(NOTE: I’m not endorsing this plan, but it’s a scenario worth discussing, especially now that the season has ended and we honestly don’t have too much else to talk about.)

Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic. Maybe I’m newly inspired by watching the Arizona Diamondbacks go from worst to first. Or maybe I just had too many beers last night. In any case, I woke up today with a powerful vision for the 2012 Cubs. Believe it or not, next year may not be a lost cause.

If you’re going to play along with my crazy idea that appeared like a bolt of lightning at 6:45 a.m., you have to accept that the NL Central won’t be particularly strong next season. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m assuming that Pujols re-signs with the Cardinals and Fielder inks a seven-year megadeal with some team not named the Chicago Cubs. Next, let’s pretend that the Northsiders hire a competent GM and bring in a new manager who knows how to run a pitching staff and construct a lineup.

Are you with me so far? If you haven’t left this page in disgust, here’s a quick and inexpensive blueprint for next year’s contending team (NOTE—I don’t have spellcheck when I’m dreaming. Apologies in advance!):

  1. Sign a backup catcher who can actually hit a little bit, thereby keeping Geo Soto fresh and reviving his tired 2011 bat. One-year (and potentially cheap) options include Rod Barajas, Dioner Navarro, and Kelly Shoppach.
  2. Bring back Carlos Pena on a one-year deal and platoon him with Jeff Baker. The key here is limiting Pena’s exposure to lefties and Baker’s exposure to righties. For those of you scoring at home, here are Pena’s 2011 numbers vs. RHP (as of this writing): .261/.390/.516. He’s only 33, so a repeat season isn’t out of the question.
  3. Do everything in your power to develop D.J. LeMahieu and give him a chance to win the 2B job. I know Darwin Barney plays solid defense, hustles, gives to charity, loves animals, sings in the church choir, and keeps America safe for democracy, but he’s not an everyday player. Nice guy to have on your bench however. If LeMahieu can’t hit any better than Barney, it’s time to make a deal or grab a free agent on a one- or two-year deal. Kelly Johnson would certainly be worth a shot, and he shouldn’t break the bank. Maicer Izturis would be someone to pursue via trade.
  4. Take a breath fans…pick up the option on Ramirez. I know some Cub followers think he’s the devil in pinstripes, but Ramirez is still a very productive player. The Cubs have no in-house options for 3B, so one more year of Ramirez is the way to go if at all possible. Plan B would be another one-year free agent. Wilson Betemit perhaps? Plan C is to pull a fan out of the stands at random and let him play 3B for a day. OK, maybe not.
  5. No need to talk about SS other than to say Thank God for Starlin Castro!
  6. The OF puzzle is a little messy, but I woke up with a slightly odd model that just might work. First, take advantage of the Marlins very public battle with Logan Morrison and make a deal for the talented Twitter addict. The Marlins are rumored to be interested in a RH hitter, so how about Marlon Byrd with Andrew Cashner, Campana, and maybe a prospect tossed in for incentive? The Cubs may have to pay part of Byrd’s 2012 salary, but LoMo is worth it in my book. As far as CF goes, I’m hoping Brett Jackson is ready for the bigs. If not, free agent Coco Crisp would be a reasonable fit (again, on a one- or two-year deal). He’s 31, a switch hitter with a decent idea of the strike zone, and blazing fast. For the other corner OF spot, I’m really hoping Bryan LaHair steps up and takes this job. This would be another platoon situation, maybe with Reed Johnson. Or maybe he splits time with an available lefty thumper like Cody Ross or Jonny Gomes. And now we come to Alfonso Soriano. Here’s the cold, hard truth…Soriano is untradeable. However, that doesn’t mean he has to play LF every single day. Play him against lefties. Play him against select righties. Play him when LoMo or LaHair need a break. Hell, try him at 2B now and again if you’re desperate. He’s on the payroll no matter what, so use him in a way where he can actually contribute offensively. As you probably guessed, Tyler “only the mailman walks” Colvin is not in my 2012 picture. Deal him if you can. Maybe the Marlins will take him in the LoMo trade.
  7. This year’s rotation was a mess, and the Cubs have to fix it to even have a prayer in 2012. Garza is solid, and I think Dempster and Wells have potential to be league-average pitchers next year. For the next two spots, the Cubs should pick two from the following list of cost-effective free agents: Javier Vazquez, Joel Pineiro, Jeff Francis, Chien-Ming Wang, and Brad Penny. Not to sound like a broken record, but these will only be one- or two-year deals. Do you see a pattern here? And as for Big Z, do what you can to show him the door. I’m not sure how that will work logistically, but he can’t return to the Cubs under any circumstances.
  8. The bullpen looks like a potential strength with Marshall, Marmol, Wood (re-signed), the Shark, Russell, and Carpenter. If you missed it above, I have Cashner going to the Marlins.

So how might the Cubs’ 2012 lineups look?

VS. RHP:

Crisp or Jackson CF

Castro SS

Morrison RF

Ramirez 3B

Pena 1B

Soto C (spell him often!)

LaHair/Soriano LF

LeMehieu/Barney/????? 2B

Pitcher

 

VS. LHP:

Crisp/Johnson/Jackson CF

Castro SS

Ramirez 3B

Soriano LF

Morrison/Ross/Gomes/Johnson RF

Soto C (spell him often!)

Baker 1B

LeMehieu/Barney/????? 2B

Pitcher

Is this the best offense in the National League? Of course not. But it should be much better than 2011, and it has the potential to be top five. LoMo and Castro are the keys. Both could break out big next year.

Now, how about this starting rotation?

Garza

Dempster

Vazquez

Wang/J. Francis/Pineiro/Penny

Wells

This bunch should be light years better than the 2011 staff that included turds like Zambrano, Coleman, Lopez, and Davis. Two big questions will be 1) Does Dempster still have gas in the tank?  2) Which Wells will we get in 2012?

OK, so it’s not up there with Paul McCartney dreaming “Yesterday,” but it’s the vision I woke up with, and it really doesn’t seem too farfetched. How good could this “dream team” be? I’m guessing around 85 wins with reasonable health and good old fashioned luck. Given the potential state of the National League Central in 2012, that just might be enough.

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