Imagine that it's April 1, 2009, and the Cubs then are exactly as the Cubs are today. Jason Marquis is still the 5th starter. Neal Cotts remains in the bullpen. Theriot still plays shortstop, while Mark DeRosa splits RF with Fukudome (who splits CF with Reed Johnson) and 2B with Mike Fontenot (who splits the stepping stool with Eric the Midget, team mascot of the '09 Cubs). Alfonso Soriano still leads off. Derrek Lee still bats third. Carlos Marmol still anchors himself to the pitching mount, lest his wind-sail ears pick him up and carry him off over Lake Michigan. Cub fans still wake up with the sweats the night before a Zambrano start, and develop nervous twitches any time Soriano hoppingly one-hands a fly ball to left.
Would it be enough? Could the Cubs win with a team that looks like this?
C Geovany Soto
1B Derrek Lee
2B Mike Fontenot/Mark DeRosa
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson
RF Mark DeRosa/Kosuke Fukudome
IF Ronny Cedeno
OF Felix Pie/Micah Hoffpauir/Joey Gathright
C Koyie Hill
SP Carlos Zambrano/Ted Lilly/Ryan Dempster/Rich Harden/Jason Marquis
MR Neal Cotts/Chad Gaudin/Sean Marshall/Michael Wuertz*/Kevin Gregg/Carlos Marmol
(*I almost switched out Wuertz for Samardzija, but I think that the Shark pitches in Iowa unless he starts)
The short answer is "yes." With that team, with those players, with that rotation, the Cubs could - and perhaps should - blaze a trail into their third consecutive NL Central title. But perhaps a more appropriate question would be Can They Win the World Series?
Well, the likely answer is no. These Cubs would not be better than last year's Cubs. They would be weaker offensively, at the very least. Then again, the playoffs are a crapshoot. The 83 win Cardinals can win the World Series. The 116 win Mariners can fail to even get there. Alfonso Soriano cautionists* should know - Barry Bonds can bat .198 in the playoffs over 6 trips and more than 100 at bats, with a 1 HR and 7 RBI, and then his head can grow three sizes larger and he can bat .356 in one post season trip and hit 8 homers in 45 at bats and drive in 16 RBI. Anything can happen, and precedence means nothing - just ask the '04 Red Sox who stared the Bambino Curse, the Yankees Dynasty, and a 3 game deficit in the face and smacked it down with the fury of an O.J. scorned.
(*Yes, I just invented a word.)
Regardless, as a fan of the Cubs and a realist, I can't help but wish that our favorite would find a way to upgrade. And that's the rub - when your team has the best hitting, pitching, and NL record, it's reallllly hard to improve.
I suppose we should keep that in mind while we lament over Hendry doing little-to-nothing. Still, while stepping up may be hard, stepping back shouldn't be necessary either.
Reports from the SEC have Mark Cuban accused of insider trading. Cuban supposedly saved $750,000 back in 2004 by dumping stock shortly before a transaction.
Cuban lives in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty, but he's walking shaky ground here. It's way too early to speculate on what will happen, but if he's convicted then he's at risk of losing control of his company, he's at risk of going to jail, and obviously he'll probably be officially out of the running to buy the Cubs.
I've said all along that Cuban is a sexy choice to own the Cubs because he represents something the team hasn't had in decades - a face for the team. People know him, they know what he represents, and that flies in contrast with the Tribune, a company of people whose names I do not know and faces I would not recognize. He also has the kind of competitor's spirit and pride that Cubs ownership has lacked since the time of the Depression.
But if Cuban fails to purchase the Cubs - something that is becoming more likely with every passing day now - then I can only hope that whoever buys the team shares his pride and desire to win. The Cubs need - and Cub fans deserve - a guy like that. But who knows if we'll ever see one?
Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times released a story saying that Bud Selig would stop at nothing to prevent Mark Cuban from owning the Cubs. The term "zero chance" sprang up, and Cub fans everywhere concluded that, well, maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
Problem is, Selig doesn't get a say. As far as I know, he doesn't own a single share of the Chicago Tribune, he does not sit on the board of directors, and he is not going over the numbers with Sam Zell in trying to determine the best offer to purchase the team.
The best offer. That phrase is important. While Selig has played a role in the sale of other teams in the past, particularly the Marlins, Red Sox, and perhaps the Expos/Nationals, the Cubs are a different situation. They are property of a multi-billion dollar corporation which was hemorrhaging money long before the rest of America started to feel the bleed, and a corporation's top obligation is to make the best deal for its shareholders. That means that if Fidel Castro suddenly outbid the field, the Tribune would be obligated through its shareholders to sell the team to Cuba's former president. Selig can probably weigh in before the decision is made, but this will not be a situation of the team going to the second or third highest bidder.
Regardless, what remains clear is that the sale will not be completed any time soon. The financial crisis has seen to that. But Bud Selig is not all powerful, nor is he all knowing, and if Mark Cuban makes the best offer to buy the Cubs, then Mark Cuban will be the next owner.
Colin reported yesterday that Ryan Dempster will be testing the waters shortly, as he is looking for a 4 year deal or more while the Cubs are only going to offer him 3.
About a month back, when the season ended, I wrote the following: This is the biggest area of interest this off season. I'm sure there are some people who think that Dempster will be an elite pitcher next season. I'm not one of them. However, I do think he'll have a good 2009, and maybe even a good '10 and '11. If Jim Hendry can negotiate a reasonable deal with Dempster - say, 3 years for 30-36 million with an option for a 4th year - then I support his return. But if Dempster demands 4 or 5 years for 14 million or more, the Cubs will need to wish him the best and let him go.
It looks now as though Dempster is asking for just that, while the Cubs appear interested in offering the kind of deal I speculated on.
Consequently, Jim Hendry will have a busy week or two. He'll be trying to negotiate with Dempster while blowing up the phone lines of the San Diego Padres in order to land Peavy. Peavy would be costly, but let's remember two things - 1) he's the same age as Carlos, and 2) He's locked up for 4 years for barely more money than what Jason Marquis is making. If I'm the GM, Peavy is a must-have, as he is that rare ace pitcher with an affordable contract.
There is one other factor that will play out interestingly this off season for Dempster - most seasons, he'd be the top free agent pitcher on the market. This year, he's one of a bunch. While there is always a need for starting pitchers, there are also only so many dollars able to be spent and the market may be saturated to the point where the only guy to get what he "deserves" will be Sabathia. But even if Dempster goes, and even if Peavy's price is too costly, the Cubs will have the ability to replace Dempster with somebody for less-or-equal money who actually may outproduce Clownsevelt next season.
Those options look to include the following:
Jon Garland - 29, 14-8, 4.90 ERA
Braden Looper - 34, 12-14, 4.16 ERA
Derek Lowe - 35, 14-11, 3.24 ERA
Oliver Perez - 27, 10-7, 4.22 ERA
CC Sabathia - 28, 17-10, 2.70 ERA
Ben Sheets - 30, 13-9, 3.09 ERA
AJ Burnett - possible free agent - 31, 18-10, 4.07 ERA
And there are other good pitchers who could file but haven't yet. My current theory is also that one of the teams that loses out on some of the pitchers above might be willing to accept a trade for Jason Marquis rather than go home empty-handed.
Regardless, I'll end it by saying this - if Ryan Dempster can get 4 or 5 years elsewhere, then I believe the Cubs should wish him the best and send him on his way. At his age, after a career year, and without knowing if he can pitch consistently for another half decade, anything more than 3 years would be too much. There are other options out there, and the Cubs should pursue them.
You've probably mostly missed it, but over on Another Cubs Blog, I've been party to a running debate on the leadership qualities of Aramis Ramirez, and the value of sports leaders in general. It remains a topic I enjoy discussing, so I figured I'd take a stab at explaining my views in a succinct and self-contained post that will be so incredibly sensible that, surely, nobody will question or debate it. But in order to do that, let's establish some ground rules. Read more after the break.
The Tribune reported today that Rick Sutcliffe might be open to working for the Cubs in '09 and beyond, should Bob Brenly head for cheesier pastures. However, Sutcliffe feels loyalty to ESPN, and he very well may wind up honoring the remaining 2 years on his deal with them.
In other news, the Rays are currently looking like sad participants in the World Series. I'm not sure about the Ex Cub Factor - in fact, I don't really care enough to look - but with the loss of Cliff Floyd, the Rays apparently chose to compensate by bringing in Eric Hinske - keeping them with the same balance they had before. But you never know - Scott Eyre may find a way to help the Rays even the score.
There's more I want to blog about, particularly in reference to more free agent topics of debate. We're also thinking about adding another skin sometime in the relatively near future, but it's not a big priority.
So, since my heart isn't in it, I leave you with that for now. I will very likely have more to say later today, though, so poke your head back toward the blog before you leave work.
I don't think we've really covered this topic on GROTA, and on Monday morning I will be opening a poll to get a direct vote from you guys. The Cubs won a lot of games this year for one reason - they were a complete team. Every player at every position contributed, and I'm not sure if any of them could be called superstars. However, there may have been one who served as the glue that held everything together. So, which one was it? Which Cubs player was the guy who everybody else looked to? A few suggestions:
Alfonso Soriano: I figured I'd go with the least likely choice first. Maybe it's not a coincidence that when Soriano evaporated like the fine morning mist in October, so did the Cubs offense. What cannot be contested, however, is that his bat was huge to the team as they surged toward the playoffs. In that regard, his biggest detraction is all the injury time.
Mark DeRosa: He played multiple positions and had the best season of his career. Players like DeRosa are jersey-wearing, glove hefting, bat swinging gold.
Geovany Soto: The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year was offensively solid and called good games behind the plate. He very well may be the best catcher in 70 years, which is more a criticism of the Cubs' luck with catchers.
Carlos Marmol: When he was on target, he was the best setup man in baseball. When he lost himself for a month, Cubs games were hard to watch. Marmol, also known as the Dramatic Gopher, pitched outstandingly for the Cubs and was usually the most reliable reliever in the bullpen.
Ryan Dempster: The Cubs were supposed to be a team with strong pitching. It turns out that they were, but they had more trouble than anybody could have expected - particularly with the disintegration of Rich Hill's career. As of March, I was convinced that Dempster would be out of the rotation before June. I thought he would be erratic, inconsistent, and craptacular. I was wrong. He instead led the team in wins, he had a sub-3 ERA, and he was the most reliable arm during the regular season.
So, that gives us Dempster, Marmol, Soto, DeRosa, and Soriano. I'm actually not sure who I think was the team MVP. I welcome you to debate it in the comments section.
Oh, that silly media.
Paul Sullivan reports that various members of the national media have turned the Cubs into a punchline again. I know how I feel whenever I come across this kind of thing, and it's probably how you feel too - it's embarrassing, and because of that I tend to get pissed. But, hey, it's hard to blame them. Futility makes for an easy punchline, and causing some people pain is hardly a reason not to tell a joke.
The Caveman Journalist speculates that Manny Ramirez could join the Cubs. I'll summarize the article for you so you don't have to read it ... I am just a simple caveman journalist. Your world frightens and confuses me! Why, just the other day, a homeless man approached me with a tin cup. I thought, "Is this scruffy man planning on attacking me in order to claim my luxurious apartment for his own? And so I pummeled him until he was bleeding and unconscious on the pavement, and then I took his smelly woman for my own. But while I don't understand the nature of homelessness in society, what I do know is this: while he is old, expensive, and defensively worthless, Manny Ramirez could join the Cubs in 2009.
The Sun-Times is reporting that Hendry is close to an extension. The relevant text for this article: "Jim Hendry may be close to aw gawd, we're going broke, the newspaper industry is collapsing, what will we doooo?"
And lastly, the Tampa Bay Rays have learned what it's like to be the Chicago Cubs. After taking a 3-1 ALCS lead on the Red Sox, Tampa squandered a huge lead in Game 5, never really seemed in it in Game 6, and are now playing with their backs against the wall in Game 7. Man, nothing crushes a person's soul quite as badly as an Epic Playoff Loss (EPL for short). I wish them the best of luck.
It's been discussed here a little ... Jake Peavy is apparently willing to be traded from the Padres, and thus far the Cubs are 1 of 5 teams he'd accept a trade to. Now, obviously, a Cubs team with a rotation of Zambrano-Peavy-Harden-Lilly-Dempster (or Samardzija, or Marquis, or a warm bucket of spit - it really doesn't matter when those other guys are in there) would be ridiculous, but it's also pretty unlikely.
The primary concern has to be salary. Zambrano is making 17.75 million next year, Lilly makes 12, Harden 7, and Dempster will likely be making 10 million on a back-ended deal, assuming he comes back at all.
With Peavy's 10 million+ salary - which is actually quite a bargain for his level of talen - that would give the Cubs starting 5 a payroll of $56 million plus - there were 6 teams with smaller payrolls in 2008, including the Rays who are still in position to reach the World Series for the AL.
I say that, hey, if the Cubs can afford it, then they should do it. But file this one under Trades to be Mades - what would the Padres want for Peavy? I'd assume that, minimally, Marshall, Pie, and probably somebody of Samardzija's level would be asked for by the Padres.
Brenly to the Brewers?
Our friend over at MLB Trade Rumors reports that Bob Brenly is being considered to manage the Brewers, and this just weeks after he extended his deal to broadcast for the Cubs.
Regrettably, Steve Stone is now calling games for the White Sox, and is signed up to do so for the next six years. Guh. Maybe there are other options out there, but most of them suck. I anticipate that if Brenly goes, he'll be hard to replace in the booth, although I know there are some people out there who might loudly disagree.