Whenever we've done player previews in the past, we've tended to order it from the rotation through the bullpen all the way to the least likely 25th man. This year we're doing it differently -- the least likeliest will come first, the studs will go relatively last. So let me get this out of the way ...
So Taguchi is not going to make the team in 2009. He's old, he can't hit, and neither his defensive versatility nor his ability to speak Japanese will be enough to get him past the other guys ahead of him on the list.
Realistically, the only reason the Cubs ever pursued So was because Hendry gets OCDish when trying to fill a roster spot. Or, perhaps it was to give Fukudome a potential companion for the road, sort of a Jack Twist to Kosuke's Ennis del Mar, but without all the gay cowboy stuff. And while having a more diverse team is a very noble concept - sort of like how it's admirable to have so many scrappy shawties out there - talent reigns supreme and Lou's 25 man squad will mostly be the best players available to him, and Paul Bako.
But on the off chance that Taguchi defies the odds and becomes the 5th outfielder in front of the speedy Joey Gathright and the monster power-hitting Micah Hoffpauir, here's how he'll do it:
- Bribery. Since 2003, Taguchi has earned an estimated 5.6 million. that's like half a billion Yen. If Taguchi and his American Yakuza rolled into Piniella's office with a brief case full of Yen, I'm just not convinced that our skipper will be smart enough to realize that he's getting shafted.
- Defensive versatility. He can play all positions in the outfield and he's even played 3 games at second base - as recently as 2007! This guy's a glove stud!
- Erm, maybe he's not washed up? Before he sometimes forgot to take his bat with him to the plate last year, Taguchi was a half decent singles hitter. Even after his attrocious .220 AVG last year, he's a career .279 hitter with a .332 OBP. Okay, while those aren't exactly the numbers of champions - ignoring that he's got two rings now, thankyouverymuch - they aren't bad numbers for a backup. The odds have to be against Taguchi reverting to form in this, his 40th year on earth, but crazier things have happened. Just ask Kirk Gibson.
- Look at him. Just look at him!!! That crazy expression, those insane eyes, the #99 worn on his back, So Taguchi just might be crazy enough to be casted for a Tarentino movie. Maybe he's not crazy enough to tell Derrek Lee he's "got no marbles," or to stand on the outfield wall to rob a guy of a homerun, but I've seen this movie and we need our lovable, not-understandable scallywags. Unless Carlos Zambrano really steps up his game in 2009, then Taguchi just might be that guy.
But back in reality, none of those are really reasons to hand him the job. What is likely though will be that it will come down to the last week of Spring Training. So, while Taguchi's rivals for that last spot are presently batting .303 (Hoffpauir) and .333 (Gathright) compared to Taguchi's .182 (crappy), anything can happen. And with Captain Crazy Eyes, they just might.
But, uh, maybe it'd be best if they don't. Just sayin'.
This is the third year that we've done Player Previews, but it's the first time that they won't all be accompanied by my silly (and sometimes bizarre) photoshops. We'll be kicking off the full run starting next Monday and running through the first few days of the season. For today, I hope you'll enjoy your teaser of ...
This article is brought to you by Bench Aaron Miles, covering Cubs positional battles all year long!
I remember exactly what I was up to when Lou Piniella signed his contract to manage the Cubs back before the '07 season. I was pretty well appalled by the guy. He'd been one of three or four guys the Cubs were looking at. The rest were younger and - I assumed wrongly - more open to managing baseball in the new school way rather than using traditional (and very wrong) models.
In other words, I thought he was going to turn into another Dusty Baker, batting his center fielder leadoff no matter what, always starting the veteran over the young guy, burning up the arms of his pitchers, killing the team's chances of winning.
Man, I was wrong.
It's been two years and coincidentally or not, the Cubs are the repeat NL Central Champions. It's their first divisional title repeat in about 100 years. And it may never have happened without him. Even with Piniella, the '07 Cubs were 22-31 on June 2nd, 9 games under .500. They were playing terribly. Their ace pitcher and starting catcher had just had a fistfight in the dugout. They were "dead to the neck up," quickly squandering the talent that Jim Hendry had assembled, and that's when Lou went crazy! It was the 73rd ejection of his career and it was also the catalyst for an improbable playoff run, not that I recognized that immediately.
From June 3rd and on, the Cubs were 63-46, the best in baseball. Last year, the Cubs were 97-64 - the best in the National League. In other words, since June 3rd, 2007, there has been no team harder to beat in the NL than the Cubs. Except for when the playoffs roll around.
October is a harsh month, and Lou has seen his share of playoff failures. As a skipper, he's managed teams into October 7 times - including the 116 win 2001 Mariners - but he's only won a single World Series. Which, to be fair, is 1 more than what the Cubs have won in Piniella's lifetime.
Regardless, the last couple of years have been losers for Lou in terms of his ultimate goals. He's not in Chicago to make money, although he is well paid. He's not there to pad his managerial record, he's already got more than 1,700 career wins. He's there to win the World Series. The Cubs are 0-6 in playoff games managed by Lou. Should they reach the playoffs in 2009 - and all signs point to it happening - will they be swept away again? I don't think they will be, but it's a big question. However what we shouldn't question at this point is Lou's ability to manage and his passion about winning. We shouldn't be concerned about who he'll start wherever - he makes decisions based on ability, not age or contract. I was wrong to doubt him. He's the best manager the Cubs have had in my lifetime, and I look forward to watching him work again in 2009.
This article is brought to you by Bench Aaron Miles, covering Cubs positional battles all year long!
Kurtis, Kurtis....how could you have forsaken thee?
I love Uncle Lou with every fiber of my body, except maybe my pee pee. I have agreed with everything he has done in his tenure, INCLUDING his Game 1 decision with Zambrano, INCLUDING his decision to leave Marmol in there last week, and especially including his decision to bring him out there yesterday in the ninth.
Kurt is convinced that Marmol's problems are fatigue-related, which explains his stance that Lou is running him into the ground, which explains why he would drop an (edited) f-bomb in his name. For shame!! Que cosa! As my high school Spanish teacher would say. Ya lo crea! The idea of swearing at Uncle Lou..
..lookee here. Kerry Wood is going on the disabled list, backdated a week, so we will not have him around for the next two series. We are playing probably the "best" performers of the "rest" of the National League, the D-backs and the Fighting Fish. We have traditionally needed all hands on deck against these two foes - these will be tough series, in which a closer will be necessary.
The short term answer is to bring in Howry - which is what most of us so-called internet GMs would advocate. I guarantee you that Lou is fully aware that Bob Howry has closing experience, and that he is available. He isn't the greatest closer ever, either, you know. Plus, he's 37 or so...is he the Future of the Cubs Bullpen?
No. Marmol is. And contrary to Kurt, I am as convinced as he is about what might be wrong with Marmol, and in my view, it ain't fatigue. It's all about Confidence, and the man that SHOULD know the most about it, Lou Pinella, seems to agree with me.
Eventually, Lou knows that the kid is going to be the closer, sooner or later. It would be nice for all of us to imagine the 31-year-old Wood settling in for a nice 8-year-run as the Cubs closer, ala Eckersley, Hoffman, Percival, and some other guys you can name who closed close to their 40's. It ain't gonna happen. If it isn't blistered fingers, sore shoulders or gamey elbow ligaments, it will be something else with Wood (who I love), but is more of a emotional, "dealing with adversity with class" hero than a "performing physical feats on the field of play" hero.
Smart baseball men do not count on Kerry Wood to hold positions of grave importance on their rosters.
Thus, we need to groom Marmol sooner or later. But which one is it, sooner or later? Do we throw him out there this week in ninth inning save situations? Is he ready? Will he succeed, and close out vital games in this 2008 pennant run, bolster his confidence, and gain vital experience for 2009, 2010, or whenever he becomes the full-time closer? Or does he blow the games for us, dropping us out of the NL Central lead, and shred whatever confidence he has left? How do we know? How COULD we know?
Welllll.....we could hook him up to a simulator on a PS3, let him take the controls for a ninth inning save. OR, we could send him down to Iowa to let him save a game there? OR, maybe we run him out in the ninth inning yesterday. I understand that none of these situations are ideal, but which one of the three will most closely simulate the type of action he should expect in a major league save situation, while at the same time be logistically feasible, and, oh incidentally, helps us close out a win we desperately needed to salvage an otherwise depressing series coming out of the All-Star Break?
If Marmol went out yesterday and crapped himself in a Hawkins-esque fashion, then all Lou has to do is send in Cotts or Howry to clean up, and he pretty much has his answer as to: 1) whether Marmol is ready to close this next week, and 2) how close is he to becoming the full-time Closer of the Future. Because if you have some tissue attached to your brain stem, and if you read this here blog, you must know by now that Closing is about 10% physical and 90% mental, and if you doubt that, then tell me how the hell Rod Beck was able to log 53 saves in 1998 with a piece of raw fish hanging from his right shoulder joint?
Lou isn't just paid to win in 2008 - he has to know how he is going to do it next year, too. He needs to know exactly what he has in Marmol. He KNOWS he can throw caked-on-dirty sliders...but he needs to find out once and for all what he has between his huge Mickey Mouse ears, and also what he has hanging in his jock.