Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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The 2009 Free Agent Preview, Part 1

 

Free Agent Preview

Welcome to the first day of real content since the Cubs slipped quietly into that good night.  I've decided to break up the Free Agent Preview into Two Parts - in the first, we'll talk about all the free agents on the Cubs and what should happen to them, and in the second we'll discuss the free agents on the market and whether or not the Cubs should pursue them.  As usual, all information will be derived from the insanely valuable MLB Trade Rumors Guy, who was kind enough to link us at the end of last week and gave us almost as many hits as Deadspin and Fark combined.

Part One - Cubs on the Move

C Henry Blanco - $3MM mutual option for '09 with a $0.3MM buyout.  Current rumors have the Cubs exercising the buyout in an attempt to bring him back for less than 3 million for another year.  Need I also remind you that Henry just might retire?  Hank White will turn 38 next year and he is a year removed from neck surgery.

As a Cub, Blanco has been in town for four seasons, which is quite a tenure for a backup catcher.  He is clearly valued by the organization, and he's delivered unto them a surprisingly good bat.  In 208 games and 576 at bats, Blanco is batting .255 with 27 doubles, 15 homers, and 78 RBI.  Not bad at all for a backup catcher with a career .227 AVG.

Why He Might Go: Age, injury, and the unlikeliness that Hendry will want to pay him 3 million next year may all contribute to a departure.  And like we said, he just might hang it up.

Why He May Stay: Blanco is clearly loved by the organization and has the respect of his pitchers.  He's one of the few catchers out there who's not afraid of Carlos Zambrano, and he legitimately looks like he spends his off-season in a maximum security Venezuela prison.  You can't overlook that kind of intimidation factor.

I think Blanco will be back.  Although the Cubs have a couple of young, talented catching prospects in the minors, none of them are ready, nor able, to do what Blanco does for the team.

IF/OF Daryle Ward - He of the unspellable first name and the bulbous bottom had a pretty terrible year as Lou's dedicated pinch hitter.  It's not out of the question to think he might bounce back next year, though, and put up numbers which are comparable - if not superior - to his career totals.

Why He Might Go: At his age, expense, and defensive inability, it doesn't make a lot of sense for Ward to return.  Especially when you consider that the Cubs carry an extra pitcher, it makes more sense for all your bench players to be more defensively versatile than a guy like Ward is.

Why He May Stay: If Lou and Jim agree with my assessment that Ward will bounce back next year, then they might offer him a deal for a bit less than what he made in '08 to see what he can do for the team.  But, chances are, this won't happen.

In reality, with Micah Hoffpauir serving as a younger, healthier, more effective and less expensive version of Ward, Daryle has seen his last game at Wrigley Field in Cubs blue.  However, Hoffpauir might be a mistake as well, but that's a story for a different series.

CF Jim Edmonds - Edmonds came to the Cubs directly from the scrap heap in early May.  He proceeded to play 85 games, bat .256 with 17 doubles, 19 homers, 49 RBI, a .937 OPS, and a few spectacular defensive plays out in center field.  Make no mistake - the Cubs wouldn't have been as strong a team this season without Edmonds hobbling around in the outfield.

Why He Might Go: His age should play a huge factor on this decision.  Edmonds is also injury prone and will likely see diminished returns in '09.  The Cubs also are unlikely to have given up entirely on Felix Pie, who will be 24 next season and batted .300 in his call up to Chicago in Septemer.

Why He May Stay: Hendry tends to appreciate and reward good play.  If Jim feels that Edmonds remains the best option in center, he may offer him a relatively low-income one or two year deal with a lot of incentives.

In all likelihood, Edmonds is gone, or at least he should be.  It was great that Hendry went to the well in May and pulled out a guy who'd do huge things for the Cubs, but Edmonds continued to decline with the team in the latter months of '08 and I'd bet he'll be a bust next year.

SP Ryan Dempster - A former starter turned reliever turned closer converted back to starting, Dempster had a career year at the age of 31.  He went 17-6, with a 2.96 ERA, and struck out 187 batters while walking only 76.  Dempster has only pitched 200 innings or more 3 times in his career.  He walked 97 in 226.1 innings of work in 2000, he walked 112 in 211.1 innings in 2001, and he walked 93 in 209 innings in 2002.  Oh, and he walked 7 against the Dodgers on October 1st.

Why He Might Go: There are a lot of question marks in Dempster's future.  Was it a fluke season?  Will he ever put up these kinds of numbers again?  The likelihood of Dempster matching this season's totals have got to be slim, and not only do we know that, but so must the Cubs, Dempster, and his agent.  If I was him, I'd be pushing for a 4 or 5 year deal at 14 to 15 million a season.  If I was the Cubs, I wouldn't pay that kind of money if you put a gun to my head.

Why He May Stay: At this point, Jim Hendry should have a reputation.  He does not let players leave if he values them.  Just ask Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez again, and Carlos Zambrano.  All three men have come upon free agent years as Cubs, causing Cub fans everywhere to lament their inevitable departure, only for them to sign what could amount to sweetheart deals, keeping them in Chicago for less than what they would have gotten elsewhere.  If Hendry can work that magic with Dempster, he'll be back.

If - and it's a big if - Hendry is able to lock up Dempster for 3 years at about 36 million total, I'd be ok with his return.  I have to think that Dempster can probably do what he's been doing for 3 more years, and it frees up Hendry to deal Marquis and make room for Samardzija in the rotation.  But if Dempster decides that a 4 or 5 year deal is a must, and if he concludes that his value starts at 14 million per year, then the Cubs will need to say goodbye.

MR Jon Lieber - At 39 years of age, and after a season of nagging foot injuries, Lieber is probably done as a pitcher.  It's too bad, really.  Apart from a few really bat beatings at the hands of the Reds, Lieber was a valuable relief pitcher who put up surprisingly good numbers.

Why He Might Go: See the text above.  Liebs is old and injury prone, and Hendry will likely be looking elsewhere for help in the bullpen this year.

Why He May Stay: A moment of insanity on Hendry's part, perhaps?

Hey, it was cool that Liebs came back this year and he really was better than his 4.05 ERA indicates.  Did you know that in 46.2 innings of work, Lieber allowed 21 earned runs?  Did you know that of those 21 earned runs, 13 came against the Reds?  13!!  Subtract 13 earned from 21 and 7 innings from 46.2, and Lieber had an ERA of 1.82 against the rest of the league last season.

MR Bob Howry - Make no mistake, I was glad the Cubs signed Howry 3 years ago and, for 2 of his 3 seasons, he gave the team a reliable arm.  Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those 2 seasons - Howry had a 5.35 ERA in 70.1 innings of work, surrendering 13 homeruns in the process.

Why He Might Go: At 35, Howry has lost his effectiveness as a reliever.  I'm sure he'll catch on somewhere, he may even get a one year deal, but Howry's value is greatly diminished after he did his best Human Gas Can impression this season.

Why He May Stay - It was clear to most of us even before the All Star Break that Howry was a shell of himself, and yet Lou kept trotting him out there day in and day out this year.  Maybe Howry will continue to work his magic on Lou this off season, getting the team's skipper to stump for him with Hendry.

In reality, Howry is long gone.  Thank God!

CL Kerry Wood - I suppose we can call the conversion a success.  Kerry Wood missed a month because of a blister problem, and he still managed to throw in 65 games, 66.1 innings, and save 34 in the process.  Woody struck out 84, walked only 18, and if Lou uses him correctly he could be on his way toward becoming one of the most dominating closers in the game.

Why He Might Go: He will always be an arm injury concern, but there are probably teams out there that will take a risk on him.  Chances are, while the Cubs will want to keep him, they will not be able to outbid rival teams.

Why He May Stay: Wood has become the surprising poster child for organizational loyalty.  In this day and age, he has taken more than one single-year contract to stay in Chicago.  He is loved by Hendry, he loves the organization, and he would probably be willing to play in Chicago for fewer dollars and years.

I'm betting Wood will be back.  It probably isn't out of the question to see him take a 2 or 3 year deal for minimally 5 million or more a season.

Conclusions

I would surmise that Blanco and Wood are the most likely to return.  It's probably an even toss with Ryan Dempster, unless Hendry values him more than I do and is willing to make an unecessary long-term investment for a short-term return (ala Soriano).  Ward, Edmonds, Lieber and Howry have probably donned a Cubs cap for the last time, unless they are invited to the Convention someday.

Tomorrow morning, we'll have Part Two of this series - a look at the Free Agents who might help the Cubs.

Move debating

I've been really enjoying the player debates that have occurred over in the shoutbox.  Some of the ideas have been tossed out there tongue in cheek, others have been suggested seriously, some make a lot of sense, more are ludicrous.  And that is an important part of being a baseball fan.

I am sorry to remind you all, but in the meantime there are playoffs going on.  I probably won't watch another game, although I've decided to put my so-called support behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

In really sad news, the Tribune is reporting that the Cubs sale has slowed down.  Future Cubs Owner Mark Cuban says that the current financial crisis is affecting the sale of the team.

In other words, the Cubs may no longer be a billion dollar team, and they just might not get sold before the start of the '09 season.  However, there have also been reports that the team may raise payroll again, this time to 140 million.  Now, here's a question that nobody has asked - as far as I know - if the economy is suddenly crap, does that mean that free agents who once would have gone for, say, 20 million a year will now have to settle for less?

I'd have to guess the answer is negatory, but some teams that may have been looking to expand payroll may now be looking to roll back a bit.  If the Cubs are indeed able to find room to pay another 15 million, then that may mean that their brand is even more powerful than we'd originally thought.

Anyway, this is turning out to be a typical October - there is a lot of uncertainty with what happens next, beyond the promise that something will happen.  So, we welcome your ideas.  What else should the Cubs be doing?  Who goes, who stays, and why can't they even give away?

My own 2 cents

With apologies for stepping on Rob's rebuttal to my Nine Reasons post...

Part One - The Guys Who Remain:

Yesterday I posted a long article about why the Cubs will win next year, but like the political candidate on the campaign trail, I gave no specifics and got dodgy when people called me out on my promises.  However, like a lot of you I've still got baseball on the brain and I can't help but think about how to keep this team competitive for next season.  So, who are the guys who'll be back for sure?

C Geovany Soto - the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year will hopefully be productive in a Cubs uniform for years to come.

1B Derrek Lee - A big contract and a no-trade clause make this a no-brainer, with all due respect to those who want to send him packing.  While I can understand the frustration directed at Lee - not just for the decrease in offense this year, but also for the harsh words about booing Cub fans - I think the place where the debate should be had is in regards to his spot in the lineup.  Lee should not be batting third next season.  He`s a #2 hitter or a #6 hitter at best.

2B Mark DeRosa - He has one year remaining on his $13 million contract with the Cubs.  I doubt he will be as offensively great as he was this past season, but DeRosa has proven to be a very valuable asset with the Cubs.

SS Ryan Theriot - Theriot won't be a free agent, but should he be a starter?  After the '07 season ended, his position was the one that I thought would most likely be upgraded.  I lamented at the time that, if he'd only gotten about 1 extra hit a week over the span of the season, then he'd be loved not loathed.  Well, Theriot did even better than that - he had 178 hits, compared with 143 from the previous year.  He also drew a ton of walks, while regretfully displaying to me two flaws in his game that might be beyond his abilities to overcome.  Those are: limited defensive range, which may have hurt the Cubs in the playoffs, and a tendency to get caught stealing way too often.  If the Cubs can improve offensively elsewhere, keeping Theriot won't be a bad thing, necessarily, but he may find himself in a backup role on next year's team, and that won't necessarily be a bad thing.

3B Aramis Ramirez - A-Ram remains a valuable asset to the Cubs lineup.  I hope that, in 2008, he maintains his newfound plate discipline, and I hope Lou uses him correctly in the lineup - in the #3 position.

LF Alfonso Soriano - Sorry, folks.  An 8 year deal would make him close to untradeable even if the Cubs wanted to.  I will reiterate something from earlier this season: if you want a guy to help the Cubs cease a quick lead, Soriano is your man.  No player is more likely to hit a leadoff homerun than this guy, and he statistically does better early in a game.  But if you want a guy to deliver the clutch homerun at the end of the game, look elsewhere.  Whlie the Fonz flailed and failed yet again this October, he remains a valuable asset to the Cubs.  He also is incredibly streaky, and he wasn't exactly setting the world on fire before the playoffs this year.  He's capable of doing better, and he just might next year.

RF Kosuke Fukudome - Rumor has it that the Fooky is thinking about ripping up his contract and going back to Japan.  I don't see it happening.  Fukudome has the potential to do better than he did, and if we actually went back and look at early season predictions, we'd find that he met or surpassed the expectations of some very cynical Cub fans.  I'm talking to you, Rob.  These are your words from March of this year: "People are gonna say FukU (will have 'dropped this biggest turd') because he is NOT going to hit for a high average in 2008...probably around .250.  His OBP will still be over .350, though."  I think the frustration stems from his white hot start.  If Fukudome does return next year, the Cubs will probably consider moving him to center field and upgrading offensively at right.

IF Mike Fontenot - Depending on what's up with DeRosa, Fontenot could find himself playing more next year, which might be a mistake.  Little Babe Ruth did well this season, but he belongs as a bench player.  He may find himself in the Professional Pinch Hitter position with the Cubs next year ... and they could do worse than him if that's the case.

IF Ronny Cedeno - Every team needs a 25th guy on their roster, and Cedeno is the Cub's guy.  I don't like him, I don't want to see him in close games, I don't want him to be the defensive replacement, but he's there and I have to imagine he'll be back.

OF Felix Pie - Either the Cubs will be dealing Pie, or he'll be starting in center, or he'll be a backup, but he's not going back to Iowa.  Although he is now a player of diminished expectations, Pie remains one of the biggest wild cards on the team - if he ever actually figures out major league hitting, he could be a tremendous asset.  But it's a big if.

SP Carlos Zambrano - In an apparent effort to garner attention in this time where reading about the Cubs is pretty much the last thing people want to do, one Cubs blogger has written up a post suggesting that if the Cubs ever win, it'll be after trading Zambrano.  I think not.  Carlos is no longer a sure thing, though.  His arm appears healthy.  Lord knows they checked it enough this year.  But the velocity problems, the soreness problems, the massive amount of use he's seen in his career, at this stage it's a little concerning.  If I were laying odds, I'd think it might be 2-1 or 4-1 that Carlos will be seriously injured before his most recent contract ends.  But will that happen in 2009?  Hopefully not if the Cubs tread carefully.

SP Ted Lilly - I may be wrong, but I believe that Lilly will be in the last year of his deal with the Cubs.  After winning 32 in his first two seasons, I won't be surprised to see him do it again in a walk year.

SP Rich Harden - Harden's health is perhaps the biggest pitching issue next season, but his talent makes him worth the risk.  Thankfully, the Cubs have a few other guys who could step in if the Cubs third ace needs a few weeks to rest every once in a while.

SP Jason Marquis - If Jim Hendry has a To Do list this off season, let's hope "Trade Jason Marquis" is on there somewhere near the top.

Other SP's - Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Chad Gaudin, Rich Hill - The first three on this list will certainly make the roster in some capacity.  There will certainly be room for one new starter on the Cubs next year, be it because Dempster does not return, or Marquis is dealt or demoted to the bullpen.  Rich Hill is a mystery, and we very well may never see him again, but he just might surprise us.

RP's - Neal Cotts, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol - At this point, while they will almost certainly be joined by some of the guys listed above, only Cotts and Marmol are certain to return to the bullpen in '09.  Wuertz is a big if.  An improved pen may well be at the very top of Hendry's off season list, because while the Cubs pen did not necessarily cost the team against the Dodgers, Jim couldn't have helped but notice that the Dodgers elite bullpen held the Cubs offense down.

Part Two - Free Agents Who May Return

SP Ryan Dempster - This is the biggest area of interest this off season.  I'm sure there are some people who think that Dempster will be an elite pitcher next season.  I'm not one of them.  However, I do think he'll have a good 2009, and maybe even a good '10 and '11.  If Jim Hendry can negotiate a reasonable deal with Dempster - say, 3 years for 30-36 million with an option for a 4th year - then I support his return.  But if Dempster demands 4 or 5 years for 14 million or more, the Cubs will need to wish him the best and let him go.  He may win 15 next year, and he may keep his ERA below 4, but if Dempster gets Cy Young votes this year I suspect that they will be the only ones he ever gets.

CL Kerry Wood - Some Cub fans already have visions of Wood Returning to the Rotation dancing in their heads.  It sure would be cool.  But even as a closer, Kerry missed about a month of the season.  He has the potential to be an elite closer if he stays healthy, and I think that he will return to Chicago.  Now here's a question for you, the reader - how many years should Hendry offer him?

C Henry Blanco - Hank White has an option, but he may choose to retire.  At this stage, he's a pricey backup catcher who's hit fairly well the last few years, and I get the feeling that the Cubs enjoy having him on the team if only because he intimidates fans from approaching them at airports.

OF's Reed Johnson, Jim Edmonds - Jim Hendry pulled Reed off the scrapheap last year, and the former Jay repaid the team by being a tremendous roleplayer.  Hendry then rolled the dice with Edmonds, who also was a surprise hit.  Jim may be tempted to bring both of them back - he should resist it.  Edmonds has Gaetti written all over him.  Reed, on the other hand, is the kind of backup outfielder that every team wants, and I'd support his return via a 2 year deal.

Part Three - Gone but not forgotten:

Daryle Ward, Jim Edmonds, Bob Howry, Jon Lieber - They all had their moments with the '08 team.  Some more than others.  Let's remember them, thank them for their contributions, and throw up in our mouths if any of them actually return with the team.

Part Four - Places to Upgrade, Things to Ponder

2B, SS - Hendry will likely try to upgrade at one of these two positions.  Considering the size of his contract and how important a piece DeRosa was to the '08 squad, it seems likelier that Theriot will become a backup next season - perhaps forcing Cedeno off the team.  There are some interesting options out there via the free agency market, according to MLB Trade Guy" href="http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2007/12/2009-mlb-free-a.html" target="_blank">Crazy MLB Trade Rumors Guy. (With a name like that, how can you resist checking him out?)  Without preference or prejudice, here are the potential free agents according to that insane source: Willie Bloomquist (31), Orlando Cabrera (34), Alex Cintron (30), Alex Cora (33), Craig Counsell (38), David Eckstein (34), Adam Everett (32), Rafael Furcal (31), Nomar Garciaparra (35), Jerry Hairston Jr. (33), Cesar Izturis (29), Felipe Lopez (29), Edgar Renteria (33), Juan Uribe (30), Ramon Vazquez (32), Omar Vizquel (42).

RF, CF - If Hendry bids farewell to Edmonds, as he should, then he has three options.  A) Live or Die with Felix Pie (which would sound great if it actually rhymed), 2) Pursue a new CFer, via free agency or trade or C) Move Fukudome to center and pursue a new RFer via free agency or trade. 

Potential free agent CFers: Rocco Baldelli (27), Willie Bloomquist (31), Mike Cameron (36) - $10MM club option for '09 with a $750K buyout, Jim Edmonds (39), Jerry Hairston Jr. (33) Gabe Kapler (33), Mark Kotsay (33), Corey Patterson (29), Scott Podsednik (33).

Potential free agent RFers: Bobby Abreu (35), Casey Blake (35), Cliff Floyd (36) - $2.75MM club option for '09 with a $0.25MM buyout, Brian Giles (38) - $9MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout, Ken Griffey Jr. (39) - $16.5MM club option for '09 with a $4MM buyout, Vladimir Guerrero (33) - $15MM club option for '09 with a $3MM buyout, Gabe Kapler (33), Jason Michaels (33) - $2.6MM club option for '09, Fernando Tatis (34), Brad Wilkerson (32).

SP - I've already mentioned that Dempster may stay or go.  I think we'll all agree at this point that if he's somebody Hendry wants to keep, then Ryan will be wearing Cubs Blue next year, as Hendry hasn't lost a player on his radar in years now.  I've also already mentioned my fierce desire to deal Marquis - in a market saturated with good starting pitchers, I actually like the Cubs chances of dealing him because somebody will still come out a free agency loser and will be looking to upgrade through trades.  The Cubs may have one or as many as two new starting pitchers next April, but I don't think they need to actively seek one out on the market.

RP - Middle relief is the toughest thing to improve upon through free agency.  I will refer to my rule of thumb, developed a few years ago - never sign a free agent middle reliever over the age of 32, and even then, sign him to no more than a 2 or 3 year deal. The more likely case here will be acquisition through trades, fingers crossed that Jim can pull something out of his hat.

Part Five - On the blog

In case you missed it, Goat Reader Madisoncubaholic wrote a post today about her many various feelings on the team.  At one point, she wrote: "On this website I was told when I predicted that this years team did not 'have it' that I would have no right to partake in the celebration when they did win it. I guess you have to drink the Kool-aide without asking any questions." I'd just like to address that briefly.

On the contrary, Cubaholic, we do not drink the Kool-aide here and you should know that by now.  There was no lovely-dovey all is well rhetoric in my posts, or anybody elses, and certainly not in the shoutbox.  Point of fact, I called that kind of Cub fan out very loudly in my Game One Recap.  Rather thank make you go find it, I'll quote the relevant part: "I hate the Pollyannas out there who cling to the bitter end, until the very last out of the final game even if the Cubs are being blown out.  Those people make me want to puke.  But as much as I hate Cub Fan Pollyanna, I can't stand Cub Fan Nietzsche even more."

Do you know when, in any future season, we'll know for sure if the Cubs have what it takes to win the World Series?  When a Cubs player's glove closes in on the final out of the World Series, and not a moment before.  Alternatively, do you know when, in any future season, we'll know for sure if the Cubs don't have what it takes?  The answer is not weeks before season ends, while the Cubs are in first place.  The answer is not after they get brutally beaten in the first game of a playoff series.  It's not even if they enter an elimination game of a playoff series.

As a fan, Cubaholic, you nor I have the stomach for players who quit before the game is over.  I am sure you'll agree with me that you feel absolute, total disgust toward any team that loses its fire before the last out is made.  I apologize, but I also feel that way about fans.  It's not about "swilling the koolaid."  It's not about donning the rose-colored glasses.  It's about pure, total disgust toward quitters.

I said it then, I'll say it now, and I'm sure I'll say it again: I was there in the tough times, and I wasn't alone.  A lot of us were there.  We were frustrated, we were pissed, and we were heartbroken.  But if you don't have the stomach for the hard times, if you essentially quit because it doesn't look good, then you have no place nor right to be there when it's easy.  If you're pissed because they are in the middle of blowing it, be pissed.  Express it.  Criticize the team for bad play - lord knows I did.  Tell us how displeased you are.  I welcome it.  Voice your fears that they're going to blow it.  I'd understand and probably commiserate with you.

But the second you start saying things like "it's over," unless it really is over, then I've got no place for you.  It's not swilling the koolaid, Cubaholic.  Far from it.

The 24-hour Rule

There might be one or two of you waiting to hear what I have to say about the debacle we all just witnessed.  Maybe not.  I know after we pissed away 2003 I got 37 e-mails begging me to write.  This year, not a single solitary one.  I got several old-fashioned phone calls from friends who were concerned for my well-being.  All these phone calls were from, of course, non-Cubs fans who don't really understand.  If we do someday, in fact, Win It All, make the well-being call.  If the Cubs do in fact someday win a World Series, I just may very well determine that it won't get no better than this, and decide to jump head first off of a CTA bus into a crowd of drunks.  But this, we've been here before.  I can deal with it. 

So all sorts of phone calls, but nothing anymore wanting to know what the Sloth thinks.  The Internet is a fickle beast.  I'm beginning to think you don't care.  Or maybe I just suck at writing.  That may be, because I had no idea how to start to summarize what we all just saw.  Then I came out here this morning and saw a thoughtful piece by Colin and another thoughtful piece by Kurt.  Hmm.  Well, based on the premise (the totally correct premise) that shit is broken, one post talks about our chances for next year, the other examines what options we have to actually FIX the gatdam thing.  I am going to invoke the 24-hour rule on the post that is just making me ITCH, and comment on the other right here.

What to do with our bodies?  If I don't say anything about someone (ie. Bob Howry) then I essentially concur with Mr. Wyers.

Henry Blanco - while Colin logically notes that Hank is quite well paid for a backup catcher, the notion that someone named Wellington Castillo is ready for the show is quite a reach, since this system has developed exactly one catcher since Randy Hundley.

Jim Edmonds - has decided that he is NOT washed up, and will try to get as much money as possible.

Reed Johnson - he is one of Hendry's "guys", someone he spent years looking at, and you can count on him being here next year, at maybe triple his $1.25MM salary.

Ryan Dempster - this past year completely tastes like a "salary drive".  I am very happy that he was able to work as hard as he did this past off-season, and was very pleased in this year's performance, Wednesday excepted, of course.  A couple of troubling facts were proven this year, in fact.  One is that he HAS the talent, but has spent most of his career relying on that talent.  He has never worked this hard before, there is no way that he will ever work that hard again.  Maybe with maturity, he will work harder in his 30's than he did in his 20's.  It's just human nature, but once he gets paid (and he WILL get paid) this winter, do you see him running up mountains anymore?  The other thing that was proven beyond a doubt this week is: he is no Ace, and he will demand and will receive Ace money this winter. 

We should NOT pay Ace money for Ryan Dempster.  If we are willing to shell out Ace money, then we should go after CC Sabbath and let Dempster go.

Jason Marquis - if Marquis were to go on the market again this year, would he still get $7MM a year?  I believe he would, which is why (Nightmare Fuel Alert - look away) I would keep him this year.

Mark DeRosa - yep, as we speak, DeRosa's trade value has peaked.  He will never be worth more than right now.  The only problem is, who would we trade him for?  We don't have enough prospects to package him with to get a True Ace Pitcher (and Kurt is right - we're NEVER getting Roy Halladay), and the other gaping hole we have - right fielder?  Are there any for sale?  Keep in mind, the Wrigley Field Right Fielder must not only be able to hit, he must be an Outstanding fielder with an Above Average arm. 

Kosuke Fukudome - of course, Dome was supposed to be that guy.  Now, I knew he would start off hot, and then the league would adjust to him.  BUT, then, he was supposed to adjust to the league.  He did NOT.  It's a chess game, he's in Check, and its his move.  If he doesn't figure it out over the winter, and comes back hitting .230 next year, then he is officially a Bust.  And yes, I was the main guy beating the drums for him this past winter.

So what do we do there?  We owe him $36MM for the next three years, he's as good as untradeable.  Maybe we eat our Sunk Cost, and platoon him with Johnson in center. That is assuming we can find a Real Right Fielder.  There are lots of Hitters out there this winter.   But our right fielder has to be able to play the wall, play the sun, and the guys Colin wondered about: Manny, Dunn, and Ibanez, none of them qualify.  They're all Left Fielders, and unfortunately we're dealing with our other Sunk Cost, the $18MM x 6 we still owe Soriano, in left.  He can't play right - he throws well enough, but he can't even play LEFT field.

So, obviously it would not make sense to throw any more big dollars at outfielders.  Hendry's Job #1, in my mind, (again) is to find a young RF to obtain and grow into the position.  Nice try with Fukudome, Jim.  Either find out what's wrong with him, or go back to the drawing board.

The one thing that Colin didn't mention, that I am compelled to do at this time is bring up the one year remaining on:

Derrek Lee - he's a Gold Glove first baseman.  So was Mark Grace, and how did that turn out for us?  At this point in time, Lee < Grace.  Both hit into a lot of double plays which, in the third hole, just kill us day after day, but Grace at least would get a hit late in games once in a while.  How many did Lee get this year, one?  He's a lovely human being, who saves us plenty of errors every year, who is getting paid a lot of money, and is taking up a power hitting position in a power hitting slot in the lineup.  The third slot is where your best hitter should be.  He was our best hitter, three years ago.  This year, Ramirez > Soto > DeRosa > freakin' Soriano > Lee. 

Now, this is where it gets provocative:

Not as a fielder, but as a hitter, if you told me you were going to give Derrek Lee and Micah Hofpauir 600 ABs in the three hole in 2009, which one would be more productive?  It ain't necessarily Lee.  And, Micah makes 10 million less next year. 

I am not advocating that we throw away Derrek Lee.  I am saying he should NOT bat third anymore.  I suppose if we assume that New Ownership has Unlimited Resources, then overpaying Lee doesn't have any bearing on its pursuit of a right fielder and an Ace starting pitcher.  But there is no such thing as unlimited resources, and if we had $30MM to spend, and you gave me the choice of:

- Choice A: Lee at first, Dempster as the Free Agent Starter dujour, and whatever we scrape off the floor in RF, or

- Choice B: Hofpauir at first, Sabathia as the Free Agent Starter dujour, and say an Andre Ethier or Josh Hamilton in RF?

Let's just leave it at this: I know it isn't for lack of trying, but I am very dissatisfied with the role Derrek Lee is asked to fill for the Cubs.  He isn't up to it.

I have said all along that we needed a dominant team to get over the hump.  "Well, we had the Best Record this year!  How much more dominant do you want?"  A LOT more, actually.  Let's just say this: the last week of the year, after we clinched.  We shuffled our lineup, yet ran our best starters out there every day but the last.  The teams we played had the weight of the world on them, all the pressure was on them.  All we had to do is play ball.  We finished 4-4.

If we truly were dominant?  7-1, probably.  I knew the last week that we weren't ready to go in and win 11 postseason games.  I'll elaborate soon, but The Team That Eventually Wins It All is going to have to do better than 97 regular season wins.  And its manager is going to have to do a better job, too. 

Yup, for the first time in two years, I am thoroughly upset at Uncle Lou.  He sat like a bump on a log this week.  He's too old, and his team was NOT ready to play.

UPDATE: Paul Sullivan has his top ten list.  Whatever you think of his writing or his opinion, this guy has spent the past few years living with these guys day after day.  When he says that Dempster is worth bringing back because of his attitude, it at least requires consideration.

Scott Eyre designated for assignment

Scott Eyre has been designated for assignment, according to Bruce Miles.

Now what does this mean? Well, in order to be designated for assignment, a player has to clear waivers. So Eyre has cleared waivers.

And remember - the "Assignment" in "Designated for Assignment" is to a team's minor league system. The upshot is that Eyre is now off the 40-man roster (which I believe now stands at 38 players.)

Former Dodgers GM (and current Padres front office type) Paul Depodesta explains the waiver trading rules. Rob Neyer of ESPN has an indispensible transactions primer. Here's the gist:

  • The Cubs have seven days to trade Eyre, likely taking on salary to do so. The Yankees and the Red Sox were both interested at the deadline.
  • If at the end of seven days the Cubs haven't traded Eyre, they can either assign Eyre to a minor league team or give him his outright release. Eyre can refuse an optional assignment, so it would be up to him, basically.

(EDIT: I should probably add that Kerry Wood was brought up to take his place.)

Cubs call up Murton, look for Hendry’s ADD meds

I love all the winning, but sometimes I find myself baffled by this organization. To wit:

Matt Murton will get another chance to prove he's a major-league player this week when the Cubs recall him from Triple-A Iowa before Tuesday's game at Tampa Bay.

Manager Lou Piniella said Saturday the Cubs have lacked a corner outfielder and another right-handed hitter since Alfonso Soriano went on the disabled list last week. Murton fills the bill, and major-league sources said he received word on Sunday he'd be called up.

Murton's arrival means the Cubs are likely to send down infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson, who is 2-for-8 since being called up on Friday.

Really? You mean to tell me that a team where one of the two corner outfielders is hurt needs another corner outfielder? And our bench consists of three lefties who don’t hit very well, a backup catcher and Ronny Cedeno? (Note: when you’re willing to pinch hit for a guy with Ronny Cedeno, and that guy’s a first baseman – that’s not a good sign.)

Meanwhile, Eric Patterson was given all of eight at-bats to prove that he was, oh, I don’t know, better than Mike Fontenot. And Mike Fontenot is not a very high bar to get over. Here’s how I picture Mike Fontenot:

fontenot

The guy’s what I like to call a hamster. I mean, seriously, look at him and tell me you don’t see it.

I know Eric Patterson is a guy folks like to hate – and no small amount of it has to do with his brother, Corey – but he’s got some plus attributes to him, which is more than Fontenot has going for him. Patterson can play the outfield and he’s a great baserunner. But he’s not a left fielder, and he’s certainly not ready to be a major league leadoff man.

So the Cubs made this decision based upon information readily available when they made the Hoffpauir/Patterson callup. (Okay, to be fair – the Cubs aren’t going to just come out and SAY “There’s no way in hell that we’re going to let Edmonds bat against Kazmir, so we needed Murton so we can move Reed to center.)

The question is, will Murton play? The Cubs have apparently decided that one good game makes Johnson our new leadoff hitter despite pretty obvious evidence that he’s a platoon player at this point.

Hoffpauir and Patterson Up, Hart Down; And A Look At Our Second Base Options

Well, here it is. Hoffpauir and Patterson are up. Kevin Hart is shipped out. And Patterson is playing left and leading off today. You could push me over with a feather after hearing that last one.

I’ll hopefully update this post in a little while, but in the meantime, here’s a table showing our options at second base, should DeRosa see playing time in left:

Mark DeRosa
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
208
40
65
13
0
8
35
29
46
3
0
.313
.398
.490
.888
Projected
263
40
76
15
1
7
40
30
54
2
1
.289
.362
.433
.795
Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Mike Fontenot
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
88
16
21
7
0
2
12
12
16
2
0
.239
.337
.386
.723
Projected
229
34
60
15
2
5
26
23
43
4
2
.262
.329
.410
.740
Ronny Cedeno
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
95
19
28
7
0
1
19
10
16
3
1
.295
.368
.400
.768
Projected
234
30
65
12
1
5
30
15
43
5
3
.278
.321
.402
.723

Patterson can run the bases, no question. Projections for defense: DeRosa +4, Cedeno +2, Fontenot -3. DeRosa's played worse than that so far this season, while Cedeno and Fontenot have played better. I don't have projections for Patterson. I’ll leave Patterson at a zero, then, and I’ll leave the other numbers unadjusted for now.

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
DeRosa
0.352
4
1.36
0.69
2.05
Cedeno
0.318
2
-1.95
0.34
-1.60
Fontenot
0.326
-3
-1.17
-0.52
-1.69
Patterson
0.311
0
-2.63
0.00
-2.63

This isn't giving Patterson any credit for his baserunning, which is a plus. And I’m not entirely behind those defensive estimates. Cedeno looks like the best option of the three, although I think Murton is probably a better left fielder than any of them are second basemen. (These, unlike my full WAR numbers, are not adjusted by position.)

How will Soriano’s injury impact the Cubs?

Soriano is going to to the DL for six weeks with a broken hand.

The return of Micah Hoffpauir a day early won’t be the end of the roster moves:

Infielder-outfielder Micah Hoffpauir will come up today from Class AAA Iowa to take Soriano's place on the roster. The Cubs need another hitter for the American League parks coming up.

It's possible they could recall either outfielder Matt Murton or infielder-outfielder Eric Patterson from Iowa by Friday. Currently, the Cubs are carrying 13 pitchers.

Mark DeRosa moved from second base to left field Wednesday. Expect DeRosa to see significant time in left during Soriano's absence, which will be about six weeks or even longer.

So, I’m operating under the assumption that two of Patterson, Hoffpauir and Murton will be called up. Hoffpauir has the least baseball talent of the group, so of course he’s the only one that’s guaranteed a callup.

What I’ve done is taken a player’s minor league numbers and figured out their Major League Equivalency – essentially an estimate of how they would have performed in the majors. Then, I combined those numbers with their MLB numbers. All of those numbers were then fed into the ZiPS projection tool, which uses those figures (in combination with their career numbers) to come up with a projection. (I also did a projection on Soriano for the rest of the season, based upon his numbers to date. Here’s an explanation of how projection systems work.) Here’s the table:

Eric Patterson
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
181
27
59
13
3
5
26
10
41
10
0
.326
.361
.514
.875
Translated
184
20
50
9
2
4
19
7
44
8
0
.273
.301
.408
.709
MLB
6
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
3
1
0
.000
.000
.000
.000
Total
190
20
50
9
2
4
20
7
47
9
0
.263
.289
.395
.684
Projected
325
40
85
15
3
8
37
22
64
13
6
.262
.308
.400
.708
Micah Hoffpauir
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
62
12
19
4
0
3
15
1
12
0
0
.306
.308
.516
.824
Translated
62
9
16
3
0
2
11
0
13
0
0
.259
.268
.417
.685
MLB
14
4
8
3
0
0
1
1
6
0
0
.421
.450
.579
1.029
Total
76
13
24
6
0
2
12
1
19
0
0
.316
.325
.474
.798
Projected
191
21
52
12
0
8
33
13
36
1
0
.272
.319
.461
.779
Matt Murton
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
AAA
177
25
55
10
1
1
14
28
16
3
2
.311
.411
.395
.807
Translated
184
18
47
8
0
0
10
21
17
2
2
.254
.330
.316
.646
MLB
14
2
3
0
0
0
4
1
2
0
0
.214
.267
.214
.481
Total
198
20
50
8
0
0
14
22
19
2
2
.253
.327
.293
.620
Projected
286
39
79
15
0
8
35
31
37
2
1
.276
.347
.413
.760
Alfonso Soriano
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
MLB
211
36
60
11
0
15
40
15
46
7
1
.284
.330
.550
.880
Projected
341
57
97
21
1
21
63
23
76
13
5
.284
.330
.537
.866

All three of them represent a sizable falloff. Hoffpauir is the one most capable of replacing Soriano’s power in the lineup, but that’s really damning with faint praise here. Murton is probably the best hitter of the group, given his superior on-base percentage. (Although his projected advantage over Hoffpauir is mighty slim.)

Of course they still have to play defense. So let’s look at some defensive projections, measured in runs saved/allowed versus the positional average. Murton projects as a +3 corner outfielder over the course of a season, Patterson as a +8. (Soriano projects as a +6; the projections don’t know about his leg injuries this year.)

Hoffpauir’s defense is an absolute cypher. We can look at minor league defensive numbers – Hoffpauir played 13 games in the outfield last season at AAA and was just off the charts bad. But he only played in 13 equivalent games in the outfield, hardly enough to pass judgement on.

What we do know is this. Hoffpauir has been a first baseman pretty much since his days in college. That tells me that, up until Lou Piniella saw him hitting this spring, nobody involved in talent evaluation saw much of a future for him in the outfield. Based on a charitable set of assumptions – that he’s an average defensive first baseman, and that he has the tools necessary to play the outfield – you’re looking at a –5 fielder. Again, that’s the charitable view.

Let’s assume that Soriano misses 36 games, and let’s assume that whoever fills in for him will average 3.1 plate appearances per game. That’s 112 plate appearances. We can figure out runs above average on offense and defense over that period in time. So, put it together and what have you got?

wOBA
Defense
Offense/112
Defense/112
Runs/112
Soriano
.367
6
2.82
1.03
3.86
Murton
.337
3
-0.10
0.52
0.42
Hoffpauir
.336
-5
-0.19
-.086
-1.06
Patterson
.311
8
-2.63
1.38
-1.25

Again: I'm making some charitable assumptions on defense for Hoffpauir. Even still, he lags significantly behind Murton, even while they're basically tied as hitters. The problem is that a lot of Murton’s value is wrapped up in his walks, while Hoffpauir’s value comes more from his low-wattage power.

That’s assuming that any of them were to be filling in for him in left field. There are two other players on the Cubs who could be filling in in left: Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa. That requires a bit more chaining to figure out, because then you have to also look at who’s playing center or second while those two are playing fill-in. I’ll take a look at that later.

Soriano has a broken hand

Reportedly a minimally displaced fracture in the fourth metacarpal in the left hand.

From the Trib:

Alfonso Soriano will be in a splint for three weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, and is expected to miss approximately six weeks of action.

X-rays of the hand taken at Northwestern Memorial hospital revealed a minimally displaced fracture of the left fourth metacarpal, located just under the fourth finger on his left hand.

Soriano was hit in the left hand by a pitch from Braves starter Jeff Bennett and was removed from the game for a pinch-runner in the second inning..

The Cubs will call up outfielder Micah Hoffpauir from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday to take Soriano’s place on the roster. 

More updates later.

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