With a lull in the offseason action and on the playoff diamond, we thought it's time to break out the TCR roundtbale. As always, TCR is not responsible for the opinions and viewpoints of its authors.
1. What was your favorite memory of the 2007 season?
Two come to mind: Ramirez's game-winning home run against the Brewers at the end of June and Lee's pinch-hit grand slam to seal a win against Team Grinder. I also enjoyed the early-season game (at Cincy?) in which Lou Piniella stormed out to the mound in the ninth inning, screamed five or six words at a struggling Ryan Dempster, then made a u-turn without ever actually stopping. After all the mealy-mouthed managerial nonsense of the past few years, I thought that moment was refreshing
Aramis Ramirez hitting the game-winning HR in the bottom of the 9th off Brewers closer Francisco Cordero at Wrigley Field.
I agree with AZ Phil.
I was at the game where Lou Piniella had his tirade with umpire Mark Wegner. I still love watching it on the highlights that I've saved for my iPod.
The first portion of the season had been so disappointing. The day before Zambrano had his altercation with Barrett and the Cubs were a 22-30 to that point. The Cubs wound up losing the Saturday game to the Braves 5-3. So what was to like? Although many have said Lou's antics were contrived that day, particularly because Pagan was pretty clearly out out at third, it really had a tangible feel that Lou was doing the right thing for his club. He was doing what any good 1950-60's manager would have done...go toe to toe, belly to belly and kicking some All-American third base dirt on a very prissy modern day umpire, you know, these umps who nowadays toss players for blinking improperly. Somewhere above (or below) the ghost of Jocko Conlan was enjoying Lou's display. I love old style baseball, not to mention an Old Style when Lou went ballistic.
The Aramis walk-off homer was the "oh my god" moment of the season. But that whole period from the end of June until Soriano hurt his hamstring, there was a general feeling that the Cubs would find a way to win most of their games. I'm not sure there's a more reassuring feeling for a baseball fan when you know your team will find ways to win.
Mostly I have an overall general memory of slowly remembering why I like this team. Four years of Dusty Baker had really soured me on the Cubs, and the off-season, with its questionable signings and news that my favorite player wouldn't be playing this year (if ever again) didn't help. Once the season started, it took a few months for me to even want to pay attention anymore. Once I did, I realized how different the team looked and how much more interesting they were under Piniella.
I guess the specific moment I can point to is the June 29th game, when they came back from a 5-0 hole in the first to win on A-Ram's walk-off homer. Beating the first-place Brewers to win their seventh in a row, I think I felt for the first time that even if they didn't make the playoffs (which seemed a foregone conclusion at that point), they would at least be fun & interesting to watch down the stretch.
2. Were the 2007 Cubs the beginning of a new NL powerhouse or yet another stop in the Cubs sporadic playoff cycle?
Until the Cubs can finish 20 plus games over .500, I don't think we are on the brink of being a powerhouse. I do like the sprinkling of talent from the minor leagues but until we get a better 1-2 punch from our starters (not a Zambrano-Barrett reference) and a Matt Holiday from our minor leagues (please Tyler Colvin, be the man). I'll just hope for competing well enough to win the NL Central and pray for a miracle 11 game playoff win streak.
It's hard to think of an 85-win team as a powerhouse, but I think they have at least two years at or near the top of the NL Central in them. I don't forsee 2008 being like 1985, 1990, or 1999.
Unless Ebenezer Scrooge buys the Cubs, they should be the perennial favorite to win the N. L. Central until further notice. All you can do is build a team that's good enough to get into the post-
season. What happens once you get there is a matter of getting hot at the right time.
I agree with AZ Phil.
I think everyone felt the 2003 Cubs were set to dominate for a long time so you don't want to fall into that trap again. We did win our division with pretty much no one on the offensive side of the diamond having anything resembling a career year, on the other hand, their mostly old. It'll really depend if the kids like Pie and Soto can step up and compliment our big three, while Soriano and Lee fight off "over 30-itis". The pitching side is in a little better shape with Z and Hill I think and guys like Gallagher, Holliman, Hart and Samardzija on the brink of contributing. If I were to guess today, unless the new ownership or Trib goes nuts in the free agent market, our minor leaguers aren't quite good enough to sustain playoffs after playoffs. I think we'll be in the hunt over the next few years but far from a slam-dunk winner.
The latter. In my opinion, with the possible exception of Zambrano, the Cubs' best players are at or already past their career peaks. Establishing a "powerhouse" would require a steady steam of Grade A talent coming through the Cubs system--which the system has not shown itself capable of producing--and/or massive free-agent investments year after year after year, which I don't imagine any new ownership group endorsing. That said, the state of the NL Central would suggest that the Cubs could well be a post-season team for the next couple years at least. I guess in the context of the history of the Chicago Cubs since, oh, around 1930, that might loosely qualify as a powerhouse.
3. What are your impressions of Lou's first season as Cub manager?
Better than the last guy....
He's a bit quick with his starters but his lineups make sense. He seems to know the intricacies of a double-switch which was refreshing. I generally appreciate his "win today" mentality although it seemed to disappear in September and the playoffs for some reason.
He made me glad we signed him. I was frustrated by all the lineup-juggling and can certainly understand the criticism of his pulling Zambrano when he did in Game One of the NLDS. But he held the team together as they slogged through their early season difficulties, and he kept guys like Jacque Jones and Scott Eyre from coming unglued in the first half, which enabled them to be big contributors in the second half. I love the fact that he carries himself with the confidence he does and that he'll do something like having his shortstop and second baseman switch positions one inning into a game without worrying about how it might look. Again, this is a big change from where we've been in the last few years.
Positive. More than anything, his decision to bench Cesar Izturis in favor of Ryan Theriot showed me that this wasn't Dusty's team anymore. Running 104 different lineups out during the season was a bit much, but that's just Lou being Lou.
I thought he did OK. He has an easy-going and laid-back manner that is kind of refreshing when compared to his reputation as a fire-breather.
I strongly agree with AZ Phil.
Lou was enjoyable and more effective than I imagined he would be. I liked his rewarding good performances with more playing time, especially early in the season, such as with Theriot and then Marmol. I also liked that he didn't stick with nonperforming veterans (ie. Wade Miller) but didn't give up on many the non-performers forever but gave them infrequent and low level chances to get out of the doghouse (Eyre, Murton and Jones). I think he forced Hendry to make the Barrett trade. He experimented with the lineup everywhere and everyday (except with Soriano and DLee) but eventually the lineup became somewhat stable. Next year should be easier on Lou since he has re-acclimated to the NL as well as the Cubs roster and the talent available from the minors. It will be interesting to see what roles Soto, Pie, Kevin Hart and Sean Gallagher ultimately have next season.
4. What are the 3 biggest areas of improvement that the Cubs should target this offseason? Are there any specific players that accompany those improvements that Hendry should look to acquire through free
agent signings or the trade market?
As far as the starting lineup, a power hitting lefty bat to balance off DLee and ARam in the 3-4 slots is the obvious answer. Cliff Floyd just didn't provide the power needed in the 5th spot. I'm not sure who can be acquired via the trade route but I expect that is the best way to get an upgrade here. Maybe the Yankees will tire of Hideki Matsui. I don't know much about Kosuke Fukudome but I heard he had an elbow injury that has affected his power.
For the pitching staff, we need one more stable top of the rotation pitcher. I think Ted Lilly is best as a #3 , Rich Hill is a #4 in my book with some upside but not as a #1-2. I don't see this kind of upgrade from a trade or signing though so it's got to be a monster surprise out of our farm system. Kevin Hart came out of nowhere (well AA via Baltimore) so I'm up for a pitching surprise to match the impact Carlos Marmol had for the bullpen last year. Mark Holliman, Mitch Atkins and Jose Ceda, you are on my watch list.
The third area of improvement is more straightforward. Catcher. I just hope Geo Soto isn't a bust. The catching position is so underrated and it seems we always are hoping for a morphing of body parts to make one catcher, the arm from one, the bat or glove or game calling skills from another. I just want one catcher who every pitcher wants to throw to. Let the backup be a Jake Fox instead of the no hit good defense prototype (once upon a time, Hank White). We need the pinch hitting added value as much or more than the once a week spot start in my opinion.
Shortstop is the biggest one, and it's also the easiest (and most expensive). If A-Rod is going to be on the market (and most people think he will be), get him. There has never been a better time to spend thirty million dollars a year. Can he, at age 32, most back to shortstop and play it well? The way he hits, who cares?
Catcher could also be a problem, unless we're all sold on Geo Soto being a productive major leaguer. Personally, I think that 280/358/426 in over 2,200 minor league PAs is more indicative of his talent level than 389/433/667 in 60 major league PAs, but I'd love to be proven wrong. There aren't a ton of attractive FA options behind the plate, so maybe it's going to be Soto by default.
Finally, get a different pitcher to pitch the ninth inning. Whether it's Carlos Marmol, or Kerry Wood, or Masahide Kobayashi, or whoever, I don't care. Put Dempster back in the rotation and keep him far, far away from the ninth.g>
I pretty much outlined my thoughts
earlier so I won't bore you again. Here's the cliff-notes version:
1. If the Cubs can bring in Curt Schilling on a one or two year deal at a reasonable price ($10-$12 million with incentives) he'd be my only free agent target. Another top of the rotation starter that would take some pressure off Z to be the man. I don't see anyone of that ilk being available in the trade market so if they can't get Schilling, it would probably be best to try and keep Mark Prior and hope this is his year (insert chuckle). Assuming it won't be, I'm fine with letting Gallagher, Hart, Marshall, Holliman compete in spring training for the open spot.
2. They need another 25-30 homer guy and a 360 or more OBP out of some someone, whether it comes from the shorstop position (paging Arod or Tejeda) or a right-fielder, don't matter.
3. Give the kids a shot. Pie, Soto, even E-Pat aren't going to learn much more in AAA. They might struggle and they do have minor league options so you want to go into 2008 with a proper B-plan, but they should be the A-plans, especially Pie and Soto.
As starting shortstops go, Ryan Theriot would make a fine fifth infielder. We have to get more out of that position. I think Edgar Renteria would be a solid upgrade.
I also think we could swap out Ryan Dempster for Bob Howry in the closer's role and not see any fall-off. That would free the Cubs to trade Dempster.
The starting staff could use help beyond Zambrano/Lilly/Hill. Maybe Marshall is a legitimate big league starter. Maybe not. I believe we saw Marquis' very best in early '07 and that there's a decent chance we'll never see it again. I don't have any specific replacements in mind. I've heard that the White Sox might be willing to move Jon Garland, who is clearly more than a #5 starter and would clearly cost the Cubs a lot. What's Matt Karchner up to? Maybe the Sox would just let us do a trade-back. Ya know, to be nice guys.
I'm not mentioning our problems behind the plate--because I'm assuming Geo Soto is going to fix that for us--or our hole in centerfield, because I'm assuming that spot will belong to Felix Pie.
: I believe Hendry will be hoping to acquire a power-hitting middle-of-the-order run-producer (preferably a left-handed hitting RF), a lefty reliever, and a left-handed hitting back-up catcher.
In a TV interview with Len and Bob last July or August, Hendry said the Cubs will probably not be active in the FA market this off-season (he said they did their "free-agent shopping" last off-season), but that the Cubs will probably be active in the trade market instead, and I believe him.
The Cubs might pursue a big-name Japanese FA (like RF Kosuke Fukudome, LHP reliever Hitoki Iwase, or RHP rotation starter Hiroki Kuroda) in order to establish themselves as a big-time "player" in that market.
Listen to AZ Phil...
5. Who are the Cubs most realistic and valuable trade commodities?
I guess it would have to be the young arms, like Gallagher, Hart, and (gulp!) Marmol. I don't like Jacque Jones at all and would be happy to see him moved, but I think it's naive to assume other teams wouldn't see the same shortcomings in Jones's game that so vexed Cub fans for a good part of 2007. Then again, he used to drive the White Sox crazy; maybe Kenny Williams can provide him a good and loving home.
I love trading junk. Your junk for mine, then send em down to Iowa. Hear that siren song of Cotts for Aardsma? Todd Hundley for Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros, now THAT was a trade! Ohman, Wuertz, Pagan and Blanco for Matt Holliday? Twist my arm and I'll throw in Jacques Jones and Ryan Dempster.
I like Sean Marshall alot but 3 lefty starters that aren't hard throwers is a bit repetitive. I still consider him very valuable especially as pitching injuries can ruin a team and he really seems to make use what he learns with more experience in the league, so I'd rather keep him unless it's a no brainer type trade.
I imagine people will be calling Hendry about the Seans (Gallagher and Marshall), as well as Felix Pie and Matt Murton, since there's only going to be one outfield opening next spring.
The Cubs likely spent their cash last off-season as mentioned, so any improvements will have to arrive via the trade market and teams are always looking for major-league ready talent with plenty of service time left. Since I think the Cubs are sincere in letting Felix Pie be the guy in the very near future, I would guess that makes Sean Marshall, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson the team's most attractive and reasonable trade bait. The other prime bait would be relievers as teams tend to panic over bad bullpens. That makes me think guys like Scott Eyre, Ryan Dempster and Bob Howry could all fetch something. All three have a year left on their deals and a team could avoid the shaky free agent market.
I suspect the Cubs would like to move Ryan Dempster, Jacque Jones, Will Ohman, Scott Eyre, and Jason Marquis (plus Mark Prior, Craig Monroe, and Neal Cotts before they get non-tendered on 12/12).
The most valuable trading chips are the young MLB-ready rotation starters (Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher, and Kevin Hart), plus the young MLB-ready position players (especially Geovany Soto and Felix Pie). Of the young Cubs pitchers and position players, Soto is the least-likely to be incluuded in a trade because there is no duplication at that position.
You know nothing AZ Phil, what the heck are you talking about? Freak.
We'll pose the same five questions to some members of the Cubs blogosphere for tomorrow. And we were kidding around with Transmission, he didn't have time to participate.