Randy Wells churned out another quality start by allowing an earned run on six hits and two walks over six innings. It looked like things were about to fall apart in the fifth inning when Wells loaded the bases with two outs and subsequently allowed a run-scoring infield single to Luis Castillo. However, Wells was able to strike out an over-eager David Wright on three pitches to end the threat and the inning.
Lou went to the bullpen in the seventh inning, and like a match to a powderkeg, the fireworks promptly began for the Mets. Feeling left out from the rest of the pen, the previously unscored upon James Russell served up a home run to Angel Pagan immediately after beaning Jose Reyes on an 0-2 pitch. And the fun didn't stop there. With two outs in the inning, Lou brought in implosion specialist Jeff Samardzija who promptly issued a walk to David Wright and a double off of the wall by Jason Bay. Even Sean Marshall got in on the fun in the seventh by allowing an RBI single to future Hall of Famer Ike Davis (he has a career batting average of .500!) and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch to the next batter.
There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about the bullpen woes of the Cubs. It's thirteen games into the season and the roles in the bullpen are about as defined as they were coming into Spring Training. The Shark looks like he has no idea where his release point is at and really needs to be put on the first bus down to Iowa to get some substantive instruction (like: how a sinker is supposed to sink). With Andrew Cashner dominating hitters in Double A (3 GS, 17.1 IP, 5 ER, 25:4 K:BB) and the instability of the club's MLB bullpen, I think it is safe to begin the "Cashner Watch" (in spite of this) He was a very good closer for TCU, and I believe he could be useful at the major league level.
Then again it's not like the offense helped Wells out tonight, either. On a positive note, the new leadoff hitter Marlon Byrd went 3-4 with an RBI and the oft-criticized Alfonso Soriano went 2-4 (albiet, with a double that could have been streched out if he hustled). Byrd's comfort in the leadoff spot may have something to do with the fact that he spent a fair amount of time in that spot during his time with the Phils. It seems that some Chicago sports personalities are against the move, as they believe Byrd is more valuable in a lower lineup spot because he is 'clutch'. Considering the Cubs could use any spark possible at the top of the lineup, I think Byrd did a fine job of working the count and setting the table; both qualities I attribute to a successful leadoff hitter.
Aside from Byrd and Soriano, all the other offensive statistics are appaling. The team went 1-10 with runners in scoring position. The 3-4-5 hitters went 1-11 with two walks. Aramis Ramirez continued his frigid start to the season with an 0-4 showing which dropped his average to .157. Even more troubling, Ramirez only saw a total of 14 pitches in his 4 AB's. It seems like Ramirez is pressing right now and the Cubs as a whole are suffering because of it.
On a positive note, Theodore Roosevelt Lilly allowed only one run over seven innings in his final rehab start for Class A Peoria. He threw 88 pitches in the outing and stuck out nine batters while only walking one. Theodore, well aware of the offensive struggles in his absence and always the consummate team player, even attempted a stolen base. It looks like he will make his first start with the big club on Sunday against the Brewers.
Tomorrow the Cubs look to even the series against right hander Mike Pelfrey. Lou may not trot out the new look lineup tomorrow, but hopefully the end result will be different.
Today's game was one that could very easily have ended with a Cub loss rather than a win. It all came down to the performance of one player, a dude that has managed to steal headlines from across the Cubs' blogsphere and Twitterverse.
It looked as though Alfonso Soriano might be due for another turdtastic performance today after his at-bat in the bottom of the 2nd inning in which he struck out on three pitches, the latter two of which were both low-and-away breaking balls thrown well out of the zone. But he'd do his best to make up for it in his next at-bat, singling to left to lead off the bottom of the 5th inning. Unfortunately, Carlos "Why Yes I Have An RBI To My Name Thank You Very Much" Silva sucks at bunting, so the effort went for naught on a 1-5-3 double play (seriously -- not good on the bunting effort, Silva).
But the Fonz was not to be held down, no sir! In the bottom of the 7th, he got hold of a bad pitch from Felipe Paulino (honestly, look at the at-bat on Gameday, that thing was dead center) and drove Marlon Byrd home from second with a double to tie the game.
What happened next, however, was a play that was THISCLOSE from making Soriano the goat for today's game, despite the two hits he had already collected.
After Mike Fontenot walked, Koyie Hill was given the sign to bunt. And on the first pitch of the at-bat, Soriano took off. Unfortunately, Hill had taken the pitch, and Soriano appeared caught.
But the Fonz kept running. The ball went to second, and then to third... but the throw was high. And just like that, Soriano slid in safely, and was saved from another round of what likely would have been some seriously intense booing. More importantly, the Cubs were saved from a devastating out that may have completely shifted the game's momentum into the Astros' favor. Might the Cubs have won anyway? Perhaps. But the win certainly would have been a lot tougher to pull off.
Later in the 7th, a Theriot bunt, Kosuke sac fly and D-Lee home run would bust the game wide open, securing the Cubs a win. With that, you can book it, folks: Carlos Silva has now pitched 13 innings and has a 1-0 record, to go along with a scintillating 0.69 ERA.
If ESPN carries any highlights from today's game, they'll probably be clips of Derrek's three-run jack, and the error attributed to Byrd in the top of the 4th inning that eventually allowed two Astros to score. But make no mistake: today's game was all about Soriano. And thanks to a little -- or you might even call it a lot -- of luck, the Cubs won.
Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.
Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.
Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.
Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!
Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.
Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.
Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.
Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.
Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!
In the top of the first, the first three Cub hitters reached base, giving our so-called "RBI guys" a golden opportunity to stake the team to an early lead.
Mistakes #1 and #2 - Aramis Ramirez and Marlon Byrd each fail to plate the runner from third with less than two outs.
I'm not expecting a grand slam every time we load the bases. Heck, I understand that even the best hitters fail to get a hit 60% of the time. But when you're as talented a hitter as Aramis Ramirez, facing a rookie pitcher in Mike Leake, you've got to find a way to get the ball to the outfield and score your leadoff man from first. The exact same notion applies for Marlon Byrd, as well -- woulda loved a base hit, but failing to generate a productive out is unprofessional, and inexcusable.
We'll talk more later about the collective failings of the middle-of-the-order guys eventually, but for now let's fast forward to the bottom of the seventh, with the Cubs leading 1-0 and Tom Gorzelanny having just allowed a couple of base runners.
Mistake #3 - Alfonso Soriano fails to catch a fly ball to left field with runners on first and second.
What makes the error worse is that I know a guy who could've made that play, so if Soriano's gonna strikeout twice a game and fail to register a hit anyway, why not put Colvin in left after the sixth inning of every close game? Maybe we'll see that happen soon. Fortunately, after Miguel Cairo got lucky and knocked in one run, this happened:
Mistake #4 - Dusty Baker decides to put in Jay Bruce to pinch hit against lefty Sean Marshall.
Okay, not a Cub mistake. But had to be noted. In Dusty we trusty!!!!!
Marshall would take advantage, striking Bruce out. He'd then strike out the right-handed Drew Stubbs, making an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for his being named the primary set-up man in the Cub bullpen.
To the bottom of the eighth we go. After allowing a couple of singles,
Mistake #5 - John Grabow issues a four pitch walk to Scott Rolen.
A walk would be one thing (admittedly still the type of thing you would call "bad"). But you don't even have one good strike in you to throw to a .235-hitting old guy? Furthermore, there are good balls and there are bad balls (that's what she said), and nothing John Grabow threw was anywhere close to the plate. As a result, Grabow himself made an EXTREMELY STRONG CASE for being removed from high leverage situations.
This next one is debatable, but I'm gonna go ahead and give it its own bold-faced numerical entry:
Mistake #6 - With the bases loaded and one out, Lou Piniella brings in the young Esmailin Caridad to try to get two outs.
Yes, Grabow had given some indication that he had lost control of the strike zone in the previous at-bat. But I'd still consider him to have a better handle on throwing strikes than the kid who just got up from the bench in the 'pen. I say, Grabow created the mess, why not give him a chance to get out of it? And with Jeff Samardzija warming up in the 'pen at the time, it wasn't like Lou was expecting to come out of the inning with a tie anyway.
As it happened, Caridad walked a run in, and then allowed a sacrifice fly, giving the Reds their second and third runs on the day. The rest was history.
Any lessons learned? I suppose so.
First,I'd advocate to have Soriano pulled after the sixth inning of any low-scoring, close game. Let him swing away early on, but if the pitchers are on Soriano is a sure out anyway (this just in: the Fonz swings at misses at low-and-away breaking pitches that are outside the zone).
Second: I realize we're only six games in, but I can already tell you who I want pitching in the eighth inning when the Cubs have a lead of three or fewer runs. Hint: his name starts with S and rhymes with Sean. Maybe he's at a disadvantage against righties, but I can tell you that as of today, Caridad and Grabow aren't ready to set Marmol up.
(Furthermore, I'm convinced that Grabow never will be. I'm sure he'll be able to get plenty of outs in low-leverage situations this season, but when he needs a strikeout late in the game I just don't know what pitch he has in his repertoire that he can throw to get it.)
And finally, for the final lesson of the weekend, let's give credit where it's due. The Cubs' starting pitching has been pretty darn solid so far, including today's K-tastic outing from Tom Gorzelanny. Seven strikeouts, two walks, four hits -- control like that is going to keep runs off the board, as it did today, with zero earned runs allowed by Gorzo.
It's impossible to justify ignoring Z's opening day masterpiece, but suppose you could do so, just for fun, and you'd have five real good performances from five different starters. So that's nice.
The Cubs head home with a 2-4 record to host the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's hope the fourth, fifth, and sixth hitters (hitting .130, .105, and .143 respectively) get going, and that Marshall gets a chance to set Marmol up in our next close game.
Upon reflection, I should have nicknamed Soriano "Albatross." He carries with him one mother of a contract, a toxic debt that the Ricketts family will be paying for five more seasons including this one.
Except it isn't necessarily that toxic -- yet. Soriano is not so old or out of shape or talentless. It is quite possible that he could bounce back from his horrible '09 performance, in which he was plagued with knee problems and eventually required surgery. Think about it like Andre Dawson, circa 1989 -- even though Sori doesn't have the baseball intelligence of the Hawk.
In 1989, a 34-year-old Dawson was suffering from all kinds of knee ailments. He wasn't his normal self. Consequently, he only played in 118 games, hitting .252 with an OPS of .783 while slugging a meager 21 homeruns and driving in 77 RBI.
Soriano last year was 33, he played in 117 games, batting .241 with an OPS of .726 while slugging a meager 20 homeruns and driving in 55 RBI. But the light at the end of this tunnel was that, despite Dawson's dip into mediocrity, he managed to pull it together and give the Cubs three good years before riding off into the sunset in 1993.
If Soriano is able to do the same -- pull it together, stay healthy, and give the Cubs 3 more good season -- then it almost makes his contract worthwhile, even though Chicago will still be on the hook for 2 more years of gut-churning struggles.
So, I say chin up, Cub fans. It isn't necessarily the end for the Fonz. Now that he's been yanked from the leadoff spot, Lou will hopefully emphasize that he save his legs and focus on hitting crushing homeruns. And now that his legs are healthy again, his defense should improve in the outfield (it's no coincidence that his defensive troubles coincided with the collapse of his health) and maybe, just maybe, the Cubs will benefit again from having Soriano on the team.
In no way do I disagree with anything Kurt wrote on the last post. In a year where very little was done in the offseason, save the removal of a soul-sucking parasitic tumor, we Cub fans are subject to a potent concentration of 'wait and see'.
Which, frankly, is the way it should be with so many players signed to long term expensive contracts. In theory, at the time these contracts were initiated and signed, the player in question was at or near the top of his game,or at least, his usefulness to the Cubs, and for the 3, 4, or God help us, 8 years of the contract, this valuable, 8-figure-making hero of a man should be more than capable of helping us win. Therefore, on a team with 8 men making more than $10 million in annual salary (including Jabba the Silva), you would assume you have 1/3rd of your roster of All-Star caliber.
It worked out that way in 2008, in which we won 97 games. Last year, when one of the 8 figure guys had a dislocated shoulder, another had knee surgery, a third had a desperately ill newborn, a fourth had both back problems and temper tantrums, a fifth ended up needing arm and knee surgery, and a sixth was a soul sucking leech...we won 83 games.
Kurt averaged the two outcomes together and set the over/under at 90. I merely choose to set it at 87. Because, even if Ramirez is healthy again, and Lilly does recover, and Z acts more adultlike simply due to age alone, and the drain on our economy as well as our oxygen supply, Milton Bradley, is gone from our existence...we still have the corpulent Carlos Silva taking up a roster spot that could be used by a Braden Looper or some other mediocre innings-eater that still would be better than Silva the Hutt. That's worth three games right there.
Then,of course, we have the Human Hitting Streak, the man who is more of a contradiction than the Scotch-Korean Starburst eater, the most well paid Cub and the actual heart and Key to the Chicago Cubs, #12 in your programs, and #5 in the most highly paid major league humans...
What is Alfonso Soriano bringing to work this year?
It is funny...yes, I have come out here, repeatedly, in fact, over the past three years and railed on and on about Soriano's isolated style of play. Some of you read that to mean I was saying he was 'selfish', which has led to the Goatriders meme of saying that "Soriano hit two selfish homers today" or something of that ilk.
I do not believe that Soriano is a self absorbed player, as Sammy Sosa certainly was. I don't think he goes back to the clubhouse between innings to check his stat sheet, and I don't think he mopes about an 0-for-4 when we win a game. It is fact, though, that he has balked at times verbally at his manager's suggestion that his role or position should change. So what, lots of guys do that. It is also a fact that his production at the plate tends to trend downward when he does change his position or his place in the order.
What is also clear, at least to me, that in the first two years of his tenure here, as the leadoff man for the Cubs, he did not operate at the plate in the manner of what I felt we truly needed. He was a run producer, yes. He hit a lot of home runs, and that produces runs. More on that in a minute. I think, though, what Jim Hendry was hoping to get was more of a Rickey Henderson-esque figure, someone who hits homers, yes, but at other times, draws walks, and otherwise gets on base, makes things happen on the basepaths, rattles pitchers, draws infielders out of position to make plays on stolen bases, etc.
To be fair, Soriano was never a plate discipline guy, so it was unrealistic to believe he would start once he came here. Also, his legs have failed him since he came here. In fact, this time last year, it appeared his legs were as healthy as they had been since his last year with Washington, and I had predicted a banner year on the basepaths for him. That worked out well.
What I was hoping for out of him, provided he was hitting leadoff for us, that he would become part of an integrated offense. For example, if the eighth hitter got on, and the pitcher bunts him over to second, and Soriano comes to the plate, that he would keep the inning going around 40% or more of the time with some sort of base-advancing contribution, a hit, a walk, or a grounder to the right side, something to keep things going to the heart of the order, where big innings with crooked numbers happen.
But, that isn't what his game is. He IS hot or cold. He is not a normal guy, he does not move the game along the basepaths. No, he is a sixth hitter hitting leadoff, not a true two-outcome guy, but he is a guy who hits a ton of homers, strikes out a lot, and hits a lot of fly balls. And when he is not going well, he kills rallies by the armfuls.
But why is he such a contradiction? Because, when he is hot, and he was hot for most of 2007 and 2008, he hits LOTS of homers, which produces a lot of production, and frankly, won us a lot of games we had no business of winning. He is like a secret weapon, who actually isn't so secret. I mean, if I had the choice of a ham-and-egger who hits singles a lot, and a guy who can mash, sure, gimme the mash. We NEED the true Soriano, the one that can carry a team for 10 days or two weeks. I always said he operated independently of the rest of the Cubs offense, and sometimes that has been good, particularly when he bails us out when nobody else is hitting.
Well, now he is down in the order, where hopefully his streakiness will be somewhat mitigated, and also hopefully a lot of his solo homers to begin games can take place with runners on base. Also, hopefully, he is healthy enough to play the games, take good swings, hit homers, and not be too much of a tinker in left field.
Whether you like it, or not, and honestly, I don't...but as Alfonso Soriano goes, so do the Cubs. Which is probably fair, since he makes the most money. And, since he's at 80 to 85% these days, I figure so are the Cubs. So...87 wins, over/under.
UPDATE: look! Good Soriano news!!
For his first two seasons with the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano had a nasty habit of starting slow, getting hurt, and eventually returning in a fiery burst of offensive ass-kickery. Then, in 2009, Soriano started the year in an unusual manner -- 7 homeruns, 14 RBI, a .284 AVG and a .955 OPS for the month of April. Suddenly it looked as though he just might justify that ridiculous contract of his.
Then, in May, he batted .216. He followed that with a .198 effort in June. By the time he managed a .345 July, the Cubs were pretty much a non-factor in the NL Central and Cub fans were justifiably booing him for his disappointing start and ridiculously indefensible defensive ridiculousness.
Cub fans here and elsewhere described him with many, many non-flattering words. Cub bloggers here and elsewhere pointed out that we all knew this day would come -- you don't sign a 32-year-old to a 7 year deal without expecting some years of suck to be injected here and there -- but none of us were expecting it to come so soon.
Eventually Soriano found himself dropped from his traditional spot at leadoff -- something that should have happened oh, I dunno, three years ago -- and he actually put up better numbers. In 41 games as the 6th hitter, he batted .268 with a .759 OPS and 6 homeruns. That's right, .268 and .759 were actually improvements on his previous production.
He'd eventually leave the team for the disabled list -- having been suffering from leg injuries during the whole period of his offensive mediocrity -- and had surgery for the first time in his career on September 5th.
So here's the contention: Cub fans frustrated with his output have said that Soriano is selfish because he wanted to bat lead-off, and because he never changes his hitting approach, and because of that ridiculous little hop of his in the outfield, all multiplied to the Nth degree because of his near $20 million per year contract.
But his teammates have never railed against him, his manager has never criticized him, and he has never spoken harsh words to the press even as Cub fans lit into him like he was a firecracker ready for their match. More importantly, as poorly as he played in '09, it is extremely evident that he did so with a damaged knee that absolutely would have been detrimental to his performance.
Therefore, is Soriano officially a bust? I'm not convinced. Is he the wrong kind of player for Chicago? I haven't seen any evidence of that. Is he an intelligent player capable of adjusting his performance based on in-game situations and other factors? Not that I've seen. In other words, maybe Alfonso Soriano is far from a poet laureate, but he is neither selfish nor vindictive -- nor entitled, for that matter, like certain trouble-making Cub outfielders who are now playing baseball in Seattle.
2009 was certainly a disappointment for Soriano and the Cubs, but 2010 is entirely a year in which he just might surprise us. Still, he's got four years remaining on his contract and, realistically, he's probably got two good years left in his already-collapsing body. If he's going to give the Cubs the championship they're paying him to win, it's going to have to be soon.
Need a Wrigley Field seating chart? Check the 2009 Season Recaps sponsor Coast to Coast Tickets for that, Cubs bleacher tickets, and more!
Let's be honest for a second. The Chicago Cubs -- versions 2007 and 2008 -- would have never made the playoffs had it not been for Alfonso Soriano. In the first two years with the team, despite nagging injuries and cold starts to the season, Soriano was an offensive sparkplug and a defensive secret weapon in left field. It's true that he would bungle the occassional catch -- and I believe that that's easily fixable if Lou spoke with him about using both hands -- but Soriano's cannon arm effectively ended more than one threat when players tried to test him. This season, though, he's been a disaster. He started out with the hottest bat on the team, but probably since May it's been a long, unending slump. He's dropped more than his fair share of fly balls and people are worrying that in the third of his eight-year contract he has already degraded into the Bust Status that he's inevitably headed toward no matter what. Or -- I know it's crazy -- maybe there's more going on with him than we know about. Perhaps his knee injury -- something that has become increasingly noticable in the past month or so -- has affected his offensive and defensive game. Maybe his inevitable bout with surgery this winter will repair these problems and he'll revert to his former role of offensive juggernaut next year. Or you can just declare him a bust, voice your hatred for a guy who has been playing hurt all year long -- you might as well wrongly toss in terms like "selfish" and "team cancer" while you're at it -- and act like the kind of blame-assigning douchebag who would also probably turned on Derrek Lee for going into a slump when his daughter went blind in '06. Either way, coupled with the defensive bunglings of Jake Fox, Soriano's outfield error yesterday resulted in a Cubs loss. Ryan Dempster -- known also as The Unluckiest Pitcher On Earth -- went 7 innings and allowed 0 earned runs (but 3 unearned). All told it was a route, and the Cubs offense had its belly rubbed and was put to sleep -- they managed only 6 hits and 0 walks. Just remember that this was all Alfonso Soriano's fault.
Let's be honest for a second. The Chicago Cubs -- versions 2007 and 2008 -- would have never made the playoffs had it not been for Alfonso Soriano. In the first two years with the team, despite nagging injuries and cold starts to the season, Soriano was an offensive sparkplug and a defensive secret weapon in left field. It's true that he would bungle the occassional catch -- and I believe that that's easily fixable if Lou spoke with him about using both hands -- but Soriano's cannon arm effectively ended more than one threat when players tried to test him.
This season, though, he's been a disaster. He started out with the hottest bat on the team, but probably since May it's been a long, unending slump. He's dropped more than his fair share of fly balls and people are worrying that in the third of his eight-year contract he has already degraded into the Bust Status that he's inevitably headed toward no matter what.
Or -- I know it's crazy -- maybe there's more going on with him than we know about. Perhaps his knee injury -- something that has become increasingly noticable in the past month or so -- has affected his offensive and defensive game. Maybe his inevitable bout with surgery this winter will repair these problems and he'll revert to his former role of offensive juggernaut next year. Or you can just declare him a bust, voice your hatred for a guy who has been playing hurt all year long -- you might as well wrongly toss in terms like "selfish" and "team cancer" while you're at it -- and act like the kind of blame-assigning douchebag who would also probably turned on Derrek Lee for going into a slump when his daughter went blind in '06.
Either way, coupled with the defensive bunglings of Jake Fox, Soriano's outfield error yesterday resulted in a Cubs loss. Ryan Dempster -- known also as The Unluckiest Pitcher On Earth -- went 7 innings and allowed 0 earned runs (but 3 unearned).
All told it was a route, and the Cubs offense had its belly rubbed and was put to sleep -- they managed only 6 hits and 0 walks. Just remember that this was all Alfonso Soriano's fault.
What do Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley all have in common? Scratch that -- the more appropriate question is what don't they have in common.
All three have big contracts, given to them by a general manager who was likely bidding against himself.
All three are putting up "worst case scenario" numbers -- statistics you won't likely see from a playoff-bound outfield. Soriano is batting a meager .243 with a .303 OBP, 19 homers, 52 RBI, and 110 strikeouts in 108 games. (That's 7 more than he had last season in 12 more at bats.) Fukudome is batting .272 with a .390 OBP, 10 homers, 43 RBI, and a 43% success rate at stealing bases. And Bradley is batting .259 with a .390 OBP, 8 homers, 30 RBI, and a bad attitude. Oh, and collectively they're making something like 40 million dollars this season.
But apart from their big contracts and offensive suck, they have something else in common too -- they were coveted by OCD Hendry for years before he signed them. Soriano had been a target of the Cubs since his earliest days with the Yankees, where he was a reported Target of Interest in the never-occurred Sosa trade. Fukudome was being spoken of at Wrigley from as early as 2003, and Hendry had vowed to pursue him even before the 2006 season. And Bradley was a target of Jim's back in the Dusty days, with Baker pondering his ability to manage the troubled star should a trade come-to-fruition.
At this point, Hendry's idiosyncracies aren't even disputed anymore. He will always go out and acquire three of whatever he needs -- when the one that would suffice goes elsewhere. And he'll always covet certain players who, mark our words, will someday make their way to Wrigleyville. In a way, it's miraculous that ex Reds (and current Nationals) Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns -- perhaps Hendry's Most Coveted -- have avoided a Cubs uniform, but if Jim remains in charge it's probably only a matter of time.
So now we're left asking how the Cubs repair these mistakes. Let's break it down by player and problem:
When Soriano signed with the Cubs, my initial reaction was of joy and despair, mixed in equal portions. I wrote at the time that only Hendry could turn the joy of such an acquisition into a move that we'd all hate within three-or-so years (while also saying I wouldn't care if the Cubs won a Series beforehand).
So, here we are, at Year Three on the cusp of a possible -- if not probable -- Soriano decline. He has 5 years remaining, he'll make something like 18 million per year until he's done, and the Cubs are stuck with him. One reader suggested that Sori should be waived and given to the first team that claims him, although that's putting a huge assumption in any team stepping up to eat that albatross of a contract. I EMailed one Cubs beat writer asking if he knew as to whether or not Sori passed through waivers, and he said, "clubs, and particularly the Cubs, try to keep that stuff private. But I'm sure he was put on waivers, and I'm sure he cleared easily. Who would want that contract? Nobody in their right mind."
Therefore the Cubs may need to first hope that he will rebound from this horrible season, which remains a strong possibility. Soriano is 34 next season, and while he will almost certainly never hit 40 homeruns again it's still possible that he'll be a 30 homer guy if he gets everything working. As for his defense, he clearly belongs in the American League where they can hide him in the DH spot, but since that's not going to happen then the Cubs probably have to consider posturing to move him to first base once Lee's contract ends.
Otherwise, Hendry will need to consider dealing Soriano and eating probably half his remaining contract to find an interested buyer. For a guy already in his 30's when he signed, an 8-year 130+ million deal was just ridiculous. There's no way his career ends on a high note, unless his last homerun is a walk-off that wins the World Series.
We were hoping he'd be Our Ichiro. Turns out that was a bit of a mistake on our part. But while Fukudome is not, based on his numbers, a 14-million-a-year guy, he is defensively solid and he's not a negative presence in the lineup. It's just that he doesn't give enough positive, either. Still, in 160 fewer at bats this season he's already matched-or-surpassed last year's totals in doubles, triples and homers. I don't know if Rob would still call Fukudome a "bust," but he's certainly a winner only if we view him with diminished expectations.
On a team where Soriano is killing the ball, Fukudome's decent-but-not-rah-rah-great statistics would be acceptable. On a team where he is flanked by Milton Bradley, however, Fooky is a disappointment.
Earlier this year I compared him with Moises Alou, whose first-of-three years with the Cubs was a huge disappointment. The difference was that Alou got mad, stayed mad, and hit the crap out of the ball. When Milton gets mad, though, he seems to come apart mentally. Not good. He may not have the fortitude to ever succeed in Chicago.
But I'm willing to give him the chance. Maybe he's not the guy you want to be the face of the organization, but contrary to what fans seem to hope for, he does not appear to be a clubhouse cancer like Sosa was. Maybe he's never going to play in 150 games in a season, but we knew that coming in. What we were hoping for -- if not expecting, though -- was an OPS around 1.000 in his 120 games played. If he stays strong mentally, I expect him to meet that hope next season.
Still, it's pretty crappy that we have to basically hope for the unlikely -- in his and Sori's return to productivity -- because Hendry has left us with no alternative.
So, that brings us back to the general manager Jim Hendry. His time with the Cubs has been very mixed. He was, at the onset, viewed as a prospect guy. Only that's turned into a bust. Therefore to save his job he had to turn to expensive, somewhat old free agents. It worked, he's still got a gig, but burning the field to save the farm has its setbacks and we are experiencing that now.
So, since he hasn't been able to draft and develop, and since he's backing the Cubs into an unwinnable corner when it comes to huge contracts for untradable players, and since he can't seem to fill his team's gaping holes in a sensible way ...
...perhaps it's time for Jim Hendry to resign, or be fired, or get turned into a scout, or anything to get him out of a decision-making role in Chicago. Enough is enough.
I have to preface this comment by saying it is not positive. After last night’s win, it probably should be, but it is anything but.
I hate Alfonso Soriano.
In a city that idolizes the everyman and "grinders" and guys who just play the game, any game, the right way, Soriano is the antithesis. He cares not about his team or this city or sometimes, I don’t even think he cares about his own stats.
I went to the game last night, stayed all the way to the end and when he came up with the bases loaded, no outs, and an 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts in his box score, I was almost upset. Not that he would screw it up. No, I was upset because I knew he was going to win it. I was upset because the guy who looked terrible for 4 at-bats and then just plain childish on one (the no run grounder), was going to be vindicated by being the de facto hero of the game. Anyone (with the obvious exception of little leaguer Mike Fontenot) could have won that game in that situation, yet it had to be the guy who mentally needed it the least.
You could make the argument that he did need it and it was helpful for him mentally, but I just don’t see that happening. I see him taking away 1 thing away from this game: Soriano can do whatever he wants. He can be god awful for 12 innings, but if he does just one thing right, he’s doing his job. It’s like dealing with a toddler. If you don’t explain the consequences of right and wrong, they’re just going to continue to do the same thing over and over. (And if you don’t think the analogy of Soriano being a toddler is accurate, then you haven’t seen this embarrassing video of his cluelessness.)
I hope I’m wrong, I’ve been positive about most things that have occurred this season, but when that ball landed way out in center and he did that stupid face swipe motion to everyone (including stiffing Quade on his high five request around third. Seriously, just pitiful) I couldn’t have been more annoyed that I stayed there for three hours to see him get mobbed at the plate by his more deserving teammates.
Alright, ranting finished. I’m not even sure this made sense; I didn’t have time to proofread it at work. Let’s stay in first. Go Cubs.