I stood all I could, and I can’t stands no more.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that, or possibly Popeye. Either way, the phrase surely fits for any Cubs fan who has been watching the 2007 version of the team. While this year’s version of the Cubs is not nearly as atrocious as say, last year’s, they are exceedingly more frustrating. Perhaps it’s the way they are in every game, and always seem to find a way to lose it at the last minute (like hitting a guy with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th inning, for example). Or that our bullpen cannot seem to hold a lead of less than 5 runs. Or that Jim Hendry has put together one of the most oddly constructed rosters I’ve ever seen. Regardless, my point is this: we have played a quarter of the baseball season, and the Cubs have scored 224 runs, while giving up 197. According to the formula for calculating Pythagorean record this should result in a record of 27-21. In reality, the Cubs have a record of 22-26. Some people think this is just the result of bad luck, and that eventually this situation has to even itself out. However, those who have been watching the team play know that this is no fluke.
Despite Lou Piniella’s best efforts, the Cubs are still playing dumb baseball. Bad base running, botched rundowns, and lead-off walks still plague the team, just as they did under Dusty Baker. And while I’m glad that Lou is at least willing to try new things and play the players who are actually producing, it’s clear that something more needs to be done.
That’s where Jim Hendry comes in. As I’m sure he’s aware, the Cubs are going to be sold this offseason. Most new ownership groups want to put their own General Manager in place, the only thing that might stop them is tremendous success by the current regime. I’d say puts Hendry on the spot, basically, he needs to win the NL Pennant or he’s gone. The good news is the NL Central may be worse than it was last year. Currently, the only team over .500 is the Brewers, and after a fast start in April, they appear to be plummeting back to the pack. The bad news, of course, is that the team has some gaping holes. Let’s look at the most immediate problems:
This was supposed to be a strength this year. While Ryan Dempster and Michael Weurtz have been solid this season, the rest of this group has ranged from questionable at best to putrid at worst. In particular, Hendry’s big buys of 2006, Eyre and Howry have been terrible. Neal Cotts has already been sent to AAA, and Will Ohman somehow managed to escape the same fate after a terrible April. Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol are still unknowns. Oh, and bullpen addition Kerry Wood has yet to fire a baseball in anger this season. Already 10 saves have been blown this year, mostly by setup men. This unit urgently needs an upgrade, and I don’t mean waiting for Wood to come back healthy and pitch.
Only the Cubs could play and outfield that consists of a 2nd baseman in left, a right fielder in center and 2 leftfielders in right. Soriano’s been the best of the bunch defensively, while the rest have been disappointing (with the exception of Cliff Floyd). The outfield defense is definitely terrible, with Jacque Jones’ throwing problems continuing, and Matt Murton butchering plays in right. You could justify poor outfield defense if these guys were hitting, but they’ve been mostly below average at the plate, and when they do manage to get on base, they often run themselves into inexplicable outs. Cliff Floyd has been pretty good, but counting on him to play a full season is almost as crazy and depending on Wood and Prior to anchor your starting rotation. Basically, the team needs to either acquire a real, live centerfielder and use a platoon in right, or try to get a good right fielder and call up Felix Pie to play center.
Michael Barrett is described as a good offensive catcher. This is code for “bad defensive catcher”. Unfortunately, Barrett’s numbers are down a bit this year, and even worse, he’d need to be hitting .340 with 15 homers to make up for his rock-headed play this season. Every offseason, Barrett goes somewhere to work on his defense, and while I admire his work ethic, it’s clear he’s simply not going to get any better. Even worse than his defense though, have been his mental errors. Barrett’s been playing dumb baseball this year. There’s no other way to describe it. In yesterday’s game alone, he made the third out of an inning when he was caught trying to steal 3rd(!!!) and later in the game botched a rundown by throwing to the base behind a runner, allowing him to advance. These aren’t isolated incidents. On top of all this, Barrett is now on the wrong side of 30, a time when catchers start to break down. If the Cubs can sell another team on Barrett’s offense and use him to facilitate a trade, they need to do it.
Obviously, there are other issues with this team, but these seem to be the most glaring. As to what the Cubs can trade, only the starting pitchers, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez should be considered irreplaceable. Every other player on this team should be trade bait for the right deal. And while Jim Hendry has usually been loath to trade his prized minor league prospects, now is the time for him start considering it. That is, if he wants a chance to keep his job.