Let's finish up our look back at the 2006 season with roundtable responses from Derek Smart of Cub Town
, Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue
, and Chuck Gitles of Ivy Chat
. Not surprisingly, there are some significant differences among the three of them when it comes to what the Cubs need to do this off-season. But, there are some pretty solid agreements as well.
1. Dusty, Dusty, Dusty, is there any reasonable scenario that you can see him staying? And if he does go, sum up his tenure in 2 sentences or less.
Define reasonable? If we're leaving aliens, rips in the space/time continuum, sordid photos of Andy MacPhail with a jar of mayonaise and their ilk out of the discussion, then I can't envision an extension of Dusty's reign.
In summation, his strengths were supposed to outweigh his weaknesses, but those trumpeted positive attributes turned out to be so only in the relative sense. Evaluate his qualities as a manager in a vaccum, and they're all weaknesses, each exponentially more crippling than advertised.
If the operative word is ìreasonable,î then, no. I see no scenario that has Dusty Baker staying in Chicago past the time his plane departs for California next week.
Sentence 1: From the moment you said, ìWhy not us?î through the time you shouted down Tony LaRussa in that five game series in September 2003, you made me proud to have you as the Cubs manager.
Sentence 2: From the time after Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS when you sat Darren Baker on your lap to shield yourself from hard questions (like, ìWhy didnít you use Matt Clement instead of Dave Freaking Veres?î) through game 162 of the 2006 season, Iíve never been more embarrassed by a Cub manager in my life.
I don't think there was a scenario under which he could have stayed once the All-Star break hit; there were just too many negatives.
The summary, I can do in two PHRASES:
A beginning of hope, and an ending of bitterness.
2. Assuming Dusty joins the unemployment line, what do you want out of the next Cubs manger in terms of personality and qualities. Is there an individual you have in mind?
Sentience would be nice. A modicum of cognizance, perhaps? How about this: the ability to differentiate between good players and bad players. That'd be a switch.
The sad thing is, I don't really have anyone in mind. I've heard all the same names bandied about that the rest of us have, but no one in particular strikes my fancy, and my confidence level in Hendry is such that I assume that whomever he chooses, for whatever reason, will end up being the worst possible man for the job.
I wanted Fredi Gonzalez, but he was taken by the Marlins before anyone else could interview him, which shows you how good a candidate he is. I think he will succeed there, since he has a very talented team.
Joe Girardi, the "popular" choice, has baggage, and is viewed as a "my-way-or-the-highway" type of guy. Some would argue the Cubs NEED this sort of thing, and they may, although next year's roster is likely going to be comprised very differently from this year's. Girardi's no-facial-hair edict got silly when he made Andre Dawson -- who works in the Marlins' front office, for heaven's sake, not even on the field -- shave.
Obviously, he got this from the Yankees and Joe Torre's rules. But the Yankees don't win because they are clean-shaven; they win because they have talent. This isn't the Marines, it's a baseball team.
Now, can Girardi adapt to a different situation? He's smart enough to, without question. He would also be a very POPULAR choice, very similar to what the White Sox did when they hired Ozzie Guillen. Girardi has one more year of managerial experience than Guillen had when he was hired, otherwise their experience levels are similar.
I am not sure at this time who my #1 pick is, since my former #1 pick, Gonzalez, is no longer available. I can tell you who I do NOT want -- another recycled fifty- or sixty-something, PARTICULARLY not Lou Piniella.
Logic and honesty are the two qualities the next Cub manager needs to have.
3. At what point did you give up your playoff aspirations for the 2006 Cubs?
Well, I imagine most respondents here will say "last December". I thought once they got off to a good start they might have had a chance. The loss of Derrek Lee was devastating, and the failure to replace him adequately doomed this club by mid-May. It's unfortunate, because as we saw, playing .500 ball kept you in the NL wild-card race this year till the final weekend.
Well, there was December 3, 2005 when Rafael Furcal signed with the Dodgers. Then there was the signing of Jacque Jones on December 20, 2005. There was the not-injured-but-heís-just-not-practicing of Mark Prior in February and March of 2006. There was the Kerry Wood and Wade Miller and the illogic that they would be ready in May only to have them ready for never. There was the lack of a trade for weeks after Derrek Lee broke his wrist.
But, if you want to pick a day when you could tell the actual, on the field team was dead, that was May 4, 2006. The Cubs blew their game that day against the Diamondbacks with a performance more lifeless than Judy Baar Topinka. The embalmer showed up the next day at Wrigley and it was over and out for 2006.
Sometime in May. Early May. I don't like to latch onto an event like the breaking of Derrek Lee's wrist as a point of demarkation. Besides, even though it's safe to say the club's chances were next to nothing after that night, I like to see what can be made of what remains before I toss it in. That said, it was abundantly clear after a week or two without him that the team didn't have it - that anything it looked like it had in April was an illusion anyway - so that's about the time I gave up.
4. There were far too many things that went wrong with the club to address in this space, was there anything that went right?
The emergence of Rich Hill as a legitimate member of the rotation was the happiest accident of the season.
Ryan OíMalley. Thatís about it.
Beyond that, for a portion of the year, Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry provided the kind of bullpen that the Cubs envisioned when the season started. But from Juan Pierre being a quality leadoff man to Ronny Cedenoís struggles to Phil Nevin orchestrating his own trade to Greg Maddux exploding in the dugout to seeing the minor leagues exposed as being devoid of real pitching prospects, itís hard to think of a single thing that went right.
Well, perhaps the lack of fan interest the last month of the season was one thing that went right.
Carlos Zambrano had another fine year, establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball; Matt Murton proved he can play and excel at the major league level; Rich Hill proved ME wrong by overcoming his failures and performing at a #1 starter level after his recall from Iowa.
That's not a very long list. But it was a very bad team.
5. Can the Cubs compete next year without signing Aramis Ramirez?
Sure, if they will allocate those dollars to replacing his power bat.
I am of two minds about Ramirez. His production is outstanding. That said, the qualifier to that is "when he wants to produce". At times, he appears lackadaisical on the field, and I hope that attitude doesn't rub off on others. He strikes me as a second-banana player, not a guy who can carry a team. So when there's a Derrek Lee there every day, he's a good sidekick.
Absolutely. All they need is a replacement, a new second baseman, a new closer, and two or three starting pitchers.
Leaving the question of whether they can even compete with
Ramirez aside, clearly, if they intend to do anything beyond languish in the bowels of the NL Central in 2007, they have to make Ramirez an offer that will keep him around. There are simply too many offensive holes to fill as it is to let someone as productive, if streaky, as he is wander away, particularly considering the lack of viable alternatives.
6. The Cubs seem to have more questions marks than the Riddlerís costume; prioritize the Cubs off-season moves in a handy clip and save card for Hendry.
Acquire two veteran starting pitches.
Acquire a new second baseman.
Acquire a new right fielder.
Acquire a new center fielder.
Acquire a new closer.
Acquire better bench players.
Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
My Offseason To-Do List
By Jim Hendry
4) "Forget" to renew Dusty Baker's contract
3) "Forget" to renew Larry Rothchild's contract
2) "Forget" to come into work anymore
1) Remember to look up "passive-aggressive"
Three words: pitching, pitching, pitching.
This club needs two top-quality starters to add to Z and Hill. Do that and you've solved most of the other problems.
They could use another power bat, too, particularly if they insist on keeping Neifi Jr. (Izturis) at shortstop.
7. You have $13-15 million burning a hole in your budget next year and one roster spot available. Give us the 3 free agents you target with that money.
Thatís not enough money. This team needs to get two or three players at that price point to contend next year. If Iím only getting one person, Iíd have to go get Barry Zito. This team is devoid of reliable pitching. At least Zito is reliable.
1) Alfonso Soriano - I must be going insane. Six months ago, the idea that Soriano should be a target of any sort would have made me choke on a bullseye, but there's a lot in his performance this year that should make the Cubs sit up and take notice. Of course, if you've got an issue with strikeouts he's probably not for you, but the tradeoff he appears to have made - hitting for more power and drawing significantly more walks - is well worth it in my book. I'd likely take the defensive hit and let him play second. After all, Cesar! is an infield unto himself, isn't he?
2) Barry Zito - I realize the Cubs have ton of young arms and next to no offense, but there's very little in the way of market-available bats that doesn't make me cringe at the possibilities for horror and consternation 2 or 3 years down the road (I'm looking at you, Carlos Lee), so if the Cubs can't put more runs on the board, they may was well try to keep more off.
Zito definitely falls into the overrated bin, but that said, he's the best choice for this slot in my book because of his combination of relative youth, and proven durability. 2006 was his sixth consecutive season of at least 34 starts and at least 213 innings pitched, all of which saw him being at least slightly above league average. It's not production that will be worth what he gets, but for a team like the Cubs, with all the issues they've had keeping pitchers on the hill, a guy who takes the ball every day and gives his team a shot might be worth overpaying for.
3) TBA - I just don't see anyone else in the class who has the combination of impact and long-term value that I'd want out of a big-ticket free agent. Carlos Lee is tremendously overrated, and is having the best year of his career to boot. As a rule, I think 31 year-old, slow, OBP-challenged left-fielders who have trouble being effective defenders at arguably the easiest position on the diamond aren't good risks. His power is his only real positive, and it's not nearly positive enough to justify the kind of money he's likely to get paid, particularly since I can see it disappearing completely in the middle of the 5 year deal he's likely to command.
The only other guy for this slot is Jason Schmidt, who when he's healthy is a better pitcher than Zito. Too bad he tends to miss 3-6 starts a year, which coupled with his impending 34th birthday, make him a huge risk. Still, I might rather risk 3 years of Schmidt than 5 years of C-Lee, so if forced to go after one or the other, I probably go for the big hurler.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Get the idea I want Matsuzaka?
He was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic. Scouts there who saw him said he could be a #1 starter for ANY big league team. He is 26 years old, and he is a "rock star". He'd be a marketing bonanza as well as a top-quality starting pitcher, and this team needs to make bold, splashy moves that ALSO benefit the team on the field.
Put a HUGE bid in for the posting fee, and get him.
8. What are 3 things the Cubs should avoid doing this off-season at all costs?
1) Not letting Dusty Baker go
2) Not firing Jim Hendry
3) Not firing Andy MacPhail
1) Allow Jim Hendry to pick a new manager without having his contract extended beyond 2008.
2) Sign Carlos Lee to an at or above-market value contract.
3) Panicking and making another stupid signing like Jacque Jones. Donít ask me what that move might be, but, if it happens, everyone will know it when they see it.
Hiring Lou Piniella
Not retaining Kerry Wood (he should be re-signed and eventually, trained to be the closer)
Being close-minded about new ways of approaching the roster
9. Lightning Round: Give us your thoughts on these players and how important they should be in next year's team?
a. Juan Pierre
Gack. That said, a one year deal with an option for year two wouldn't be such a bad idea. There's no center field solution on the market that I'd consider long term, and someone's got to fill the spot until Pie's ready to go. Pierre's as a good (or bad) a choice for that as anyone, and at least he stays on the field.
Pierre had a decent year, but he's still not the answer, unless there's another power bat added (Alfonso Soriano, 2B?) at another position.
Should have been traded mid-season. Love his attitude, his heart, and his reading skills (see Comcast Cableís On Demand area). Hate that he no longer gets on base enough. He was acquired two years too late. Probably should not be back in 2007.
b. Aramis Ramirez
Et tu Sammy? Thereís a reason the White Sox got rid of Carlos Lee. Look how they did without him. Ramirez is a money player. That means he plays for his money.
A must have for any semblance of competitiveness.
Keep him. See answer above.
c. Kerry Wood
As important as a backup fungo bat.
Your 2007 set-up man, your 2008 closer.
I'd love to see that incentive-laden deal everyone speculates about to put him at the back end of the pen. Potentially, he could be a dominating closer, but he simply can't be counted on, so if he does come back, contingencies must be in place.
d. Matt Murton
Despite deep Ivy Chat love for Matt and his kids, Matt should be candidate number one to be traded for prime pitching or outfield help. The guy can hit. He canít field. Heís cheap. Could you use him as Carl Crawford bait?
He's my left-fielder unless Soriano is signed. In that case, Murton could have very large trade value.
I want him starting all year. Period. He has the power potential to be on a corner, he just needs someone to teach him how to hit more balls in the air to convert that potential into production.
e. Rich Hill
I've not been a fan of Hill in the past, but his recent work has turned me around. He's pretty clearly the second-best starter on next year's squad, which is an odd combination of well-earned accolades and damning with faint praise.
The Cubs' #2 starter. A guy who I didn't think "got it", who now "gets it". Could even become a team leader.
Heís going to be 27 years old. His trade value is probably lower than his value as a cheap #4 starter. Pencil him in and let him throw those Frisbees.
f. Felix Pie
He stays at Iowa in 2007 unless two more power bats are obtained; in that case he could start in CF and bat seventh.
Desperately needs another year in AAA.
Prime trade bait. Once again, as is the Jim Hendry theme, a year too late.
g. Ryan Theriot
: His minor league record says he's a no-power, bench guy, and I see no reason to alter that assessment based on a hundred-odd overperforming at bats with the big club. Yet, he still might be a better option at second than Ronnie Cedeno.
Iíd rather see him than Ronny Cedeno again.
Has earned the chance to be the everyday 2B in 2007, especially if Soriano or another power bat is obtained to play another position
h. Mark Prior
You cannot count on Prior at all. Any appearance he makes in 2007 and beyond should be considered a bonus.
Send him to Arlington Park. When he snaps his fetlock in Spring 2007, he can be humanely destroyed.
10. Can the Cubs be contenders next year without expanding the budget to $150 million and what will it take to do so?
Yes, I believe they can. $120 million might do it -- they should clear nearly $30 million next year off this year's numbers with the subtraction of the deals of Wood, Greg Maddux, Todd Walker, Neifi Perez, and the likely coverage of Glendon Rusch's contract by insurance. Add $30 million MORE to that, and two or three key free agents can be signed, or trades for players making in that range could be made.
Yes. They only need to expand the budget to $125 million. What does this team need to contend next year? Barry Zito, Carl Crawford, Alfonso Soriano, Antonio Otsuka, no Jacque Jones, Ryan Dempster in a setup role.
They also need some cohones from Jim Hendry and money from the Trib. Given the history of the first and the financial status of the latter, I expect neither.
Sure. Expand it to $149.9M.