GAME 32 RANT
Eighth verse, same as the first.
You know, I've been calling for Dusty Baker to be fired for so long now that I can't get particularly exercised about joining the growing chorus right now. It's like this $^#&@ piece of property I'm trying to sell in California -- we found a buyer last September, but have had to deal with the San Diego County bureaucracy and a ludicrously incompetent buyer's agent for so long that when (if?) we finally do close, I'm not going to feel any joy or happiness, or really even relief. All I'm going to feel is a sense that this Thing that has been hanging over me is gone, and there will be a void that will, eventually I'm sure, go away and we'll just start to get on with our lives without wondering every day if this is actually going to happen or if we're just going to keep slogging along, waist-deep in stress, for the rest of our lives.
That's how it is with me and the Cubs at the moment. I'm not going to go back through the TCR archives and find all the times I and others wrote about getting rid of Dusty, but they are there. There are many reasons why I thought it was the right thing to do over the last few seasons, and all of those reasons still apply. In fact, they apply now more than ever.
It doesn't specifically have anything to do with the team losing eight games in a row, or only scoring 11 runs over the last 13 games, or hitting below .100 with runners in scoring position. Like I said the other day, Dusty didn't do any of those things, the players did. But the player who did it are Dusty's players.
Yes, yes, I know, Jim Hendry is the GM of the team. People in the comments have been calling for him to be fired, too, and I don't have a problem with that. A case can certainly be made that his moves, especially the ones made this winter, are a big reason why this team is as bad as it is. But, the moves he made before that (acquiring Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, for instance) are a big reason why the team isn't even worse. (And as an aside, can we stop with the "trade Aramis" talk, please? I understand the desire, as misguided as it is, to blow up the team and start fresh, but when you do that you have to have some building blocks left, and Ramirez is one of them. Calling for him to be traded is over-reaction, pure and simple.)
But back to Hendry, and Dusty. We're veering into speculation here, but I believe that the first two years of Dusty's tenure as manager were a battle over the direction of the team. Again, I'm not going to rehash all the posts that TCR writers, past and present, have made on this subject. I'll simply point out that there have been multiple occasions where Hendry has acquired, or called up, players and Dusty has basically just not played them. Eventually, instead of trying to find the best players available, Hendry had to adopt a strategy of trying to find the best players available that fit into Dusty's system
. One only need to look at the difference in manager's attitude and playing time with respect to Todd Walker and Neifi Perez to see what I'm talking about, but the Cubs rosters of the last few seasons are littered with other examples (Jose Macias, Ramon Martinez, Tom Goodwin, Lenny Harris, and Tony Womack, to name only five.) Now, after three years, Dusty has succeeded in putting together a team that has exactly the type of players he wants, both on the field (speed guys and free swingers) and off (strong work ethic guys who are good in the clubhouse).
And that's the problem.
Derrek Lee is pretty much the only guy on this team who doesn't fit Dusty's profile, and look what he did or the offense last year. He had a Positional Marginal Lineup Value (PMLV
) of 66.2, best in the National League, and was responsible for roughly six wins on his own, which means that the Cubs with a replacement-level first baseman last year go 73-89 instead of 79-83. Think about that -- with Jeff Conine or Shea Hillenbrand or Lyle Overbay at first base instead of Lee, last year's Cubs are the Reds.
That's all theoretical, of course, but this year's struggles aren't. Todd Walker has ably replaced Lee's bat (as much as can be expected) this season, but that leaves a hole at second, which is putting a struggling Jerry Hairston and a performing-as-expected Neifi Perez in the lineup. Add to that the fact that Jacque Jones is underperforming as compared to Jeromy Burnitz last year (using MLVr
), and Juan Pierre is actually putting up the same numbers so far this year as Corey Freaking Patterson did last year, and it's not hard to see why the team is struggling.
Obviously, the loss of Lee isn't the sole reason why this team can't score runs. They are, to re-steal a phrase I stole last year from Jim Baker, in a funk so deep George Clinton with a miner's helmet couldn't get them out (thanks, Glenn). But the salient point is this: because of the team that Dusty has pushed to put together, it will be more difficult to "snap out" of this phase than it would be with a differently-constructed team.
I need an editor. I'm pushing 800 words to get across an idea that could be expressed in seventy-seven, and I'm about to bury my lede, but here it is: the Cubs' current struggles are directly related to the team that Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker have put together. The problem is not that the Cubs' front office doesn't have a plan; it's that they do have a plan, and it's a bad one. They've had over three years to contruct the team according to their wishes, and we're seeing the results now. It's time for a new plan, and for that to happen the team needs new planners.