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:
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.
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 --
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?