Pre-Season Roundtable 2006, Part I

The rites of spring are upon us once again, marked by the blossoming of flowers, warmer temperatures, April showers and of course, the TCR roundtable preview. The powers that be here have gathered around one very round and large table extending from the West Coast of the Great States of America to the land of kings, queens and something known as ìspotted dickî; all in an effort to bring you into the new season. Our pal Transmission has gotten himself wrapped up in a defense of his disseration so unfortunately he will not be able to play along. We wish him luck as we do the 2006 Cubbies. --------------------- Rate the Cubs off-season acquisitions and maneuvers? Did Jim Hendry sufficiently address the teamís needs or was he left in the cold holding a bag of donuts? MmmmmÖdonuts!!! [John Hill] When Americans talk about donuts, or doughnuts as itís correctly spelt, are we talking ones with jam in the middle, or ones with holes in the middle? I mean theyíre both good, but I think weíre all better off if our favourite things come without a big bit missing. Take the Cubs, for instance. Just how much better off they would be without about half a lineup missing? Letís just say, with a little more strawberry jam, they might not be in the position theyíre in now where, if theyíre to have any real playoff aspirations at all, theyíre once again entirely dependent upon the ridiculously high upside pitching getting healthy and staying healthy. And once again the news on that front has not been good. Iíd love to act all surprised on that one, but Iíve won the grand total of zero Academy Awards in my lifetime. The bottom line is, when you consider just what can be done with a hundred million dollar payroll and the lure of the big city, Hendryís off-season for the second year running has to go down as a big disappointment. Again, some backwards and a lack of foresight and creativity have been the main culprits. [Ruz] He addressed their needs, I just don't think he did a very good job. I'm probably in the minority in liking the Jones signing more than the Pierre trade -- the Cubs gave up an awful lot to get a guy who does one thing well. Jones, meanwhile, will be an albatross by 2008, but this year I expect him to contribute. The bullpen additions certainly will improve the staff, but the cost of the Howry and Eyre deals is just ridiculous. [Rob G.] He certainly addressed what he felt the teamís needs were, Iím just not sure he addressed them properly nor sufficiently. Juan Pierre was absolutely an essential pickup after missing out on Rafael Furcal, but it was a steep price to pay. Heís certainly going to perform better then Corey Patterson did, but will he perform up to his 2003 and 2004 levels? I have serious doubts. He signed some decent relievers but itís a dangerous strategy signing middle relievers to big contracts, one that Hendry has already been burned on a few times. Hendry claimed to have an eye for defense this off-season, but once again Iím not sure if he did much to improve upon that aspect of our game. And he did nothing to improve on one of our biggest problem's; woeful team OBP. Heíll have to hope that Hairston/Walker, Murton, Pierre and Jones play at the apex of their potential while Lee and Ramirez continue to play at theirs. To give it a grade, C-. [AZ Phil] BULLPEN: Signing Dempster, Eyre, and Howry for three years is one year too long for each, but I will worry about that in 2008. I guess giving each of them three years is what Hendry felt he had to do to get then to sign (or re-sign) with the Cubs. Kerry Wood is the Cubs bullpen ace-in-the-hole, though. I would have no problem with Woody moving into the closer role mid-season if Dempster struggles. With a healthy(?) Kerry Wood as the closer, the Cubs bullpen would be the best in baseball, and it's already very good. BENCH: I like bench guys who are good pinch-hitters, so I would have preferred the Cubs sign Mark Sweeney, Wes Helms, and/or Robert Fick over John Mabry. RIGHT-FIELD: I am not a Jacque Jones fan. I would have preferred the Cubs go hard after Brian Giles instead. There weren't a lot of options here. LEAD-OFF HITTER: Rafael Furcal would have been one-stop shopping (SS and lead-off hitter in one player). I guess Pierre is an OK fall-back lead-off hitter, and I like Ronny Cedeno as a SS, but I would have MUCH prefered Furcal. What is the one off-season move you wish the Cubs made? (Be specific) [Ruz] Hypotheticals like this are tough, but it seems clear that Craig Wilson has been available all winter. If he was available before the Cubs signed Jones, they should have gone and gotten him to pay right. [AZ Phil] Sign Rafael Furcal. [John Hill] Just how much of a free agent Brian Giles was, Iím not entirely sure, since he was seemingly intent upon staying in San Diego, but if there was ever the slightest chance, the Cubs should have been all over him. Instead, it certainly seemed as though they scarcely bothered at all. They may have had their reasons, but Giles was the one free agent that the Cubs really needed this off-season, the one free agent that would have changed absolutely everything. A left-handed on-base machine with plus power (donít let PETCO Park fool you into thinking he canít still hit them), playing right field and asking only for a three year contract, he was the absolute perfect fit. Put him in the heart of the lineup over Jacque Jones and this teamís the division favourite. Instead, right now, some people think the Brewers have a better team than us. [Rob G.] Traded for Brad Wilkerson (which was probably unlikely), signed B.J. Ryan instead of Howry, Eyre, Neifi and Rusch and traded for Jae Seo. What is the one off-season move youíre glad the Cubs didnít make? [Ruz] Given what the Dodgers had to give Rafael Furcal to land him, I'm glad the Cubs begged off. [AZ Phil] Trade for Alfonso Soriano. [Rob G.] Tough one, but Iím glad they stayed away from A.J. Burnett, big upside but just as injury prone as any of our big guys. And yes I believed that before his recent elbow woes. Renewing Burnitz is #2 on my list. [John Hill] The Cubs dodged a bullet when Rafael Furcal chose to sign with the Dodgers. Technically, dodge probably isnít the right word, since it was more a case of the valiant Ned Colletti heroically doing what any good bodyguard should, but the bottom line in baseball is ends and not means. Furcalís a good player, a useful bat complimented by very nice secondary skills, baserunning, fielding and the like, but thereís no way the Cubs should even considered a five year deal, let alone offered him one, especially not one that would have made him the highest paid player on the team. Hendry has generally proven himself sensible when it comes to long-term contracts, avoiding expensive mistakes. But that really doesnít afford him licence to make lots of inexpensive mistakes, like the deals he gave this winter to Neifi Perez, Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, maybe even Glendon Rusch. Cut them out, and when true impact players come along, youíll be able to break the bank. Hendry and Baker, brothers in arms, men with expiring contracts. Do they get automatic extensions or will their futures be tied into this teamís successes or failures? [AZ Phil] Nothing "automatic" about it, but I believe Hendry will get an extension no matter how the Cubs perform in 2006, and Baker will get one only if the Cubs contend, and then only if Baker really wants to return in 2007 (which I doubt). [John Hill] They should hope for their sake itís not the latter. But, quite frankly, I have no idea as to just what goes on inside the heads of those in charge of his organisation. [Rob G.] I envision Baker getting fired if this team is at or below .500 on June 1st and very possibly Bobby Dickerson getting the surprise call-up as interim manager. If the team clicks coming out of the gate, the decision will be put off until the end of the season and it will be just as much up to Baker as it is the Cubs brass. Considering Hendry and McPhailís relationship, I donítí imagine any scenario where Hendry gets canned other then a total and complete collapse by the major league team. [Ruz] They'll get extensions early in the season, but that won't stop them from getting fired if the Cubs underachieve this year. Derrek Lee put up MVP-type numbers last season in what will either be his career year or career turn-around. Does he repeat those lofty totals or was last year the peak? [Ruz] He certainly doesn't repeat those numbers. That just doesn't happen. I see him somewhere around 290/380/530, 30 homers - a bit better than he was in Florida but not a three-digit VORP. [AZ Phil] I think Derreek Lee is a premier player and will have a year comparable to last year's, although maybe not quite as awesome, statistically-speaking. But 2005 was no fluke. D-Lee is the "real deal." [Rob G.] It would be amazing if he did put up the same numbers, but I think heíll be a lot closer to 2005 then the rest of his career. I point to a blazing start in the WBC and his new found approach to the plate last year in opening up his stance. Hopefully his shoulder woes wonít be a detriment. [John Hill] Heís for real. 2005 will almost certainly prove the best season of his career when allís said and done, but I expect Derrek Lee to reel off a good few seasons not much worse over the next few years. The opening up of his stance seems to have worked wonders for him. Itís really a joy to see such a complete player on the team. He hits for average, for power, he walks, he runs, he does all the simple things too, every time without fail, plus heís a Gold Glove first baseman and the model professional. Signing him to a contract extension is absolutely imperative. Second base; what do you do or better yet; what should have been done? [Rob G.] As I proposed awhile back, Iíd be all for a platoon based on whoís starting for the Cubs (groundball versus flyball pitcher) that day and not a platoon based on whoís starting for the opposing team. Hairston and Walkerís offensive splits are almost negligible and I certainly believe Hairston gives us quite a bit more with the glove. Maddux and Marshall would almost always have Hairston behind them, Walker would play most of the other days. Zambrano can be switched depending on if the matchup is favorable offensively. While Z certainly is more of a groundball pitcher, he also strikes out considerably more batters than Maddux and Iím supposing Marshall, so Iím not sure the defensive advantage is all that great with Z on the mound. I would have also been for trading for Luis Castillo on the cheap or Mark Loretta. Both are solid glove men who can handle the bat at the top of the lineup and would make both me and Baker happy. [Ruz] What I would do is platoon Walker and Hairston based on who's pitching. Hairston plays when Maddux and Zambrano, the ground-ball pitchers, start; Walker plays the rest of the time. [AZ Phil] I like Todd Walker as the everyday 2B and #2 hitter. He is just passable defensively, but the Cubs really need his bat in the lineup. I would not object to a Walker-Hairston platoon at 2B, though, as long as the second-baseman is always the #2 hitter. Who will be this yearís surprises, who will be this yearís disappointments? [Rob G.] Well last year I believe I said that Jeromy Burnitz wasnít going to be all thad bad, so take this all with a grain of salt. I think the biggest surprise will actually be Jacque Jones. For some reason, he seems like the player that would flourish under Baker (and it has nothing to do with their respective skin colors). Heíll still be brutal versus lefties most likely, but I actually think Baker is aware of it. Heíll likely trot him out there on most days early in the season to see if their spring training work paid off, but if he continues to fail against the southpaws, I expect(hope) Baker will start substituting him and pinch-hitting for him by the All-Star break. Also, not hitting a bunch of balls into the Hefty bag at the Metrodome makes me think he may actually hit 30+ homers this year, not to mention heíll likely be right between Lee and Ramirez which should certainly boost his RBI totals over the weak Minnesota offense he was entrenched in the last few years. As for disappointments, Dempster (only cause thereís no way he repeats what he did last year), Howry and/or Eyre and Juan Pierre (just seems like heís lost a step from what Iíve seen, hope Iím wrong). [AZ Phil] a) The biggest surprise will be Matt Murton, who I believe will put up some awesome offensive numbers, well beyond what most people are expecting. I also predict Aramis Ramirez will have the kind of year this year that Derrek Lee had last year: MVP contender, Silver Slugger, possible HR & RBI champ. b) I believe Jacque Jones will be the biggest a disappointment, mainly because Dusty will play him everyday and he will hurt the offense more than help it, especially against lefty starters and good lefty relievers. [Ruz] I think this is the year Michael Barrett is recognized as one of the elite catchers in the National League, and I think Scott Williamson is going to be a difference-maker in the bullpen. The terrific play of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano won't be a surprise. On the downside, I think that by August we're going to wish Juan Pierre didn't play 162 games a year. The Cubs come into the season relying on some young Cubs. How do you envision Murton and Cedenoís seasons will go? Beyond those two, which lilí Cubs do you expect to make the biggest impact on the team this year? [Ruz] I like Murton, and I think he's got a chance to be a star. It won't happen this year, but at least with Marquis Grissom gone Dusty won't be able to bench him so easily. Cedeno, on the other hand, I'm not sold on. I hope I'm wrong, but I think he's going to struggle in the bigs and we'll see way more of Neifi than we want to. Beyond that, Sean Marshall looks like he's going to get a chance to prove some things in April, but I think before the end of the year it'll be a different tall lefty, Rich Hill, we'll be talking about. [John Hill] Iíll commend the Cubs for giving him, and Matt Murton too, the chance to play everyday this year, if indeed thatís what they do. The short-term results, especially in Cedenoís case, may be ugly, no better than what Neifi Perez might achieve, if thatís the right word, but no pain no gain. The two, if theyíre to become useful major leaguers, will at some stage have to go through a potentially painful acclimatisation process, and theyíre as ready for that now as theyíll ever be. In the long-term, I think theyíve enough talent to both pay off. But, in the interim, the Cubs should have accommodated the two in the lineup better, such that it scoring runs this year is not dependent upon the two youngsters hitting immediately. The Cubs needed a third big bat, and they ended up with Jacque Jones. Something went very badly wrong somewhere. The other youngsters capable of making an impact this year are Felix Pie, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu. But itíd probably be in the Cubsí interests to hold off on promoting Pie and Marshall for a bit, and Guzmanís quite horrific control problems this spring mean that the Cubs should bide their time. The omission of Rich Hill reflects not only that heís 26 years old now, not so little, but also that I donít think much of his chances of ever becoming an effective major league pitcher. [AZ Phil] Murton wil have an awesome offensive season, 20+ HR, 100+ RBI, 30+ 2B, .300+ BA, 380+ OBP. Cedeno will be OK once he gets comfortable as the everyday SS. As long as he hits 8th, he won't hurt the Cubs offense, and he is an above-average defensive SS. If they are needed (and they probably will be), the young pitchers... Marshall, Guzman, and Ryu. [Rob G.] Thereís not much to say about Murton, it wonít be his bat that will get him out of the lineup. Letís hope he can hold his own on defense, but honestly I canít see how heíd be worse then what was trotted out in left last year defensively. Cedeno is going to be on one very short leash. If he can solve his pre-season throwing woes, heíll stand a much better chance to stick even if his offense doesnít take off from the get-go. One sliver of hope that I hold onto is that he really hasnít had much of Derrek Lee to throw to at first base and I hope it will calm him a bit once the season gets going. My surprises are Felix Pie, who I think will get called up if Pierre goes down (certainly unlikely considering his track record). Iím pretty high on Hill and Guzman as well. Marshall is going to have the first crack at making an impact, but as I mentioned previously counting on a guy who just happened to be hot in spring training with very little minor league success is a dangerous path. You probably donít need reminding, but the Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. Whatís the biggest reason Cubs fans should be hopeful that this, at long last, is the year? [Rob G.] Yeah, they're injured and no one knows what to expect from Wood when he eventually does pitch, but if Prior and Wood are back by May and can somehow avoid the DL for the rest of the season, thereís nobody even close to our pitching staff. Three Grade A talent pitchers is almost a surefire way to get yourself to the playoffs (Petitte, Oswalt, Clemens; Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux; Hudson, Zito, Mulder; etc.) Of course all those guys made just about everyone of their starts, which is where our problem lies. The division doesnít seem anything special at this moment anyway, we still have a relatively young team with a lot of players not only in their prime years but most importantly a lot of players in their contract years (Maddux, Hairston, Walker, Pierre, Ramirez, Wood, possibly Lee). I see the potential of a lot of career years for guys. [John Hill] Potentially, the Cubs have the best pitching in all of baseball by a quite ridiculous margin. A rotation featuring a healthy and at their best Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood, Wade Miller and Greg Maddux, with Jerome Williams, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu all waiting in the wings, would simply be astonishingly good, so much so that this team could coast into the playoffs, any lineup inadequacies irrelevant. Not only that, but theyíd obviously be tremendously well suited to post-season baseball. Another reason for hope is that the Cardinals and Astros have had pretty rough off-seasons too, and so the Cubs could maybe afford the above pitchers a tiny little bit of leeway in terms of their health, and still qualify for the playoffs. [Ruz] A weak division and the fact that anything can happen in the playoffs. [AZ Phil] Pierre leading off, Lee-Ramirez-Murton-Barrett in the middle of the lineup, and the bullpen is VERY good. And the biggest reason they should think that once again, come October, itíll be ìwait ëtil next yearî? [Ruz] Wood & Prior's injuries. [AZ Phil] Three of their better starting pitchers are not healthy at the start of the season, and it is unclear when they will return, and once they do, can they stay healthy? [Rob G.] If Wood and Prior donít make 27 or more starts each, there isnít much hope for a successful season. Our offense looks mediocre at best. [John Hill] Donít hold your breath on the Cubsí pitchers getting healthy and staying healthy. This team doesnít have the bats to put the pitching staff on its shoulders and carry it to October baseball, even if Matt Murton, Ronny Cedeno and all the other youngsters are able to make a smooth transition to the big leagues. So, how many will the Cubs win this year? And how will it all end? [Ruz] 85, and they'll end up two games behind the Cardinals after the Rockies take 2 out of 3 at Wrigley at the end of the season while the Cards are sweeping the Brewers. [John Hill] 87 wins this year. Itíll end on the first day of October with a meaningless win over the Rockies. [AZ Phil] 95 wins, first place in the N. L. Central The Cubs will play the Oakland A's in the World Series, and the Cubs will win Game 7. I will then die and go to Wrigley Field Heaven. [Rob G.] I really donít see any substantial improvement over last yearís team, so 80-82 wins would be a safe bet. Iím a dreamer at this point of the season though and the run of bad luck/injuries for a 3rd straight year seems unlikely. I say 88 wins and hopefully the Cards, Astros suffer like they did in 2003 and the Brewers still remain a year away. If we somehow do make the playoffs and Wood, Prior and Z are all there pitching healthy and effective, I expect us make a good run and I echo AZ Philís statement that the Aís will be waiting for us if we were to be so lucky.
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Comments

Hendry addressed the biggest hole he felt needed fixed--the Bullpen.

Bullpens are crap shoots--it is, in my opinion, the most inconsistent group of individual players you are ever going to get....to sign them to big dollar contracts greater than a year is just a risk not worth the taking.

We also grew holes that either got bigger or were not there in the first place...--Starting pitching. We have this abundance of starting pitching or so I've been told...but the opening day rotation of Zambrano, Maddux, Rusch, Williams and Marshall quite frankly is scarey. Wood and Prior can't be counted on to do much of anything this year. I suspect Wood will be back....but will visit the DL before the year is through again. Prior--the most overrated Cub since Kerry Wood....Starting pitching is a joke quite frankly...as it was for most of the 70's, all but a couple years of the 80's and most of the 90's....expect similar results.

offensively--we have no clue who the 2B is--we have a weak hitting SS...a sophomore LF who hopefully will continue to grow--although sophomores in MLB have been known to suffer much more than become stars...a CF who only does one thing and can't throw a ball from CF...and a manager who believes he has no control over where a guy gets put in a lineup or starting rotation....

So I think Hendry addressed what he felt were the concerns of the team...another reason I think Hendry should be fired...although I suspect the Tribune is one to let the train wreck before getting in it's way.

I suspect Baker won't allow a contract extension. He will want to be the story going on regardless of team performance. This guy seems to crave the attention even though he has little substantive to say. So don't look for Baker to get a contract extension even if Hendry does. Maybe the club should offer them a one year with a "team option" for another year...wouldn't that just be funny?

As for the 2006 team record. I'll go on the record and say I think they will finish with 84 wins...They will finish in 3rd place...

My prediction for the NL Central is as follows

1. Milwaukee
2. Houston
3. Chicago
4. St. Louis
5. Pittsburgh
6. Cincinnati

John Hill lives.

Clay Davenport posted his playoff probabilities. The Cubs average 85 wins a season. Have a 1:5 chance of winning the central and about a 1:10 chance of winning the wild card, putting the Cubs chances of making the playoffs at 30.2%, second in the division to the Cardinals who averaged 2 more wins than the Cubs.

My question is if he used Mark Prior in these simulations from April to September, or did not insert him until mid May or whenever they expect Prior to be back. That alone would cause the Cubs to get a couple extra wins and 10% or so of making the playoffs.

The San Diego Padres released Ashby today, I wonder if he would be a good pickup, teamed with Greg Maddux, afterall he won 17 games last year but has had a rough spring. He is though 38 years old, but he might have enough gas in his tank, to pitch at least one more productive season.

No one said anything about Cedeno possibly being a disappointment. I think he will be the Corey Patterson and scapegoat of '06.

AZ Phil: 95 wins, first place in the N. L. Central

The Cubs will play the Oakland A's in the World
Series, and the Cubs will win Game 7. I will then die and go to Wrigley Field Heaven.

lol, Let's hope. Unfortunately, as much as I like to point to '04 BoSox and say "see, offense can win," the truth of the matter is, it really comes down to pitching. And Woody & Prior are question marks so far.

If Prior can stay on the mound when he comes back and Woody can start most of the season, then you might be right, Phil.

Andy Ashby got released cause he can't pitch anymore....

> No one said anything about Cedeno possibly being a disappointment

Actually both John & I did, but not in the disappointment section, but in the Murton/Cedeno section.

???
Flowers aren't blooming...

The San Diego Padres released Ashby today, I wonder if he would be a good pickup, teamed with Greg Maddux, afterall he won 17 games last year....

Not unless "last year" is 1998. Andy Ashby did not pitch in MLB last season, and threw only 2 innings in 2004.

To play the role of the rosy optimist for a moment, it's worth noting that if Zambrano, Maddux, Wood, Prior and Miller are all healthy and performing by June or so, the 2006 Cubs will have a very high ceiling. That's certainly a very big "If", but even if only 4 of the 5 are performing, it's entirely likely that Williams, Guzman, Hill or someone else could slide in and carry some weight.

And if that happens, we will suddenly have an excess of young pitching talent (not to mention an excess infielder or two) to deal at the trade deadline.

Again, this scenario is far from a certainty, but it's a real possibility. And this is the time of year for optimism after all.

RobG, tell us more about Bobby Dickerson. Never heard of him.

No mention of Pagan?

Bobby Dickerson was the AA Jaxx manager the previous 4 years and my perception is that most players in the Cubs organization seem to enjoy their best years under his tutelage. Some of that may be due to hitting coach Von Joshua, who's now the AAA batting coach, but it appeared pitchers had some fine seasons under him too (of course the Southern League is a pitcher friendly environment). One of his team's trademarks seems to be exceptional fundamental baseball. (Ask AZ Phil about guys like Theriot, Mcgahee, etc).

I think Pat Listach is the new AA manager but Dickerson a roving instructor within the organization now, I believe infield/bunting is his specialty. I don't feel like looking it up but I think the Jaxx have done fairly well the last 4 years as well. The only thing I'm not sure about is if he had any major league experience as a player, it's something that's generally frowned upon when looking for managers.

It's probably wishful thinking on my part, but I can't think of anyone who could do a better job....

that last sentence should have finished with...

could do a better job as an interim manager.

"Beyond that, Sean Marshall looks like he's going to get a chance to prove some things in April, but I think before the end of the year it'll be a different tall lefty, Rich Hill, we'll be talking about."
-

I don't think we'll be talking about Hill in a good way... unless we're talking good about the guy Hendry brings back in trade for him. I go with Phil on this, I can't see Hill being consistantly effective. He'll do it long enough (once) to make you think he's the goods then he'll prove you wrong.

Credibility suffers when someone thinks Ashby won 17 games last year. Best we wait and see how the health of Wood and Prior will be before we write off the season. We either have one of the best starting staffs in baseball or we have one with serious question marks. Cub fans who looked at the Sox lineup last spring certainly never thought they could win the World Series. That's why we play the games! Play ball!

I just haven't seen enough of Pagan to make any educated prognostications on his performance. His minor league numbers leave a lot to be desired. He sure strikes out a lot for a guy with marginal power. At least he's not completely allergic to taking walks, definitely has some speed and it sounds like his defense is good.

You almost think the Cubs should carry a 3rd catcher with all this potential speed on their bench so they can run for Blanco or Barrett late in games.

And the most outrageous statement of the group....

[AZ Phil] Murton wil have an awesome offensive season, 20+ HR,
100+ RBI, 30+ 2B, .300+ BA, 380+ OBP.

Oh please. Talk about heaping and expecting to much from one guy. You are just begging to be disappointed.

Dusty on Marshall starting Sunday on ESPN v. the Cards...

ìHey, dude, you canít pick where you put them."

Uh, yes you can.

Murton wil have an awesome offensive season, 20+ HR,
100+ RBI, 30+ 2B, .300+ BA, 380+ OBP.

Hope you're right, Phil. Just to put those numbers in Cub perspective -
Ron Santo's first full season - 83 RBI, 32 2B, .284 BA, .362 OBP
Billy Williams rist full season - 86 RBI, 20 2B, .278 BA, .338 OBP

Williams and Santo were younger than Murton but yikes, that would be some pretty amazing company for the freakishly red headed lad.

Mediocrity is what has been killing Cubs teams for decades. I'm afraid we are facing a mediocre year. I wonder why Hendry didn't look into getting another starter for insurance purposes. After the past two years, anyone could see how shaky our starting pitching (except Zambrano and Maddux),has been. Call me crazy, but right now, I wouldn't mind having Matt Clement (head injury and all) back. I do realize that is an impossibility now. I also realize EVERYONE wants and needs starting pitching. The few teams that have solid starters, wind up playing later in October. J.P. sounds great on paper, but our "on paper teams" have been stinking it up since 2004. I remain a loyal Cubs fan and even like Dusty, though he needs to see the light about 0-2 Neifi. (Everytime he's at bat, he goes 0-2) RRRRRRrrrrr!!
Grade: C-

Phil, has the desert sun bleached your brain? There is NO WAY in HELL that Murton comes up with those numbers. You are usually the most level headed guy around and you are predicting MVP caliber numbers for the guy? PUHLEEEZE! Talk about Pie in the sky. He won't even approach 100 RBIs. in the 80s AT BEST. When you say 20 + i think that is an over statement he might hit 20 or 21 but i doubt much more. And if he bats over .300, his power numbers will be WAY off what you said. Please tell me you're not serious.

Is it just me, or do both Chad and MikeC come across as complete asshats 90% of the time.

I gotta quit reading this board... I just Chad's post as "Pee-A in the Sky"

Settle Wild Thing, no reason to go after people like that.

other then the RBI's and OBP, I'm don't see what was so crazy about AZ Phil's prediction. Those are far from crazy, unlikely, but it's just one man's opinion. Heck if Murton ends up batting 6th, 100 RBI's is not out of the question at all....

someone with an ESPN Insider account tell me what this BS is about Roy Oswalt thinking about quitting.....

ROBG-
Oswalt probably made so much money doing jobs with his new bulldozer he can retire.

http://www.dailyherald.com/sports/cubs.asp?id...

Seems like Wuertz is definitely on the team and it's down to either a 12-man staff (8 bullpen guys) by going with John Koronka or Ryan Theriot.

The Oswalt thing is in this months ESPN:The magazine. He pretty much just says that he would be content if he plays for only 10 years...which is 5 more years of tormenting the Cubs. He is just one of those guys that is content living in BFE with his wife and kids...and bulldozer. He is currently building a lake behind his house. Not having someone build it, but actually doing it himself.

Rob G -- here is a clip from the Oswalt article:

You ask from the backseat: Say again? "Ten years," Roy Oswalt says, again. He glances into the rearview mirror. "My goal is to play 10 years, and then I'll figure out what to do after that."

You try to block out the onrushing trees and do the math. The Astros' right-hander is five years into his career, he's 28 and he's talking about the possibility of walking away from baseball at age 33.

#22 of 28: By Chad (March 31, 2006 02:50 PM)
Phil, has the desert sun bleached your brain? There is NO WAY in HELL that Murton comes up with those numbers. You are usually the most level headed guy around and you are predicting MVP caliber numbers for the guy? PUHLEEEZE! Talk about Pie in the sky. He won't even approach 100 RBIs. in the 80s AT BEST. When you say 20 + i think that is an over statement he might hit 20 or 21 but i doubt much more. And if he bats over .300, his power numbers will be WAY off what you said. Please tell me you're not serious.

---

CHAD: If I predicted those numbers for John Mabry, then I could understand why you might feel that way!

But to answer your question, yes, the sun HAS baked my brain. It's hot out here, but it's a dry heat. Pefect for frying eggs on the sidewalk, or baking brains in my head.

Anyway, my Murton projection for a .300 BA is based on him hitting ONLY 20+ HRs (that is, where he is not TRYING to hit home runs). I've watched him closely this Spring, and he has outstanding power, well capable of 30+ HRs if that's what he wanted to do. It's because I believe he will hit .300 that I only predicted 20+ HRs. If he decides to swing for the fences and hits 30+ HR (which he can do), then he probably will only hit .275.

RBIs are a product of opportunity, and I believe Walker/Hairston, Lee, and Ramirez, (plus Barrett or Jones, until Murton is moved to the #5 slot) will be on base a LOT ahead of Murton. The RBI opportunties will be there, and I believe he will cash in. The Cubs should score a lot of runs in 2006.

thanks for the Oswalt info....

I think he should spend more time with his family. :)

Oswalt freaks me out. He's deliverance in MLB. I could see him quitting to go and hunt game full time. That's probably how he feeds his family in the off season. To keep his arm in shape, he throws stones 95 MPH at small animals and brings them home for dinner. Though I'd trade him for Barrett, Rich Hill, plus "cash considerations" and take on his celery right now.

"with his wife and kids...and bulldozer"

hahaha...

Since we are on outrageous expectations, Derrek Lee is going to hit .350 with 60 HR and 190 RBI.

Lee and Murton have about the same chance of doing that, which is zero.

This is a fun little game. Neifi Perez is going to hit .300 with a .350 OBP. Now that might be going a little bit to far, but hell we are in outrageous territory.

Hey, a good (and simple) Wisdom of You topic would be simply: How many games will the Cubs win in 2006?

"take on his celery right now."-
Wow he must be really messed up; a hunter and a vegan.

More outrageous expectations:

Albert Pujols is going to be brought up to MLB "too quickly" yet hit .329 in 161 games at age 21. Then he's going to average .332, 124 RBIs, and 40 homeruns over his first five seasons.

Oops. Nevermind. That really happened.

Vont l'homme orange vont !!

I think the line is a bit unrealistic, but I do think it's possible for Murton to drive in 100 *IF* he were hitting 5th with a .300 AVG. I think Murton's gonna have a big year, even though Nate Silver from BP thinks he's a Todd Hollandsworth type player.

The Cubs make the playoffs if: Pierre scores 100 runs; Lee and Ramirez each play at least 145 games; Maddux isn't second on the staff in innings pitched; Neifi doesn't hit second in the lineup (and he's our starting SS, guys, get used to it); Mabry doesn't get 350 ABs; Jones hits at least .295 in the five-hole; Murton and Barrett together knock in at least 150 runs; and two out of three of Prior/Miler and/or Wood don't miss more than one start from June through September.

MartyK: Neifi doesn't hit second in the lineup (and he's our starting SS, guys, get used to it)

That nagging voice in my head is telling me exactly that. Of course, that same voice also said Marquis Grissom would make the 25 rather than Pagan and that Koronka would be the so-called 5th starter.

Phil I will bet you 1 Old Style that if Murton hits .300 or better he will have less than 20 homers. Or if he hits 20 or more homers his batting average will be .280 or lower.

And I will bet you another Old Style that he doesn't get 90+ RBIs under any set of circumstances.

And to clarify, I think that Matt Murton will do this:

.275 - .285 18 hrs 78 rbis.

not bad but realistic.

Oh and that asshat comment was great! I got a good laugh at that.

Although most of the scenarios for the Cubs winning the division involve at least one plane crash, this is the time of year to be optimistic. With the injuries and bad luck of the past two years we are due for good things to happen. Come on, you can't spell "World Series" without "DLee" or "Wo.d" or ".rior"!

cubs record to be 84-78.
3rd place behind st. louis and milwaukee.

successes:
ramirez has gigantic season- pujols is envious.
murton does nothing but hit and walk- what a welcome change from left fielder.
wood becomes best closer for cubs since sutter- and is cut loose as too expensive in november.

failures:
neif gets 450+ ab- because cedeno is proven awful.
jones gets 500+ ab- because hendry fiddled while rome burned.
zambrano breaks down- physically, not mentally.

disasters:
ramirez parlays his monster season into a monster contract, and the 30 year search for a 3b begins anew.

Chad's definitely not as asshat. Even if i disagree with him, which is often, he has solid backups to his arguments and he's got passion. I think of him as the Zambrano of TCR, whereas AZ Phil is kind of the Maddux of TCR - observant and wise. I'm not sure where that puts everybody else, but I like to think of myself as the Buck Coats of TCR.

I consider myself the "old lady standing at shortstop before a home game on a Sunday waiting for Cedeno/Neifi to come running out and give me his autograph" of TCR.

"and bad luck of the past two years "
x
49
________

98 years

Focusing on our +'s, will Baker continue to split up ARam and DLee? Another Baker favorite is shuffling the lineup nearly every game. I like the power backing each other up and I like continuity to generate rhythm offensively (hopefully not an offensive rhythm). Folks have poo-poo'd the Cubs offense for a long time, but what I see is a chronic inabilty to drive in runs i.e. strandiing guys at third and ill-timed K's and GIDP's, not to mention numerous baserunning brain farts.

On the potentially good bullpen, I think it depends on the longevity of our starters. We have decent starting pitching (great with Wood & Prior in the mix) but can these guys consistently give 6+ innings of work?

ZAMBRANO OF THE TCR!?!?!?! FREAKIN' SWEET!!!!!!!

Best thing ever said to me here!!! Thanks.

cubs just unveiled their new promo for the 2006 season. Time to get excited

http://www.hankhayes.com/m3u/eliapromo.m3u

It's a day early, but:

http://www.smithe.com/

if you can't tell by the URL in comment #52, they'll be some profanity

Vorare? What is that? I called the number and they answered. What gives?

day early is the key Chad....

RE: Offseason and current state of Cubs:

Plusses:
Cubs filled biggest holes on team (leadoff, bullpen), although not with as much quality as I had hoped. Also, they added at least two guys (Pierre, Jones) noted for work ethic and playing the game the right way. Couple that with holdovers like Barrett, Lee, Murton, Maddux, Cedeno it seems like the Cubs have a core of players who "get it".

Minuses:
One more impact player (Abreu, Tejada, Zito) and this team would be way more competitive, maybe even favored to win the division. There is no monetary or other resource (i.e. trading chips) reason why the Cubs could not have achieved this.

The Cubs make the playoffs if:
Z makes 30 starts
Prior/Wood/Miller combine for 70 starts
No major injuries to Lee, Ramirez, Pierre, or Barrett.

I see the Cubs making the postseason as a just worse than even money bet.

I'm surprised to find people still carrying water for Furcal, considering it would have been a 5 year contract to a guy we now know has a degenerative back condition.

http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?art...

just a head's up...cubs/sd @10pm EST on WGN tonite.

I got my beer ready for the game, drop by the parachat if anyone wants to talk.

Any chance they can get this season started a few days early? I can't wait till Sunday.

is the parachat safe, now?

from Will Carroll on BP:
http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?art...

The Cubs are ahead of schedule. Yes, I typed that correctly. Both Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are ahead of most estimates for their return. While both remain risky red lights, they're both making progress. My Cubs source says both are working hard on their individual programs, actually needing the Cubs staff to consistently hold them back a bit. Overdoing it isnít the best way to get healthy or stay healthy, but the spirit has to be considered a positive. Wood is a bit ahead of his late April return, while Prior is "well ahead" of the mid-May estimates some writers are giving as his target. The DL moves on Tuesday were simply procedural and say nothing about their timetables. Donít discount the depth of the bullpen in the future health of the Cubs starters. Speaking of the pen: the Cubs are also encouraged by the progress made in the past few days by Scott Williamson. Williamson had back spasms after landing awkwardly on the mound, and is now expected to be ready for the season.

is the parachat safe, now?

There was some concrete that fell off but we just put up some protective netting in the Parachat.

j.gerut returned to the minors by pitt...for those keeping track.

If the Cubs don't start winning fast, knives will be heard a-sharpenin' across the plains.

Prediction: Cubs look dead in the water in mid-May, Dusty gets fired, things turn around as season goes on and pitching ferments, and depending on how quickly the Cubs may have a shot at the Wild Card (ala 03 Marlins) but probably not. 81 wins would stump me on an over/under.

433,

It might only take one plane crash to put Cubs right in the hunt if that crash was the Cardinal and Astro planes colliding.

so what exactly does hou/stl and laughingly mil have that chicago doesnt have?

besides pujols...

Since you bring up Wood and Prior, Wade Miller was said to be 7-10 days behind Wood a week ago which would have him ready before Mid May.

crunch 67-
re the brewers:
bush was a good add to the rotation. davis and capuano both solid. ohka just fine as 5. lack of sheets to begin will hurt.

koskie-hardy-weeks-fielder nice infield. hall is a good super-sub, probably > neifi.

lee-clark-jenkins better than all central outfields except cincy.

bullpen good enough; turnbow may be a one-year wonder, just as much as dempster. the return of kolb still an efffect yet to be seen.

and i would love to have mike maddux in the cub dugout, either as pitching coach or manager even.

won't speak to the cardinal question; astros due for a complete bust.

Future Headline:
"Wood, Prior and Miller back...Weurtz, Gallagher and Williams sent to AAA"

And I can hear the complaints now....

Wood, Prior and Miller come back and Williams, Weurtz and Gallagher get sent down. Then the crying starts that Dusty doesn't play the youngters and pick the vets over them.

I personally think MIL is WAY OVERRATED!!!!

I would be willing to bet, they will be under .500 this year.

It might only take one plane crash to put Cubs right in the hunt if that crash was the Cardinal and Astro planes colliding. -- tbone

.... and the wreckage falls on the brewer plane, which is awaiting take off orders on the tarmac.

#42 of 60: By Chad (March 31, 2006 04:42 PM)
Phil I will bet you 1 Old Style that if Murton hits .300 or better he will have less than 20 homers. Or if he hits 20 or more homers his batting average will be .280 or lower.

And I will bet you another Old Style that he doesn't get 90+ RBIs under any set of circumstances.

----

CHAD: It would be worth taking that bet for an Old Style, even if I lose and I'm buying.

OK. I'll take the first bet. One Old Style, though, not a case. I'm not THAT confident!

I'll take the second bet, too, IF the RBI total (90) is based on a minimum of 145 games played.

The one thing I can't predict is a specific injury, so if Murton goes on the DL at any time during the season, all bets are off.

More about Matt Murton:

I see Murton as a very special player, a good hitter who is also a very smart hitter, quite coachable, somebody who talks to Greg Maddux about pitching, and with the capacity to learn from experience. So I rate Murton's expected 2006 HR/BA relationship as:

1. If he uses a inside-out line-drive stroke exclusively (as he did at AA last year), he would hit only 10-15 HR but he would also hit at least .325 in MLB. If he did that, he wouldn't strike out as much, and he could hit 2nd in the batting order. That was the Matt Murton I compared to Paul Molitor last year. I don't think we will ever see that Matt Murton again, though.

2. If he goes to right field with outside pitches but turns on inside pitches and drops the bat-head on 'em like the Big Boys do (and as he has been doing all Spring Training, especially in BP), then he hits 20+ HR and he can still hit at least .300. This is the Matt Murton I believe Cub fans will see in 2006. This Matt Murton will ultimately hit 5th in the batting order, will drive in 100 runs if he is used as an everyday player (with an occasional day off against a Roy Oswalt or a Jason Schmidt), and will be a very popular Cubs player. BTW, I believe Dusty likes Murton a lot, and will play him most everyday in 2006.

3. If he gets HR crazy and greedy and tries to pull most everything, he hits 30 HR and he can still hit at least .265 but with a lot of Ks. Hopefully, this Bad Matt Murton--Matt Murton's Evil Twin--has been banished from Wrigleville and will not be allowed into the Players Parking Lot.

Future Headline:
"Wood, Prior and Miller back...Weurtz, Gallagher and Williams sent to AAA"

Manny-
am i missing something??
is Gallagher breaking camp with the big league group???

manny #71-
i am willing to wager 1 american dollar with you on this. you get all brewer victories up to and including 80, i get 81 and over. deal, or no deal? (sorry, couldn't resist)

The bet is each for 1 (one) Old Style beer NOT A CASE.

Also I will agree to the 145 minimum games played only. DL or no DL.

Yes, Gallagher is breaking camp with the Cubs, but it's the watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher, not pitcher Sean. On opening day he'll take a sledgehammer to an effigy of Bartman. Sucks though, we had to outright DLee to get him on the 40-man.

#76 of 77: By Chad (March 31, 2006 07:56 PM)
The bet is each for 1 (one) Old Style beer NOT A CASE.

Also I will agree to the 145 minimum games played only. DL or no DL.

---

CHAD: OK. I can do that.

Southside:
"Manny-
am i missing something??
is Gallagher breaking camp with the big league group???"

Sorry man, I meant Sean Marshall, not Sean Gallagher.

But, if the Cubs pitchers are as injured as they have been over the past couple years, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sean Gallagher pitch with the big club at some point.

Last year the Cubs had an AMAZING 11 different starting pitchers (Maddux, Zambrano, Prior Williams, Rusch, Dempster, Wood, Mitre, Hill, Koronka, Leicester) go for them last year. I think 10 is very possible this year (Zambrano, Rusch, Maddux, Marshall, Wood, Prior, Miller, Ryu, Guzman, and Gallagher).

As a reference point, the White Sox ONLY had 6 different starters last year.

DC:
"i am willing to wager 1 american dollar with you on this. you get all brewer victories up to and including 80, i get 81 and over. deal, or no deal?"

DEAL!!!

Hope you are doing well man. Haven't talked to you in awhile. Hopfeully we will chat more now that the season is getting ready to start up.

manny: "Last year the Cubs had an AMAZING 11 different starting pitchers...As a reference point, the White Sox ONLY had 6 different starters last year."

A bit of context, though - 14 teams in the majors used 10 or more starting pitchers last year, including the Yankees (14), Red Sox (10), Padres (11), and the Nationals, who used the most (15). The White Sox were on the extreme other end, one of two teams to use only 6 different starters (can anyone guess the other team?)

Astros?

crap, wrong, but I was close, they had 7...

Close, Rob - they used 7... you're probably forgetting two very unimpressive starts by Brandon Duckworth at the beginning of the season.

found it, but I'll let people guess

btw, I only know this because I'm a total starting pitcher nerd and I log every start throughout the season :P

probably should of kept that to yourself Nate, you went from sports trivia guru to disturbing stats geek. :)

Kidding...

lol... it would have come out sooner or later

twins?

you're getting warm dc

FYI!!!!!!!!!!

John Koronka has been traded to the Texas Rangers. No word yet on who we're getting in return. Probably won't be reported til tomorrow, but we have indeed traded John Koronka. You heard it here first. Remember Drewdown

Drewdown with the scoop for the 2nd time this week.....

it's freddie bynum

it's on rotoworld.com

so long koronka...

the Twins had 8 pitchers start last year... in addition to Santana, Radke, Mays, Lohse and Silva, they had Scott Baker (9), newly DWI'd Francisco Liriano (4) and Dave Gassner (2)

Did the Rangers pick up Bynum from the A's on the waiver wire or something? That would pretty much assure Theriot of going to Iowa.

I would like to get in on the Milwaukee action. I would like to take the under 81 games please.

So Hendry got the Rangers GM to do the dirty work with Beane? Nice....

Bye bye Koronka....

So I guess that means Theriot will be sent down and Bynum will be the 25th guy?? Bynum only has 0.035 of MLB service time, so he still has options too.

Nate-
It was two different deals....

- Rangers acquired LHP John Rheinecker and infielder Freddie Bynum from the Athletics for RHP Juan Dominguez.
- Rangers acquired LHP John Koronka from the Cubs for infielder-outfielder Freddie Bynum.

All from Rotoworld...

#96 chad-
i'll see if i can borrow a second buck from my wife- i'm playin with house money hehe.

do not know bynum- if he were all that, why would beane cast him off?

The Star-Telegram claims that Koronka will move into the Texas rotation to replace Adam Eaton...

New post up on the trade btw....

Thanks Manny. I guess the trade of Dominguez makes Edison Volquez the 5th starter for Texas while Adam Eaton is out. Or maybe Koronka fills that role...

we traded John Koronka for him, he's not all that....

oh, and for the record, the other team who used only 6 starters last year was the Indians.

http://www.athleticsnation.com/story/2006/3/2...

Some Athletics Nation info on Bynum. Seems he can play 2nd/SS and OF. He athletic enough to play all those positions, but the jury is still out whether he can play any of them well.

Had a nice little spring. .373 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB, 17 runs, 5 BB, 12 SO.

Dont know how he fits into this team. A possible Cedeno insurance policy. -shrug-

you left out ".ierre"

lewis/fontenot/bynum/theriot...sweet. instant no-power depth.

dont give up on lewis yet...i dunno why the cubs dont like fontenot, though...not even a spring invite.

We can always sign Durazo for the power depth, lol.

For some strange reason the Angels are looking at him. It must be the Mexican connection between Moreno and Durazo.

Angels need protection for when Anderson hits the DL again this year and so does my fantasy team. :)

Hehe, but they got guys like Morales the Cuban destroyer, Kotchman, McPherson, for 1b and DH roles.

Well they might not even have that because Juan Rivera is going to get DH time as well, and then there is Tim Salmon.

They probably looking to sign him to a minor league deal and see if anything is left in the tank.

hell, the cubs practically stole freddy b, imo...but that's like stealing tony g. or colorado's l.gonz. as far as impact goes.

with neifi/cedeno/walker around...unless someone gets injured almost all of them are useless to the club at this point...except for maybe a few weeks in april and the month of sept.

Wow, the Rangers are in deep doo doo if they are actually thinking about using Koronka as their 5th! What is the over/under on 500ft bombs hit off him in Texas? Good luck in the AL John.

Koronka is actually pretty good at keeping the ball in the park, it's everything else he sucks at...

I read in the Chicago Tribune, I think in Mike Downey's column, that he expects the cubs to finish in last place in the Central. Now aside from the fact that Downey (and Phil Rogers for that matter) are baseball morons, and I rarely agree with them, I found this to be absolutely ridiculous. Did he forget about a little team called the Reds, their pitching staff, and their homerun friendly ballpark? Aside from that fact, the cubs won 79 games last year with almost every conceivable thing (with the exception of Derrek Lee's surprising 2005) going wrong for them. Now, Woody and Prior aside, I'm no statistician, but you simply cannot assume that the Cubs will be that unlucky for three years in a row (our glass shortstop, Nomar is gone, so there's a start). Therefore one would have to believe that the Cubs stand a good chance to win between 6-10 more games than in 2005. Lets break down their improvements and regressions:

Bullpen: Now, I don't have the exact figure, but the pen blew between 15-30 games last year. Taking into account that Dempster only blew 2 saves, and the cubs won both of those games, it is obvious that these games were blown by their incredibly shaky middle relief, and the very action of strengthening the pen will give the Cubs several more victories. Granted the pen is a crapshoot, but I think its hard to deny that we are in a better position than last year (between the many rookies, Borowski's injury, and LaTroy "gameblower" Hawkins making up the bullpen core). This year we have two solid (not great) new veterans, Demster set at the back (he will probably come down to earth, but its nice to have a gameplan already: we were pretty unsure of our closer at this time last year). Also, people seem to forget that Scott Williamson, when healthy, can be a monster bullpen presence, and is potentially their best reliever. They aren't relying on unproven youngsters for their primary setup men this year, and I think the results will be huge. Also, last year's setup men have the benefit of one more year of experience (although that doesn't change the fact that both Wuertz and Novoa need a map to find the strike zone).

Starting Rotation: This is, of course, the area with the most question marks. But again, the most important question is "are we better off now than last year". The answer, I think, is definitely yes.
1. We have Wade Miller, who is another one of Hendry's low risk, potentially high reward pickups.
2. Zambrano has lost some weight, and has yet another year of experience under his belt. He is starting to near the peak years of most baseball players, so I expect big things.
3. Maddux, after last year's disappointments, has reportedly really put a ton of work into his preparation for this season. This is clearly evidenced from the solid spring he's had (he's traditionally a better second half pitcher). I expect a resurgent (although not fantastic) season from him. I'm thinking 15-17 wins and high 3 or low 4 era.
4. We have interchangeable parts. Granted, none of our other options are exactly Walter Johnson reincarnate, but we have so many more options this year that we simply did not have at this time last year. First, we have several rookies that are close to ready for big league action. The Cubs are high on Sean Marshall, JK Ryu, Rich Hill, and Angel Guzman. There are, of course, issues with all of these pitchers, but last year coming out of spring they were all either injured, off the radar completely, or both. I personally don't think Rich Hill will ever be a good major league starter. Sure, he has a sweet curve. But what else. He has terrible command, a straight and highly hittable fastball, and really no third pitch. Plus, he's already 26, and basically getting to the days of reckoning for most major leaguers. Marshall is too inexperienced, but I'm really high on his tools: and when he throws his sinker on a good downhill plane, he will be hard to hit. Guzman has electric stuff, and was injured at this time last year. Aside from the rookies we also have Wade Miller, as I said earlier, and also Jerome Williams. None of these people were available at this time last year. I know that not all of these pitchers will have steallar years, but you figure at least one or two of them should be able to really put up decent numbers. The Cubs' strength lies in their many options.

Batting lineup: This is another area with a lot of potential problems, but again, its easy to note that, with all of the offense's problems, it is still stronger than last year. The addition of a leadoff man is huge. Pierre might not be the greatest choice, but he is still far, far better than the several cubs leadoff men last year. A terrible year for Pierre would still be far better than Cubs #1 hitters in 2005. I assume Derrek Lee will come back to Earth in 2006, but his numbers should definitely be better than 2004 and the rest of his previous career. If you look at his stats, he has gotten better almost every year. As his numbers drop, I expect Ramirez's numbers to rise this year. He is probably nearing or at his peak, and (since I really don't think you can assume injury in his case) he should be able to play more games, healthier. Finally, I really believe Matt Murton will be a big plus. His good stats aside (although he sure has hit everywhere) its his approach and mechanics that let you know he will be good. He waits back on pitches, has a very quiet quiet body while swinging, tons of leg power, good knowledge of the zone and a beautiful level swing that keeps the bat in the zone for a long time. When you remember the Cubs' left field situation last year, its hard to believe he wouldn't do better. Finally, the cubs have so many more speed options both in their lineup and on the bench. Pierre, Hairston (to some degree), Lee, Jones (same as Hairston), Cedeno, Pagan, and Bynum all have potential basestealing power to various degrees. This benefit won't always show up in the box score, but this gives the Cubs so many more options (assuming Dusty isn't too stupid to take advantage of them) and will potentially put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers.

All those things being said, there are, of course, several issues that could potentially be huge problems. The Cubs seem to love getting injured, although its silly to assume them (with the exception of Wood, and Prior) before the season starts. The Cubs are relying on several rookies/youngsters (but, when you think about it, they were relying on tons of rookie bullpen pitchers last year). I'm definitely not too high on Cedeno, or some of Hendry's signings (Perez and Jones) But then again, I would have been almost as annoyed if the Cubs had to waste as much money on Furcal as the Dodgers did (he's good, but not 5 years for 60 million good). A smart general manager (like Hendry....hopefully) should be able to take advantage of the money that they did not spend, at some point. The Cubs are probably not a World Series team this year, and I would probably give them about a 30 to 40 percent chance to make the playoffs, but stranger things have happened in years past. Think of the '04 Whitesox. Before the season began, they were seen as mediochre at best, which I still believe they were. They were the beneficiaries of great chemistry, players having career years (especially their pitchers. Before the season, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Dustin Hermanson, Neal Cotts, Cliff Politte, El Duque, and to some degree even Freddie Garcia were not exactly elite pitchers). I'm not going to be a huge optimist and say that the Cubs are a lock for the playoffs, but I'm definitely not going to be a pessimist either, and I know that this team is better than they were in '05. I am, however, incredibly optimistic that they will win at least 85 games. I feel like I've already written to much, so I'll stop. All I'm saying is, to the people projecting the Cubs to have a terrible year, please explain how they are worse than the fourth place Cubs of '05.

Correction: I noticed that I said '04 whitesox. I obviously meant the '05 Sox. Slight difference there...

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