Well, the August 31st waiver trade deadline has come and gone, and with the Cubs fighting to retain 4th place in the Central, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at 2006. The Cubs are going to have some decisions to make on a few of their current players:

The Keepers: Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Michael Barrett, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano

This group will form the guts of next year’s team. When I call them keepers, what I mean is that they’re all either under contract or club control for next season, and while I don’t think anybody on a sub .500 team should be considered untouchable, it’d take an excellent trade offer to get one of these guys. Wood is the guy I’d be most likely to move, but his contract for next year might make that prohibitive.

The No-Brainers: Todd Walker, Ryan Dempster
Walker has 2.5 million dollar option on his contract for next year. As annoyed as I am with his habit of making underhand flips on seemingly every play, the Cubs aren’t going to find a veteran left handed hitter to put up .306/.358/.476 numbers at second base for that kind of money.

Dempster will be a free agent, but the Cubs would be wise to hang onto him. He’s been a good closer for them this year, and he’s the type of guy who wouldn’t be bothered by moving into the setup role if the Cubs were able to find a better closer on the free agent market.

The Tough Choices: Glendon Rusch, Jeromy Burnitz, Nomar Garciaparra
Rusch has another year on his deal, but can opt for free agency at the end of 2005. If he chooses to do that, I think the Cubs might be better off parting ways with him. Rusch didn’t perform well after being bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. His true value seems to be as a starter, but the Cubs seem reluctant to give him a starting job, instead insisting on pitching him out of the bullpen and starting him in emergency situations. If that’s still the case, then there’s no sense in bringing him back. Jim Hendry probably dropped the ball by not moving Rusch at the deadline while he still had some value.

Burnitz has a $7 million club option for 2006, but it seems unlikely that the Cubs will exercise it. They’ll probably pay Jeromy his $500K buyout, and then try to re-sign him for less. If Burnitz will go for this deal, then the Cubs should do it. While his hitting has leveled off a bit this season, Jeromy plays good defense, runs the bases well, and is a good clubhouse guy. He also doesn’t seem like the kind of player who chafe at sitting on the bench, should a younger outfielder start to outperform him.

Nomar is one of the toughest calls to make here. He’s starting to hit the ball again, he’s showed what a good team guy he is by volunteering to play 3rd base with Aramis’ injury. That said, Nomar cannot be brought back as the shortstop of this team next year. The Cubs simply can’t risk relying on an aging and injury prone player at such a key position again. If Nomar will take a pay cut and learn to play left field(a position that would be a lot easier to fill with an in season trade if Nomar gets injured) next year, I’d have him back.

The Bench: Jose Macias, Neifi Perez, Henry Blanco, Jerry Hairston
I hate to admit it, but Macias has been much better than I expected this year. But if Dusty Baker is going to insist on giving him spot starts, well, I don’t want to see him here next year. I have a theory that a Baker needs to have a new bench almost every season, as when the same guys hang around for several years, he gets too comfortable using them, and he puts them into situations for which they are ill-suited.

Neifi Perez has been forced into more action than expected due to injuries, but my feelings on him are pretty much the same as Macias. If Dusty’s here next year, Neifi shouldn’t be.

Blanco is under contract, plays excellent defense, calls a good game, and has even started to hit a bit. He stays.

Jerry Hairston won’t like this, but he has the looks of a utility player. He’s got a decent on-base percentage, but not good enough to lead off full time, and he has good speed, but is a terrible base stealer. He’s a good contact hitter, but he doesn’t bunt well, and he pulls the ball too much, so he’s not a good choice hit second. He lacks the power to hit higher than 7th in the lineup. He can play several positions, but with Todd Walker playing second, the only other place to play him is CF, because he’s not a good enough hitter to justify putting in left. I think the best thing right now would be for the Cubs to trade Jerry if they can, as he does not want to accept a bench role, which is what he’ll have to take on a winning team.

The Bullpen: The bullpen
Other than the afore mentioned Ryan Dempster, almost nobody in this group should feel good about job security. Ohman, Wuertz, Wellemeyer and Novoa have all shown flashes, but have also had stretches where they couldn’t throw strikes if their lives depended on it. Scott Williamson will likely be back, and should be better with more time to recover from his Tommy John surgery. Jermaine Van Buren is likely going to put one of these guys out a job next year, and Jim Hendry ought to bring in some veterans and declare an open competition for most of the spots next spring.

Everything after this colon must go!: Corey Patterson
I don’t care how much time and money has been invested in the development of Corey Patterson, he simply should not be on this team next year. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Corey’s been brutally bad at the plate this year and seems to have confused the concept of the strike zone with that of the time zone. Worse yet, his defense has regressed. In other words, he’s a total liability, and there’s no excuse for bringing him back. The fans won’t accept him back, management seems to be fed up with him, and frankly, I think Corey wants out of Chicago as much as we want to be rid of him. The kid needs a new start, and it’s time to give it to him.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you, and I hope you’ll bear with me for a just a few lines more. Like most of us, I’ve followed the terrible disaster in New Orleans via television and the internet, and watched with horror at as the situation unfolded there. Over the course of a few days, the citizens of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast have lost virtually everything they have. These are our families, our friends, our countrymen, and most importantly, our fellow human beings. They need our help, and not knowing what else I can do right now, I’ll provide this link to The American Red Cross Website. Please donate to the relief fund if you can. And if you can’t spare any money (and believe me, I fully understand) then please inquire about donating something else. Over the coming months, the people affected by this storm are going to need not only money, but food, water, clothing and blood as well. Please give what you can. Every little bit helps.

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