Cubs Roundtable Questions (Spring 2006)
Yesterday we got the opinions of the TCR powers that be, we now pose the same 11 questions to some of the finest Cubs bloggers out there. Former TCR writers Scott Lange(Gonfalon Cubs at Baseball Think Factory
) and Derek Smart(Cub Town
) once again grace us wtth their fine written word. Bleed Cubbie Blueís
Al Yellon, Ivy Chatís
Chuck Gitles , The View From the Bleachersís
Joe Aiello, and Baseball Prospectus
& The Juice
writer Will Carroll round out this whoís who of Cub fans and writers. Thanks for their time and see what they have to say about the 2006 CubsÖ
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? Mmmmm....donuts!!!
If everyone were healthy, the Cubs would have the cadre of top-level talent to contend for the playoffs. With Prior and especially Wood question marks, and the omnipresent possibility of injuries to Zambrano, Lee, or Ramirez, the Cubs desperately needed at least one more top guy. Instead, Hendry made the kind of moves that should be made by a team stacked with talent and needing only to plug one or two holes to wrap up a division title. Juan Pierre in center is a decent pickup, but not if he's expected to be one of the best hitters on the team. Likewise Jacque Jones, if he's slotted as a platoon outfielder and #7 hitter. As it stands, Hendry did not do enough unless every break goes the Cubs way.
I think Hendry did address the team needs. When you look at where we were at the end of the season, minus a leadoff hitter and no bullpen, we have improved in those areas. The loss of Furcal at the time looked like major egg in the face, but in hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise
with the status of Furcal's injuries still fairly uncertain. I'm happy with the moves Hendry made. Some may complain about Jones in RF, but what market was there for RF this year?
I'll give Hendry an incomplete here. He did address three glaring needs: centerfield, leadoff (the same player was acquired for both), and the bullpen. There have been some who say the bullpen isn't improved, but it clearly is, and one of the distinct improvements will come from a pitcher who was on the club last year, but didn't contribute much: Scott Williamson. Just as Ryan Dempster took a year to come back from his surgery, so will Williamson.
The offseason can only be described as disappointing. With a ton of dollars clearing from the end of Sammy Sosaís contract and Jeromy Burnitzís contract, with close to $3 million in new revenue from expanded bleachers, with Dusty Baker and Jim Hendryís contract coming to an end, and with success on the other side of town, you figured the stars were aligned for a big splash. Instead, a small ìkerplunkî was heard. When your best offseason acquisition is a pending-free agent centerfielder coming off his worst season in 4 years, you havenít had a good offseason.
Hendry seems to have tried the strategy that Larry Himes tried after Greg Maddux left: Spread the dollars around between several players. The problem with that strategy is that the team gets a few decent players but no difference makers. Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre instead of a Bobby Abreu. Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry instead of Billy Wagner.
And no Rafael Furcal or Kevin Millwood, players who were clearly need players.
Very, very frustrating.
This was, I think, an incredibly difficult offseason in which to have a substantial need for impact offensive players ñ clearly the spot the Cubs found themselves in. Beyond the couple of "Option A" folks out there, the pickings were incredibly slim, and that seemed to trickle down to the trade market, driving prices through the roof.
That said, I would have liked to see the team be more aggressive in
going after solutions in trade, particularly for the outfield. Brad Wilkerson in particular comes to mind. So, while I wouldn't say Hendry's holding a Haversack 'O Crullers, neither did he snare a Satchel 'O Gold.
He missed on Furcal and that stunned them. Ned Colletti really nailed them there. Getting Pierre was fine, dropping Patterson for nothing bothers me, but such is life. If Walker isn't going to play, itís past time to have dealt him. They overpaid for certainty in the pen and I'm not sure they're any better there. I just don't see the runs. Jacque Jones is the one absolute bust.
The one need that wasn't addressed was a power bat. That could have been
Rafael Furcal, though his power isn't as important as his speed or glove.
Jacque Jones is supposed to "fill" this hole, but this was not a good signing.
I suppose that given the current status of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, a
starting pitcher should have been on the shopping list.
What is the one off-season move you wish the Cubs made? (Be specific)
Fire Dusty? The team needs to consolidate itself rather than really "going for it" this year. I'd have really liked to see Grady Little as manager - give him a couple years to get the system working, integrate Pie and Murton, and then get the next Davey Johnson in to win. That's not how TribCo works though.
If it were me, I think I would have gone after a SP with a little more aggression. I would have targeted a guy like Kevin Millwood and brought him in to help solidify a rotation that appears to be in shambles.
Clearly, the offseason move I wanted the Cubs to make was to get Juan Pierre. Unfortunately, I wanted that move to be made in the winter of 2004. While getting Pierre is still an excellent move, sadly, the Cubs needed more moves that werenít made to push them over the top. Those moves would have included getting Billy Wagner (and making Ryan Dempster the primary setup man) and adding Kevin Millwood. At the time, it appeared that Millwood was going to be a luxury. Now, it seems pretty clear that the Cubs knew they were going to be two men short in the rotation (Wood and Prior). Not getting Millwood, or a similar starter, sure seems dumb now knowing the injury status of the rotation. Howry and Eyre seem to be decent acquisitions, but Iíd have rather seen the Cubs pass on those two decent pitchers and get the excellence of a Wagner.
Signing Rafael Furcal. Now, we can (and have) discussed the dollar/year
figures of the contract that Furcal supposedly was offered by the Cubs, and
the one he eventually signed with the Dodgers. I think Hendry made his best
offer and the Dodgers trumped it with a larger per-year amount.
Furcal, for his part, seems to have been told by his agent to take a shorter
deal and cash in again in three years. That's risky, but it might work for
Although, I think it's clear from events that it would have never come
to pass, I truly wish the Cubs would have found a way to bring Brian
Giles on board.
I'm not sure if it qualifies as a move, but it would have been nice if Prior and/or Hendry would have been honest with each other and themselves about his condition. The lack of honest, forthright communication within the organization is both intensely frustrating for fans and crippling to the team's well-being. An accurate appraisal of Prior's health may have led to differences in Prior/Tejeda trade negotiations or even a potential signing of or trade for another starting pitcher. As is, the rotation will be a patchwork on opening day and perhaps beyond, and the team only started to deal with that
possibility two weeks ago.
What is the one off-season move youíre glad the Cubs didnít make?
I am glad we did not make the move to re-sign Nomar. When we brought him in, he was the right man for the job, but it's time to move on. I'm excited about seeing what "Bones" Cedeno can do with the everyday job. If he can hit anywhere near the level he did in winter ball, we're in for a treat.
Signing Furcal for the money it would have taken. An upgrade at short would have been welcome, but $13M per year is simply far too much to pay for a .750 OPS shortstop. The contract would have been crippling for years to come.
Despite the fact that the Cubs can now use a starter, I'm glad they didn't spend $60 million on Kevin Millwood. He's a league-average pitcher who led his league in ERA and thus, got a big-money deal out of it.
There's a pretty good chance he'll wind up on the DL this year.
Not signing AJ Burnett. Good move and one they flirted with more seriously than is generally known.
Alfonso Soriano for second base. The only guy who lets more get past him is Jocelyn Thibault.
Any time a rumor surfaces implying that the Cubs might acquire Alfonso Soriano, I feel like I did that time I ate a whole jar of Moe's special pickled eggs.
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?
I have this recurring nightmare. The NL Central starts slow. As summer approaches, the Cubs are four games over .500 and hanging near the division lead. Hendry and Baker are extended. Then the wheels come off- Prior and Wood go on the shelf. Todd Walker is benched. Our last outfielder slips below an .800 OPS. The lovable young Brewers win the division, the Cards take the wild card, and the Cubs are 79-83 again and saddled with the current regime for the forseeable future.
Hendry will get an extension. I believe the Cubs will take a wait and see approach to Baker for two reasons. 1) Failure generally leads to firing, so the Cubs want to see where Baker takes this team. 2) Baker has said before that he isn't sure he wants to be back after his contract is up. Obviously
winning heals a lot of wounds, but I just don't see Dusty Baker coming back
after this season. I think he sticks it out the whole year and then goes his
own way at season's end.
I had thought Hendry would have received his extension by now, and then he would have signed Baker. Having had this not happen, I believe upper management is now waiting to see what kind of start the team gets off to. If by Memorial Day, the Cubs appear to be contending, I believe the extensions will be granted.
I would hope there would be some form of accountability for the organization's failure to make good on the promise presented by team's
core talent, but I'm dubious that such a thing will come to pass.
Certainly, I'd think if the team manages to do well that extensions will
be automatic, but I'm less optimistic that similar standards will be
applied in reverse.
Hendry should be extended. Baker should not.
If not -- I do NOT think they'll be fired midseason. I think they're here for
the balance of the 2006 season.
Itís clear that Andy MacPhail wants to give Hendry an extension and Hendry wants to extend Baker. Thereís two issues here: 1) Do they deserve the extensions right now or later in the year; and 2) Why havenít they gotten extensions already?
On the deserve mark, the answer is clearly no to right now. Baker should have been fired after the 2004 season when he allowed Steve Stone to distractions the team from actually focusing on the game. Baring a playoff appearance this year, Dusty needs to go.
Hendryís been a decent GM, but has serious flaws. He allowed the team to go leadoff-less for three straight years and only got Kenny Lofton (and the associated playoff spot) by the shear good luck of Corey Pattersonís shredded knee. He failed to add to a weak bullpen for three straight years. He failed to add to the rotation this year.
Why should a man who leaves obvious, gapping holes in a team be allowed to keep his job without having to prove himself during the final year of his contract?
Both men should have to earn their contract extension through their 2006 performance.
Now, the ìwhy havenít they both already been extendedî is a much more interesting question. As mentioned, clearly MacPhail wants to keep both Hendry and Baker as letting either go would signal that MacPhail is directionless. Therefore, thereís only one possible explanation. MacPhail is getting pressure from above not to extend the contracts.
Now, why would he be getting pressure? There are a few logical answers. One would be the decline in attendance and TV ratings last September, an indication of a fan base ready to end the party of unquestioning support (and ticket buying). The Tribune doesnít need falling profits at another division.
Another, more hopeful reason, could be this: The Trib is preparing to sell the team. In such a case, they would not want any long-term management contracts in place as a new owner will want his own GM and that GM will want his own manager.
Watching how this plays out may be the most exciting part of the 2006 season.
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?
I think it is very likely that last year was the best year Derrek Lee will ever have. I expect he'll retain some of last year's explosion,
but as well-established as he was at the levels of 2000-2004 its hard to
imagine this much of a leap being sustained entirely.
I think he puts up virtually the same numbers, which would actually be a letdown when you figure that this year we'll actually have guys on base for him to drive home. Last year he should have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 130-140 RBI, but instead barely cracked 100. I look for the same type of numbers with a drop in the batting average.
Lee appears to be an unusual player in that he has taken an established level of play for several years, abolished it, and set a new level of performance. Will he hit 46 HR again? Probably not. But even if he declines 10% off BA and HR, with better hitters ahead of him, he should drive in more than 107 runs, which is one of the lowest totals in ML history for anyone who hit 46 or more HR.
He may not get to 2005 levels again, but neither will he decline to pre-2005 norms.
The answer is likely in the middle. I do not think Derrek Lee will conclude his days in baseball known as an average player. But to expect him to put up MVP like numbers going forward is not reasonable. I expect heíll revert to about .290 / 38 / 110. And, if Pierre gets on base at his historical .355 rate and Neifi doesnít bat second, that 110 could go to 125.
Neither. I think Lee settles in as a squarely above-average first baseman for the next few years, and while he won't be the same kind of
dominant he was for much of last year, I think he'll split the difference and even be, say, 10-20% closer to that level over the next couple seasons than to where he was pre-2005.
Peak. He's still very, very good, but how many people repeat that kind of year?
Second base; what do you do or better yet; what should have been done?
Two words: Todd Walker, with an occasional relief from Jerry Hairston, will be just fine.
Todd Walker is the only second baseman the Cubs have who can make the position a strength for the team. It would be all right to give Hairston or even Neifi the occasional spot start with Maddux (i.e. a non-strikeout pitcher) on the mound, but a healthy Walker should start 130 games at a minimum.
Todd Walker should start at second given the options available. What SHOULD have been done is a free agent short stop should have been signed allowing Ronny Cedeno to play second. That short stop could have batted lead-off or in the two hole and probably lowered the cost of acquiring Juan Pierre.
Anyone know a short stop that fits that bill?
Todd Walker is the better hitter. In my opinion, with the pitching the way it is, we need the offense. Walker has got to be the guy. I think he's caught a lot of flack for poor fielding that really isn't justified. He's not a great fielder, but he's not as bad as people make him out to be. What he lacks with the glove, he makes up for with the bat, and that is what we need this season.
Use Walker when Prior, Zambrano and Wood pitch (assuming they pitch ...) because defense/fly balls don't count as much then. Use Hairston or even Neifi when Rusch, Williams, and Maddux are up.
What do I do? Or better yet, what should be done? Thunderdome
. Three men enter, one man leaves. At the end, Walker triumphs (Waaaaaaaalker), and as the battle comes to a close, with Neifi! firmly in Walker's grasp, in that moment just before Todd snaps Neifi!'s neck, he looks up into the gathered horde of onlookers, finds the beady eyes of his manager and says, "Who run Bakertown?"
Who will be this yearís surprises, who will be this yearís disappointments?
I think Pierre won't be as good as most expect, that Jones will suck raw eggs through straws, and that Murton will get jerked around enough to look worse.
I could say that Matt Murton will be a surprise, but I think he's done well enough this spring that he can't sneak under anyone's radar. I believe that he "gets it" -- and I've been flamed for saying that -- and that "getting it", as far as playing major league baseball, is just as important as natural talent.
Predicting who will "surprise" at this juncture is a crapshoot. A year ago,
Nomar Garciaparra was hitting balls all over Arizona. Would anyone have
guessed that he would hit .157 in the first three weeks and then get hurt?
I hate to be a pessimist, but I see precious few potential positive surprises. Most of the team is either well-established at their current levels and unlikely to break through (Jones, Barrett, Pierre), or playing at such a high-level that a dramatic fall is more likely than a surprise improvement (Zambrano, Ramirez, Lee.)
Sean Marshall will surprise some people this year if he can stay healthy. He has a good makeup and has always put up good numbers in the minors. If he can win a spot in the rotation this year, I think you'll see good things from him.
Juan Pierre's stolen base numbers will be a disappointment. There is no way
he breaks 50 like he did in Florida. Bakerball just doesn't allow for it. It
never has in Chicago. I hope I'm wrong on this one, but I see JP stealing
around 30-35 bases this season.
If there are any good surprises, I think they're likely to come out of whichever of the batch of young pitchers gets their shot in mid-April.
Depending on how long it takes the Ambulance Buddies to get themselves
ready, they at least have the most obvious chance to make a big impact.
As far as disappointments go, I think those two new and expensive
relievers aren't likely to be all the organization thinks they are.
Beyond seeing a rookie like Felix Pie come up to replace an injured Pierre or Jacque Jones, or replace an injured or traded Matt Murton, I canít see a position player being a surprise. Perhaps expectations from Jones are so low that a .260 season out of him could be considered a surprise.
Jacque Jones leads the likely disappointment list followed closely by Bobby Howry who had every bit the career year last year that Derrek Lee had.
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 could make the "sexy" pick at this point and pick Sean Marshall. Marshall's thrown well in spring training and appears to have great mound presence and a fine curveball; he needs more innings and consistency.
Here's an off-the-wall pick: Jae-Kuk Ryu. It appears, at this writing, that
Ryu has a pretty good shot at making the club out of spring training in the
bullpen. If not, he'll be the first callup and might, given all the rotation
injuries, have a chance to slide into the starting rotation.
I think Murton will settle in with a league-average kind of season- no All-Star appearance, but a perfectly adaquate performance just the
same. However, I fear too much is being asked of Cedeno too soon. In three seasons at three different levels from 2001-2003 his OPS was under .600. He looked better in 2004 and much better in 2005, but its easy to imagine a young player without a long resume of minor league success playing more like his old self than his new self. If he can sustain the improvement he's shown he could yet prove to be a star, but I'm not optimistic.
Between Dusty's distaste for pushing youngsters and the lack of attractive candidates, the only spot I see for another rookie to make an impact is a potential fifth starter. At this point its little more than a shot in the dark, but I'll be bold and guess Sean Marshall gets fifteen starts and performs fairly well.
Ronny Cedeno gives you hope for a breakout. Thereís no reason he canít and plenty of reasons to think he can. He looked good in spurts last year and his minor league track record suggests heís getting better as he ages. This is a marked difference in minor league performance from our dearly departed center fielder who gave you every indication on the way up that he had Fosbery written all over him.
Murton, I expect, will have a fine season with the bat. In the field, ehÖ Heís a prime candidate for a trade this year. Given the long contract gifted to Jacque Jones, the presence of Juan Pierre, and the coming of Felix Pie, thereís not room for all of them. Jones is untradeable. That means that, unless Pierre goes away via free agency, either Pie or Murton is trade bait. Murtonís older and the weaker fielder. Heís most likely to go.
I have a, perhaps, unhealthy level of man-love for Murton, and I think he'll be a good approximation of what he was during his time with the club last year, if with a little less power. Cedeno, on the other hand, I can see having a bad enough time at the plate to lose his job.
Beyond those gents, I'd think Marshall, Guzman and Ryu have the best
chance to be the Little Bears That Could.
I think we'll see a lot more Neifi! and Marquis! than anyone really wants to see. I think Angel Guzman will crack the rotation by the end of the year.
Murton just flat out knows how to hit the baseball. I expect him to compete for the batting title on numerous years in his career. I look for a .300+ average and OBP in the neighborhood of .380. He has a tremendous knowledge of the zone and a hunger for hitting knowledge. Those qualities will make him a great hitter.
Cedeno will start off slow and then pick up his game. He won't have dazzling
numbers, but he will be good enough to make a difference for this team. I
just really hope people have patience and give him the benefit of the doubt
in the beginning if he starts slow.
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?
If, if, if: the biggest word in the English language. IF Kerry Wood and Mark Prior come back to 2003 form, the starting rotation suddenly becomes the best in the division.
Yes, I realize that's a longshot. But we're talking hope here, right?
Further, Aramis Ramirez is hitting everything in sight in Arizona and appears
to be in top physical condition. If I had to pick someone in baseball to be primed for a breakout season, it'd be Aramis. And you're going to say -- how
can someone with three 30-HR, 10O-RBI years have a "breakout" season?
This could be the year that Ramirez has the sort of year that Derrek Lee had
in 2005. If he does, and if Lee even comes close to what he did last year,
the Cub offense will be significantly improved.
The curses are unwinding in reverse order: Red Sox, White Sox, now itís the Cubs turn.
As to a real reason why fans should be hopeful? I canít think of one. The only reason to have hope is illogical.
We're improved from last year and the NL is wide open. All it takes is some extra offense and we'll be right back in the hunt. Have faith and believe that this is our year.
Because stranger things have happened? Random chance demands it? No, I don't think this is the year.
Front-line talent. There might not be another team in baseball with a better core than Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Lee, and Ramirez. If only they were all healthy...
The season is unlikely to be interrupted by a civilization-ending meteor strike.
And the biggest reason they should think that once again, come October, itíll be ìwait ëtil next yearî?
The mediocrity most everywhere else on the roster. Either by lack of options or a preference for inferior options, the Cubs will likely get league-average performance or worse from second base, shortstop, all three outfield slots. Among the starting pitchers, only Zambrano is both capable and healthy.
Injuries have and will continue to kill our pitching staff. It's too the point that we need to plan for 8-10 SP so that Dusty can break 4 or 5 of them and still leave us with able arms.
Not enough pitching depth; again, poor lineup selection by Dusty Baker results in too few RBI opportunities for Lee and Aramis Ramirez; poor performances out of the bullpen; Ryan Dempster not continuing his save success from last year.
If those things happen, it'll be a long summer on the North Side.
Lack of quality starting pitching. With Mark Prior long tossing a distance shorter than the mound-to-plate distance, Kerry Wood on the DL for the 10th time, and Wade Miller a reclamation project, counting on Glendon Rusch, Greg Maddux, Sean Marshall, Angel Guzman and Jerome Williams is a level of faith that would make Jimmy Swaggart blush.
Not. Enough. Runs.
So, how many will the Cubs win this year? And how will it all end?
I think we were unlucky at turning hits into runs last year, so 79-83 was a bit unfortunate. I think Pierre will be an improvement in center, almost by default. Beyond that, barring a medical miracle with Prior and/or Wood, I don't see much reason for optimisim. I'll say 84-78, tied for third with Houston. We'll be eliminated from playoff contention on Sep 22, in Cincinnati, in the rain.
The Cubs will win 91 games and squeak into the Wild Card. They will get by the Braves in round one because, hey, it's the Braves. Then they will be matched up against the hated Cardinals who will out pitch, out hit and out manage the Cubs in a 4 game sweep.
Iíve got them between 78 and 83 wins. How will it end? Badly.
This is a squarely mediocre club, and while I engaged in active pessimism in my last couple of responses, there are enough talented pieces in place that, should they hit on all cylinders, they could make a run at it. That said, the likelihood of such fortune befalling this group is remote, and I'd peg them at the moment as an 82-win squad, who will finish the season mid-division, wondering, once again, why they weren't better.
72-90, Maddux traded to a contender at the deadline, Ramirez continuing to decline, and drunk people in the stands trying to figure out why the bleachers look different.
I'm not one of those people who think that the Cubs are consigned to no better than third place "because of the Cardinals and Astros". Both of those teams have significant holes they didn't have a year ago. Are the Cardinals still better than the Cubs? On paper, they appear to be.
But that's why they play the games.
I think the Cubs can win between 85 and 90 games, and that ought to, at the
very least, put them in competition for the Wild Card.
And after that... as the Astros showed last year, and the Red Sox the year
before, if you just get in, you can get to the World Series.
Yes, I'm a dreamer. Why be a fan if you're not?