Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Trade deadline recap

Hi all. Here are some Cub related notes on today's trade deadline:

The Cubs themselves sent Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers for second baseman Blake DeWitt and two varying degrees of good prospects. Brett Wallach is the jem here and will immediately move into the Cubs' top 15 prospect lists. Good Bye to Ted and Ryan, both of whom have been key parts of the team over the last four years and deserve our respect and honor. I am very interested to see what DeWitt will be able to do for the Cubs.

The Cardinals traded away Ryan Ludwick and received Jake Westbrook in return. Westbrook is an ok pitcher, everyone keeps speculating that he will be fixed somehow by Dave Duncan and while agree that Westbrook is the type of pitcher who has had success working with Duncan, I also think that rookie John Jay is going to be out of his depth and this deal further hurts the Cardinals' offense. I actually think that overall, the Cardinals have not really improved themselves.

The Astros, of course, traded both Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman away in an effort to turn those 2 out of 3's against the Cubs into sweeps.... I don't think they got back near enough and don't consider Bret Wallace to be anywhere near the offensive force that Berkman has been. I wonder if the Astros wouldn't have just better off keeping both players and trying to swap them in 2011. I don't think they did well.

The Reds did nothing. Kind of surprising. If I were a Red fan, I'd be angry. It may not matter. They could win it anyway. Oh and Jonny Gomes is still a huge Ahole. Just saying.

The Pirates flipped some of their roster for some potentially nice players and pretty much got more from trading Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church than the Astros got for dealing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Wow.

Ex Cub Kerry Wood got traded to the Yankees. I wish him well and now I'm rooting for the Yankees to win the World Series. Wood is a Cub and will always be one. As such if he wins a title.... in a way we all do. Go Kerry!

Kyle Farnsworth was traded at the deadline to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel for a whole bevy of interesting prospects. Farnsworth doesn't have anywhere near the same level of respect in Chicago that my man Kerry has, thus I am not particularly concerned with this deal. I do find new Royals prospect Tim Collins particularly interesting.

Other than that, the rest of the Cubs are still here. No Fuku trade, no Zambrano trade, Nady will be passed through waivers I'm sure and could be dealt. I am a fan of Mike Fontenot bug with DeWitt on board, I don't really see what he does for the Cubs so I expect Fontenot be also be passed through waivers and possibly traded. Jeff Baker may still have value on the team.

Overall, a massively interesting day. I'm happy with the deal. I would have liked to have seen the Cubs do more but I don't believe I was ever one of those "Blow up the team" people so I won't complain. I will leave this up for two hours before posting today's gamecast.

(Edit) I forgot to mention Will Ohman traded back to the NL to play for the Marlins. He's still around and is pretty effective.

Putting the FIRE! in Fire Sale

Dear Goat Readers:

It has come to our attention -- despite our best efforts at total denial -- that the 2010 Chicago Cubs, despite their massive salaries and high expectations, are a steaming pile of crap. 

As July is just around the corner, it's totally reasonable to expect Jim Hendry to fire up his ol' cell phone, duct-tape it to his head, and work non-stop to unload the numerous disappointments on teams too dumb -- or too desperate -- to say no.

As we've highlighted in other posts, the following players are likely candidates for trade -- assuming any team will take their bloated salaries:

SS Ryan Theriot - Sure, he'll give you a .280-.300 AVG most years, and he steals a decent amount of bases, but do you really want your team's shortstop to be a guy with middling defense and no power whatsoever?  No?  Me neither, but with a little bit of luck, some other teams feel differently. 

And remember -- before you decide to fellate Theriot, assuming anybody would at this point, the dude's got a slugging percentage of .307 and an OPS of .628.  Unload him!

1B Derrek Lee - He has a no trade clause, a big salary, and a batting average that only Dave Kingman could be proud of, but I think he should be on the block.  All Jim Hendry has to do is pull him aside and say, basically, "we are not re-signing you, but we can try to trade you to a competitive team -- and who knows, if you do well, maybe they'll extend you."  If Lee knows his time in Chicago is ending, he may agree to something like that.  The hard part will be finding any team willing to take him.

2B Mike Fontenot - He's a journeyman middle infielder who could be a servicable backup on any number of competitive teams.  Hell, trade him to the Red Sox or the Yankees -- they love their scrappy white guys.

3B Aramis Ramirez - He has a big contract and this is an opt-out year.  But, as Rob observed, A-Ram would have to be about as stupid as Bam-Bam to vie for free agency in a season where he's batting .173 into July!  The Cubs would have to eat a considerable amount of his salary -- probably the remainder of 2010's, and maybe even up to half of his salary for 2011, which I'm guesstimating to be in the $7 million range.

LF Alfonso Soriano - Ah yes.  The White Sox had The Big Hurt in Frank Thomas, the Mariners had the Big Unit in Randy Johnson, and the Cubs have The Big Albatross in Soriano. 

At this point, Sori's numbers aren't so bad -- he's on pace to play in more than 150 games, to hit nearly 50 doubles, 4 triples, nearly 30 homeruns, 80+ RBI, and his OPS is .910.  The only problem is that he's making 19 million this year, and he's going to earn roughly that much money for the next four seasons.  How the hell do the Cubs trade a guy who is still owed more than $70 million? 

RF Kosuke Fukudome - He has one year remaining after this season, in which he will earn around 12 million dollars.  Stat-hounds everywhere will tell you that the Cubs are paying him appropriately.  Realists who watch the games and have even the smallest semblance of how reality works will tell you that he's been a tremendous, heaping disappointment.  But -- if the Cubs will eat half his salary in 2011, who knows, maybe somebody will take him.

SP Ryan Dempster - He has two years left on his current contract.  At this point, he's actually pretty much earned his wage.  But based on his age, that probably won't be the case as he transitions from Year Three to Year Four.  Therefore, the Cubs should swing a deal for him while he might actually be worth something.

SP Carlos Silva - With the Mariners already eating a good portion of his salary, and with one year remaining on his present contract, and with Carlos pitching better than he ever has in his entire career, this might be the ideal time to unload him on a team needing a starter. 

SP Ted Lilly - I'll be sad to see the best free agent acquisition of my lifetime traded away, but why would Lilly come back next year?  Could the Cubs even afford him?  Despite his crappy record -- 3-6 -- Lilly surely has some value right now.

SP Carlos Zambrano - Alfonso Soriano's Albatross-in-Crime.  Who knew that Carlos would not only remain an immature asshole, but at the still-young age of 29 he'd lose the talent which justified his insanity?  If the Cubs can find any team willing to roll the dice on him, and if he'd be willing to approve a trade, this needs to happen.

Realistically speaking, Theriot, Fontenot, Silva, Dempster, and Lilly are all capable of finding homes without the Cubs needing to pay for parts of their salaries.  At the same time, Lee, Fukudome, and Ramirez would require some financial sacrifice to deal, and Soriano and Zambrano are probably untradeable.

All that said, I was originally going to suggest likely teams for whom each player might fit some needs, but I think I'd rather leave it up to you guys to make suggestions. 

So -- what teams would take these jabrones, and how much might they be willing to pay for them?  I leave it to you.

Reader Blog: 2011 Free Agent Class: First Base

After the 2010 season, two key Cubs are going to become free agents. I wanted to devote my next two posts to these players and what I think the Cubs should do.

At first base, Derrek Lee has been an above average player for some time. He is going to be, quite possibly, the best player at his position to enter the free agent fray after 2010. Here is a quick and dirty look at the tiers of first basemen and what it will probably take to get them.

Top tier. There will be nobody from the Pujols/Howard/Fielder/Gonzalez tier available in the 2010 free agent season so these are the main guys:

Derrek Lee:
Lee currently earns $13 Million and will be 35 next year. He's very good defensively and has an established wOBA around .370 or so. He also has a serious attachment to the Cubs. Having said that, he's aging and probably wouldn't want to take much of a pay cut. Plus if he leaves, the Cubs get back 2 draft picks, whereas if they sign most of these other guys, the Cubs would lose only 1 draft pick.

Adam Dunn:
Dunn currently earns $12 Million and will be just 31 next year. Dunn's established wOBA is over.380 meaning he's on the whole a better offensive player and younger than Lee. In fact, many of Dunn's offensive numbers compare favorably to the $125 Million man in Philadelphia. I believe Dunn's value is often depressed by his low batting average and terrible defense. Given his age and offensive contributions, if he becomes available, I'd hope the Cubs would look past his shortcomings and give him a nice below market offer. I don't believe the Cubs should be willing to go over the $12 Million he made last year.

Carlos Pena:
Pena currently earns $10 Million and will be 33 next year. He has the advantage of being left handed and has an established wOBA in the .375 area. I believe he is going to be asking for $16 Million plus and I don't think the Cubs should even consider this. I think if he drops down below $12 Million, he would become a bargain and then the Cubs could jump on him. Not likely the Cubs will go for him.

Paul Konerko:
Konerko currently earns $12 Million and will be 35 next year. He currently is experiencing a career year (contract drive?) and may be overpaid for his season. Given this, I'd hope the Cubs would just say no. He's a big, lumbering, right handed hitting first baseman. We could just keep Lee. BTW, Konerko's established wOBA is only about .360, well below the rest of these guys.

Jorge Cantu:
Cantu is playing third base for the Marlins and will be just 29 next year. He is earning $6 Million this and may choose to play third where he would be more valuable to some other team. I don't believe he is right for the Cubs, despite his age, and his established wOBA is only .340.

Second Tier: Usually not going to have to spend a draft pick for one of these guys:

Adam LaRoche:
LaRoche is probably my favorite of this group. A .355 wOBA ing have bat will travel first baseman who is just 31 and would sign for less than $10 Million and not cost a draft pick. He'd probably sign a one year contract also but even if he does ask for 2, I don't think it would be totally out of the question. He's a clear drop from Lee but would provide the team flexibility, especially for the 2011/2012 off season.

Aubrey Huff:
Huff signed with the Giants for one year and $3 Million this off season. He will be 34 in 2011 with an established wOBA of .345. He's not bad at under $5 Million but I'd rather have LaRoche.

Russell Branyon:
Injruy prone left handed hitter who will be 35 in 2011. Established wOBA around .350 with very little added defensive value. I'd go with a different plan instead of signing either Branyon or Huff.

Looking at the group above, I think the Cubs should either try to resign Lee for under $12 Million per year on a short term contract, or sign Dunn for around $12 per year on no more than a 3 year deal, or sign LaRoche to a 1 year deal for under $10 ( or a 2 year deal for under $18)

Of these choices, I'm partial to the LaRoche move only because if it's a 1 year deal, we can take a shot at a big name player at this position in the 2011/2012 off season while at the same time taking advantage of a net 2 high round draft picks for losing Lee.

I think that since 2011 is probably going to be a transitional year for this club, they should try not to do anything rash like signing Jorge Cantu to a 4 year deal or something this offseason.

Post Script:
Many people may suggest moving Soriano to first base and installing Tyler Colvin in left field. I'm opposed to this for a few reasons. The player I'd really like to see the Cubs get eventually plays first base and Colvin will not come close to replacing Lee's production at the plate ever. The idea of Soriano trying to dig throws out of the dirt is also very worrisome to me! However, I would do that instead of stooping down to sign Branyon or Huff or Troy Glaus or someone like that.

Reader Blog: Juan Cruz

The question comes up in this discussion. Who is Juan Cruz?

Well, after a fairly long career, I think we know what we have here.

Cruz is a fly ball pitcher who strikes out a ton and walks way too many. His tendencies make him generally hard to hit but when he does get hit, he often gives up home runs and needs to blow people away to get out of tough spots.

Unfortunately, his most recent performance (2009 I'm talking about) suggests that he is still doing all the bad things he does but has seen a marketed drop off of his K rate:

K rate by year:

2007: 12.84
2008: 12.37
2009: 6.79

So, if he's closer to a 12 K's per 9 IP pitcher, the Cubs should take a shot, if he's closer to the 7 K per 9 guy from last year, forget it.

One point in his favor is he's K'd 11.8 batters per 9 in 2010 before being released.

I think he's a better pitcher than Justin Berg. As a matter of practice, that is the only hurdle he has to jump. If there's even a little chance he can be the dominant pitcher from 2007 and 2008, he's worth the minimum salary.

I agree with Kurt. Let's give him a try.

Juan Yasser Serrano tries to sign with Cuba, doesn't look closely enough at the contract

Yasser!In other words, the Cubs have signed themselves their first Cuban defector in recent memory.  The player in question is Juan Yasser Serrano, a pitcher who is apparently destined for Double (or possibly Triple) A. 

Serrano brings with him a fastball in the low 90's, and is reportedly 21 years of age.  (Keyword: reportedly.)  It'd be interesting to look a little deeper into the numerous Cuban defectors through the years, in order to uncover the number of them who are actually successful, but my feelings are that it's actually a small number who move on to glorious things. 

But one thing I will say about Cuba: their jerseys are pretty cool.  I gotta get one.

Picture may or may not be of an actual Cuban baseball player

10 more minutes

Confession time -- I have not exactly been spending a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the Cubs this off-season.  In fact, if I measured the amount of time I've really considered the future of the Chicago Cubs, I could probably count the minutes on both hands.  It's not that I am Cub-burned out, or anything, I've just been busier than ever before in my life.

Luckily -- or not, depending on your outlook for 2010 -- the Cubs haven't exactly been burning up the AP wire with moves so far this winter.  They finally managed to deal Milton Bradley for an equally detestable, overpaid, abortion of a human being (whose presence will only be detrimental every 5th day, rather than every single day) and the Cubs have also managed to sign themselves Marlon Byrd, who'll make about half of what Bradley made with about the same offensive output.  In other words, the team is hardly any better, except maybe in the clubhouse.

Still, as the cliche goes, it's relatively early.  There's plenty of time for Jim Hendry to pull a team-saving deal out of his ass, even if it's about as likely as Charlize Theron returning my phone call -- or even making eye contact with me.  Without really weighing favor in any one move, the following is my take on what should happen between now and March:

First, the likely 25-man roster:

SP - Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva
MR - John Grabow, Sean Marshall, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol

C - Geo Soto, Three Finger Hill
1B - Derrek Lee
2B - Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot
SS - Ryan Theriot, Andres Blanco
3B - Aramis Ramirez
LF - Alfonso Soriano, Micah Hoffpauir
CF - Marlon Byrd, Sam Fuld
RF - Kosuke Fukudome

My initial thoughts here are that while this is better than the far-gone days of Ronny Cedeno-to-Neifi Perez, or Ron Coomer and Matt Stairs straddling the corners, this is not the team that will hold up a World Series trophy.  The rotation is a borderline weakness, the bullpen is incomplete, the middle infield is about offensively able as a one-armed cricket player, and neither Soriano nor Fukudome can be relied upon at this point to justify their bulging contracts. 

So -- why does Jim Hendry still have a job?  What's he done this winter to justify his position?  And how will Tom Ricketts prove himself as an owner?  At this point this whole thing has kinda sucked ass.

Still, let's look at the free agents who remain and the things the Cubs can do to surprise us:

Relievers
First and foremost, Marmol is the defacto closer.  This is a concern unless you want your 9th inning pitcher to be as likely to bury a ball into the batter's ear as he is to throw an epic strike-out pitch.  My general rule about relief pitchers is that they should be no older than 32 when signed as free agents, because they seem to become dramatically less reliable once they're in their mid 30's.  Although the best of the crop are gone, according to ESPN the following remain available:

Danys Baez, 32, - A former closer who posted a 4.02 ERA in the most offensively destructive division in baseball last year.  Worst case scenario, Baez could be a 7th inning guy or even a set-up option.  Best case scenario, the man with 22 walks in 71.2 innings of work last year could be an alternative if Marmol melts down or flames out.

Joe Beimel, 32, - A lefty, Cub fans might best remember him from that time he owned our team in the playoffs in 2008.  He posted an ERA of 3.58 last year with two teams, including the Rockies, and although he looks like a douchebag he can't possibly be worse than Bradley/Silva.  Then again, the Cubs have their bullpen lefties, so he's not a necessity.

D.J. Carrasco, 32, - How do you throw 48 games in relief, including 89.1 innings, and not manage to log a single hold the entire season?  Ask Carrasco, who must've done something to piss off former manager Ozzie Guillen.  Still, Carrasco logged a 3.43 ERA as a reliever last year.

Mike MacDougal, 32, - Another White Sox cast-off, MacDougal had a 12.46 ERA in his 5 White Sox appearances last year, before finding himself in D.C. where he pitched 54.1 innings, posted a 3.60 ERA, and saved 20 games in 21 tries.  That's the good.  The bad - he walked and struck out 31 players, neither number particularly encouraging especially when compared to each other.  But as far as insurance options go, the Cubs could do worse.

Jose Valverde, 31, - After rejecting arbitration from the Astros, Valverde is probably looking for a big payday in 2010.  And he just might deserve it -- he's struck out 470 in 386.0 career innings, and saved 167 to only 27 blown (that's a very respectable 86% conversion ratio).  If the Cubs wanted to forgo the Marmol experiment, Valverde would be the player to target.

Middle Infielders

None available really reek of hero to me.  Of the guys who the Cubs might grab, a few names are familiar - and were smack-talked by me a year ago - like Orlando Hudson, who's living off of his reputation of defensive goodliness.  Despite his slightly-above-average year, though, I wouldn't call Hudson a viable option.  Probably the only half-decent second base option is the following:

Felipe Lopez, 29, - He's on the right side of 30 (well, until May 12th), he hits doubles, gets on base a lot, and posted an OPS last year of .810.  Then again, his next team will be his 7th in 9 seasons.  He isn't a game-breaking offensive player, nor is he a Gold Glove caliber infielder (but his defense is indeed better than Hudson's, according to Fangraphs), but he's probably a better option than Fonteblow or Jeff Baker. 

Miguel Tejada, 35, - Probably too old, and no longer an offensive force since they hid his needle on him, Tejada would still be a better bat at short than Ryan Theriot at shortstop.  Of course, the problem would be that if the Cubs grabbed Miguel, then they wouldn't have a "leadoff" hitter anymore ... not that Theriot is really a great leadoff hitter, either.  Assuming he'd take a ridiculous pay-cut, and pretending the Cubs have money to play with, and ignoring that he's a defensive miscarriage of justice, then Tejada might just be an option to consider.

-- Side bar --

Something I really enjoy about the hypocrisy of Cub fans who think they know everything is that they will consistently argue the value of Kosuke Fukudome (whose defense apparently makes up for his inability to regularly hit tossed balls) while criticizing Ryan Theriot, whose defense is apparently atrocious.  Yet, in 2009, Fukudome had an UZR/150 rating in center field of -18.1, while Theriot's was 8.3 at shortstop, making him one of the 10 best defensive shortstops in all of baseball in 2009.  I don't care that they overvalue Fukudome -- although I don't understand why -- nor do I care that they constantly harp for Theriot to be moved to second base, but the kind of thinking where a person conveniently cites a statistic to back up an opinion in one case, while conveniently ignoring a statistic to back up an opinion in another case is (pardon my French) really fucking stupid.  Even better, though, these stat-loving Cubtards have chosen to ignore the numbers in both cases this time to make their point.  This is totally typical of the cynical, smart-ass, idiotic Cub fans who spend their time on the internets wasting their time and yours.  But I digress.

-- end side bar --

Conclusions
Looking closely at the pieces available in contrast with the needs of the Cubs, it seems pretty evident to me that the only hope the team has is for an HGH dealer to set-up shop outside the ballpark in April.  The pieces do not fit the puzzle.  Soriano is probably going to bounce back a little bit this year, but not to the point of justifying his contract.  Zambrano is an episode away from being committed, and the once-turgid Cubs offense appears increasingly flaccid. 

Hendry will not be able to dramatically improve the team through free agency.  Maybe he'll swing a trade, probably he won't, and the hopes of the team will depend upon rebound performances from guys like Soto and Zambrano and offensive outbursts from players like Ramirez, Soriano, and Fukudome. 

In other words, maybe I've been avoiding the act of looking closely at this team for a reason.  I don't like what I see.  Does anybody?

Rudy Jaramillo to sign with the Cubs

ESPN is reporting that the Cubs are close to signing hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to a deal.  He will be replacing Von Joshua and Gerald Perry as the Cubs hitting coach. 

As smart, sophisticated, kick-ass Cub fans, we all have to realize how little this might mean.  Jaramillo has had a lot of success serving as the hitting coach for the Rangers (since 1994) and Astros (from 1990 to 1993), but the question is this: was he successful at turning guys like Bagwell, Biggio, Gonzalez, Rodriguez, Teixeria, and Young into super-stars, or was he fortunate to have those guys around to make him look good?  Let's not forget that Sammy Sosa became a stud when he started listening to Jeff Pentland, who would segue his success with Steroid Sammy into two jobs with hopeless, mediocre offenses in Kansas City and then Seattle.

One interesting thing to note was that, from stories early in the year, Milton Bradley reportedly missed his old hitting coach from the Rangers (Jaramillo) who he connected to back when he had his spectacular '08 season.  Does this mean there is even a small chance of reconciliation with Jim and Milton?  Probably not.  But we can look at Bradley's production in the '08 season as an example of how Jaramillo just might know what the hell he's doing.

Either way, before we remember that the Cubs '09 offense was swinging from crapville for most of the year, we should try not to forget that the '08 team -- which consisted of many of the same key players -- was a force of nature.  Therefore, regardless of Jamarillo's actual talent, and even regardless of Hendry's success at upgrading the team in the winter, I will be expecting some bounce-back. 

I still think that hitting coaches are important, despite how some Cub fans would argue that they do nothing to impact the multi-millionaires they coach.  Chances are that a hitting coach can't turn a bad hitter into a good one, but he might be able to take a good hitter with bad habits and get him focused and directed.  Besides, much like pitching there are mechanics to good hitting.  Jaramillo's direct impact on the team should stem from his ability to fix an errant batting stance and to close a swing with big holes in it.  We can't underestimate the value of that, much as we shouldn't oversell it, either.

Cubs sale completed

Pending court and MLB ownership approval, the Chicago Cubs will soon belong to the Ricketts family, who spent 845 million for the privilege.  It's been a long  time in coming.

Back when the team's sale was first announced, many of us had hoped it would be a guy like Mark Cuban who would step up and buy the team.  Cuban is the sort who would put product before profit, and while he probably wouldn't go into the red to win he would almost certainly spend more than most.

Still, Tom Ricketts is a Cubs fan.  There's no doubt that he wants his new team to break the drought, although he's going to have a very, very long process ahead of him.  In the next few years he's going to have to deal with some big, untradeable contracts, a crumbling ballpark, and a fanbase that continues to grow more alienated.  Or he could just wait two years and sell the team again and probably make a cool 200 million dollar profit -- the downturned economy may have delayed the family's purchase of the team, but it also aided them in buying the Cubs at a relatively big discount.

Regardless of his plans, we're all still probably a little concerned about what Tom Ricketts will do next.  It seems doubtful that a guy who was barely able to scrounge up the money to buy the team will be able to grow -- or even maintain -- the third largest team payroll in baseball.

Hopefully his next move will be to answer those issues, to calm us in the face of concerns, and his public silence should soon be broken. 

Open Topic - The Year of Questions?


Remember last October, when a 97-win Cubs team was swept out of the playoffs by Los Angeles? People wanted to blow up the team. They wanted to deal Derrek Lee, start Micah Hoffpauir at first, unload all the failures and under-performers, and -- the level-headed blog this is -- we suggested an exercise of caution. George Steinbrenner may disagree to some extent, but the actions and reactions of a strong organization is not to trade away the key components to a 97-win baseball team just because of an early playoff exit.

And despite all that has gone on, I stand by that. Nobody -- no, not even the Cubbie Downers -- could have predicted such bad seasons from so many key players. Nobody could have guessed at the sheer amount of man-power lost to bizarre injuries. This season has hit us like a knock-out punch launched from the shadows -- no way did we see it coming.

So, here's the dilemma: we do not know if this year was a trend or an aberration for Alfonso Soriano. We do not know if Ryan Dempster is really as bad as his numbers convey -- and I maintain that he's been the worst-luck pitcher on the team by far. We don't know if Bradley will bounce back next year. We don't know if Ramirez will be healthy in '10, or if Lee will continue to perform or drop off a cliff, or if Geovany Soto is just the new Rick Wilkins, or if the Cubs have a closer somewhere in that mess of a bullpen.

We know that many players under-performed in 2009. We don't know if they will under-perform in 2010. So -- do the Cubs need to blow up this roster? Can Jim Hendry (or his inevitable replacement) unload these heavy, ridiculous contracts? Or is it possible that Soriano and his ilk will bounce back with a vengeance in 2010? And all I ask is an exercise in realism when you voice your opinion -- last year we had people who seemed to seriously believe that a Derrek Lee "clearly on the decline" would be capable of netting San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez, which is about as realistic as the plastic lightsabre I have hanging from my wall in my bedroom.

One other thing -- if you choose to go with the seldom-used "reader blogs" option, rather than merely responding in the comments (and you probably should as your responses will likely be long), I will happily link back to them in this article so that they are clearly visible to everybody.

So have at it. It's Wednesday morning -- what else could you do right now, work?

Taking the piss -- rebuilding from the ground up

It is undeniably one of the worst features of fans that we always seem to want our team to rebuild -- often from scratch. The Cubs last year won 97 games and made the playoffs, but a 3-game exit led some people to cry, Emperor-style, "wipe them out ... ALL OF THEM!"
The thing is, you don't sink the ship to fix the mast.

Still, a fun part of being an obsessive fan is coming up with ridiculous trade moves. So let's pretend that Tom Ricketts succeeds in buying the Cubs (and I still think it's the most ridiculous team sale I've ever seen) and announces a plan to rebuild from scratch. "It's a new five year plan," he says. "Which doesn't mean we won't win before then. But we're going to build an organization and grow this team from top to bottom. That means we're cleaning house."

If that happened -- not saying it should, but if it did -- and if the Cubs were able to convince their players to waive their no-trade clauses (another big if) these are the kinds of moves I would make.

***DISCLAIMER*** The following moves are not reflective of my desire to flush the roster away.  On the contrary, I would never actually advocate that.  Likewise, the suggested trades I am offering only exist in the twisted reality of my brain -- it is extremely unlikely that any of them would or even could happen.  A note I always like to make is that everybody who suggest trade ideas ultimately ends up looking and sounding stupid.  I know, then, that these trade suggestions look really, really dumb. 

Still, I understand that as you read through my assessments and suggestions they will fill you with RAGE and ALIENATION and you will feel the overwhelming urge to tell me about how much of an F--KING IDIOT I am.  Please go right ahead, that's what the comments section is for. ***END DISCLAIMER***

C Geovany Soto - I'd keep him. He's young, inexpensive, and despite his boutes with consistency this year he's got a ton of promise.

1B Derrek Lee - Assuming Lee agrees to be dealt, chances are he won't accept trades to many teams. One team that has been surprisingly competitive that might benefit from Lee's hot bat. At a glance, that team could be the Mariners, assuming they could take on his salary -- and assuming he'd willingly go there under any condition.

2B Mike Fontenot - Assuming he has any value left after this abortion of a season, I would probably try to deal him. However, he's inexpensive and probably serviceable as a backup, so my inclination would be to keep him around until a good offer was made.

SS Ryan Theriot - He'll probably never be more valuable than he is right now. Therefore, I'd offer up Theriot to any team hungry for a shortstop. At the moment, the competitive teams in the most need for an affordable shortstop are the Twins, Giants, Phillies, Tigers, Mets, Red Sox, and the Rangers. But what can the Cubs get for him? Probably a middling prospect or somebody who doesn't fit into a deep position with his current team.  On the other hand, he's perhaps valuable enough to warrant a package deal in which the Cubs unload one of their unwanted cast-offs.  So, let's revisit Theriot later.

3B Aramis Ramirez - Why not?  Now on the wrong side of 30 with a shoulder injury that will probably never go away, if a team would be interested in taking Ramirez and his contract while offering up something comparable in return, I'd make the trade.  Teams that might consider Rammy include the Red Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, and perhaps a few others.

LF Alfonso Soriano - Here we meet the crux of the problem.  Soriano is signed to 5 more seasons at a ridiculous cost.  He may meet the production of past years in the future, but this year has to cause Hendry (or any other prospective candidate to trade for him) to wake up in a deep sweat every night.  If the Cubs are able to deal Soriano, they'll have to be willing to take bad money in return and still eat a big chunk of his contract. 

CF Kosuke Fukudome - Like Soriano, Fukudome may be untradeable.  With 2 years and probably more than 25 million left on his current deal, the Cubs would have to eat some of Fooky's contract to ship him off to any team.

RF Milton Bradley - Another costly hitter.  Bradley signed a 3-year-deal before the start of the season.  We all know he's capable of producing numbers which justify the money paid to him, but he doesn't appear able to produce in a hotbed like Chicago.  If the Cubs manage to deal him, they will likely have to eat his contract as well.

SP Carlos Zambrano - He's pretty expensive for somebody who might win 15 games a year and post a mid-3.00's ERA.  Then again, as a 28-year-old he'll probably never have as much trade value, massive contract be damned.  I think that if I were the Cubs I would not give Zambrano away.  However if a team is able or willing to make an offer on par with what pitchers like Sabathia or Santana have netted in the past, then maybe it's worth considering.

SP Ryan Dempster - Since he's probably out until after the trade deadline it's a moot point.  But Dempster has certainly been a bust this year.  If a team like the Braves would still be willing to swing a deal for him, and if he could slip through waivers after August 1st, I would consider moving Dempster as well.

SP Ted Lilly - The best Cubs pitcher has one year remaining on his contract, is in his early 30's, but throws lefty.  The "throws lefty" thing is the most interesting part -- for whatever reason those guys seem to last a lot longer.  Therefore the hypothetical wheelin' and dealin' Cubs GM has to roll the dice -- either extend Lilly for another 3+ years or deal him at the peak of his value for some younger talent.  Since the description here is "Wheelin' and Dealin'," you know which choice I'm going to make.

SP Rich Harden - This is a no-brainer, but who the hell would take him at this point?  If Harden gets traded it will be for next-to-nothing.

SP Randy Wells - Like Soto, his youth, promise, and inexpense makes Wells the only non-tradeable pitcher in the Cubs rotation.

MR Angel Guzman - He's finally given the Cubs a (mostly) healthy season.  Sounds like the time to trade him to me!

Actually, let's cut this short.  I'd absolutely deal everybody in the Cubs pen, including Carlos Marmol and especially Kevin Gregg. 

The Trade Proposals
Derrek Lee to Seattle for SP Jason Vargas -- Fans will object on both sides to this suggestion.  If Lee was willing to be dealt to Seattle, Cub fans would probably want more than a middling starting pitcher like Vargas.  And Mariner fans would probably object to trading such a young starter with potential for an old and expensive first baseman.  It's not that Lee isn't more valuable on paper than Vargas, but his salary, age, and position make him a hard trade. The Cubs would be lucky to get anything better for him.

Aramis Ramirez, Micah Hoffpauir, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Theriot to Texas for 3B Michael Young, 1B Chris Davis, OF Julio Borbon and SP Matt Harrison --  Young would be included in this trade in order to offset the salary of Ramirez.  Theriot's inclusion gives the Rangers depth and allows for their young, talented, 20-year-old rookie shortstop to either return to Triple A for more development time (as he hasn't been hitting fantastically) or it permits the Rangers to use Theriot in a super-sub manner.  Davis is an immensely talented slugger with a ton of potential -- in fact, the Rangers may not part with him so easily, nor might they be happy to deal former first-round pick Borbon.  Borbon is another young outfielder who has displayed base-stealing talents in the minor leagues.  The Cubs may need to include one or more of their high-level prospects.

Alfonso Soriano, Angel Guzman, and Rich Harden to the Nationals for RF Austin Kearns, CF Elijah Dukes, and SS Alberto Gonzalez (with the Cubs agreeing to pay $8 million per year on Soriano's contract starting in 2010) -- The Nationals are toast this year but may see Soriano and Harden as tools to gear up for a run next season (assuming they are floating in that deep a pool of denial).  The Cubs would have to pay a very large chunk of Sori's contract.  Kearns is a waste, and a potential free agent after this season, so taking him on would be a way to fill a roster spot for the rest of the year while allowing the Nationals to clear some salary room for Sori.  Dukes and Gonzalez are both young.  One is your run-of-the-mill defensive shortstop, the other is a troubled young outfielder with a world of potential. 

Kosuke Fukudome and Ted Lilly to the Athletics for LF Matt Holliday, 3B Eric Chavez, SP Josh Outman, and MR Brad Ziegler (with the Cubs agreeing to pay $8 million per year toward the contracts of Fukudome and Lilly in 2010, and $5 million per year toward Fukudome's contract after that) -- This deal would be contingent on our Wheelin', Dealin' GM's ability to sign Matt Holliday to an extension before the end of the 2009 season as he's a free agent.  The good news is he's had a down year, so maybe he'd take a fat offer.  The Athletics may be receptive to Fukudome if only for Billy Beane's love of the disciplined, and if the Cubs would be willing to take -- and essentially eat -- the final year of Chavez's big contract (assuming the A's could deal him as he is on the DL), then this might be enough of an offer to slip away with a talented outfielder, a young lefty starter, and a reliable middle reliever.

Milton Bradley, Jake Fox, Reed Johnson, and Ryan Dempster to the Reds for OF Jonny Gomes, MR Nick Masset, and IF Edwin Encarnacion with the Cubs paying $8 million of Bradley and Dempster's contract in 2010 and 2011 and 4 million after that -- Kind of a gimme trade.  Gomes is a strikeout king power hitter, while Encarnacion is a modestly successful third baseman who has had a ridiculously bad 2009.  Besides, Baker has said before that he'd like to manage Bradley and he may see it as a "project." 

Carlos Zambrano, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg, and Andrew Cashner to the Blue Jays for SP Roy Halladay and RF Alex Rios -- It hurt me in the soul to suggest dealing Zambrano to a league where pitchers don't hit, but the Jays are shopping Halladay.  They just might be willing to take a younger, less-reliable ace for their older one.  And while the price for Roy is steep, Rios is a very talented hitter having a rough year.  Actually my first choice would be Aaron Hill but I just don't see Toronto parting with him. 

So where does that leave the Cubs on September 1st?

SP Roy Halladay, Randy Wells, Jason Vargas, Josh Outman, and Matt Harrison -- a young rotation with the first legitimate Cubs ace since Maddux left the first time around.  They might not all be worthy of starting, some of them may very well never be more than mediocre, but this allows the Cubs room to shift some to their now-deplenished bullpen and to pursue some free agent arms in the off season.
MR Carlos Marmol, Dave Patton, Jose Ascaino, Brad Ziegler, Jeff Samardija, Nick Masset, J.R. Mathes -- Still a weak link.  The Cubs pen should be a top priority in the off season.

C Soto
1B Chris Davis -- He's having a rough year offensively, but if the Cubs could grab such a young prospect it would be a boon for them. 
2B Mike Fontenot -- Unfortunately I couldn't find a way to "upgrade" at this position.
SS Alberto Gonzalez -- Not a long term solution (unless he proves otherwise)
3B Michael Young -- Defensively weak on the left side, I would start Young over Encarnacion for the remainder of the year before looking to deal him again in the off season.
LF Matt Holliday -- A top hitter having a rough year
CF Elijah Dukes -- Having an off year, but with potential for 2010
RF Alex Rios -- Having an off-year but might find Wrigley to be friendlier confines
Bench - OF Gomes, Kearns, IF Encarnacion, Miles C Hill

After the season I would wave goodbye to Austin Kearns and I would try to deal Michael Young.  Assuming I couldn't...

A Rough Estimation of Salaries for 2010: Soto 1.0, Davis .45, Fontenot .55, Gonzalez .40, Young 14.0, Holliday*, Dukes .5, Rios 8.0, Gomes 1.0, Encarnacion .75, Miles 1.5, Hill .5
Halladay 14.0, Wells .50, Vargas .75, Outman .50, Harrison .50, Marmol 4.50, Patton .40, Ascaino .40, Ziegler .40, Samardzija 1.50, Ziegler .50, Masset .70, Traded Cubs 24.0 = 91.70 million.

(*I'd be willing to pay Holliday 14 million per year for five years.  If he'd accept it, sweet.  If not, meh.)

This means that if the new Cubs owner would be willing to so much as match the team's '09 payroll, then they would still have roughly 50 million to play with in the pursuit of other free agents.  They could use this money to acquire a legitimate #2 and #3 starters (allowing for the other starters to fight over the job), to acquire a significant relief pitcher or two, and to upgrade their middle infield. 

The average age of the team would be considerably younger, there would be no massive contracts for players on the wrong side of 30, the team would have an undeniable ace along with a fearsome outfield, and this might give the team a chance to stay competitive for years.

Again, though, just so we're clear -- this is fantasyland.  I do not actually think that any of the trade partners mentioned in these scenarios would accept these offers.  But if the Cubs could pull off these kinds of moves, I just might support it -- assuming they actually get back talent for their own.  And above all else, that's really The Big If. 

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