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June 2011

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COMMENTS

What Will It Take to Win?

Written by , Posted in General

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.

  • Lando87

    Even a relatively optimistic post such as this one suggests what most Cubs fans have been clamoring for: Jim Hendry’s termination. Do the Ricketts consider him untouchable or something?

  • chet

    I am predicting we experience Jim Hendry until the end of 2014. By then all his bad contracts are off the books and somebody can start fresh.

    I also think this timeline gives the Ricketts family some added time to finish all their pet projects around the park.

    So it wont shock me to hear the words, “I have the utmost faith in Jim and his ability to bring a winner to the north side of Chicago” We are adding two more years on to his contract!!!

    Yours Truly,

    Tom Ricketts

  • Rick Beato

    If Hendry is extended, forget the playoffs until at least 2020. There is no reason to expect this man can change everything he has done for years now. We are in trouble in any case, but doomed if Hendry is extended.

  • I think we have found out that we need walk off pinch hits to win. Unreal…go Cubs!

  • Seymour Butts

    Nice review.

    Exuberance aside, remind me why Grabow has not been released.

  • 1) best goatee
    2) comic relief

  • Randay

    It’s really easy to armchair GM a team, and despite the torches and pitchforks Hendry has not done a completely terrible job. Under his watch we’ve developed some very solid good major league players. Castro, Soto, Barney, Marshall, Marmol, as well as some busts that didn’t pan out. I think his days of blockbuster contracts at the behest of a “Win Now” owner are over. I also think his over trading for “plus” players is at an end as well and he’ll be kept on a short financial leash.

  • CubbieDude

    I have to admit, Jim Hendry has a good line of BS. I’ll give him that much.

  • PackerCubBull

    “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.”
    What about when the managers play said players who are unproductive veterans over trying to develop talent? I’ve always thought the GM should be fired for that, because the GM should be intervening and demanding the kids be played.

  • Katie

    That’s the point of that statement. The manager shouldn’t get fired because the GM is making bad decisions.

  • PackerCubBull

    My point is it shouldn’t 100% absolve the manager of the blame, because he isn’t playing the kids in the first place.

  • What will it take to win? Consistency!

    The team right now is a mix of past their prime veterans and wet behind the ears kids. This is the recipe for inconsistent play. Eventually, the veterans will be somewhere else and the kids will have matured and if we are lucky, they will consistently play good.

    This is not going to happen this year.

  • Doc Raker

    Thanks Katie, I didn’t realize any of this. I thought a world series was right around the corner.

  • Michael

    Hate to be pedantic, but neither Ramirez nor Pena have spent time on the DL this season (to date). They’ve sat a few games, but not 15.
    .
    Also, there are 5 other Cubs batting higher than Castro’s .327 (last sighted June 25, now .314)…one on the DL, one a pitcher, two backups…who is the fifth?

  • Dennis

    GM job is a crap shoot. Some moves look good at the time, but do not work out well. I reserve my criticism for those signings and trades that look questionable at the time. Three that come to mine are the lenght and dollars of the Soriano and Bradley signings, plus the shortsided trade of Gorslanny. Others moves have not worked out, but made sense at the time.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Signing a middle reliever to a 2 year deal wasn’t so bright…Grabow had 1 decent season. Middle relievers are fungible, not worthy of 2 year contracts.

    Hendry has been here a long time, and we’ve got a couple playoff appearances to show for it, and some horrible contracts/bad draft picks. Time to go Jim.

  • Katie

    @Michael – Johnson, Byrd, Baker, Zambrano, and Barney are batting above .300. Nobody is batting higher than Castro. Also, Ramirez was out for a week or so with the lip laceration when he took that one-hopper off the face, and Pena missed a few games with a thumb sprain early on in the season.

  • Katie

    @Doc – I do what I can.

  • Seymour Butts

    I told you before, pay no attention to the man who calls himself Raker. Some of us who lived thru the 70″s did not come out unscathed.

  • Seymour Butts

    talk about your typo…nobody lives thru 70″.