View From The Bleachers

October 9, 2008

Shame on me…

Filed under: General — Rob Bukowski @ 12:21 pm

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?

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas download

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.

Outfield

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.

Offensive Roster

I think a reasonable (and potential World Series winning) roster on offense would be:

  • Geovany Soto
  • Henry Blanco
  • Derrek Lee
  • Micah Hoffpauir
  • Brian Roberts
  • Rafael Furcal
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Reed Johnson
  • Kosuke Fukudome
  • Mark DeRosa
  • 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.

Pitching staff

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.

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  • Kevin

    Getting Ben Sheets would give the Cubs two top starters “good when they’re healthy”. That’s kind of a risk. And if money enters the picture, getting Furcal, Roberts and Sheets would be quite an outlay; I mention Roberts because I have the feeling that wherever he is traded, he could very well tell his suitors he wants an extension. For me, I don’t care if they spend a trillion dollars, I want a World Series winner. I wonder if Sean Marshall every 5th day might not be better than Ben Sheets’ questionable number of outings.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com/meetmatt.php Matt Jacobs

    Furcal scares me. He missed a ton of time on the DL, again this year.

    As for trading. From what I’m hearing, Cedeno is on the block. After a heated argument with Trainer Mark O’Neal, I guess things have soured beyond repair. I don’t seem him being here next year.

  • T

    I won’t miss Cedeno. He has more physical talent than Theriot, but his baseball instincts are poor. He seems to make bonehead mistakes at crucial times.

    I don’t think you can have Sheets and Harden on the same staff without haveing two guys in reserve that can fill in. Let’s not forget that Z hasn’t been too reliable physically this year either. With that mentality, you might as well have Wood try a comeback as a 5th starter.

    Whatever the Cubs do with their starters, I hope they keep/find some people that can start in reserve. This is why I hope they hold onto Marshall. Rich Harden alone gives you a reason to keep him around.

    DeRosa should not be the every day right-fielder and Fukudome should only play center in spot situations. We can’t make our defense worst. It’s bad enough we have Soriano playing left.

    Did Reed Johnson play right for Toronto at all? People keep mentioning him as a candidate to play right, but the Cubs never put him out there. Can he play right effectively?

    The Cubs are going to have to be very creative to change the core makeup of the roster.

  • Kevin

    I think Johnson played right for the Cubs this year, late in games. As I recall he was fine. Arm is only average, though.

  • Jeff Pico

    I don’t see any of the big 3 waiving a no-trade clause. To do that, a player has to either a) HATE where he is at, or b) get more money, or both. None of them seem to hate Chicago (far from it), and do you think anyone will also give them more years or money to boot? I don’t.

    Accept it Cub Fans: DLee, Soriano, and A-Ram will be Cubs next year. Think about roster moves in other directions.

    I am on a couple fan blogs, and I think there is alot of stupid panic out there. The fact about the playoffs is this: It’s a crapshoot. There is no correllation between playoff success and regular seasons success, once you get there. The key is to get to the crapshoot as many times as possible. Look at the Braves: 13 trips to the postseason in a row, and 12 ended in defeat. Yet noboby was trying to break up the team. You have to make improvements, but the Cubs have the horses to get there next year.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com/meetmatt.php Matt Jacobs

    I am on a couple fan blogs, and I think there is alot of stupid panic out there. The fact about the playoffs is this: It’s a crapshoot. There is no correllation between playoff success and regular seasons success, once you get there. The key is to get to the crapshoot as many times as possible. Look at the Braves: 13 trips to the postseason in a row, and 12 ended in defeat. Yet noboby was trying to break up the team. You have to make improvements, but the Cubs have the horses to get there next year.

    Quoted for truth. Nice job Jeff! :)

  • rob

    The Angels getting beaten by the Red Sox was a crap shoot. It was competitive and the games were tight and some went into extra innings. They showed that they were both good teams and well rounded for the playoffs. The way the Cubs got beaten by the Dodgers (added to last year) was not a crap shoot it was flaws. As I mentioned the walks, and errors deeply wounded us but being unable to score killed us. Take away the errors and walks and we still lose the series. We have no left handed threat, we have guys at the top of the order who do not get on base and score runs. We have powerful clutch guys who get one or two hits total in the three most important games of the year. It is broken and needs fixing. We did not get to the final game of the series like the Braves did often during their run. We got swept and swept bad. We averaged two runs a game this series. That is not a crap shoot.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com/meetmatt.php Matt Jacobs

    It is a crap shoot. The highest scoring offense over the course of a season, suddenly can’t hit. Then it’s compounded by a starter not getting pitches in the zone, and two HUGE errors. That’s baseball, sometimes the breaks just don’t go your way.

  • rob

    Challenged for accuracy. Bad job Jeff. (Insert sarcastic smiley face here.)

  • rob

    To say it is just about breaks is is to ignore the obvious. The highest scoring offense in baseball did not face the best pitchers of the best teams for 162 games during the year. The most powerful offense’s guys who are the most powerful didn’t hit last year either. Some of those same guys have never hit in the post season in their careers. 179 at bats is not a crap shoot…it’s a reliable statistic. The other day you said something like “You always have to go bringing statistics into the discussion.” Well Soriano has thorough post season statistics. Soriano is at a critical run scoring and generating place in the line up. And he was on base like once or twice in the entire series. What makes you think they will go there and not make the mistakes three years in a row?
    I don’t think this was panic filled post. It looks to make a major change at either second base or shortstop or both and drop one guy down in the line up. It says take a run at Ben Sheets and see how much money he will ask for. If the price is right take a shot at him…but he is not key to winning. His great, but fragile, arm is icing if the price is right.
    Sometimes the breaks don’t go your way. Sometimes your flaws become a lot more real when you are facing the best quality of the other team. By the way take a look at Ramirez’ post season numbers. Much less thorough than Soriano’s but not the best and nothing since 2003.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com/meetmatt.php Matt Jacobs

    The highest scoring offense in baseball did not face the best pitchers of the best teams for 162 games during the year.

    And neither did any other team. I don’t understand your point.

    I’m not disagreeing with your assessment. I don’t believe major changes are needed. Should Soriano bat 1st? I don’t think so. I just don’t like the options available this offseason. I think there are more minuses, than pluses for what we already have.

  • Jeff Pico

    Rob, I’m not saying your blog was stupid panic. I think trading Soriano is a panic move, but everything else is reasonable, including a pursuit of Sheets. But in the end we played 3 bad games. Granted, a terrible time to go in the tank, but it’s 3 bad games.

    RE: Soriano, I have seen 179 AB stretches of suckitude from Soriano before. Followed by 100 AB stretches where he hits everything in sight. He is notoriously streaky. He is a flawed, but still great player. Trading him will make the team better some days, and a whole lot worse other days. Overall, we need Sori. Trading him is not the answer IMO.

  • rob

    Thanks Jeff
    I was having a little fun in my response. I think the 179 suckitude followed by 100 quality is not a fair comparison. I think the issue is not just about streaks but about quality of pitching so I don’t think it will change.
    I think keeping Soriano is fine but he cannot be the lead off guy. I am worried about the effect of his contract down the road and that is why it might be good to get out when and if you can…which is highly doubtful.

  • Kevin

    I don’t think the Cub loss was strictly a crapshoot (although there is that element in any post season series), but it certainly was bad timing. It’s been said in other forums that they went through periods during the regular season where the offense disappeared, 5 or 6 games at a time. For me, what I saw in the post season and not really during the regular months was the defensive lapse. And it was at least partially mental, like DeRosa fumbling the ground ball then whipping a panic toss to Theriot. The misplay cost them the out, not the fling, but still…..and I think there is a certain amount of panic in these posts, but I think it’s more frustration with Soriano and Ramirez and a couple other players (and the manager I suppose) who did not deliver in key situations.

    The playoff did illuminate the need for another big bat, preferably left handed, and a leadoff hitter, and that may be where all the “trade Ramirez/Lee/Soriano” talk originates. Plus the fact that we are reaching the point in time that everyone knew was coming with these huge back-loaded contracts: the time when the player (Soriano) is no longer worth the marquee deal that was signed. Not saying they shouldn’t have signed him to begin with, just that the deal was going to go bad at some point.

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