Pre-Season Roundtable 2006, Part III

Time for the readers opinions; into the gauntlet are Andrew, Mike C., The Real Neal, MannyTrillo, Chad, Shawndgoldman, Nickelnights and Crunch. Donít fear, weíll get some other faithful readers the next go-around. Stay tuned for a historical look of Opening Day Rosters later today and a preview of our first NL Central opponent, the Cincinnati Reds, tomorrow before the big game. --------------------- 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? [MannyTrillo] I would give him a C+. He finally went out and addressed two of the GLARING holes from last year after many of us fans were screaming for him to get a leadoff man and a better bullpen, but he has left us still with too many question marks in the starting rotation. He did not properly prepare for the very likely injuries to Wood and Prior. [Chad] Huge improvements in the HORRIBLE bullpen from last year. I feel that we might win a game with a lead in the 7th if our starter has to come out. Outfield is another story. While I really like Juan Pierre, I don't see any upside to Jacques Jones over Jeromy Burnitz. [The Real Neal] I like the Pierre trade, even though I don't like Pierre - it was nice to see the Cubs trade two birds in the bush for a real ML player. Probably a bit of overkill with Howry and Eyre signings (even more-so with the way Ohman has pitched in the spring), and I like everyone else would have preferred a $12 Giles to a $5.5 Jones - but the outfield defense should be top-rate. [Nickelnights] Overall, I'd give Hendry a C-. It was a baron offseason, and what was available came at an extremely steep price. He did do a good job of fixing the areas he targeted, particularly lead-off and bullpen, and those things will help the team this year. However, I'm concerned that the signings could be costly 2 or 3 years down the road. We've seen what happens when you sign veteran relievers to long term contracts, and multi-year deals to the likes of Neifi Perez and Glendon Rusch are will pretty darn stupid. [Mike C.] Offensively the Cubs fell short again for a third straight year. The organization is still hell bent on winning 2-1 games than 5-2 games. Pierre and Jones are not going to produce any more runs than the guys they replaced. The only upgrade is that hopefully Pierre gives Lee and Ramirez more RBI chances. In the bullpen Howry was an OK signing but Scott Eyre was just plain stupid. The man is situational pitcher who might appear in a lot of games but rarely ever pitches a whole inning. For the money he is making he will be expected to perform more than that which could lead to trouble. [Crunch] Cubs took care of LAST season's issues. I'm not thrilled with 3 years of Dempster. RF came down to J.Jones vs. J.Encarnacion and I'm happy the Cubs chose Jones. Pierre and his cost was taken on at the expense of 2 pitchers, the highest of which was 4th-6th on the minor league depth chart depending on just how much you like Nolasco...I like the move. Eyre/Howry I am happy to have around in the pen for years. W.Miller was a hell of a signing and a stable gamble, imo. [Andrew] Of course, it's a bit premature to judge any offseason until you see how the new team peforms that next year. But, alas, I guess Christian can't wait that long to post our analyses. So, what were our needs this offseason? Leadoff hitter, bullpen help, and a lefthanded slugger, and Hendry was up to the task. He acquired the leadoff man (although he gave up Ricky Nolasco to do it, which is a crying shame and might have been unnecessary). He shored up the bullpen (although he gave too many years to Dempster, Eyre, and Howry). He signed a left-handed outfielder with some pop (albeit one with poor OBP skills and who should be platooned). Did he accomplish the main goals (more or less), without blowing a ton of money or minor-league talent to do it? Yes, more or less. That in itself probably deserves a grade slightly above average. Still... *yawn*. Forgive me for being unimpressed. There seemed to be no urgency to Hendry's moves, no drive to think creatively and work to construct trades that could benefit multiple teams. Instead, we signed or traded for the obvious players, which, while not bad, isn't terribly exciting or encouraging. So, adding points for his commitment to Cedeno and Murton and for the Wade Miller signing, call it a B minus. [Shawndgoldman] I don't think Hendry sufficiently addressed the team's needs, but i also don't blame him for not doing so. The biggest problems Hendry faced were the best potential acquisitions - B. Giles, Furcal, Tejada, Ryan, and Burnett - all turned out to be somewhere between undesirable and impossible. Giles gave San Diego a home town discount, the O's wanted too much for Tejada, and Furcal, Ryan and Burnett signed contracts I wouldn't want the Cubs to top. What is the one off-season move you wish the Cubs made? (Be specific) [The Real Neal] Jeff Weaver [MannyTrillo] I wish we would of gone harder after Furcal and signed him. He seemed like he wanted to come here and it appeared Hendry never upped his original offer. Hendry had the money to spend and still has it now and he never really spent it. Now we are stuck with a SS (Cedeno) who might pull a Bobby Hill and lose the spot handed to him after a HORRIBLE Spring Training both offensively and defensively. [Andrew] Not landing Furcal. Furcal was almost too perfect a fit for the Cubs: a veteran shortsop and leadoff man entering his prime years with excellent base-running smarts and aggressive base-stealing skills? Um, yes, I think the Cubs could use one of those. Yet, just as he had failed to handle the Sosa situation promptly the offseason before, Hendry seemed to slow pedal the Furcal deal and ended up losing it. While many might argue $13mm for Furcal is too much coin for not enough value, I tend to disagree. If there's one thing the Cubs have (or should have, at least), it's money, and paying an extra couple mil for a position player they desperately needed shouldn't have been a question. Perhaps Hendry's hands were tied, but regardless of who owns the blame, it's inexcusable that this deal wasn't made. [Chad] Rafael Furcal. The Dodgers should never have been in the picture. [Nickelnights] I love Atlanta's move getting Renteria from Boston. I'm not sure what the Cubs could have offered to get him, but I think he's going to bounce back in the NL, and he could have shored up one of the biggest questions on the Cubs. [Mike C.] Brian Giles - It was a long shot from the start. He loves San Diego, he hates the dimensions of Petco park. In the end San Diego won out over the ballpark. I still would of liked Hendry to atleast go out and make an effort to talk to the man and gauge interest. For all we know Giles was never on the Cubs radar. He would of looked nice taking 119 walks in front of Derrek Lee in the #2 spot in our order. [Shawndgoldman] Given the trade market for second basemen this offseason, i wish Hendry would have made an acquisition there. Luis Castillo was moved for peanuts, and Mark Loretta was traded for a catcher whose greatest asset (catching Tim Wakefield) won't materialize in San Diego. I think given that market the Cubs should have traded FOR a second baseman, especially if they were going to be shopping one of theirs. A close second to this is i wish they would have obtained a platoon partner for Jacque Jones. This would have significantly improved the Jones signing. [Crunch] M.Lawton for 400K off your bench (signed by seattle) and happy with that role...even with his bad time with the cubs last year (and his steroid thing), i'd be willing to have him around filling all 3 OF slots for 400-500K What is the one off-season move youíre glad the Cubs didnít make? [Mike C.] Preston Wilson - He might actually be pretty good in Houston, but after watching the free swinging Cubbies over the last couple years I would be sick to my stomach watching that man strike out 150+ times a year. [The Real Neal] Though I thought most of the TCR readers were too quick to dismiss the possiblities- I am actually in favor of keeping Prior and not trading for Tejada - (though I have to give Rob G a big 'I told you so' for when I wrote Prior is the pitching equivalent of JD Drew) [Nickelnights] I'm glad Henrdy ignored the calls to go out and get another starting pitcher. The Cubs already have plenty of young or mediocre veteran pitchers, signing another 2nd or 3rd tier pitcher (like a Jeff Weaver) won't make the injuries to Prior and Wood hurt the team any less. [Shawndgoldman] I'm glad they didn't overpay for another starter or a closer. Given the crop of young talent we're seeing this spring, we should be able to weather our annual spring showering of the dismembered limbs of Cubs hurlers. This also gives me confidence that we'll have the freedom to use Wood as a closer if Dempster fails in that role. Furthermore, we need to budget well for the next few years given the number of potential free agents we'll have going into the 2006 2007 offseason. [Crunch] R.Furcal for his going price...sure he would have been nice, but that's a 3-year commitment. [Andrew] Getting involved in the Ryan and Wagner sweepstakes. While the Cubs do have money, and while closers are certainly important parts of a ballclub, count me among those that don't think they should be making $10+ mm a year. And while he probably did sign them a year too long, the Howry and Eyre signings should prove to be very helpful in building a consistent and solid bullpen this year at least. Better than Braden Looper and Ricardo Rincon, anyway. [MannyTrillo] At this point I am glad they have not moved Todd Walker (even though I am not a huge fan). I don't think this has anything to do with Hendry though, but just other teams not wanting him. With Cedeno struggling, we just might need Walker's bat more than an upgrade in defense at 2B. 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? [Andrew] Good question, but I don't think the answer is the same for both men. Barring a total collapse, I see Hendry receiving an extension of two or three years around late June and definitely before the All-Star break. Despite his shortcomings (a dedication to veteran, multi-position players not the least among them), he has taken Cubs baseball to a level it hasn't seen in a long while -- a level of expectations. The fact that they've failed to meet those expectations can be arguably be attributed to other factors (injuries, egotistical superstars, etc.), not the least of which is, in my mind, Dusty Baker. That's tough to say because I like the guy, and to the vehement disagreement of many, I think he does have his strengths. But his inability to keep his team focused in difficult or tense times and his in-game tactical ineptitudes make it much more difficult to justify an extension. Short of a post-season appearance, I think Dusty and the Cubs will part ways. [Chad] If the Cubs tank, I think they will both be replaced by mid-season. If they do well, we'll seem them for a few more years. [MannyTrillo] This is the easy, they should ABSOLUTELY be tied at the hip and should NOT be given contract extensions UNLESS they make the playoffs this year. If they don't....BYE BYE HENDRY and BAKER!! [The Real Neal] No and No. This team is not the most talented team in the Central - it's probably the third most talented team, behind the Brewers and the Cardinals. I guess this sounds crazy, but if Pie doesn't pan out, I would let Hendry go. If the Cubs don't contend for a playoff spot into the last week of the season, I'd let Baker go too. Even though they're undertalented, Baker still owes us 5 wins from '04. [Mike C.] Hard to imagine them getting automatic contract extensions when they have been blow out of the division the last 2 years by the end of July and finished a combined 37 games behind the Cardinals in that span. If they sputter again how many GM's and Managers survive that kind of track record? Especially when 2 out of the last 3 years they were picked to go as far as the World Series? [Crunch] Dusty's future should lie directly in this season's outcome and/or general flow. There's not much tieing Hendry to Dusty except he's the guy that hired him and paid him too much to manage the team. Hendry's had a terrific track record of turning water into wine with his trading and his only enemy so far has been injury to those he does end up signing...and that dontrelle thing (though the cubs got some cheap/useful clement years outta it). [Shawndgoldman] I think Baker's success will be tied to the team's success this season, IF the Cubs remain relatively healthy once Wood, Prior, and Miller return from the DL. If more than one of those 3 is on the DL for 80 or more games, then I think Baker gets (another) free ride on the injury express. I think Hendry's fate won't be tied to the success of the season, unless he wagers his own job on Baker's performance, and ties his success to Baker's. [Nickelnights] Nobody's fate should be tied only to one year, you have to look at the body of their work. That said, Hendry is tied to the hip with McFail, and as long as he's running the team he'll have a job. Its harder to say with Dusty, he should have been fired long ago, yet McFail and Hendry seem to be happy with him. Ultimately, if this season is another flop, I think all 3 of them should be shown the door. 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? [Crunch] I wouldn't call Lee ordinary...just not extraodinary. He's a Gold Glove calibre 30+hr, .350+ob% 1st baseman with a bit of speed...that's 5-tool territory...and that's about all i expect out of him this season. [Chad] Not a freakin chance. [Mike C.] He will not repeat those numbers. Many Cubs fans will expect it, but he will not repeat it. Expect a return to .270-.290 range and be happy. [MannyTrillo] Unfortunately I think last year was a career year for Lee. But I don't think he will revert back to his previous career numbers. I think he will have some slippage from last year, but will clearly be a better player than before last year. [Andrew] Call me naive, but I'm optimistic. DLee's always had good skills and has been an above average player at his position for a few years. Last year, he turned it up a notch, and while I doubt we see v. 2005 again, I think he can remain very good for years to come. He's strong and athletic, plays wonderful defense, and only has a nagging left shoulder as an injury concern. And, while he may not readily admit it, I think the new stance /did/ have a positive effect on fixing the hole in his swing. The key for him will be to get off to another hot start and build some momentum into June and July. Despite the professional statheads' skepticism, I don't think we'll see a regression to 2004 numbers. [The Real Neal] I think he has reached a new level of play, but that level is squarely between his '04 an d'05 season. I would expect 3 years of .290 40 110 from him. [Nickelnights] I expect Lee to have another All-Star level season, though his numbers will probably be down somewhat from last year. He will remain among the elite players in the NL, but I'm not expecting him to compete for the triple crown again. [Shawndgoldman] Lee put up a ridiculously high BABIP in the 1st half of 2006, which was part of the reason for the insane numbers he put up during that time period. However, his season BABIP wasn't that much above HIS career rate, and he supposedly closed a hole in his swing, leading to more hard-hit balls. More encouraging than anything else is Lee has seen a consistent drop in his K rate over his career. Overall, i would expect some regression to the norm, but expect him to do better than a split of the difference between last year and his average career #'s. (See all this for yourself at the incredibly user-friendly www.fangraphs.com Second base; what do you do or better yet; what should have been done?PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS QUESTION WAS ASKED AND ANSWERED BEFORE TODD WALKER WAS HANDED THE BULK OF THE WORK. [The Real Neal] Trade the farm system for Soriano. Just kidding. I think Hairston, and if he cannot rebound from his 'injury plagued' '05 - Walker. [MannyTrillo] If Cedeno continues to struggle and/or Neifi is at SS, I say use Hairston and Walker in a platoon like situation. If Cedeno and/or the offense is producing enough runs, then I say go with the better defender and I think that is Hairston. As for what should of been done, I have said MANY times we should of kept Grudzielanek over Walker a few years ago and we wouldn't be having these problems. He is way better defensively, put up almost as good offense numbers last year and is a much better clubhouse guy. [Chad] Anything should have been done. The fact that we once again lead the league middle infielders who can't hit is excruciating. [Nickelnights] I don't even know why this has become such a controversial issue. Todd Walker is one of the better offensive 2b in the game, and the Cubs are lacking in offense. Walker may not be great defensively, but not the Alfonso Soriano that he's made out to be. This wasn't a question last year, at least until Dusty need to find a way to keep Neifi in the lineup, and it shouldn't be a question this year. [Mike C.] Todd Walker should be named the starter. He is an ideal #2 hitter who can drive the ball to all fields and has some extra base pop. For a team that needs offense badly he needs to be in the lineup. Walker makes Pierre better in the long run. [Shawndgoldman] I'm happy with Walker and Hariston at second base, but if we trade Walker i'll be miffed we didn't replace him given this offseason's underpriced 2nd-base market. We should be buying second basemen at this time, not selling them just based on buy low/sell high mentality. With what we have now, i'd employ the Hariston/Walker platoon suggested here often - use Walker when we have strikeout and flyball pitchers on the mound, and use Hairston when ground ball pitchers are on the mound. [Crunch] What would I do? I'd start Hairston in most games, T.Walker on every rest day, and get T.Walker ab's everywhere i could. What should have been done? No idea... While a platoon might work for the bats, it doesn't work for the real issue keeping Walker from the job as it is...his glove. No other team seems to want walker to DH or play 2nd as of writing this. [Andrew] Todd Walker was and is the best candidate to start at second base. Short of acquiring another one, his combination of getting on-base, hitting for power from the left side, and generally clean fielding makes him the best second baseman on the team, and by a good deal, in my opinion. What the Cubs should have done going into the season is tell Walker that he has the second base job to start the season but that they need him to work on his speed, defensive range, and especially his ability to turn the double play. Now that it appears likely that Hairston will begin the year as the starter, I'd be in favor of Rob G's idea of platooning Walker and Hairston depending on how is pitching that day. Hairston starts when Z, Maddux, or Marshall pitch, and Walker plays when Prior, Wood, or Rusch take the mound. Who will be this yearís surprises, who will be this yearís disappointments? [Andrew] For a surprise, believe it or not, I'm fairly excited to see how Kerry Wood comes back post-surgery. Many, including myself, have pointed to the fact that Matt Morris had similar surgery a few years ago and fully recovered from it, though never quite dominating again. It's true, however, that Wood's mechanics are far worse than Morris' ever were and his history of nagging injuries isn't encouraging. I think he could have at least a year or two left in him of starter viability, and hopefully he has a chance to shine again in the post-season. As for a disappointment, I think most of the Cubs' players are known commodities (aside from the rookies, of course, treated below), and thus Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre won't be shocking anyone if they have problems getting on base. I hate to say it, but I think the disappointment will again be injuries. Take your pick: Prior, Wood, ARam, or even *gasp* Big Z. I'll speak no more on the subject. [Chad] Surprises? Does ARam getting the MVP count? Cause that's what I'm going with. [The Real Neal] I predicted Guzman to be a big part of the Cubs with your prediction contest, and even though his Spring Training DIPS have been lackluster, I'll stick with that one. I think Cedeno is going to struggle for a few years hitting major league pitching. [MannyTrillo] Surprises: Murton, Eyre/Howry and Guzman and/or Marshall. Disappointments: Cedeno, Rusch, Williams and Wood. [Crunch] Suprises - the pen, M.Murton, J.Hairston, J.Jones, A.Ram Disappointments - Cedeno/Neifi comparisons, Dempster, Rusch [Shawndgoldman] Surprises: Jacque Jones, Juan Pierre, Greg Maddux, Jerry Hairston with the bat, and Kerry Wood. Disappointments: Ryan Dempster, Ronny Cedeno in the field, Aramis Ramirez in the field, and Mike Wuertz [Nickelnights] J. Jones could be a surprise, if for no other reason than most Cub fans expect so little from him. I think he'll outperform Burnitz, at least by a little bit. However, the biggest surprise, for much of the same reason, will be Kerry Wood. Despite being written off as a waste of 12 million dollars, he will come back by early May and win 10-15 games this season. The biggest disappointments will likely come from shortstop, where Cedeno will start to hit like Neifi Perez and quickly be replaced by Neifi Perez, who will hit like Neifi Perez. I'm thinking this could be the place we see another one of Hendry's trademark deadline deals. [Mike C.] Jaque Jones will be a surprise this year. Not many fans are excited about his presence on the team and I think people will come to enjoy him on the field every day. A possible disappointment could be Ryan Dempster, he still hasn't got his control problems fixed. Very lucky pitcher last year and baseball has a tendency to even out that luck. 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? [Shawndgoldman] I expect Murton to be a solid, everyday player that does nothing spectacular but is a key component to a large percentage of their wins. I see him developing into the ideal 2 hitter, and you may see him there by the end of the season. Cedeno i think will do well and will be an upgrade over Neifi offensively. However, i don't buy James's predictions (which would make him a candidate for the all-star game). I have even stronger reservations of his fielding ability, given his high error rate last season, in the Venezuelan Winter League, and the errors this spring. For us optimists that like to see Cedeno's recent success as a sign of some change in hitting approach and a predictor of things to come, we have to accept the possibility that his recent struggles in the field are also telling us something about what we can expect out of him this season. [MannyTrillo] I have tons of confidence in Murton holding up this year, especially if they keep in the #7 hole. Cedeno on the other hand is starting to remind me of Bobby Hill and could very well be a disaster and be benched by the end of April. I expect either Guzman and/or Marshall to step up big at some point this year and establish themselves into the starting rotation replacing Rusch and Williams. [Chad] Murton will be boring at best. I think he'll hit OK but easily replaceable. Cedeno? Not much of an improvement over Neifi. So I don't care if Neifi plays or not. [The Real Neal] Well, I just answered that. I think Rich Hill will make a big impact around the trade deadline, being a key chip to bring in a #2 type starter if the Cubs are flirting with contention. I think Murton is the next Keith Moreland ñ and expect him to put a lot of .290 25 85 seasons up. [Nickelnights] I think Murton will be impressive and be the first Cubs prospect to actually contribute to the offense since Jerome Walton. Cedeno could be in trouble, Dusty's lack of patience with young players is well documented and in spring training we've already seen him start to buckle under that pressure. He's got a great glove, but a questionable bat, and I don't see him as much more than a utility guy long term. Beyond those two, I'd have to say the pitching staff could have some youngesters step up. It looks like Sean Marshall will get the first chance to prove himself, but I expect to see at least some work by Guzman, Ryu, and others. Pie could also get his chance, if one of the outfielders gets hurt or severely struggles. [Mike C.] Murton should be fairly serviceable but expect around 15 HR, 60 RBI and a .270 BA. Cedeno should be fine defensively but Dusty is itching to play Perez. I wouldn't be shocked if Cedeno didn't make the team. If he does he probably won't last till the end of April. Beyond that I don't see anyone else helping from the farm that much. [Andrew] I see both Murton and Cedeno becoming fine everyday players in the majors...eventually. While both have earned the rights to their respective starting jobs, I do think both will struggle at times this year. Cedeno, while playing brilliant defensively, is bound to go through some Neifi-esque periods at the plate. And Murton, while generally hitting relatively well if not for a ton of power, will struggle with his defense. Still, I expect both to be around average at their position, all things considered. As for help from other youngsters, I think that Sean Marshall's stint in the majors will be relatively short (more because of his youth and the recuperation of the big guns than because of his performance), but that Angel Guzman will situate himself firmly on the club by mid-season. [Crunch] The only question i have about Murton is '15 or 30 homers?'. He can hit to all fields off any part of the plate and do it with pop. There is no safe place to pitch Murton. He's not Pujols or Vlad, but he covers a lot of plate with his bat. Cedeno i honestly see at this point in his career as nothing more than a Neifi clone who has trouble with the breaking stuff at the plate...great glove and a great arm even though it hasn't been all that great lately. Beyond those two, the only kids who could have much of an impact are probaly A.Pagan or A.Guzman. I'm a B.Sing (1st/OF) fan, but I have no idea when he'll get his first real shot at some ab's in the bigs. 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? [Mike C.] The one and only reason is that the Redsox won it, the Whitesox won it, so it has to be our turn right? Beyond that there is nothing that makes me believe this is our year. A lot of Cubs fans said that before the 2003 season, maybe they can surprise us again. [Chad] As long as Wood and Prior's health is in question then count us out. If Wood and Prior can combine for 55 + starts, then we have a shot. [Nickelnights] The NL Central seems to be down this year. The Cards have a lot more questions than they've had in the past few years, The Astros are an old team that's now a year older and without Clemens, at least for a few months, and the Brewers may simply need one more year before they really make a run. Its not out of the question for the Cubs to win 88-89 games, and that could be enough for the Cubs to slip into the playoffs again. If the Cubs can find a way to make the playoffs, they would be even more dangerous than in 2003. The Cubs could potentially have a playoff rotation of Zambrano, Prior, Wood, and Miller or Maddux. If the pitchers can stay healthy enough to get to the post-seaon, they will be dominating in a short series. [Andrew] The biggest reason that this is the year? Pitching. Everything will come together as originally envisioned, and good health will smile down upon the staff. Prior will be miraculously cured of his mysterious ailments, Wood and Miller will return to previous dominance, and Zambrano will pitch with cool and deadly brilliance. The bullpen will remain largely intact as Dempster, Williamson, Howry, and Eyre comprise the backbone of the strongest bullpen in the NL. With some excellent showings from Guzman, Hill, and Marshall to boot, the pitching will be as formidable as that of the 2005 White Sox. The Cubs will breeze into October and win it all. [MannyTrillo] The rest of the division took steps back and the past 2 years the Cubs were killed by injuries. If they can stay healthy (and I mean mostly Wood and Prior), they could easily compete for the division and/or Wild Card. [Crunch] Balance...with adequate supplies of power/speed/backup-talent scattered around the roster. While some may hate the starter situation, guys like Wood/Prior would be a lot of other club's #1 and #2 starters, and missing them would be instant doom...for the Cubs it means Zambrano and Maddux are the team's #1 and #2 starters. If all goes as plan, by May the Cubs biggest problem should be what to do with the 7 starters they need to find work for. That fact alone should drive interest in what possible steps could be in store for the club as the year progresses. T.Walker may not be safe from trade even if he does break camp with the club if this situation arises. [Shawndgoldman] I would argue the four biggest weaknesses from last year's team have all been addressed: OBP at the top of the lineup, a bullpen that can hold the fort from innings 6-8, a rotation too sensitive to injuries to pitchers with injury histories, and a weak bench. We now have: Pierre and someone better than Neifi/Corey in the 1 and 2 slots; a bullpen with well-defined roles come opening day (which also makes it Dusty-proof); good, young pitching that can step up while our best pitchers are hurt; and an upgraded bench, where Pagan and Mabry have essentially replaced Hollandsworth and Macias. [The Real Neal] I like Kerry Wood for comeback player of the year. And the biggest reason they should think that once again, come October, itíll be ìwait ëtil next yearî? [MannyTrillo] INJURIES.....Wood and Prior and ARam have been hurt a ton over the past 2 seasons and if they all are hurt again this year, no matter what Hendry or Baker do, they won't be able to save the season. [Chad] Prior and Wood's health. If they don't play we won't win. [The Real Neal] Mark Prior, who actually, is now making up muscles to strain. [Nickelnights] This Cubs team has the same basic problems that have led to the disappointing season of the past two years. Prior and Wood are hurt again, The offense has major question marks, and there is the distinct possibility that Neifi Perez will get another 500 ABs swinging in front of DLee and Ramirez. The Cubs have lacked the basics, with an inabilities to play fundamental baseball and a total void of leadership in the clubhouse, and I don't see how that has changed this year. [Mike C.] The rotation is in a complete mess. Since 2003 we have been a team built to win through our pitching. Then you look at the rotation to start the year and you see Zambrano, Maddux, crap shoot, crap shoot, crap shoot. Well that plan kind of sucks. [Crunch] Injury. While the team is ballanced, overcoming an injury to D.Lee or A.Ram would be a devistating blow to the 2 guys expected to contribute 70+HRs in the 3/4 slots. There's more power on the team, but its in the 15-30 realm, and not as reliable. [Andrew] The biggest reason this isn't the year? Pitching. Please forgive me for my answer to the previous question, I was temporarily giddy with week-before the-season-optimism. I've no returned to my typical state of disappointed resignation. As we have seen repeated the past few years ad nauseam, the Cubs will hang around .500 for most of the year, occasionally looking invincible and occasionally looking all too vulnerable. But with injuries and misuse, the pitching will be inconsistent and the offense won't be able to pick up the slack. The Cubs should be better than last year, perhaps even squeaking into the post-season, but the sight of Cubs' fans partying like it's 1908 will have to wait another year at least. [Shawndgoldman] We're already seeing injuries take their toll on this team, and if Aram or DLee go down for a significant amount of time, we're most likely trading guys come July. So, how many will the Cubs win this year? And how will it all end? [Mike C.] They might be lucky to get to .500. No one knows when the rotation will be back together or what the mediocre offense will do. If everything goes perfectly they could challenge for the division, but things have not been going perfectly so far. Still far to many question marks on this roster. [Andrew] The Cubs go 87-75 games and narrowly lose the Wild Card to the Mets. The Cards make it to the World Series yet again after a mid-season outfield pickup, but lose yet again to a much better team in the Oakland A's. But next year...ooh, just wait until next year. [The Real Neal] 92 wins, division crown (by 1 over the Brew Crew) and a WS loss to the Athletics. [Chad] I dunno, I say 92 wins. NL central title, NL Champs, World Series Champs. Then again, I say that ever year. [Nickelnights] Best Case, the Cubs win 95 games and walk away with the division. Worst Case, the Cub struggle to win 70 and hold off the Pirates for 4th place. My expectation, 83-81, 3rd place behind St. Louis and the Division Winning Brewers - but enough for some to cheer that Dusty lead the Cubs to winning seasons in 3 out of 4 years. [MannyTrillo] If the Cubs can get over 100 or more combined starts from Zambrano, Wood, Prior and Miller, I think they can win 92 games and win the Wild Card at WORST. If they are unable to get that many starts from them, I say the team will be .500 again and miss the playoffs and Baker and Hendry both should be fired and then the rebuilding begins. The season will completely ride on PITCHING. [Shawndgoldman] I'm in a good mood and don't have enough time left to be rational, so what the hell - the cubs will win over 100 games this year, crush the NL playoff teams like DLee's bat on a hanging curveball, get to the world series... and lose it in 7 games. [Crunch] If I knew, I'd never have to work again and the end of every season would involve yet another big win in Vegas...nonetheless...I'm gonna go with 87-90. I have no clue how all this will play out. The WSox won 99 games last year...who would believe that this time last year?
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Comments

Crunch: M.Lawton for 400K off your bench (signed by seattle) and happy with that role...

Lawton was busted for steroids last year after he was sent to the Yanks. His performance will be a big question mark.

I realize i never said which other young Cubs might contribute to the team, so here goes...

Although it looks like Sean Marshall will get a chance to be the team's 4th starter for April, i think the biggest impact the other young Cubs will have is through a mid-season acquisition, likely a SS. Given that our greatest prospects play at positions we're already committed to on the parent club, the biggest impact Pie, Marshall, Guzman, et al. will have this year will be getting us a power-hitting SS or corner OF before the trade deadline.

Levine stated on his baseball show that there is a rumor going around the league that the Marlins may have to trade D.Willis due to the money that he will be making in arb. coming up. He stated that it would have to be a swap for 3 top tier prospects. Wonder if Hendry has heard this and is on the line offering Hill, Marshall and Guzman because the Marlins need a few more highend pitching prospects...the Marlins and the Twins haven't quite cornered the market on them yet.

About a month or so ago (I'm almost certain it was AZ Phil) posted a really good column of the Cubs organizational depth chart. With all the trades and callups/send downs will we be seeing an updated version once the minor league rosters are finalized? The Cubs.com "official" version always seems to be about 2 weeks behind.

I'm sorry, way too many "predictions" in these Q&A's (and in the mainstream media for that matter) of the type "the Cubs will win between 70 and 95 games" and then the final guess splits the difference.

I don't care whether they are 100% or not, if Zambrano, Wood, Prior, Maddux and Miller are the rotation by Mid May, the Cubs cannot avoid winning 89 games with the players and even the dud manager they have now. If (pick two) Rusch, Marshall, Williams, or Guzman show up and surprise us, the Cubs cannot avoid winning the wildcard.

Wood, Prior and Miller ARE NOT INJURED at this point. They aren't "recovering." They are simply starting or restarting their spring training now and are four to six weeks behind the rest of the team. That is, IF CUB MANAGEMENT CAN BE BELIEVED.

This may be old news by now, but yesterday on ESPN 1000 Hendry confirmed that Wood will be ready by "the end of the month" and that Miller is "right behind" that schedule (whatever that means).

The Cubs were more specific last week. They said Miller was 7-10 days behind Wood.

According to the Cubs,

May 1 - Wood
May 10 - Miller
May 15 - Prior

Given that I am adamantly already on the record as stunned to disbelief that McFail, Hendry, and Baker have yet again failed to get the team ready to play by opening day, I am equally aghast at the shallowness of the comments in these TCR roundtables.

To believe the Cubs cannot contend this year, you have to believe that the Cubs management, Wood, Prior, and Miller are all lying about their health. You have to believe the three are still injured, or the surgeries were unsuccessful and they will have lost their ability to pitch, or they will injure themselves again before they return....all of them. And you have to believe the Cubs didn't improve their relief pitching, and that Pierre-Walker isn't an improvement over Perez-Macias (or one of the other disastrous combinations tried last year), and that Matt Murton isn't an improvement over Dubois-Holly, Pierre isn't an improvement over Patterson, and slim Aramis isn't going to be healthier than chunky Aramis, and trim Mad Dog isn't gonna be better than preggie Greggie was last year.

But if the Cubs are lying about their health, now's the time for those who claim to know these things to say so.

I am in the minority in that I don't think anyone is lying
though in the case of Prior it may be partly
wishful thinking since nobody really seems to know what
was that wrong in the first place or how it is fixed.

I am not sure why you would be mad at Hendry, Baker
&McPhail for not getting them "ready". Wood and Miller
both had serious surgery, rushing them would be a bad idea
Wood in particular often HAS to be restrained from rushing back
too soon as he often wants to.

Now of course it could all be giant hoax and Hendry is paying
off Wood, Prior & Miller to SAY they are Ok or getting there
when they are not but for those who believe the Cubs
just are just lying you have to include the players in the
equation. Again I often think BOTH management and
players have been overly optimistic in many cases
but not deliberately decietful

In line with my newfound positive attitude from the other thread...

Putting our cyncism to the side a bit, if the Cubs have a rotation beginning in May of Zambrano, Prior, Wood, Maddux, and Miller and all stay healthy and pitch to at least 80% (or other random highish number I pull out of thin air) of their potential, what's the best the Cubs can do?

I'll admit that the chances of this are relatively slim, but it seems that everyone is operating under the asumption that nagging injuries will cripple our rotation throughout the year. Certainly that's been a problem lately, but we could conceivably stay healthy this year, couldn't we?

That being said, our bullpen is looking awfully t-u-f-f tough heading into the year.

Call me crazy, but the lineup doesn't look too bad either. I don't think we'll have the greatest offensive production in the league, but we could be a top third team, couldn't we? That would mean just 37 more runs over the course of the year. The White Sox had 741 runs last season (38 more than us) and while that meant they had to win a lot of low score games, they did win 99 all together (and did pretty well in the post season to boot).

Could we be selling this team short in an attempt to protect ourselves from the nightmare of 2004-5?

CWTP --

I really like your post! And I am loving the profound optimism on this board in the last few days. This is the time for it.

Your post essentially says that unless there is some sort of conspiracy in play, it is logically impossible to assert that the Cubs won't contend in 2006. I choose to agree, and I don't care about the proof. In fact, I will take it a step further -- it is mathematically impossible for the Cubs not to contend in 2006....

Now that the offseason is over, I would like to hear from the people who thought it was a good idea to root for the White Sox to win the WS last year BECAUSE it would force the Cubs/Hendry to go out and spend more money and get more top players and feel pressure to win this year.

Unless I missed something NONE of that happened. The only good thing coming out of this season if we miss teh playoffs is HENDRY SHOULD BE BYE BYE!!!

MANNY SHOULD BE BYE BYE!!!!!!!!!

We know how you feel, Manny. But your boyfriend is on a hotter seat than Hendry is.

"the biggest impact Pie, Marshall, Guzman, et al. will have this year will be getting us a power-hitting SS or corner OF before the trade deadline."

Or we could have traded an overpaid hypocondric cry baby for one and let one the kids take over for him.

not a single mention by anyone- either thumbs up or thumbs down- about the cub catchers. seems to me the most marked difference between the 2003 club and the subsequent clubs is damian miller vs michael barrett. (in my completely subjective view, bako vs blanco is a dead heat).

miller's leadership and veteran calmness in the infield is sorely missed. barrett's bat is clearly better; if there is one position on the field where defense ought to be a priority over offense it is catcher. offense would be a bonus.

i think miller playing in milwaukee for the 2nd year will make their pitching staff even better than it currently is (definitely on the come good). and it is possible that the addition of the catcher to the white sox before 2005 (a.j.) was their best move of the offseason.

i guess i am surprised no participant mentioned the catching in the "what hendry left undone" segment.

rhyno...immediately following what you quoted i mentioned the roids thing.

my only hope for lawton is bench...3 possitions of it, too...sure he's not an everday CF or a sure-armed RF, but on the bench and with his new attitude, he'd be a nice gamble.

lawton's time spent with the cubs was anything but nice on the production end, but he's a man of seemingly good character who took it like a man when he got caught acting like child with his hand in the cookie jar. i don't see his steroid issue in the same boat as giambi or palmeiro.

i bet seattle will get their 400K's worth giving him 250+ab's, anyway.

its not the type of move i'd feel would put the cubs over the top, but i'd have a hard time feeling anything but joy if he could have been on the cubs bench for 1/2million or less. guys with less tallent than him get 500K-1m bucks every year.

Now is the time when Jim Hendry becomes one of the best GM's in the business. Others prepare better for the offseason but Hendry is great at gauging what other teams need. More importantly, he knows who teams have to get rid of. There will be a couple of contenders that will get off to horrific first halves. I have faith that Hendry will pounce and get some good deals to improve the club. Remember everyone, this isn't the same team that we will see on August 1st.

Guancous. What did hendry do last year to help the team midseason?

BiG John Stud:
"MANNY SHOULD BE BYE BYE!!!!!!!!!"

Don't you wish...

To bad how the Cubs do in 2006 will have no bearing on me going bye-bye. I am here to stay. :)

Thanks to Christian and the rest of the guys for being part of the roundtable.

Anyone else concerned that DLee still is signed to his extension?!?

Anyone else concerned that DLee still is signed to his extension?!?

He ISN'T signed, of course, and that's concerning.

I think he'll be signed tomorrow right before the game, just like Ramirez was last year.

calling AZ Phil, or anyone else who knows...

I just noticed this strange addition to the 40-man roster on cubs.com:

- Clay Rapada R/L 6-5 180 03/09/81

Wha? Who dat? Never heard of him, did we just claim someone off waivers?

Wade Miller is listed too, on the 15-day DL, and the 40-man stands at 41, so I guess someone must have been outrighted... I'm guessing Reyes or Moore?

Rapada is a pitcher, btw...

tomorrow:

dusty has announced tomorrow's lineup, no surprises after what we saw in vegas

Pierre
Walker
Lee
Ramirez
Jones
Barrett
Murton
Cedeno
Zambrano

tonight:

Let's Go Tribe!

dc60123.

i am with you on that observation. damian miller, every time he went up to the mound, especially when zambrano was pitching, had an incredibly calming and positive effect on the pitcher. i think his influence on our staff's effectiveness in '03 was painfully underestimated.

GL -- thanks for the lineup.

We need to give Dusty credit when he deserves it -- that is pretty much the optimal starting lineup with this roster. Let's hope he sticks to it for the most part.

Potential good news re: DLee's extension from Cubs.com:

-

Although it doesn't appear likely that a contract can be finalized prior to Opening Day, Cubs vice president/general manager Jim Hendry is confident that a deal can get done shortly thereafter.

Hendry said he has had numerous conversations with Lee's agent, Casey Close, regarding an extension and expected to speak with him again Sunday night.

"I don't think we're in an urgent situation where it has to be done by the first pitch," said Hendry prior to the Cubs' pre-Opening Day workout Sunday at Great American Ball Park. "I think when you're talking about multiple years and a lot of money, you're going to encounter some obstacles until the very end before you can finish it off."

Hendry, who termed the gaps in the negotiations to be "normal", is still holding out hope for a deal to be struck soon.

"We've got time to get something done," he said. "Whether it be tonight, tomorrow or Friday, it's not impossible. You're always one or two phone calls away. Maybe that's possible the next couple of days."

Henry Blanco has that calming effect on our pitchers as well, especially on Zambrano. Just a shame he doesn't hit enough to be a starter.

Clev ties it up 3-3...

F Burhle...F the White Sox!!!

forecast for Cincinnati tomorrow at gametime:

47 degrees
20% chance of rain
25 MPH WINDS out of the west. (aka OUT TOWARDS RIGHT FIELD....wow, get ready for another power showing in cincy)

get out the zambrano sinker!!!

also, it looks like it's raining now and will continue to rain until about 3 am.....great, the cubs get to start their season on a slick track....be sure to stretch, ARam...

According to rotoworld.com, the Devil Rays are still shopping around Joey Gathright for a "premium pitching prospect," which reportedly includes Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins.

My question is this: would you rather have had the Cubs sent Nolasco (alone) to the D'Rays in exchange for the younger, cheaper Gathright, instead of trading him along with Pinto and Mitre to get Pierre?

I, for one, don't think Mitre will amount to much in the majors, while Pinto will be servicable and Nolasco is somewhat intriguing. I just think if given a full season, the difference between Gathright and Pierre will be pretty negligible.

Another vote of confidence for D. Miller.
I really don't give a damn what Barrett's OPS is, he's a hideous catcher.

On the Gathright thing. Throw Angel Guzman at the Devil Rays and let Gathright be your everyday RFer before you go out and sign Jaque Jones. Cubs could still do the deal for Pierre.

How interesting would the lineup be with Pierre and Gathright going #1 and #2 in the order? That would be some exciting baseball.

interesting, just not very good

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