As I’ve mentioned before, I’m addicted to the Hardball Times. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up their 2007 Baseball Annual, you really need to look into that. It’s loaded with great articles that will help you cope with the off-season down time that is the month of January. One of my favorites is the review of the World Baseball Classic, which is an event I didn’t have much time to watch. Reading their breakdown was a nice treat. Anyway, enough about that and on to what I wanted to talk about.
Geoff Young, who blogs about the Padres on Ducksnorts, wrote a column entitled “Thirty New Years Wishes for Thirty Teams” in which he basically broke down each team briefly. I took offense with his wish for the Cubs.
Cubs: A way to get back some of the $294 million they spent on free agents this winter. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but giving huge wads of cash to the likes of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis just ensures more desperate times. In Lilly’s case, though, he at least has one consecutive year of not sucking.
There are many that don’t like the money that Jim Hendry has spent this off-season, but I can’t understand why. Offense and pitching, so basically everything, was what we needed and it’s exactly what Hendry added.
Coming into this off-season, we needed to bring back Aramis Ramirez. Hendry did that in remarkable fashion by not allow the negotiations to get out of hand and move through the month of December. With virtually no free agent third basemen on the market, Hendry sensed the urgency and brought back the best one on the market at a slight home town discount. Sure, you can argue that a guy like Akinori Iwamura may have been a better option, but I disagree. Iwamura is a risk because he’s a foreign player with no MLB experience. Essentially, he’s a crap shoot that we can’t afford to gamble on. If he busts, we’re stuck with another Kevin Orie at third and longing for the good ole’ Ron Santo days. Ramirez, when surrounded by other hitters in the lineup who can protect him and help carry the load, is one of the best offensive third basemen in the game today. Baseball Prospectus has Ramirez ranked 5th among all 3B with at least 500 AB’s in 2006 in terms of VORP.
Obviously there is a big gap between Ramirez and Cabrera, but when you factor in the fact that Atkins plays at Coors, it brings him down closer to Wright. So, Ramirez is close enough to be considered one of the top 3 in the majors, especially considering that the numbers he had last year were basically done without Derrek Lee in the lineup.
Others will complain that the Lilly and Marquis signings were not the right moves for this team, but I also take offense on this one as well. People tend to look at the contracts they signed and immediately look at the half empty cup of Cubs Kool Aid and not want to drink. You need to remember that the Cubs are not a poor team. People are constantly complaining that the Tribune Co. is never opening the wallet. This year, there were three huge names on the market in terms of FA. Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, and Daisuke Matsuzaka were all potential # 1 starters available. The Cubs did not go out and get any of them, much to the dismay of the majority of fans. However, by going out and addressing the pitching need by bringing in Lilly, it allowed Hendry the opportunity to play a hunch when we signed Marquis. We were able to add two pitchers for the cost of just one of the other three.
If you look at the VORP for pitchers who pitched at least 150 innings last year, Lilly ranks 49th, which tells me that he’s a low # 2 starter if you take the top 30 and make them Aces. I’ll take that. Taking a look at Lilly’s Translated Pitching Stats, which is a way of converting pitching stats into a standard context. Lilly’s numbers are as follows:
That’s a good looking set of numbers when you factor in the fact that he may have lost a few wins due to offense. With the Cubs upgrade this off-season, I think he’ll get more than enough run support to win 17 games in 2007.
Marquis numbers also translate out a little better. He doesn’t pick up any additional wins or losses, but he does see his ERA go from 6.02 to 5.26. I’ll be honest with you. I have no idea what went wrong in 2006 for Marquis. All I know is that he credits it to mechanical issues that have been diagnosed and fixed. If that’s the case, is it possible that we could see a return to 2005 form when he had 13 wins and an ERA of 4.13? Or is it possible that we could even see a return to the 15-7 season in 2004 with an ERA of 3.71? Hendry isn’t dumb. He spent a lot of time as a scout and was the Director of Player Development, in charge of scouting and minor league operations. He knows prospects and I believe he has the ability to see talent when maybe others do not. He saw potential in Michael Barrett and Ramirez when no one did. Those guys are anchors now for us.
Complain if you want about this off-season, but does it really make the job of being a Cub fan easier or more fun? Why not get excited that this team will be significantly better than last year and has the real possibility of winning the division this season.