Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Looking at the Cubs in red, white, and blue

The Big Red Panic Button
It's May 26th.  The Cubs are 21-22, 5 games out of first, looking lost.  People are freaking out.  Players are under-performing.  While cautious people like me are saying things like "steady, steady" and "relax, guy" I'd have to be living in Dumb-ass Canyon to not recognize how bad the Cubs are right now. 

Recently -- hell, a lot longer than that -- I've butted heads with cliff jumpers, ledge walkers, Cubbie Downers, and quitters.  But I think that even those who get riled up by my rhetoric would agree with the following statements:

1. The Cubs are a mess and need some work.
2. If the Cubs players actively quit on the team right now, we'd all be furious. 
3. If Jim Hendry started a fire sale right now it would be labeled "white flag" and he would be scorned for it.

So, if you would be disappointed with the team for quitting today, then you are a hypocrite if you also have quit already on this team.  There's no denying it, there's no rhetoric to counter that, it's a simple fact.  Since nobody wants to be called a hypocrite, then let's all agree that nobody in their right mind feels the season is lost on May 26th with the Cubs 5 games out of first place.  And I'm sure that we're all in our right minds here.  Therefore, let's work together to identify the team's weaknesses, needs, and flaws.

White Flag
You must be wondering what it would take for me to give up on the Cubs.  After all, I have lovingly bashed, trashed, and something-else-that-ends-in-ashed everybody who's displayed the appearance of surrender.  I have two very simple Pre-September conditions for "giving up."

The team needs to be 10 games under .500 or 10 games out of a playoff spot.

Even then, we've seen evidence in the past of teams reaching those points and still making the post season, but the 2007 Cubs are an ideal example of why surrendering before the Cubs meet that criteria is just plain stoopid.  In '07, on June 2nd the Cubs were 22-31, 9 games under .500 and 6 games in the loss column behind the 31-25 Milwaukee Brewers.  Things looked hopeless, we were dejected and prepared to surrender ... and then they took off like a rocket ship.  Just wanted to remind you.

Blue Rolodex of Hope
Jim Hendry has some problems on his hands, and he needs to start making some calls.  Let's outline the issues here...

Bullpen?  What bullpen?
With all due respect to Dave Patton, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg, and especially Neal Cotts, you guys suck.  Fortunately, Hendry has options.  Why he hasn't tried any of those options is beyond me.

First, cut Neal Cotts.  The guy isn't a tin can, he's not a punching bag, he's a tin-can-shaped punching bag.  He is the destroyer of worlds.  He is not, however, a LOOGY.  Never has been, never will be.

Second, send away Dave Patton.  The experiment hasn't worked and this team isn't playing well enough to justify such an experiment regardless.

Third, turn Aaron Heilman into the long-reliever.  He should not be pitching in close games either way.  Fourth, demote Gregg to set-up, promote Marmol to close.

That gives the Cubs a bullpen of:
CL Marmol
SU Gregg
MR Guzman
MR Ascanio
LR Heilman

If the Cubs go with 6 men, I would probably convert Randy Wells to the bullpen at first chance (guy's a stud) and I would use Guzman as my LOOGY.  Lefties are batting .226 against him.  I've made this point before but I will make it again. 

Conventional baseball wisdom dictates the following scenario: Team A's lefty walks up to the plate, Team B calls on a lefty pitcher.  Team A responds by bringing in a righty batter.  And so-on.  If Guzman dominates lefty hitters -- as he does -- then it's a huge advantage for the Cubs to have him be their stealth LOOGY.  Managers trapped in the conventional way of thinking would trot out lefty batter after lefty batter to burn Guzman, failing to understand that Guzman is like ice against lefties.  He can't be burnt.

If the Cubs go with 7 men then I would promote one of the following to try out as a reliever: J.R. Mathes - he's a lefty with a 3.40 ERA in Iowa.  His strikeout numbers aren't good, but he'd be worth trying.  Greg Reinhard - he's a righty with a 2.22 ERA in Iowa.  He has tallied 36 strikeouts in 28.1 innings of work.  Jeff Stevens has a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings, although he's walking too many batters for my comfort. 

If and when all of those guys fail, Hendry needs to swing a trade.  Until then, he's got options. 

Offensive druthers
A month ago, people were lamenting the slow start of the Questionable Quartet.  In a scolding fashion I said "let's talk again at the end of May."  Well...

Derrek Lee - He's batting .248 on the season with 5 homers, 19 RBI, and a .730 OPS.  For whatever reason Lee is the poster child of the Cub player fans want gone.  Back on April 30th, Lee was batting .189 with 1 homer, 10 RBI, and an OPS of .537.  In May he's batting .333 with 4 homers, only 9 RBI, and an OPS 1.011.  Can we agree that while his neck problem is a concern he's not washed up just yet?

Milton Bradley - He was 1 for his first 23 at bats.  Since that time, he's missed games due to nagging injuries, a suspension, he's slammed umpires in the press (repeatedly) and he's getting on everybody's nerves.  Actually I totally understand him.  If you ever get a new job in which there are expectations, you will probably start out nervous and feeling terribly insecure.  To me, that's exactly how he's acting right now ... insecure.  But since his 1 for 23 start, he's batting .244 (not great, but not as ugly as it looks) and he's got 3 homeruns, 11 RBI, and an OPS of .719 in May.  He has a ways to go but he's better than he's looked.  I'm not worried, except for the injury concerns.

Geovany Soto - at the end of April he was batting .109 with an OPS of .398.  In the month of May he's batted .288 with an OPS of .755.  That's a big improvement.  Again, he could do better but if he bats .288 from now until October, then he'd finish the year with an AVG of .266.  Not heroic, but better than we've seen.  The only concern I have about Soto is his lack of power but I think he'll come around.

Mike Fontenot - For a while there, he looked like he was going to turn it around.  On May 3rd, he was batting .266 with 5 homeruns, 14 RBI, and an OPS of .853.  Since then he's been in a horrible slump and he looks like he should be starting perhaps in Iowa.  No excuses - Fontenot needs to wake up NOW or get out of the way for somebody who'll perform.  Hendry needs to start looking for a new second baseman.

The Bench
The biggest complaint I had against the Cubs earlier this year was their poorly constructed support players.  They were all outfield and no third base.  Then, Aramis Ramirez got hurt.  At the moment the bench consists of the following:

IF - Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales, Ryan Freel, Micah Hoffpauir
OF - Reed Johnson, Ryan Freel, Micah Hoffpauir
C - Three Finger Hill

I honestly don't have a big problem with any of these guys.  Miles is not a fire-starter, but he's not supposed to be.  Scales is a feel-good story who felt worse after an 0 for 10 drought.  Freel is probably better than his .158 AVG as a Cub, although he may not have time to show it.  And the Hoff looks like what he is... a backup with no real position and booming power. 

The problem is that with Ramirez hurt, Fontenot lagging, and Lee unreliable -- not to mention Bradley's bouts with insanity -- the Cubs probably could use another bat to hold them over.  They need a guy who can passably play third base until Ramirez gets back who can also beat the cover off the ball.  They need a guy who can swing over to first base and cover for Derrek Lee on those pesky days when he needs a neckbrace.  They need a guy who can swoop in and play right field for Milton Bradley when Don't Wake Daddy is having one of his "special moments."

They need Aubrey Huff.

Huff, who is in a contract year, is currently on pace to hit 25 homeruns and has an AVG of .267 and an OPS of .812.  He is not great defensively but fangraphs has me thinking that he's not a black hole either.

Huff can play first base, where his UZR is below average but not beyond forgiveness.  Huff can play third base, where his career UZR is terrible but was actually in the plus in 2008 and will probably be acceptable as a short-term solution.  Huff can also play right field, although he hasn't since 2006, where he'd probably as servicable if he threw his glove at the ball as he would be if he tried to catch it.  Still, he's another option.

A Recap
So, what do the Cubs need to do to fix their ship?  Simple steps:
1. purge themselves of their bullpen problems, shuffle around those that remain, and try out a handful of in-house solutions
2. Trade for Aubrey Huff
3. Maybe re-shuffle the lineup a bit since it's obviously not working just now.
4. Wait.
5. Win.

With all due respect to the nay-sayers, I swear to you that this team isn't as bad as they look.  There is no way they play as poorly as they have been for the rest of the year.  It's impossible.  Maybe they'll figure it out on their own, but a few kick-start moves wouldn't hurt either.  That said, whether Hendry trades for another bat or not, the bullpen needs fixing.  NOW.

And once that happens, maybe -- just maybe -- the Cubs will start to win again.  Or maybe they'll lose every game the rest of this season.  Either way.

Chad Gaudin was just that bad

The Cubs did the unthinkable today -- they cut Chad Gaudin. 

It's actually not that surprising, and is only unthinkable in the sense that a year ago he was the "pitcher insurance" the team needed to take on Rich Harden.  Since then he's gone on to become most notable for his facial hair, which is not what you want to be known for if you're a Major League pitcher.  (Instead, you might want to be recognized for  your amazing ability at getting players out.) 

In cutting Gaudin, the Cubs have freed up room on their roster for Angel Guzman (who's pitched poorly, but Gaudin was just that bad) and Dave Patton (who was the Rule 5 pick and before this Spring had never tossed fastballs above A ball).  

It kind of goes back to what I said in a post not too long ago.  Youth can only get you so far.  Gaudin is young enough to bounce back, but he wasn't talented enough to bounce back with the Cubs. 

Not too long ago somebody requested that we do a Player Preview for Patton.  Since he's team-bound, we'll be sure to provide you with one tomorrow ... which is opening day. 

Schilling? Why?

You have to love baseball fans - and Cub fans are no exception.  I think that if Hank Aaron announced tomorrow a desire to play for the Cubs, there would be fans out there who'd get excited and start talking about the possibility.  It's just our nature.  We like our players who have big names, be they 30 or 40, should they play a position of need or one of excess.  And believe me -- the Cubs do not need Curt Schilling.

This isn't 1999, or 2002, or even 2006.  The Cubs aren't a poorly assembled baseball team.  Right now there are three extremely capable, undeniably qualified pitchers competing for the 5th spot in the rotation.  One is a 1st round draft pick, one is a 25-year-old grizzly man with starting credibility, and the other is a lefty who's done everything the team has asked of him - and he's done it well. 

But suddenly, a 42-year-old guy who hasn't pitched since 2007 rolls around, saying he's "20% committed to playing in 2009" - on March 1st! - and he lists the Cubs as one of two potential destinations, and next thing you know Cub fans are beside themselves.  After all, this guy has 216 career wins.  And a bloody sock!  And multiple World Championship rings!  Wowee!

Hey, do you know who else is available?  There's this guy with 10 World Series wins and a World Series ERA of 2.71.  He's got multiple rings and he's currently without a team.  Granted, he hasn't played in a while and he's pretty old, but Whitey Ford has done it before, right?  Surely he could do it again!  Of course I'm being sarcastic, but Curt Schilling honestly isn't much better at this point.

But hey - if he wants to "consider it," I'd offer him this kind of deal: I'd let him train in the Arizona facilities into the season.  I'd let him work his way back with the intent that he might be ready come late May or early June.  And if June rolls around and the Cubs are doing fine - and all evidence points to this happening - then I'd release him and let him sign on with some other team elsewhere.  But if June rolls around and the Cubs are battling injuries, or if one of their five starters is just not cutting it, then I'd work something out to allow Schilling to pitch.  But the only way he makes any sense is if there are no obligations and no expectations.  The guy is 42 years old, coming off an arm injury that he may or may not have kept hidden when signing his last contract, and he's a bit of a dick.  Just because we also know his name does not mean we should want him to pitch in Chicago.

Stump for Nomah

A few years back, like a big idiot I proclaimed that the Cubs had acquired the second-best shortstop of the organization's history and nothing but good times and sunshine awaited us.  Then the team imploded in September - completely missing the playoffs in the process - and, the following year, Nomar Garciaparra's groin tried to make a runner and left him incapacitated for the bulk of the '05 season.

Since Nomar left the Cubs, he's gone on to do ... eh, not a whole lot.  What once looked like a Hall of Fame career quickly nose-dived into mediocrity, and at the age of 35 Nomar became a backup in the Dodgers clubhouse last year.

Now with just a few weeks to go before the hitters report to Spring Training, the Cubs remain deficient of a backup shortstop and Nomar remains without a job.  Sounds to me like it's a match made in heaven.  Garciaparra can be the go-to guy to spell Lee, Ramirez, and Theriot and become the team's top RH option off the bench.

The questions in this scenario are numerous, though.  Would he take a backup role?  Would he be capable of pinch hitting?  Would he stay healthy even as a backup?

I obviously don't know the answer to any of those questions, but I'll acknowledge that Rich Aurilia wouldn't be a bad alternative option.  He's still hitting the ball well at his late age and he's a career .278 batter as a pinch hitter.  Thing is, I have a feeling that Aurilia is still holding out hopes to start next year while Nomar is on his last leg as a professional.  It's just a thought, anyway, but I am the guy who used to think Nomar was The Next Ernie, and we all know how that bloody disaster turned out.

Update: Apparently Andy Dolan had the same idea back on the 2nd of Feb.  In his own words, "I was just trying to throw Kurt Evans off the scent so he wouldn’t steal this as a blog entry four days later. It didn’t work."

Except I haven't been reading Desipio - or any blog - in a while, so this one can be filed under coincidence ... unless you're paranoid.  A note to Andy: if I'm going to steal ideas from you, I'll at least make sure that they're good ones.  Nomar to the Cubs would be fun, but not necessarily sensible.

Abreu to Chicago - 1 year, 8 million?

There's a huge difference between being offered a 1 year deal and accepting it, but Bobby Abreu just might be playing for the White Sox next year at a bargain.  Word on the street is that Abreu has been offered a 1 year, 8 million dollar contract - and this comes on the heels that Adam Dunn might also be a one-year-wonder for that much money or less.

Having signed Milton Bradley to a 3 year deal which could pay as much as 10 million per year, the Cubs are now going to have to deal with being second-guessed for a while - especially if Bradley goes down in a flaming ball of torn ligaments and rage. 

Realistically speaking, Bradley is the better defensive outfielder than Abreu even though Milton didn't spend a lot of time out there last year.  He's also a superior offensive hitter than Abreu, who's been on the decline for the last four or five years.  But the risks that accompany the Bradley signing are nowhere to be found with a guy like Abreu.  And if Abreu signs a one year deal for less than what Bradley is earning, I'd have a lot of trouble disputing people who feel the Cubs got the short end of the free agency straw.

Lovely trades, wonderful trades

Jim Hendry must've had the trading itch the other day because he sure got busy with Rich Hill and Michael Wuertz.  Hill landed in Baltimore for the infamous Player to be Named Later, while Wuertz settled into Oakland for a minor league infielder and outfielder.  I'm more sorry to see Wuertz go than Hill, as Michael has been nothing but steady in the bullpen -- except for when his mechanics got screwed up and he was tipping his pitches. 

Hey, with the free agent market looking this messy, maybe I'm wrong and Hendry will have a final move or two up his sleeve.  He didn't budget for some of the players still available, but the players still available were expected to go for a lot more money.  A late addition at this point has to be seen as possible.

Oh, and if I'm the Royals and I see the level of talent still available out there, I'm gritting my teeth and going into the red to bring those guys to K.C.  After all, when will there be another free agent buffet like this one for so cheap?

The 25 Man Roster - how does it compare to last year?

As inspired by Rob's most recent post, I'm going to try to construct the 25-man roster that we'd be most likely to see in Game One of the season.  A fun exercise would be to revisit this post then to see just how wrong I'll be because I'm sure I'll screw up at least three or four roster spots.

Starting Pitchers (5): Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Gaudin

Relief Pitchers (7): Cotts, Marshall, Wuertz, Vizcaino, Heilman, Gregg, Marmol

Catchers (2): Soto, Bako

Infielders (6): Lee, Fontenot, Theriot, Ramirez, Miles, Rivas

Outfielders (5): Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Johnson, Hoffpauir

The most debatable guesses - Gaudin as a starter, Rivas cracking the lineup as a backup middle infielder, and Hoffpauir being the 5th outfielder in front of Gathright.  My reasoning is that the Cubs need Marshall in the pen, Gaudin is young enough to still find success as a starter, the Cubs really have no good alternatives for backup middle infielder (Bobby Scales?), and unless he flat-out reverts, Hoffpauir earned it last year.

Compare these guys with last year's team.

2008 Zambrano vs. 2009 Zambrano

Carlos was plagued with arm problems last year.  It seems to be an issue with his mechanics, though, not with the actual condition of his ligaments and rotator cuff.  He was hurt and examined often; we were told that there is no damage and his arm is in good shape, let's assume that he'll have a healthier '09.  Advantage: 2009

2008 Ryan Dempster vs. 2009 Ryan Dempster

Dempster won 17 games in a walk year.  He's been rewarded with a large contract and is now 5 years removed from Tommy John Surgery.  I just can't imagine him having a year as good as last year, although he should hopefully remain reliable as a front-line starter - albiet one who you do not want to start the first game of a playoff series.  Advantage: 2008

2008 Ted Lilly vs. 2009 Ted Lilly

Lilly had a painfully rough start last year and then managed to climb out of it and win 17 games.  He very well might be capable of winning 17 more this year, and unless the Reds continue to give him trouble he should have a better ERA.  But overall I doubt he'll be much better - or worse - than last year's performance.  Advantage: Push

2008 Rich Harden/Sean Gallagher vs. 2009 Rich Harden/???

When Jim Hendry pulled the trigger last year for Harden, he was seen as either a genius or an idiot.  The basic argument was that Billy Beane knows when to cut the chord on a player and Harden would be unlikely to stay healthy enough to help the Cubs.  Well, he had a great 2008 - when he was healthy enough to pitch - but he enters '09 with a damaged wing and about a zero percent chance of staying healthy all year long.  Advantage: 2008

2008 Jason Marquis vs. 2009 Chad Gaudin/Sean Marshall/anybody else who wings the job

I just can't see the Cubs missing Marquis.  The only thing he really brought to the team was consistency - he didn't miss a start due to injury concerns.  Colin liked to point out last year that Marquis was the 7th or 8th best starter on the Cubs and I agree with him.  It'll be hard for the Cubs to do worse in terms of overall performance.  Advantage: 2009

2008 bullpen vs. 2009 bullpen

It would be way too time consuming to do this arm by arm.  The Cubs are better by subtraction.  Bob Howry and Scott Eyre are gone, and while Cotts lingers the Cubs should have fewer blowout middle inning defeats.  Vizcaino, Heilman (or Gaudin), and Gregg all have the ability to be very capable middle relievers, and it seems unlikely that the Cubs will have 8th inning problems either.  Nobody here will have the flat-out dominance that Marmol exhibited, but you don't need that to be a good team with a good bullpen.  Overall, Advantage: 2009

2008 Kerry Wood vs. 2009 Carlos Marmol

I like Kerry Wood as much as anybody but there are a few things I won't miss.  I won't miss his regular injuries.  I won't miss the concern that he'll walk into a game without his stuff.  I also like Carlos Marmol as much as anybody but there are a few things that worry me.  I won't forget how he spent a month missing the plate with regularity.  I won't forget how concerned Larry and Lou would look if his first couple of pitches were balls.  I also won't forget how flat-out dominating he can be.  While Marmol scares me a little, I think it's hands-down Advantage: 2009

2008 Geo Soto vs. 2009 Geo Soto

Catching is a weird position because it beats the crap out of your body.  Players like Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench are miraculous because they remained consistently good hitters while taking years of physical abuse.  Geovany Soto has the body of a catcher and he's at the age where hitters tend to get better.  I don't know if he's going to hit the ball with more pop, or even as much, but I'd have to say that it's going to be Advantage: 2009

2008 Derrek Lee vs. 2009 Derrek Lee

Derrek showed decline last year and he did a few concerning things.  He was a little too prone for errors at first.  He hit into a ton of double plays.  He still managed to put up good offensive numbers with fewer homeruns than we would've liked.  He shouldn't have been a #3 hitter based on his production and he shouldn't be the #3 guy in '09 either.  But will he be any worse in '09?  Probably not.  I think that if he is on a decline, it will be a slow one.  Advantage: Push

2008 Mark DeRosa vs. 2009 Mike Fontenot

This is the fun debate.  DeRosa had a career year.  Actually, so did Fontenot.  It's very unlikely that 2009 DeRosa will be as good as the '08 version; in fact it's very unlikely in my opinion that 2009 DeRosa will be as good as 2009 Fontenot.  Then there are two other factors to consider - the balance lefty Mike brings to the lineup and the better defense he has at second base.  It's a tough argument to make and I'm going a little bit on faith and assumption here, but at this point I'd argue Advantage: 2009

2008 Ryan Theriot vs. 2009 Ryan Theriot

He played over his head in '08 and probably put up the best numbers that he'll ever have.  He's not going to be any better or worse defensively, he might get caught stealing fewer bases, but overall I'd expect somewhat declined production from the Quite Theriot in 2009.  Advantage: 2008

2008 Aramis Ramirez vs. 2009 Aramis Ramriez

I don't think he's going to put up better or worse numbers.  A-Ram is consistently good and he will probably demonstrate the same sort of offensive dominance that we've come to expect from our third baseman.  Advantage: Push

2008 Alfonso Soriano vs. 2009 Alfonso Soriano

The one argument I will make is that Soriano just can't keep getting hurt every single year.  And if he stays healthy, even if he doesn't hit as many homeruns per at bat, then the Cubs will benefit from his health this coming season.  Advantage: 2009

2008 Jim Edmonds vs. 2009 Milton Bradley

I know that Bradley won't be playing the same position as Lassie did last year, but realistically Edmonds is who he will be replacing in 2009 in the lineup.  While Jim Edmonds put up awesome production in his limited play time, he was defensively horrible and he actually wasn't that great of a hitter especially as the season rolled on.  Bradley comes to Chicago with an injury risk and a possible attitude, but he's younger and can hit the crap out of the ball.  Advantage: 2009

2008 Kosuke Fukudome vs. 2009 Kosuke Fukudome

I keep saying it and I'll say it again.  In March when we tried to guess how he'd do, some of us came extremely close to his final offensive totals.  We then said "cut him some slack because it's his first year and he'll do better in '09."  Then we forgot our own words and now we worry that he's a bust.  I don't think he will be.  He's not going to hit .300 next year, or even .290, but Fukudome will have a better second year in Chicago.  I'd bet on it.  Advantage: 2009

2008 Bench vs. 2009 Bench

Last year's bench was bar none stronger.  Granted, Pontoon Butt didn't hit the ball well, but the bench benefited from guys like Blanco, Fontenot, Reed Johnson, and Hoffpauir.  I don't think the bench of 2009 will fail the Cubs, but I don't think they'll be as responsible for as many awesome moments.  Advantage: 2008

Final Tally: 2008 4, 2009 9, 3 ties

I've made this point before too, but I like to repeat myself I like to repeat myself.  (That was a joke.)  We as Cub fans are so enamored by how we feel about DeRosa and Kerry Wood that we kind of aren't looking with clarity at how much better the team actually is.  I imagine that a lot of Cub fans would argue that this off season was a bust, despite upgrades in the starting rotation (by subtraction), the bullpen (by subtraction), and the outfield.  The Cubs didn't have that one big move this year, but all the little ones will add up.  I honestly won't be surprised if they come close to matching - or even exceeding - last year's total runs scored and if they stay healthy this might be the first time in a long time that the team wins 100 games.

It could happen.  It may even be likely when you consider how bad the rest of the NL Central will be.  But more importantly, could this team as constructed win in the playoffs?  I say yes, even if we didn't know that they'd be likely to upgrade some more in June and July.

Once more with feeling

The Peavy Trade-0-Meter has been revamped due to popular griping.

With two weeks remaining before Spring Training starts, the Cubs appear to be pretty well done with move-making.  I say this mostly because there have been numerous reports that a) the trade talks are presently dead, b) Hendry has said he's done, and c) different sources are reporting it.

What the Cubs aren't done doing yet is finding a backup shortstop.  It shouldn't be so hard to do, though, so in terms of priority I'd say they have until the last day of Spring Training.

The fifth starter

With yesterday's trade, nobody knows anymore if Jake Peavy is a real possibility as the next Cubs ace.  Luckily Jim Hendry has some options if Peavy isn't coming be they in-house or not.

Some guys who might take turns starting next year ...

Chad Gaudin: Although I want to punch him in his ridiculous face any time I see him on tv, Gaudin's not a bad choice to take a crack at starting.  He was 3-2 with an ERA of 3.75 in 6 starts last year, and over the past 3 seasons the 25-year-old has started 40 games resulting in 14 wins and 15 losses.  Fairly unimpressive until you consider that he has an ERA of 4.32 over that time while playing in The League With All That Offense, which is undeniably better than the 4.99 ERA posted by Jason Marquis in that same span.  Using that keen and indisputable logic, it can therefore be concluded that Gaudin would be an improvement.

Sean Marshall: Maybe you have an older sibling - or hell, a younger one.  If you have an older one then you know that there have been times in your life when you have tried desperately to capture the attention of your big brother or sister only to be ignored like a 3AM infomercial.  If you have a younger one, then you might not have noticed that he/she is actually pretty freakin' cool sometimes.  Sean Marshall is the younger sibling of the Chicago Cubs.  He started in 19 games for the 2007 Cubs, where he went 7-8 with a 4.05 ERA.  In 2008 Marshall started 7 more times, posting a respectable 4.15 ERA while going an embarassing 1-4.  The ERA totals are good, the win-losses don't mean so much, if he's not traded for Jake Peavy then he has to be Lou's top choice to start fifth.

Aaron Heilman: The last time he started way back in 2005, he went 2-3 in 7 starts with an ERA of 4.71.  And those are his best totals as a starter.  One Goat Reader says that Heilman wants to start in 2009 but I'd honestly rather see the Cubs reverse their trade of Marquis before letting Heilman give up Hail Mary's to the bleachers.

Jeff Samardzija: The Shark should start in Chicago or in Iowa.  He had success as a reliever in '08, but using a pitcher his age as a reliever is a waste of his talents.  Chances are the Shark will begin the year in Triple A.  He may be the first person they turn to if the Cubs have pen trouble or he'll be ready to step into the rotation should somebody get hurt or fail to do the job in the fifth spot.

Jake Peavy: The mere thought of Peavy brings fire to the loins of Cub fans everywhere - and it is apparently a mutual sensation for Peavy.  If Hendry can somehow pull this off, then the Cubs will have undeniably the best Chicago starting rotation since the World Champion Cubs of the early 20th century used to have dueling shutouts on a regular basis.  At this point some people think the Peavy Trade-0-Meter should be dipping into the red, but I'm not convinced.  We'll keep it on lower Meh for the time being.

Ben Sheets: The poor man's Peavy.  2008 was the healthiest season Sheets has seen since 2004, which isn't to say that his arm didn't almost spontaneously combust in late September.  The longer Sheets goes without finding a home the cheaper he'll be.  The Cubs have no rumored interest in him.

Curt Schilling: File this one under Proof that Bloggers Are Often Wrong.  I wrote Schilling a letter last off season begging him to offer his services to the Cubs because he would truly be a legend if he helped reverse our so-called curse as well.  Schilling signed with Boston and spent the year watching his arm unintentionally contort into weird shapes.  Anyway, my brother EMailed me last week and asked me what I'd think about the Cubs taking a chance on a reclamation project.  I said it was probably a bad idea because the rotation isn't exactly invincible with Zambrano, Dempster, and Harden.

Besides, SI writer and injury expert Will Carroll made a point to me the other day...

The Cubs at Wrigley Field are not exactly in what we could call a "state of the art" situation.  In fact the trainers and the training facility can only do so much and can often be easily stretched very thin.  A reclamation project like Schilling or Sheets would be interesting, but the Cubs staff just might not have the tools-at-hand to keep them healthy - especially with pitchers like Harden and Zambrano being injury risks.

So, with all that in mind, I believe the Cubs should either go Peavy or stay home, if you get what I'm saying.  The team has good depth right now and shouldn't have to worry too much about upgrading.

Random thoughts on trades, transactions, and other changes

One of the biggest misconceptions in baseball is that it takes a while for a team to gel.  For example when Dusty Baker came to Chicago he was inheriting the beginnings of a solid core of players, but because there were a number of new guys and young players he felt he'd need time to succeed.  On the contrary, the talent level was so high in those early days that Dusty actually looked like a good manager for about a year and a half.

It's sort of the same with Lou's situation.  He inherited a last-place team with a pile of new, high-priced players.  The first couple of months of the 2007 season were just about as ugly as the last couple of years of Dusty's ... er, reign ... but the players came together, they gelled, and the sheer level of talent eventually overcame the bad habits that they brought with them into the season.

The Cubs actually have a pretty good core of players right now, many of whom have been a part of the team for a while.  Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marmol, Soto, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Fukudome, and Bradley represent a solid group of mostly young - or in their prime - guys who have either been with the team for a while or should remain with the team for a while.  Consequently, the Cubs have won the division for two consecutive years, which hasn't happened since they began mass-producing cars back when your great grand-pappy was wearing short-pants.

Yet, in spite of the success, maybe because we're bored, anxious, and waiting, some fans keep tossing out trade and free agency ideas which are sometimes interesting and other times ludicrous.  It's kind of a Yankee-fan mentality thing which isn't necessarily actually good.

What I mean is this: things aren't broken right now.  There is very little to fix.  We sort of talked about this back in October, too.  Sure, the Cubs got knocked out of the playoffs, and while the worst was happening before our very eyes some extremist fans wanted to take a "slash and burn" approach.  After all, clearly these guys couldn't handle the pressures of playoff baseball in Chicago.  They had to go.  None of them should come back.

(This was ignoring the fact that we'd just seen the team enjoy a 97-win season, the most wins since 1945.)

Here's the thing we're forgetting: the playoffs are a crapshoot.  Colin might disagree, but the best team does not win.  The hottest one does.  At points in the 2008 season the Cubs couldn't lose if they tried and at other times they couldn't win if they'd bribed the umpires.  That's just the way it goes.  The trick is to get there constantly because the more often you do something the more likely you are to get good results.  (Point of fact: between 1945 and 2008, the Cubs reached the World Series just once.  Sounds about impossible until you consider that between 1945 and 1984, they reached the playoffs not at all.  It's hard to win when you never get there.)

I will submit then one simple argument: every team - even the one that wins the Series - has to look to upgrade every year.  It's good to have a solid core of players but the trick is to continue to add to that core.  No team should wait until they have to subtract because a guy is no longer effective.  The Cubs entered the off season with a few pressing needs: 1) Get rid of the deadweight Marquis.  2) Balance the lineup to include more lefties.  3) Bring in a middle-of-the-lineup hitter who can step in and replace Derrek Lee in the 3-hole or Aramis Ramirez at cleanup.  4) Improve the bullpen.

It cannot be contested that they did #1, which likely means they are stronger in the rotation by default.  They also now have 2 additional lefties in the everyday lineup, meaning that they succeeded with #2.  Although Piniella isn't likely to shake things up the way he should, the Cubs have clear and superior alternatives for last year's lineup (which, by the way, was still outstanding).  The only thing they haven't really addressed was #4, although how much worse they are is extremely subjective and very debatable.

Oh, and the Cubs just might bring in a guy who we could essentially call The Fourth Ace.  This team is loaded.  Huge changes are not necessary.  They don't need a new second baseman - they already have one, a guy who worked hard to earn his chance. 

So, let's let them be.  Let's be excited that they're so potentially good.  At least that's what I will be doing for the next few months.

Non Roster Invites

Pitchers

Ed Campusano - LHRP, 26-years-old until July 14, Campusano has never thrown above AA ball in his career. In 2008, Campullu, his tentacles waving in the air, went 3-3 ith a 6.34 ERA in 9.2 innings of work. He's got a good career K-Rating (223 SO's in 222.2 IP) but let's be real here. He's only invited so the big boys can feel good by beating on his ass.

J.R. Mathes - LHSP, 27-years-old, Mathes is a starting pitcher with 15 more career wins than losses (44-29). He also looks like he's got Down's Syndrome, but I am neither picking on those who have it nor him ... I'm just pointing it out. He's been in Iowa two years now, and he saw his ERA drop more than a full run in '08 from 5.58 to 4.29. He's got good control but when not cutting Life Goes On promos, he'd be the poster boy for Meh-diocre.

Matt Smith - LHRP, 29-year-old until June 15, it's tough to tell if I've got the right Smith.  But I'm assuming the Cubs have invited the Matt Smith of OSU who has spent parts of 2 seasons pitching in the majors.  As an ML pitcher, Smith has a 2.55 ERA in 24.2 innings of work, although he's got one particularly scary line - 24 innings, 23 walks, 22 strikeouts.  As a minor leaguer, his numbers have never been so bad - he walked 3.6 per 9 innings compared to his 8.4 totals in the Majors - but it seems unlikely that he'll be the solution to the Cubs lefty conundrum.

Mike Stanton - LHRP, 41-year-old until June 2nd.  Hey, speaking of lefty ex Yankees, Old Man Stanton is trying to get back in the game after pitching nowhere in 2008.  Dude's been pitching since back in the time when I still thought farts were funny* but his last season in '07 was about as ugly as a Chicago stripper in the sobering light of day.  But hey, you never know.  He could be the next Terry Mulholland, assuming that Mo is finally done being The Next Terry Mulholland.

(*okay, okay, I still think farts are funny)

Jason Waddell - LHRP, 27-year-old until June 11.  Waddle has never thrown in the majors before, but his minor league numbers are actually pretty respectable.  In 396.2 innings of work, his ERA is 3.63 with 376 strikeouts to 144 walks.  Waddell's never pitched above AA before though, and what will likely happen is that he starts the year off in Iowa and becomes a fallback when Sean Marshall gets emergency-rushed to the rotation or Neal Cotts pitches like the non-stud that we all know he is.

Bill White - LHRP, 30-years-old.  White's career totals at the ML level: 13.1 IP, 15 H, 18 BB, 10 SO, 14 ER.  The only thing I don't understand is how a guy who allowed 33 players on base in just over 13 innings was able to hold them to only 14 scores.  Seems to me that a player with that kind of testicular fortitude would be valuable to have on the team.  Wait, I'm not taking into account the inherited runners he let score?  Oh.  Right.

Esmailin Caridad - RHSP, 25-years-old.  Good ol' Battin' Practice Caridad is the first legitimate Cubs prospect to make the list of non-roster invites.  He's got amazing control and efficiency, and in 152.2 career innings of work Esmailin is 13-7 with only 88 SO's to 39 BB's.  He also did this while pitching in AA ball in the first year he was a part of the Cubs system after having been signed as a free agent after pitching in Japan.  I'm thinking he won't be breaking camp with the Big Team, but I'm pegging him as a potential '09 Surprise.

Andrew Cashner - RHSP, 22-years-old.  #4 on our Top Prospects list, Cashner's got about as much a chance of making the team as I do this Spring.  But he will be getting some much needed experience hopefully against the bench players and scrubs, since he's just as likely to blast a heater into a guy's ear as he is to strike a guy out.

Chad Fox - RHRP, 38-years-old.  Jeebus, man, hang it up already!  I actually have it on very good sources that a high-up member of the Cubs front office caught Fox banging his wife, and ever since the Cubs have been trying to seek revenge by making Fox's arm explode on national tv during a baseball game.  Either that, or they feel guilty for the way Dusty Baker wrecked the guy's career and keep throwing him bones.  Either way, I think boner time should be over for Chad Fox.  ...er, bone time, I mean.  Moving on.

Ken Kadokura - RHRP, 35 until July 29.  Kadokura is another Japanese player that the Cubs appear hell-bent on bringing to the team to give Fukudome the company and companionship he needs.  (Hmm, Brokebat Mountain, anybody?)  He's 3 seasons away from his most recent successful year, and while the image of Crouching Kosuke Hidden Kadokura - robed figures running across Wrigley Field's wires while kicking the crap out of each other - is an enticing one, I don't think it should be the basis of awarding somebody a roster spot.

Rocky Roquet - RHRP, 26-years-old.  If this guy ever makes it on the roster, then he should demand that they put his full name on the back of his jersey - and if that happened, then he alone would be the reason I'd support jerseys with names on them.  Roquet, while not fighting villainy as a masked super hero, has one thing working against him - he's a career reliever, in the minors.  Minor league relievers rarely get the chance to be major league ones, which is too bad for a guy who can throw 97 MPH, buckle knees with a slider, and has the coolest name ever.

Seriously.  We gotta interview that guy.  God as my witness, I'll make it happen.

And unfortunately, that's where I'll have to leave it for today.  Tomorrow, I'll write about all the hitter invites.

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