Today we welcome five esteemed Cub bloggers who were kind enough to share their thoughts on the questions which the TCRers addressed on Monday.
The guest list includes: Andy from Desipio.com
, Adam from Bugs and Cranks
, Joe of View From The Bleachers
, Cub Reporter alum and Mayor of Cub Town
, Derek Smart, and the Ted Lilly Fan Club
It's an honor to be your hosts, gentlemen. Thank you for coming over to play in our sandbox.
1.) What was your favorite memory of the 2007 season?
Joe (View From The Bleachers):
My favorite moment of the season was by far the comeback on June 25th, when the Cubs had seemingly blown the game in the 9th after a bullpen implosion that allowed six runs. The Cubs came back and won it on a walk-off, two-run single by Soriano that made Len Kasper’s voice crack. I wanted to jump up and scream, but the family was asleep.
Adam (Bugs and Cranks):
Aramis Ramirez' walk-off homer against the Brewers on June 29th was probably my favorite memory. It was the moment where it really seemed like winning the division was going to happen.
Derek (Cub Town):
Hands down, Ramirez's walk-off homer against Milwaukee. There haven't been a lot of moments in recent Cub memory where you could look back and say, "yeah, that's when they flipped the switch to 'on,'" but that was a moment where, considering the opponent, and the method of victory, a turning point had clearly been reached. I saved that game on my DVR right up until the team was eliminated from the playoffs, and went back to watch it time and again whenever I needed a little pick-me-up.
My favorite moment of the 2007 season was the Rodrigo Ramirez (wait, Dick Stockton assured me his name was Rodrigo and not Aramis) homer off of Francisco Cordero on that Friday at Wrigley. Loved the whole thing. The fact that the Cubs had won six in a row to that point, that Cordero hadn't given up a homer all year and that somehow, even though they were still 6.5 back, you KNEW that they'd catch the Brewers.
My favorite memory though was August 7, when the Cubs sent Will Ohman to the minors. The only way it could have been better would have been if he had been hit by the bus instead of transported by it.
Ted Lilly Fan Club:
Obviously, we’re biased so our favorite moment was the Ted Lilly takedown of Edgar Renteria. While TLFC House Mom Brenda doesn’t endorse the “fighting brings a team together” adage (see Barrett, Michael), the Cubs were reeling and needed some fire. However, Ted’s pitch was only the spark; the fire came after Fontenot got completely blown up on the very next play. That hit must have knocked something loose in Lil’ Mike because for a month or so, he hit the crap outta the ball and became the first positive Cubs story of the year. Fontenot? Fontenyes!
Silver medal winner would be the Cubs clinching the Central on September 28th (made even better by the fact that it came at the hands of a Brewers loss). Of course, we burned several couches on Addison in celebration only to later realize that they were actually our couches, forcing us to sleep on TLFC-branded bean bag chairs the next week until our new race car beds arrived.
2.) Were the 2007 Cubs the beginning of a new NL powerhouse or yet another stop in the Cubs' sporadic playoff cycle?
That depends in large part on what happens this off-season. As currently constructed, this team is capable of contending in the NL Central for a couple more years, but that has more to do with the level of competition than with the assembly of an unassailable core of greatness. There are some things that can be done to solidify things, perhaps even turn this group into that powerhouse we'd all like to see, but leave this team as it is while giving the Brewers a solid bullpen, and the division runs through Milwaukee for the foreseeable future.
History, of course, tells us that the Cubs are never good for very long and that winning seasons come out of nowhere. There's no reason why the 2008 Cubs shouldn't be better than the 2007 Cubs were, but we thought that in 1985, 1990, 1999 (well, probably not 1999; we knew that team was a mess) and especially 2004. I'm far more comfortable with Lou Piniella in charge than Dusty, though, and the NL Central will blow again, so why not? Powerhouse though? Uh...no.
While TLFC arch-nemesis Paul Sullivan is probably spell-checking his 1000-word opus on why the Cubs will never win again, we think that the Cubs have the right blend of veteran wiles and youthful exuberance that are the hallmarks of a new NL powerhouse. If we can get Cuban in as the new owner, he'll come in throwing money around like Pacman Jones at a strip club and push us to that next level.
1.) Starting Rotation. Great staff that’ll only get better. Yeah, we think Z is over rated and TL is underrated. Rich Hill is better than league average and he can learn a little psychotic mound presence from TL as well as an appreciated for intense ab work. Smarsh is also a keeper--people tend to forget that he missed a good portion of the end of last season and spring training with shoulder issues. Filling out the rotation is any guy, anytime Angel Guzman or any number of the young men AZ Phil salivates over.
2.) Bullpen. Solid. Marmol is clearly awesome. Howry, Testes, Wood, and Johnny Drama Dempster are solid filler but bullpens are fickle so we don’t worry too much about them.
3.) Lineup. Balanced. It’ll benefit from no longer having the sucking sound that emanated from the catcher’s spot, and last year’s bench should serve as a model for the ’08 squad: scrappy little French dude, well-dressed, overweight veteran that can hit bombs, lanky prospect guy that lives with star player, sleepy/psycho backup catcher and the “Problem Child”-inspired redheaded stepchild as a platoon OF.
I’d like to think that this team is the beginning of a run of consecutive titles in the NL Central, but with the Brewers young and cheap, I just don’t see it being the case. We’re very heavily back-loaded when it comes to contracts, and with the impending sale of the team, it’s hard to know what type of off-season to expect. At the same time, we saw a lot of fall-off from expectations from guys like Soriano and Lee and could see better years from them in 2008.
It’s the beginning of being consistently competitive, though "powerhouse" is a stretch for an 85-win team with a $100MM payroll. Sheer economics dictate that the Cubs will be competitive going forward. The purse strings have loosened and they play in a division with at least three of the lower payroll teams in baseball (CIN, PIT, MIL). The Astros and Cards look to be a while away from competing, so it’s a great time to be a Cub fan. That said, anything can happen in 2008.
3. What are your impressions of Lou’s first season as Cub manager?
I don't do impressions. I'm sure Frank Caliendo does a kick-ass Lou impression though. When does his new show start again? I wish TBS would promote it.
I love Lou Piniella in a manly way and am not ashamed to admit it. It'd absolutely be damning him with faint praise to say he's the best Cubs' manager since...uh...Charlie Grimm, maybe...but he's the best in a long time at least. The only competition would be a guy with a plate in his head and a guy who left the team for a week to get married during a season. Lou changed the culture within the team, and the best players played, guys were held accountable for not playing well, and he even showed with Ginger Murton and Stevie Ire that he'd give second chances if you showed you deserved one. Lou is the balls.
Lou is receiving a lot of the same first-year love that Dusty Baker and Don Baylor received in their first years. When Baker and Baylor were signed, the fans rejoiced and said stuff like, “Now we have a real manager.” With Baylor failing miserably in his first year and Dusty falling out of grace after just one successful season, it goes to show how fickle fans are these days, particularly fans of a team that hasn’t won the big one in a long, long time. If Lou’s team fails to produce next year, I have no doubt he’ll suffer a similar fate in the eyes of Cub fans. The fun part would be to see how he deals with it.
After Dusty, it was just exciting to see some of the young players get a chance to see the field. Frankly, it was weird at the beginning of the season to think that the Cubs manager could have logical thoughts. I’d become so used to seeing what the Cubs should do and knowing it would never happen.
From day one, the TLFC fully supported the hiring of Piniella—the guy is absolutely a treat, like a $2 test tube shot special at Beaumonts. He's exactly the kind of manager the Cubs needed: blue-collar, honest and full of piss and vinegar. We never bought into Dusty's fancy Australian toothpicks and, while we all know that Sweet Lou's a powder keg, he's our powder keg.
Using the Ted Lilly Fan Club Criteria For Good Professional Managing (TLFCCFGPM), we determined LouPa did an Ivy League B+, meaning he did his work, came to class and never killed the curve. High marks for the comedy of trying to lip-read Lou’s Spanish when he’s on the mound with a Latino and the number of times he yelled at Paul Sullivan for lingering around the Cubs shower room for an uncomfortable amount of time. That being said, we couldn’t give him an ‘A’ grade for pulling Zambrano early in Game 1.
I was happy with what he did. There were clearly some problems with personalities at first, but I get the feeling like Lou was far more proactive about dealing with that sort of thing than his predecessor. After a period of adjustment, he seemed to earn the respect of the clubhouse, and everyone seemed to understand the different communications style.
On the field, I was very happy with the way Lou was willing to do what was necessary in the moment to win a game, future consequences be damned. I wrote a little recently
about the May 6 game where he pinch-hit for Cesar! Izturis down a run in the bottom of the ninth, despite the fact that doing so could force him to play Soriano at second in the top of the 10th should the Cubs tie the game. There are plenty of managers out there who would have let Izturis hit, and I'm just glad that ours isn't one of them.
4. What are the 3 biggest areas of improvement that the Cubs should target this off-season? Are there any specific players that accompany those improvements that Hendry should look to acquire through free agent signings or the trade market?
Cubs need to finalize their catching situation, solve the right field quandary, and begin work on making the Ivy spell out “Under Armour” the whole way around. We also think that all players should be announced by their first name, now batting, “Derrek….”, now pitching “Ted,” and so forth to create a more personal relationship between fan and player.
Giovanni Sotto (yes, the TLFC is now using his Italian-American spelling) is the answer behind the plate. He’s a better defender and better hitter than any of the corpses we rolled out there from April through August of last year. Having him around should really help this team, plus he’s the perfect guy to make the team spaghetti dinners every Wednesday night.
You can also make an argument that center needs to be solved (we see no difference between Jacque Jones and Pie), but we’d really like to see a new right fielder. We don’t mind Cliff or Thunder Matt, but neither of them are ‘The Answer’ or make us sing.
As long as we’re prancing around fantasy land, we would like to see the Cubs acquire Jason Bay to man right field. Bay’s in the last year of his contract and had depressed stats while playing hurt last year in Pittsburgh…we get depressed driving through Pittsburgh, so we think Wrigley might bring out a good year from him. He was ridiculously good two years ago and players just don’t start losing their batting eye. Something’s up and we think it’s because playing in Pittsburgh, like Iron League hockey in Charleston, saps the energy from you.
The Cubs won’t be the most active team this off-season, but they have a few areas to improve. Obviously the outfield is a concern. I’d like to see the Cubs aggressively go after Kosuke Fukudome from Japan. He doesn’t require a posting fee and can probably be had for 5 years/$50M. He bats left-handed, provides OBP, and fields well--all things the Cubs need.
Theriot wore down this year at SS and is probably pegged for a career as a utility player. The Miguel Tejada idea is about three years too late, and A-Rod is too big to play SS in the majors anymore. If the Cubs are looking to build a “team,” A-Rod (and his contract) aren’t something they want around anyway. There aren’t a lot of good options at short, with a weak free-agent crop and young superstars that teams won’t trade.
An unlikely trade might send bullpen help (Wuertz, Ohman) and a minor leaguer to Milwaukee for Bill Hall. He was a good shortstop who had a down year in 2006 playing in center. Despite his struggles, I don’t have any problem with Ronny Cedeno winning the job in 2008, with Theriot providing good depth.
I think Hendry needs to solve the closer situation. He has a luxury in that there are good in-house candidates in Howry and Marmol, but going after a front-line closer like Francisco Cordero could make the Cubs awfully tough in the late innings. CoCo will probably cost in the 4yr/$42M range, but the Cubs should have the money and are solid at a number of positions.
Another possibility would be engineering a trade involving a team that would use Dempster as a starter.
On paper, it’s hard to find a lot of areas that you can really improve on. I don’t mean to say that this team is already a World Series favorite, because it’s not. What I mean is that because of the payroll and the upcoming sale, I just can’t believe you’ll see the kind of off-season many would like.
If I had to nail it down to three moves that would be the keys to the off-season, it would be these:
First, I would decide early on who your centerfielder is. If it’s Pie, then let him start the year as the CF and play every day, including against the lefties. If it’s Jones, then figure out the plan for Pie and either move him to right or move him to another team. He doesn’t need to spend any more time in Iowa.
Second, I would decide right away who your closer is. If it’s Dempster, it needs to stay Dempster. If it’s Marmol, then give Dempster a shot at starting games again.
Finally, I would look very seriously at tendering Mark Prior a contract. I know he’d be a $3.5 million dollar crap shoot, but remember that he’s not one to have a huge history of arm trouble. Some of his injuries have been freak injuries (e.g., running into Marcus Giles and being hit in the elbow by a line drive). If he can pitch just a fraction of the way he pitched in 2003, he would be a huge bonus for this rotation.
Pitching. Hitting. Defense.
Is there anything I'm missing? Actually, specifically the Cubs need to find a real centerfielder and a real rightfielder. Jock did fine for half a season, but let's not push it. There's no excuse to have rightfielders combine to hit 17 homers, or whatever the total for Cliff, Ginger and Jock was when they were actually manning right. Also, none of the three can play that position defensively. A third area would have to be finding a new home for Ryan Dempster. Hopefully in a different city. I don't see him ever being a decent starting pitcher again, and that seems to be the route they're going to try to go with him.
With the sale of the team likely to be held up until spring, I would guess that Hendry won't be able to do much in free agency. Given the free agent crop, I don't necessarily think that's a huge loss this year. Trade-wise, though, he's got to find a right fielder. He's traded for some over the years with great success. I mean, we all remember how well Jody Gerut and Matt Lawton worked out.
One thing he needs to do though is to re-sign Mark Prior. You can't pay a guy almost four million bucks to not pitch in 2007 and then have somebody else get to theoretically use him in 2008. I can't tell you if Prior will ever be worth a damn again, but if he's going to try to pitch next season it has to be with the Cubs. If it doesn't work this time, then it's over.
All answers are made with the caveat that, for the most part, I've given little thought to the budgetary realities of the situation.
First on the docket is doing something about shortstop. Much as I love Ryan Theriot's competitive fire, he's simply not an everyday player. It would be one thing if he was an exceptional defender, but he's not, and offensively he was one of the worst regular shortstops in either league last year. My thought for combination of likely availability and non-hemorrhagic price tag is Edgar Renteria. The Braves seem like they're looking to clear salary, and that they like Yunel Escobar as an everyday option, so they might be a good fit.
I refuse to utter the A-word. That's just crazy talk.
Second, fix right field. Speaking of Yankees hitting the market, the guy I'd honestly like to see come free is Bobby Abreu. He's not the same hellacious power/speed threat he once was, but after a terrible first two months, he hit .309/.396/.520 from June 1 to the end of the year, and he's a lefty to boot. He would be a perfect fit for this club, especially in the OBP department, and the more I think about it, the more I'd likely be willing to punt a more costly solution at shortstop to get this done.
Third, I'd actually like to see another starter. Someone who could be a reasonable facsimile of a #2 guy, who could push Jason Marquis into being the actual fifth starter instead of merely pitching like one. I haven't given this a lot of thought, so beyond giving someone like Curt Schilling a one-year deal (not necessarily advocating, merely mentioning), I'm not sure where that comes from. If Rich Hill can develop into that, then never mind, but I have my doubts.
5. Who are the Cubs' most realistic and valuable trade commodities?
As far as Major League ready players, I can definitely see Sean Marshall getting included in a deal. I imagine there's still a market for the likes of Pie, Veal, and even Matt Murton, but I don't see the team serving up Pie anytime soon (although, I'd also say that he either needs to be your starting center fielder next year, or he needs to get dealt before his value declines). Truth is, I don't see anyone in the system who's likely to be the centerpiece of a genuinely stunning deal. Anyone who once had that kind of value has lost it either through injuries or questions about their effectiveness, and anyone who's obtained that kind of value (I'm looking at you, Mr. Marmol) is almost certainly untouchable.
Eric Patterson has had a rough go of it and might not be in the Cubs’ plans. I would rather see him moved while he still has value. It’s high time the Cubs decide on Matt Murton. He’s good enough to start for several big league teams, so if the Cubs don’t want to play him every day, they should ship him for a bullpen arm. I would move Ryan Dempster, preferably to a team that thinks he can start. He’s not going to be any better than Marquis or Marshall, so the Cubs don’t have much use for him. Lou Pinella likes Will Ohman less than he likes getting a crotch rash, so he’ll be dealt for a bag of peanuts, too. Hendry might dangle some young pitching, Hart, Gallagher, etc., if a big deal could go down.
Unfortunately, there really are only about two players who may bring any value on the trade market. Matt Murton is one, and I think the Cubs will possibly look to move him. Felix Pie is the other. Moving him would bring a nice package. The question would be if the Cubs would be willing to sell their “future star.” The other big bats have no-trade clauses.
You know you can't trade Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano or E-ramis, and not because they're the four best players on the team, but because they all have trade protection of some sort, so you don't even need to pretend to entertain those thoughts. Besides, for 2008 the only guys who want to see any of them go are Barry Rozner (who found a new whipping boy in E-ramis for no apparent reason) and our friend at Ivy Chat, who begged for the team to sign Soriano and now thinks it was the dumbest thing ever. But there are players with some trade value. Dempster obviously has some. Jock probably does now that his contract is only one year and he hit .330 in the second half, or whatever that mirage was. Some team might see Ronny Cedeno's potential and think they can do something with him, but you wouldn't get much for him. So really, your trade options aren't all that great, either.
The Cubs will basically be the same cast in 2008 that they were in 2007, with the exceptions of much bigger roles for Geovany Soto and Kevin Hart.
I'd be shocked if the Cubs were able to improve themselves much in the offseason, which is not great, obviously. Jim Hendry's best moves are always ones where he's able to take on salary, either by signing free agents or trading with teams trying to dump salary. He's only signed one marquee free agent--Soriano--but a few of his middle-of-the-road signings (all of whom he paid over market for) like Ted Lilly, Bob Howry and Mark DeRosa, have worked out. Jim's not going to have money to spend this winter and he'll have to buck his career trend to prove he can add a player without essentially paying for it.
Maybe it’s because we sitting here at the fan club eating a plate of freedom fries as we write this but our reco is to start with part of the Cubs Franco-American contingent in Jacque Jones and Frenchy Marquis. We have too many young OFs and Jones has value [Enter a classic Buster Olney “You can’t teach speed” line]. As for Frenchy, let's be honest here: it wasn't a great signing. We've got enough pitching to make up for him so we maybe should try to sell him off--maybe the Cards will take him back? Maybe the pitching-starved Mets want him? Maybe he can go the Joe Borowski route and try the Mexican League?
We also should explore trade options for getting rid of Bob Brenly for the sole reason that we don't want to hear any more clever anecdotes about him managing the Diamondbacks during the World Series run in 2001. Maybe bring back Steve Stone, aka baseball’s Encyclopedia Brown???
Finally, stealing from a previously established TLFC idea, we’d like to explore trading Paul Sullivan for two expired passes to "Ratatouille," a 50-cent-off coupon at Quizno's and a swift kick in the junk.