by Katie Cernek

There is no overnight solution to the Cubs’ losing habits. The foundation of the team is old and crumbling. Literally. Jim Hendry has tried to build a winning team around players like Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez. They are both past their prime and have begun a very rapid decline into mediocrity. Both are frequently assigned to the disabled list with injuries that vary from strained quadriceps to sprained thumbs. Soriano, Ramirez, and Zambrano are three of the highest paid players on the team, yet their performance does not reflect their salaries.

Alfonso has not been anywhere near the player he was when he was with Washington in 2006. That season, he had 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases. Since he was signed by the Cubs in 2007, the closest he has come to his 2006 numbers, is 33 home runs and 19 stolen bases, and those were posted in ’07. He has been on a steady decline since then, all the while making an average of $17 million per season. Why did Hendry sign him to an 8 year deal? Has he been earning his pay?

Ramirez spends a significant amount of time on the DL. When he gets off the DL, he is a decent hitter, but he does not hustle. He has mastered the art of stretching a double into a single. His average pay is $15 million per year, and he is in the final year of his contract. He has had a good career, but it is starting to decline and it is time for him to move to greener pastures. Would it be beneficial for the Cubs to pick up the club option on his contract?

Zambrano is another highly paid, but under-producing player. He has decent career numbers, but he suffers from inconsistency, and has a history of being a controversial teammate. His average seasonal pay is $18.3 million. His bursts of greatness are frequent but short-lived.

Basically, these men are making too much money in comparison to their performance. They are not benefitting the team. If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Another obstacle the Cubs face is their pitching, with a team ERA of 4.73, which is the worst in the MLB. That number speaks for itself. Garza has the best ERA among their starters, which is a 4.11, and he has 82 strikeouts. Zambrano leads the team with 6 wins. Not to mention, Cashner and Wells were put on the disabled list after one start. If they were healthy, the pitching probably would not be so bad. Samardzija is tied for second, with 5 wins; he is a middle reliever. He should not be second in wins to a starter. Quade relies on him too much; he is very inconsistent.

There are a couple bright spots in the Cubs’ bullpen. Marshall, Wood, and Marmol are great contributors to the team. They are a few of the strong points on the team.

Sean Marshall has a 2.27 ERA in 35 innings of work. He has 35 strikeouts and 13 holds. He has also only allowed 9 walks and one home run in 35 innings. He is an excellent reliever, maybe the only really good reliever on the team.

Kerry Wood has been a great asset this season. He has a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings of work, with 9 holds. His age could be an issue eventually, but as of right now, the Cubs need to hold on to him.

Carlos Marmol has been lights out. He has 45 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. He has a 2.62 ERA, with 16 saves this season. Despite a few hiccups here and there, he is an excellent closer. If he can learn to be more selective with his pitches, he should be with Cubs for a long time.

The Cubs needs to make some trades to get more quality pitching. Even though Marshall, Wood, and Marmol are spectacular, they will not be around forever, and, in the case of Wood, can get injured semi-frequently. When someone as valuable as he is out of commission, a young, inconsistent pitcher gets the call, and the outcome is uncertain.

If the Cubs want to acquire some quality pitching, they need to trade some quality players. Jeff Baker is a great player for the Cubs. However, there is not a spot for him on the team. He is used as a utility player right now; Quade puts him in where he thinks he needs him. If the Cubs can get a good player (or two) for Baker, trade him. But do not trade him just to trade him.

Another player that could be traded is Blake DeWitt. He is also tossed around the field, whether it be left field or second base. When Darwin Barney comes back, where is DeWitt going to go? It would be best to trade him somewhere that could use him. It would even be OK to trade him just to trade him, as long as we do not trade him for a player like Milton Bradley.

But even if the Cubs trade for pitching, there is still the issue of needing fielders. Soriano is not a very good left fielder. He does not hustle, and allows too many batters to get extra-base hits. Peña is OK at first base, but his batting leaves much to be desired. We have too many utility players like DeWitt and Baker, and not enough specialty players. We need guys to be committed to one position, and to be good at the position and at the plate.

As a whole, the team has the third-highest batting average (.265) in the Majors. There is one major factor as to why they are ranked so high: Starlin Castro. His batting average is currently .327. Reed Johnson is the only other player on the team with a higher average, at .349, but he has played 30 less games than Castro. There are 5 players on the Cubs that are batting over .300, but one of them is a pitcher, one is on the disabled list, and two are backup players.

Castro is an excellent player. He is great. He can hit just about anything, and he is a threat on the basepath. His fielding is the only factor working against him. He has 16 errors on the season (and it is not even half over). However, he is only 21 years old. There is no doubt that he will be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop in a few years. The Cubs need more players that are similar to Castro, preferably with a little more polish in the fielding department. He is not a power hitter, but he hits for average.

The team does not need more power hitters. The team needs productive power hitters. Our “power” hitters strike out too often, do not hustle on potential infield hits, and barely hit home runs as it is. Ramirez is considered one of our power guys, and he only has 5 home runs this season. Given, he did spend some time on the DL, but so has Soriano, and Soriano has 14 home runs. Peña also has 14 home runs, and he hasn’t even spent  a significant amount of time on the DL. Our hitters are not hitting like they should be. That is a problem.

If the Cubs could somehow manage to find a player with similar abilities to those of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, we would be 5 steps in the right direction. They are both first basemen, a position we need to fill, and Fielder is batting .307 with 20 home runs this season. Pujols has 17 home runs. His average is only .279, but he is on the DL right now. However, before the Cubs spend gobs of money on a player, they need to be certain that the player will live up to the contract (see Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome).

That being said, we need a general manager that is willing and able to sign consistently good players, not players that might be good for a season. Huge contracts do not guarantee good players. Jim Hendry is notorious for signing players such as Milton Bradley and Soriano, who were not helpful to the team. He also has a habit of trading good players (see Mark DeRosa) for minor leaguers that don’t even make it up to the Majors. Hendry has been the GM since 2002 and the Cubs have had four managers.  These managers work with the players that the GM signs, and when the players do not produce, the manager gets fired for the miscues of the GM. Maybe, if the manager had some players to work with, the Cubs could win. Maybe, we need a new GM.

For example, in 2007, Hendry hired Lou Piniella as the Cubs’ manager. There were many men available for the position, including Joe Girardi. Girardi had coached the Marlins from the All-Star break in 2006, and he did a bang up job. He took them from a 38-48 record in the first half, to a 40-36 record for the second half of the season. For some reason only God knows, Hendry decided to pass up on Girardi. Since then, Girardi has coached the Yankees to a World Series victory. Go figure.

In order for the Cubs to be contenders in the Central, they need to get young, fresh players on the team, and build them up. It will take a couple years, but with proper coaching, we can have a team of great young players that can take us past the first round of the playoffs (see the Cincinnati Reds). The Cubs have a lot of work to do, but with patience and a winning mindset in the front office, we will be on the road to victory in no time.

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Katie Cernek is a regular contributor to VFTB. She grew up as a Cubs fan in rural Wisconsin and fondly remembers hearing stories of Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. You can find Katie on Twitter @heyitskatiec