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!!!
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.
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.
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-.
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
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)
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.
Sign Rafael Furcal
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.
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?
Given what the Dodgers had to give Rafael Furcal to land him, I'm glad the Cubs begged off.
Trade for Alfonso Soriano
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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).
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
A weak division and the fact that anything can happen in the playoffs.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
87 wins this year. Itíll end on the first day of October with a meaningless win over the Rockies.
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.
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.