Why we need to do something…maybe even big:
The old saying goes “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” though President Bush butchered it when he tried to use it. The gist being that when something catches you off guard twice then you have to look at yourself to blame. The sad end to the Cubs 2008 season has left people scratching their heads and even questioning their allegiances. Two years in a row of a quick and quiet exit. Two years in a row of futility, silent bats, and ineffective pitching. Last year was understandable with the Cubs fighting their way into the playoffs only to travel to Arizona and face Brandon Webb. This year was supposed to be different. The best team in the National League wins home field advantage where they have been ultra dominant only to go away really bad and really fast. It doesn’t make sense. But it is the second time and so you must consider a different road.
I know it is difficult to consider a different road because multiple winning seasons and playoff bound teams in a row is a nice situation. It is certainly much different than we have been accustomed to over our lifetimes. Yet the goal is winning championships and the last two years we haven’t been close. We can analyze everything that happened and why Lou did what he did and why the players didn’t seem to show up and why the Dodgers might have been the better team at that time but this gets us nowhere really. The thing is that we didn’t even contend, we didn’t battle, we barely showed up. The most competitive thing we did the entire month was bust up some plumbing in Dodgers Stadium after losing the series. We did beat ourselves with walks and errors but even without those we probably still lose three straight because we couldn’t hit. The series showed some fatal flaws that must be addressed or we will continue this cycle.
To make things clear I believe that the Cubs will still make the playoffs next year even as constituted. They will make moves but a rotation of Zambrano, Lilly, Harden, Marquis, and Marshall probably goes to the playoffs. The defense and bats remain pretty much the same with the addition of Pie in Center. The bullpen would move Carlos Marmol to closer and would be serviceable. I think as constituted the Cubs would still win the Central because I doubt that the Brewers will resign Sabathia and still have no bullpen or defense. The Cardinals and Astros are OK but fading for now. The Reds are a step away. The Pirates are the Pirates. Of course we will not stay as constituted but my point is that they would still win the division. However, the goal is not just to win the division. Which is why we must do something because winning the division and being easily bounced from the first round is not going to cut it.
Why it will be tough:
The Cubs contract numbers are frightening from a business sense and they make you wonder if they will even be able to afford to field a 25 man roster next year. Jim Hendry built the team with back loaded contracts believing the team would win a World Series and that the team would have a new owner to deal with the payroll…wrong and wrong. So the contracts are beginning to blossom into a nightmarish garden of trouble for the future. Look at these numbers:
Secret Passage release Carlos Zambrano will make 2.75 million more in 2009
Aramis Ramirez will make 1.65 million more
Alfonso Soriano will make 3 million more
Ted Lilly will make 5 million more
Kosuke will make 5.5 million more
Jason Marquis will make 3.5 million more
Rich Harden will make 2.5 million more
This is an additional 24 million dollars on the payroll for next year. This does not include new contracts for Ryan Dempster and potentially Kerry Wood.
So the Cubs will consider trading some guys but that will not be easy either. The Cubs have given no trade clauses or no trade protection to Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano (Whose contract is ridiculous…I think Jim Hendry also promised him a piece of Lake Michigan), Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, and Kosuke.
This means that any off season plan will be tricky and take the work of a magician. This leaves the Cubs in a really tough place to try to win a World Series.
What should we do?
If you’re thinking trade you might want to begin by looking at one of the big 3 bats. Soriano and Ramirez did not show up in the playoffs again. While Derrek Lee had very good numbers in the playoffs his numbers on the year were down slightly and he plays in one of the most wealthy offensive positions in baseball. The Cubs need a powerful left handed bat and Lee plays at the most likely position to find that, although there are no guarantees that you can. I think you need to at least kick the tires on trading one of these three. Ideally, it would be Soriano but trading that contract will be almost impossible. It will be hard to trade any of them with the no trade clauses but you start here. Two of the three didn’t perform and the most money will be gained here. They are stars who would demand a sizeable return…if anyone would be interested.
The trouble with Sori
As has been said in the past few days a big deal was made about Alfonso Soriano being a mistake hitter. He pounds the mistakes other pitchers make and hits well against the other team’s third, fourth, and fifth in the rotation. The thing is I saw mistakes that were thrown to him in the Dodger’s series and he didn’t hit those either. He has been on really good teams and not one has won the World Series. His fault? Maybe not. But it can’t be completely unrelated either. When he played with the Yankees, Joe Torre wound up dropping him in the order for the playoffs due to lack of production. This is not a coincidence.
His playoff numbers are poor and maybe abysmal. They are based on a large sample size and are not fluke. 179 playoff at bats, only 7 extra base hits, only 14 runs scored from a guy who was leading off most of the time, 18 rbi, .213 batting average, .263 obp, .299 slugging. Really bad numbers.
It is amazing because no one has taken the team on their back the way Soriano has at times the last two years. But he has proven an inability to perform in the playoffs. You can’t have a lead off hitter who goes one for the playoffs every year. I am finally ready to say that Alfonso Soriano cannot lead off if the Cubs want to go to the World Series. This means that he cannot lead off during the year either. I think ideally the Cubs would love for someone to take Soriano from them. That probably won’t happen. Which means their only other option is to drop him in the order and it has already been reported that this decision had been made.
At the top
One interesting free agent of note is Rafael Furcal whom Jim Hendry wooed a few years back only to be jilted when he went to the Dodgers. He is a lead off or number two hitter who can get on base and can hit from the left side. He plays one of the few positions that can easily be replaced on this team. While I like Ryan Theriot I still wonder if he has the stuff to be more than a nice gritty guy. Adding Furcal would help you at the top of the order and add a consistent bat that can hit from the left side. Furcal had a .459 obp this year. With this addition you could drop Soriano and bring Lee, Fukudome, or DeRosa to number two. OR…
Another spot that you could easily switch up is second base. This brings up the potential of the rumored Brian Roberts deal again. If you were pursuing Roberts in this scenario you would have Theriot, Cedeno, Fontenot, and all of your other pitching and hitting prospects at your disposal to try to get him. While other teams will go after Roberts as well it remains to be seen if the Cubs have the horses to win that race.
This is a realistic scenario. You have to pay for Furcal but you have the money. You have to trade for Roberts but you have the guys to do it. This is not convincing guys to forego their no trade. This is not adding multi million dollar players who are not available or won’t come. This scenario could change everything. Imagine Roberts and/or Furcal at the top of the order in front of Lee, Ramirez, Soto, and Soriano.
Assuming that Soriano will be here you have question marks at the other spots. I think a first step is re-signing Reed Johnson. He is a platoon guy who can play all three outfield positions when needed. I would think you would have Pie on the roster again. If you do have Roberts at 2B you can then use DeRosa in right field if Kosuke does not work. If Kosuke is hitting he could be an option in CF- nobody questions his defensive ability. You would have Soriano, Johnson/Pie in CF, DeRosa/Fukudome in RF. This is not saying that DeRosa and Fukudome will platoon.
I think a reasonable (and potential World Series winning) roster on offense would be:
Either Felix Pie, Mike Fontenot, or Ronnie Cedeno
We know that DeRosa can play many positions and give you depth in many places so he can rotate out of the outfield as needed.
You would start with the contracts of Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood. I would attempt to re-sign both guys depending on what they were asking. I think Dempster is more vital than Wood but if you don’t re-sign Wood you will need another quality right handed arm in the bullpen. Jeff Samardzija looked good at times and looked spotty at other times. He is an unproven commodity. Chad Gaudin should be more effective next year as he should be recovered from injury by then. The Cubs need another left hander. Sean Marshall has been a valuable resource because he could spot start but he might be a trade focus and isn’t really a bullpen guy anyway. The Cubs need to get a strong lefty out of the pen.
As of now I have only mentioned one free agent pursuit (aside from a bullpen arm or two). But I think there is another realistic possibility out there. I would like to see the Cubs pursue Ben Sheets. I know he is injury prone, but when he is good he is an ace. You will be able to get him much cheaper than other guys and if he stays healthy he is a stud. The good thing about this is that he would be coming in as a number five. With Harden and Sheets people might say that is like counting on Wood and Prior. It is completely different. Wood and Prior were counted on as one and two. Harden and Sheets would be four and five. Imagine a rotation of Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, and Sheets. What do you do with Marquis? Would it really matter?
I think these thoughts are somewhat possible and would answer a lot of questions. Perhaps in this scenario we would not have to find out what “Fool me thrice” would bring.