great team, I forsee bullpen implosions on a regular basis.  I think the Cubs will be among league leaders in offensive production and blown leads after the 6th inning.

2. Ryan Dempster, 15 wins

Rob - That ain't bad.  That's spot on as far as I am concerned.  Can I say push?

Yarbage - Dempster intrigues me on many levels. Other than Ted Lilly, Dempster has been one player that Jim Hendry has gotten value out of on the free agent market. We all cringed a little when he moved to the rotation, but Dempster has thrown 400 innings in the last two years. Last year, he missed two starts and still had 11 wins. I think Dempster wins 17 this year, so it is the over.

Byron - Bitch, please!!! Under.

Mike - I'd guess under.  He won 17 2 yrs ago, but that was 2 yrs ago..no guarantee he stays healthy as he stares down age 33.  I'd love it, but i dont see it happening on a .500 team.

Peter - If I'm in Vegas I don't put money on this one way or another.  My instinct says it'd be a push.  Over the past two seasons, Demp has thrown 406 2/3 innings for the ballclub and is only one year removed from a 17 win season.  My gut says the home runs allowed go down from last year, the K/9 rate stays about the same and so do the walks allowed and Demp walks away with 15 wins on the dot.

AJ - Over, by just a couple. I really like his ability to get strikeouts, and I think he'll be better this year now that his family affairs are more in order.

Phil -
Well, who is the real Ryan Dempster, talent wise? Is it the one that had his best year in the last year of his last contract with the Cubs, or is it last years bad luck Dempster? Ryan's last two years have in a way defined the last two years of the Cubs, and I think what he does will go a long way in deciding what the Cubs do this year. I'll go ahead and say under, but barely. 14 wins for our favorite Canadian Prankster.

Kurt - Under, but barely.  With respect to Byron, Dempster is going to pitch well this year, but it will be a scenario of too many blown leads.  I do think that, wins and losses aside, he'll have an ERA in the mid 3's again -- which is really all you can ask for from any pitcher these days.

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment, where we discuss the likely success of Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, and number of ejections that we can expect from Lou Piniella.

Early Spring roster predictions

The Tribune published an article yesterday in which the Cubs acknowledged the possibility that they might not be able to keep both Kevin Millar and Chad Tracy on the 25-man-roster.  This got me thinking, and although much can happen between now and then, here's the lay of the land (from my sensible-but-not-always-realistic perspective):

Opening Day 25 Man Roster

SP - Zambrano, Dempster, Gorzelanny, Wells, Silva
MR - Marshall, Grabow, Caridad, Gray, Berg
CL - Marmol

Why Silva? It may shock you that some baseball moves are political.  Silva belongs in the rotation about as much as you or I do, but his large contract mixed with his poor attitude means that it might be best for him to pitch there and fail.  Once Lilly is set to return, Silva can be slotted into the bullpen and the weakest link there can ride off to the Iowan sunset.

Why six relievers?
  I have long believed that the Cubs are freakin' crazy for insisting on carrying seven arms, and this year's crop of relief pitchers are weaker than anything we've encountered in quite a while.  It just doesn't make sense for Lou to go with seven mediocre arms if he can get by with six.

C - Geo Soto, Three Finger Hill
1B - Derrek Lee, Kevin Millar
2B - Mike Fontenot, Jeff Baker
SS - Ryan Theriot
3B - Aramis Ramirez, Chad Tracy
LF - Alfonso Soriano
CF - Marlon Byrd, Sam Fuld
RF - Kosuke Fukudome, Xavier Nady

Why not Hoff?  Last year demonstrated clearly that Micah Hoffpauir is not really cut out to hit at the major league level.  He had a few good games, a few massive clouts, but if the Cubs are going to carry an extra first baseman/outfielder, it might as well be Millar -- until he proves he's old and busted.

Millar and Tracy?  Only until Andres Blanco is healthy enough to play.  At some point, the Cubs will need to make a choice about who belongs on their bench.  Frankly, if Nady is healthy enough and can cover the ground (he last played center field in 2007), I'd consider dropping Fuld and letting Nady cover center field and right field, while allowing Millar to play a few games in left. 

Regardless of whether or not there's room for the two veterans, I hope the Cubs avoid investing too much faith in Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld, Carlos Silva, or any of the assorted bullpen cast-offs.  To win they probably will need to be patient enough to allow some of these guys the chance to succeed (or fail), but to win they also need to not hold for too long onto the ghost of hope that they held for these jabrones at the start of the season.

Please feel free to post your disagreements below, I'm sure everybody has an opinion about who belongs on the 25-man-roster, and why.

Open (and slightly lame) Topic: Who's The Franchise?

No, this is not an article about Mark Prior.

Since we're still waiting under a thick blanket of snow for Spring Training to start, I thought I'd open a topic for some lively discussion and debate: which Cub is the franchise player? 

Is it Carlos Zambrano, an under-30 pitcher with a fat contract and ace-like aspirations?

Could it be Derrek Lee, the most productive Cubs first baseman since Hall of Famer Ernie Banks?

Maybe you think it's Aramis Ramirez, the cock-fighting Dominican Republican, who broke the 30-year Curse of Santo?

Or is it Ryan Theriot, the scrappy, white shortstop who boldly leads off and puts up numbers that makes only his momma proud?

The topic is yours. 

It is never too early to project the opening day roster

Good evening, friends!

We are pretty much now in the month, the raw, grey, but wonderful month of February known primarily for two things: Black History Month (which, frankly, if I were African-American, I would be royally insulted that they gave us the shortest month), and of course, Pitchers And Catchers Report (PACR for short). 

God bless PACR, which is most years, the very best time of the year to be a Cub fan.

It has been a much slower off-season that we have been accustomed to lately.  No hee-youge money signings; and as is typical in the Jim Hendry regime, no major life altering trades.  It seems like when he got burned by the Nomar deal in 2004, like he just gave up.  According to all that know him, he spends his life with the phone in his ear.  I can't possibly imagine who he's talking to all that time - divorcees doing their laundry in their apartment commons, who?  I think he has one more minor deal up his sleeve, and it will be a trade, not a free-agent signing.  Based on his most recent signings, he has a bit of a surplus, if all goes according to plan.

So I am confident in presenting to you, intensely loyal readers and enduring sufferers of the crappiest off-season in Goatrider history, the 2010 Cubs Opening Day Roster:

Catchers (2) Geo Soto, Koyie (Three-finger) Hill

Soto looks wonderful for 2010, and Hill gained some much needed confidence during his Rebel-esque streak of starts behind the plate during the dog days last summer.  Honestly, I am counting on this position being one of our anchors this summer.

Outfielders (4) Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Sam Fuld

Yes, yes, I said it - the Pride of Nashua, NH will come north with the big boys this April!  I believe that, once again, Scott Boras has oversold his client, Xavier Nady, and the X man will probably be out for a few weeks while his double-baked elbow fully heals.  No biggie, really.  This year is not going to hinge on X Nady.

Infielders (7) Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Jeff Baker, Derrek Lee, Andres Blanco, Mike Fontenot, Chad Tracy

Where's the Great Starlin Castro? Not quite yet, people.  Down boy, DOWN!  How about Hoffpauir?  Well, you know what Al Pacino said in "Scarface" - first you get the money, then you get the Micah Hoffpauir.  Seriously, Uncle Lou has been advocating a "versatile roster" since he became a manager back in the last century.  Chad Tracy, if he is actually alive and not deceased, like Ryan Freel, can back up in more positions than the Hoff, and probably hits just as well.  The Hoff, the other hand, will be free to be traded to the AL team that he so desperately needs.

Pitchers (12) Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzellany, Sean Marshall, John Grabow, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, Jason Frasor

In the past, and in most cases, most teams break camp with 11 pitchers because of the frequent scheduled off-days in early April.  But Ted Lilly will stay behind in Arizona for convenient midnight snacking on the abundant homeless in the Phoenix area, and I imagine neither Samardzija or Gorzellany will step up and assert themselves as a sure-thing rotation member we can count on.  Thus, there will be lots of help on hand. This includes relatively new guys Caridad and Berg, who threw strikes during last year's trial period, and real new guy Jason Frasor, who is currently a Blue Jay who has put in enough time to get paid real money, and is being shopped for a young, cheap, useful guy like the Hoff.

To me, it looks like a good team, a solid team, and if Soriano and Soto bounce back, a division-winning team.  Just, I'm afraid, not the team that is going to snap the streak.  Already slighty ouchy (Lilly, Nady), no true staff Ace or catalyst leadoff man.

Why it's been hard to write about the Cubs lately

Normally, this is Silly Season, the best time of year for Cubs fans.  This is where "spring hopes eternal", where we make the trades and free agent buys that give us hope that next year will be The Year!  Sometimes it has really, really not worked out (the offseason of Dave Smith, Willie Wilson, and Jose Guzman) and sometimes we've come closer (three years ago when we bought Alfonso Soriano), but historically, this time of year has been just as exciting, if not more so, than the actual season when the games our played.

And, when we're excited, we write about it more out here.  We've been in the doldrums, so has Desipio, Ivy Chat, Hire Jim Essian, even Pollyellon hasn't been prolific this winter.  Hell, we all figured - new owner?  Ought to be a blood-letting, a free-for-all!

One problem, though.  We all kind of said it at the end of the fall, but didn't really have anything other than a gut feeling about it.  But let's look at this excerpt I borrowed from Baseball Prospects, via ESPN Insider:

When Tom Ricketts purchased the Cubs at the end of the 2009 season,
he spoke openly about how important it was for him to bring a
championship to the north side of Chicago. (It's been a few years.)
That's certainly possible, but previous moves by general manager Jim
Hendry have handcuffed the team on a nearly unprecedented level. The
contract situation Ricketts inherits is among the worst in baseball
history, and with so many immovable players on the roster, rebuilding
will not be an option in the near term. That, in effect, means if the
Cubs are going to get to the World Series for the first time since
1945, it's going to have to be with this group.

Keep in mind, the guys at BP are totally unbiased; in fact, I can't see how people who seem to completely lack passion about the game can write about it.  They're pros, they're totally objective, and they're saying the same thing we've been saying all along:

Nobody, not even the Blow Jays, have more bad contracts, more untradeable pieces, and a more static situation than the Cubs.  What you see is what you get, and when the national guys are saying it?  It's making for a long, boring rest of the winter.

Now, I am happy to report the first images from this year's Cubs Convention: Ryan Dempster looks focused, Geo Soto looks GREAT, and Lou Piniella seems to have regained some level of coherency.  And, hey, no Milton Bradley!  Derrek Lee is still tall, Ryan Theriot has a better haircut, and we will win more than 83 games this year.

But it isn't going to be due to an injection of talent.  In fact, the only excitement we will experience this year is the possibility that one of our arb-eligibles may actually have an arbitration hearing this year.  That hasn't happened in over 10 years under the Trib's ownership.  Jim Hendry might have to say bad things about Theriot or Carlos Marmol.  Yeah, that will end well.

Let's all root for our old guys, because we're going to sink or swim with them.

Did somebody say Roster Talk?

In as few words as possible, here's my vote for 2010.

Let 'Em Walk: Rich Harden (offered arb, won't take it), Kevin Gregg (no arb), Reed Johnson (no arb), John Grabow (could be resigned depending on price), Aaron Heilman (permanent member of Lou's dog house).

Total 2009 Salary for Walkers: About $18 million

That leaves us with the following set-up, with a few holes to be filled via free agency:

Startin' Lineup:

1. Felipe Lopez, 2B (2-year, $18mil deal, maybe a third-year option)
2. Milton Bradley, RF (.400 or so OBP against lefties AND righties)
3. Derrek Lee, 1B (he's earned it)
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B (no brainer)
5. Kosuke Fukudome, RF (.470 SLG in '09, .550 SLG in July, .650 SLG in August)
6. Alfonso Soriano, LF (gotta play him; plus he still has some power)
7. Geo Soto, C (contingent upon significant weight loss)
8. Ryan Theriot, SS (best 8 hitter in the league? maybe)

Bench: C Hill, 2B/3B/LF Fox, CF Fuld, 2B/SS/3B Miles (damn it Jim Hendry!!!!), Triple A Flavor of the Week

Rotation: Z, Lilly, Demp, Wells, and Gorzo

(I guess you could spend $10mil on a Garland or a Davis or a Duchscherer; I'd rather do that than sign Harden for many many years. I'm scared of that arm.)

Bullpen: Marmol, Guzman, Marshall, Stevens, and a few of your favorite free agents on the cheap (or Berg, or Caridad, or Gaub)

That should do it, right?

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