After our twenty-one game turnaround in 2003 from 2002, Hendry and Co. didn't rest on their success and spent the offseason of 2004 and the season building one of the best Cubs team ever assembled on "paper". Taking out the bitter ending, the team ended up winning more games and having a better run differential than the 2003 team despite significantly more injuries to key players. A quick reminder course on what happened after 2003:
C - Subtracted Damian Miller
, added Michael Barrett
(say what you will but we had a better team ERA in 2004, gave up less runs as a team and Barrett was definitely an offensive upgrade that year)
1B - Subtracted Eric Karros
, Hee-Seop Choi
and Randall Simon
; Added Derrek Lee
INF - Added Todd Walker
and Jose Macias
to the bench
SS - Added Nomar Garciaparra
mid-season (Should have added Miguel Tejada during the off-season)
OF - Subtracted Kenny Lofton
; Added Todd Hollandsworth
to the bench
SP - Subtracted Shawn Estes
; Added Greg Maddux
to the 2nd best starting staff in the league
RP - Subtracted Juan Cruz
, Mark Guthrie
, Antonio Alfonseca
& Dave Veres
; Added LaTroy Hawkins
, Kent Mercker
, Ryan Dempster
and Glendon Rusch
There are a few peons I'm probably missing but that should be all the significant moves.
In 2007, the Cubs improved nineteen wins from the disaster of 2006 and once again find themselves atop the NL Central but still short of their World Series goal. The precedent though has been set that Hendry will unlikely sit idly by and be happy with a division title and McDonough has already hinted that the Cubs will continue to push on for the trophy.
The question though is who and what positions should the Cubs target and where can the team improve within and where should they look for outside help?
Let's take a quick look at the current 2008 team if the Cubs brought in nobody:
C - Geovany Soto, Henry Blanco
1B - Derrek Lee
2B - Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot
SS - Ryan Theriot, Ronny Cedeno
3B - Aramis Ramirez
LF - Alfonso Soriano
CF - Felix Pie, Jacque Jones
RF - Matt Murton
SP - Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis, Sean Marshall
RP - Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Bob Howry, Mike Wuertz, Will Ohman, Scott Eyre, Kevin Hart
Only a few assumptions need to be made and those are that Cliff Floyd's and Steve Trachsel's options aren't picked up (despite what Ken Rosenthal said
) and that Scott Eyre exercises his. I'm under the assumption that Jason Kendall will head to free agency and Craig Monroe will not be offered arbitration (which may change if Jacque is traded). There's also decisions that need to be made on trying to resign Kerry Wood, and seeing if Daryle Ward's mutual option will be exercised (the Cubs will certainly exercise their portion of it). My guess is that Ward is back and Wood takes Hart's spot and there's your "do-nothing and stand pat" 25-man roster.
But now is not the time to rest on one's achievements and hopefully Hendry will carpe diem
. But the big question will be who and at what positions?
C - The Cubs will certainly give Geovany Soto every opportunity to be the starter in 2008 with Blanco being the back-up. The question is what to do if Soto struggles or gets injured? Blanco certainly shouldn't be playing everyday so I'm guessing sometime right before spring training, a rush of Koyie Hill-clones, if not Koyie Hill himself will be littering our spring training complex.
1B - Status quo; Let's hope Lee finds his power stroke for the full season.
2B - Status quo; DeRosa will start there and we've got Theriot, Cedeno, Fontenot and even E-Pat as options.
SS - While an upgrade would be fantastic I imagine Theriot/Cedeno will fight it out during spring training. The free agent market is Neifiesque
at this position unless Arod convinces someone he can still play the position. Trade candidates are always sketchy although Miguel Tejada
and Edgar Renteria
would be interesting. Unfortunately no one but Tejeda thinks he can still play SS.
3B - Status quo; Obviously upgrading to Arod would be something and then trading Aramis to an L.A. team for either Jered Weaver/Brandon Wood package or Chad Billingsley/Matt Kemp one. It would be something if I won the lottery as well.
OF - I'm going to lump these together because the Cubs have a bevy of options here. An outfield of Soriano, Pie, Murton is fine by me and I think I'd even be fine with Soriano, Jones and Murton with Pie ready to jump in but the Cubs really could use just one more power bat in that lineup. Where will that come from is the big question and at what position? Centerfield free agents include Aaron Rowand, Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones but the Cubs seem pretty committed to Felix Pie. Now any of those guys or Pie could probably move to a corner spot without much problem and handle it defensively but I also don't think any of them are the one that will put us over the top so to speak.
If we move to the corner spots there are two potential names out there that I think would provide exactly what I believe the Cubs should be looking for to solidify their offense in Barry Bonds
and Adam Dunn
(if his option isn't picked up the Reds). Both though cause significant problems defensively and of course the clubhouse baggage that Bonds carries with him. There's also that smallest ray of glimmering hope that Arod would consider playing the outfield with the potential option to shift back to third base if and when Aramis leaves.
RP - If Dempster doesn't move to the rotation and doesn't get traded, there's really not much room to do anything here. If Kerry leaves that might open up a spot and Hendry could get bold and chase Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne or Joe Nathan (if the Twins get dumb and don't exercise his option) but I do doubt much will be changed with the pen. If anything Dempster gets moved, Marmol, Howry and Wood (who I'll be surprised if he's not a Cub in 2008) fight for the closer role and the pen is filled out with Eyre, Wuertz, Ohman and battle for the final spot amongst our minor leaguers or the losers in a potential 5th starter battle.
SP - Well unless a trade is made, 4 of the 5 spots are taken and there's more than enough depth to cover the fifth spot in Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, Mark Holliman, Sean Gallagher and potentially Mark Prior or Ryan Dempster. And just like in 2003, I think this is where Hendry should really try and push the envelope.
Our starting staff was a nice story and all but I there are a number of potential problems looming.
- The chance that our top four or five stay healthy for the whole season like this year seems remote.
- For all the love of Z, he's topped 100 walks two years in a row and has a growing ERA in those two years, not the makings of the guy you want leading your staff. Maybe he'll flip it around, maybe he'll end up being Livan Hernandez.
- Ted Lilly is due for a little regression to the mean as he enjoyed the most innings he's ever pitched and his second highest ERA+ number ever.
- I do think Hill will continue to progress but unless that change and cutter go from amusing distraction to at least average if not a plus pitch, he'll have a hard time being the dominating ace we'd like.
- Jason Marquis is well, Jason Marquis. You get your innings out of him and he gives you a shot to win about half your games.
But once again the free agent market is pretty bare (and we wonder why the Cubs spent their cash last offseason). The southpaws consist of Tom Glavine and Andy Petitte, neither of which seem like their even worth discussing. The right-handers include the duct-taped arms of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and then one actual interesting name who seems like the perfect fit for this ballclub.
Now before I entertain the notion too much, I doubt he's leaving the Red Sox. Epstein seems like he's still a big fan
but if he were, well hear me out.
He may be on the wrong side of 30, he'll actually be on the wrong side of 40 (turns 41 this November) and the chances that he'll make thirty starts are pretty slim (only once in the last three years and four times in the last seven). Without seeing him too much and charting his fastballs, I'll just go out and assume he's lost a few miles off it but he's still hitting low 90's as far as I know and from what I have seen, the splitter is still working and he's still hitting his locations with the precision of a trained sniper. Unfortunately he's also probably the biggest blowhard in baseball but there is a solid chance that if I call him out on an article he'll respond on TCR, so I do have some ulterior motives. But beyond the numbers and the actual 20-25 games he'd actually start, I think there are a few added bonuses.
It seems like he'd take a ton of pressure off Zambrano to be the leader of the team and the staff. It seemed clear that Zambrano wasn't quite ready for that role this year and something that Schilling seems to thrive upon. He'd also push Jason Marquis to the fifth starter/guy we could skip once in awhile/trade bait role that he's really most suited to wear. And of course Schilling's playoff record is one of the more miraculous things in sports (8-2 in 16 starts, 1.93 ERA, 108 K's, 23 BB's and 4 CG's in 116 IP) that you'll probably ever witness.
Quick sidenote: My apologies to all Red Sox fans as I'm sure I just doomed the rest of your 2007 playoffs.
If the Cubs are willing to open the budget just a little more this offseason, it should be going into the pockets of Curt Schilling I say.
Hendry though does have one more avenue open to improve the team and that would be the trade market and it's probably the way he'll make any additions. It's a fools errand to try and predict trades, there's just no way in knowing who's available, what other teams want, how they value the Cubs players and how the Cubs value the potential trade target. But I can guess on some of the Cubs that might be available in talks this offseason.
1) Ryan Dempster - He's owed $5.5 million and has closer mystique sprinkled all over him. The Cubs have the arms to fill his spot and with the rather bare starter's market he could also prove useful in that way.
2) Sean Marshall - He had a heckuva start to the year, is one of them lefties that are all the rage and at age 25 and a bunch of years of service time left has all sorts of value even as no more than a mid-rotation starter.
3) Jacque Jones - A rather affordable $5 million is owed to him and he certainly showed he can play centerfield. He could be the booby prize for the teams that lose out on Jones, Rowand and Hunter.
4) Matt Murton - I like the kid and continually am impressed with his approach at the plate and the power he flashes, albeit not nearly often enough. You just can't teach that kind of power to right field but you can teach him to pull the ball more often.
As for trade targets, well that's just a bit too speculative. If anything you want to look for players who will be free agents after the 2008 season as teams might want to try and get something in return for a player they're likely to lose to free agency. I'll throw some names out but they won't mean much. I already mentioned Tejada and Renteria at short, both seem like they could be available. In the outfield, Pat Burrell I could see being available and Manny Ramirez, Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford both have team options for the 2009 season. Vlad could be a free agent after 2008 but I don't see any scenario where he gets traded by the Angels or for that matter leaves. The Dodges are all full of stupid these days and either Derek Lowe or Brad Penny might be available. Johan Santana will get mentioned a lot this offseason and throughout the year. If we could just add him and Arod, I like our chances.
The picture will get clearer by mid-November on who's available and who the Cubs may be interested in acquiring. I recommend searching for another top tier pitcher and one more power bat to help us keep pace in the Central. And if that power bat happened to be a shortstop somehow even better as I'd very much like to see Pie, Soto and Murton continue to grow with team. We shall learn soon enough what Hendry and Co. plans are for the 2008 Cubs.
And the question I pose to all our wonderful readers, is who and where should the Cubs try and improve upon?