Archive - 2005

October 12th

The AP is reporting that Nomar Garciaparra did his best David Hasselhoff impression, and rescued two women from drowning in Boston Harbor. Former Cub Alex Gonzalez reportedly was on the scene, as well. However, in his rush to throw the women a rope and complete the double-save, he dropped his end of the line.

October 11th

I went 3 out of 4 in the Division Series and if I actually paid attention to what I wrote, I might be 4 out of 4. Let's review the rules: #1) Find the teams that have been playing well for longer than a weekÖ.a good 2 month stretch or longer is nice. #2) Find teams that have a knack for coming from behind #3) 2 dominant starters on staff equals trouble for other team. #4) Aggressive managing is better than the same old thing works managing. #5) Never go for a team with a bad defense particularly up the middle (CF, 2b, SS & C) #6) And of course there is the ex-Cub factor. Onto the predictions we go....

Dusty gets his wish, as the entire Cubs coaching staff will be back for 2006. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild apparently weighed the opportunity to be reunited with his World Series champion co-workers Dave Dombrowksi and Jim Leyland, but decided to come back to Chicago on a one-year contract. I'm a little surprised, actually. It's not that I wanted Rothschild to go, though he would have made a convenient scapegoat for the Cubs' problems in '05. It's that the Detroit pitching coach job is actually a pretty good one. They have a nice stable of young talent in Jeremy Bonderman and Mike Maroth, and Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya aren't too far away. Then again, the Cubs do still have Prior and Zambrano backed up by Greg Maddux (and hopefully Kerry Wood), with their own flotilla of "don't call them" prospects in AA and AAA. So Rothschild has some good stuff to work with here as well. So he's back for one more year or less, and he has to realize that the seat he's sitting on is as hot as Dusty's. The rest of the staff -- Sarge, Gino, Porky, Dickpole, Sonny, and the Manager-in-Waiting -- are back as well, and in their same slots.

October 10th

Some of you may know reader and roster guru AZ Phil from the comments and roundtable discussions and well he doesn't get that name for nothing. He'll be checking in from Arizona while he catches some of the Mesa Solar Sox games over the next few weeks. He's kindly offered to provide us with his scoop from the ballpark on how the lil' Cubs are doing. Thanks to Phil and hope you enjoy Box Score | Log Although the Solar Sox lost again today(5-3 to the Peoria Javelinas), I got to see†another fine offensive performance by Matt Murton and Brandon Sing. (Murton hit 5th and played LF, Sing hit 6th & was the DH). Murton was 2-3 with a walk, including two doubles, one sliced into the†right-field corner, and the other smoked to left-center.†Murton scored both times he doubled. The one time he came up with men on base (bases loaded, one out),†he rolled into a 6-4-3 DP. It was nice to see Murton play a single to the outfield aggresively and make an immediate throw home without thinking about where to throw it,†something you all may remember he failed to do a few weeks ago playing†behind Carlos Zambrano.†††

October 7th

Hope everyone is enjoying the playoffs, so far. Sure it's tough not seeing the Cubs in there and even tougher to see the White Sox and Cards playing, but if you're a fan of just the game of baseball, you generally get to see some well-played games. - The Cubs were suppose to announce any coaching changes by yesterday, but I haven't come across anything yet. I'm assuming the hold-up is being caused by Larry Rothschild. Hendry gave Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski permission to interview Rothschild, who worked with new Tigers manager Jim Leyland back in 1997 when the Marlins won the World Series. Indications are that Rothschild was offered a new contract by the Cubs for one year and it'll just depend if Rothschild is more interested in coaching with an old friend in Leyland or trying to stick around and finish what he's started in Chicago.

October 5th

And to wind things up, today we bring you answers from a few of the many thoughtful and enthusiastic readers of TCR: AZ Phil, KJK, David Geiser and Manny Trillo. Thanks guys! Update And belatedly, Bleeding Blue. Does Derrek Lee deserve the MVP? Will he get it? Bleeding Blue: Yes he deserves it, but since the MVP award has become the 'MVP for a playoff team' award, he won't. Pujols will probably get it. AZ PHIL: He does not deserve it and he will not get it. My belief about the MVP is that it should go to the player who made the most difference in helping his team have a successful season. It's not Derrek Lee's fault that he had a great season playing for a disappointing Cub team. But it does matter as far as MVP is concerned. Andruw Jones gets my vote for MVP. It doesn't hurt that he is probably the best defensive CF of the era, either. KJK: While I don't believe the MVP has to go to a winner, I think the Cubs' disappointing showing will not allow it. He'll get some votes, but won't come too close. My opinion? I'm highly biased on the matter. But, I won't be outraged if he doesn't get it. DAVID G: I think he deserves it, but it's close, and I don't object to someone like Pujols winning it in consideration of team context. Lee's season was a beacon in the darkness for Cubs fans, whether or not he wins the MVP. MANNY: The most valuable player is the player who if taken off the team would cost the team the most wins. Thus the answer is easy....Lee is the NL MVP. He led everyone in MLB in VORP, and that doesn't even count his Gold Glove defense. Now will he win it? I doubt it I think he will take a close second to Andruw Jones. Both Jones and Lee are gold glovers at very important positions which should push them past Pujols. If you had a disposable time machine that could only travel back as far as October 4th, 2004 and was good for only one trip, plus the superhero power to change peopleís minds and actions - what one move, moment, play or decision from this past season would you alter? Bleeding Blue: I'd go back to March, on the day Dusty named Hawkins the closer, and make Dusty watch videos of the 9th inning from 2004 over and over, Clockwork Orange style, all while playing audio tapes of Jim Hendry's interviews saying Dempster will get a shot to close. The point being, Dusty apparently didn't learn anything from the failed 2004 campaign, and went on to repeat those same mistakes in 2005. AZ PHIL: Dusty Baker's initial decision to use LaTroy Hawkins as closer and Ryan Dempster out of the starting rotation, instead of Dempster as closer and Hawk as set-up man. KJK: This is surprisingly the easiest question for me. I'd go back in time and remove whatever mental block Corey Patterson has. With a solid lead-off hitter with good pop and base stealing ability, the season would have turned out very differently, IMO, even if nothing else changed. DAVID G: Can I go back to November 12, 2002 instead? For this year, I don't think there's any one bad decision that had a deadly impact. I suppose the decision to use Hawkins as closer had the worst outcome, but I think it's only through hindsight that we can fairly criticize that. And remember that in October of 2004 the plan wasn't to use Hawkins as closer. I guess the LF situation turned out badly as well, but I don't have any better suggestions, and couldn't possibly have stomached another year of Alou as a Cub. MANNY: The Nomar injury is the one play I would like to alter. Losing him and Walker shortly later made the Cubs rely too much on a crappy bench. But changing Hendry's mind of going with a DuBois/Holly, Patterson and Burnitz OF (maybe the worst Opening Day OF in Cubs history) is a close second. At what point did you give up on the Cubs this year? Bleeding Blue: lost a lot of hope the day Nomar went down, but I didn't truely give up until the Mets series in early August. Nomar came back, Wood came back, Lawton and Williamson joined the team, and the Cubs got shelled. AZ PHIL: When the Cubs decided to shut down Kerry Wood so he could have shoulder surgery. I thought the Cubs still had an outside shot at the Wild Card. At that point they still had seven games remaining versus Houston in September. KJK: There wasn't a definite point for me. I'd say I began to feel strongly that they were doomed during the losing streak after that first great West Coast trip. It was plain to me at that time that this team was more or less like last years' in that they could step up on occasion, but for whatever reason (probably poor fundamentals) couldn't keep it going for any length of time. They also left too many on base even in winning efforts. DAVID G: It was a slow process of decline. The team looked incorrigible in the early May series in Milwaukee and the two games afterward, four of which I saw in person. I caught them again at home at the start of their next major skid, in early July against Washington. After that losing streak, their chance at the post-season was devalued to junk status. I was not one of the hopeful when they showed some signs of life at the end of August/beginning of September, but I guess I'm not known for my optimism. MANNY: I officially did not give up on the year until early August when they lost 8 in a row from August 3-10. Before that they were hovering around 2-3 games above .500 and still possibly had a September run in them (then ended up going 16-11 in September). But realistically when Nomar went down, this team was done. All signs point to Dusty Baker returning for the final year of his contract in 2006. But what lies ahead for Dusty? Is an extension on the way this off-season? Is he in any danger of losing his job in 2006? Should he be? Any other coaching changes on the horizon? Bleeding Blue: I've been saying Dusty should go since the middle of 2004, and I think it's still true. I doubt he'll get an extension, and Hendry and McFail will give him until at least the middle of next year. As long as the Cubs stay near .500, he'll keep his job through the end of the year, but if they fall short of the playoffs, he could finally be gone at the end of his contract. The entire coaching staff should also be blown up, but I doubt we'll see any major changes. AZ PHIL: I suspect Dusty will serve as Cubs manager through next season, and then retire. I believe Larry Rothschild is out. He was not one of Dusty's guys when Dusty was hired. Dick Pole was Dusty's pitching coach in San Francisco and I believe Pole will be the Cubs pitching coach in 2006. That would open up a spot for Sonny Jackson as bench coach, since Sonny J. has been Dusty's unofficial behind-the-scenes "assistant manager" for the last three seasons anyway. I expect either Vince Coleman or Shawon Dunston will replace Gary Matthews as 1st base coach next season. KJK: I think he will be extended. I don't like it. I hope it is for only one year. DAVID G: Everyone seems to think he's in line for an extension, which I suppose would mean his job is safe in 2006. Both might be true, and I find it utterly ridiculous. Baker was hired, I assume, because of his ability to get the most out of his players and field a motivated, prepared team. After 2003, that has not happened. In fact, the team looks lackadaisical and distracted. I think Baker should be fired. Now. If he isn't extended, I think he'll be on the bubble early in 2006. MANNY: Even I see that Dusty should not be given an extension before 2006. I do not think he should be fired though, but he and Hendry should be given the chance to get to the playoffs in 2006. If they make it, extend them for 2-3 years, and if not, they both should be let go. I do think, just like last year, there will be some changes in the coaching staff and that will come with Rothschild asked to hit the road. The pitching staff took a big step backwards this year with leading MLB in HR's and BB's. As he was here before Dusty, I don't think Dusty will put up much of a protest. That all being said, I think the Cubs will reup with him through 2008. What about Jim Hendry -- should McPhail and the Trib re-up him or is his fate tied with Dustyís? Bleeding Blue: His fate shouldn't be tied directly to Dusty's, but if he isn't willing to realise the team needs different on-field managment, then the team needs to seriously consider showing him the door. However, considering his relationship with McFail, I'd say he's a lock to get a contract extension. AZ PHIL: Jim Hendry is an excellent GM. I would like to see the Cubs sign him to an extension. I doubt that his future is tied to Dusty Baker's. KJK: I don't think his fate is tied to Dusty's. I think he will be extended. I think he should be. DAVID G: This is a complicated situation. I'm sure his job is safe, but I do not think that Hendry has been a successful GM overall. This is a difficult evaluation to make because Hendry has not just done a good job in many of the myriad aspects of his position, he's been exceptional. The mere fact that he built a farm system on the agricultural equivalent of the moon makes him one of the most important executives in Cubs history. He has generally received equal or better value in trades and never gets fleeced, unlike all of his recent predecessors. At the same time, he doesn't seem to get roster construction, and the promising players that come up from the farm system all seem to wither away. If he had a manager who knew what to do with a player under 30 or a boss above him who held him accountable, maybe Hendry would be doing a better job of these things. But in the context of this organization, which appears dysfunctional from top to bottom, I'm not seeing it. It's hard to fault him, however, as anything more than "part of the problem", and in another organization he might be exceptionally good. If MacPhail and Baker and most of the rest of the management were to go, I wouldn't mind seeing Hendry stay, but that isn't going to happen. I'm more of a "fire MacPhail" guy than I am a "fire Hendry" guy. MANNY: Hendry and Baker should basically be tied at the hip. Hendry has been given 4 years now as GM, each year with a pretty darn high payroll. And we have 1 playoff appearance to show for it, 3 years ago. Also, the minor league system is just not as good as Hendry and others think as its fruit has born very little thus far. Hendry has pulled off some really nice deals, but at some point enough is enough and if they don't make the playoffs in 2006, that should be it, with Baker being let go too. Again, with that being said, I think the Cubs will reup with him through 2008. What are the top three things that went wrong for the Cubs this year, foreseeable or not? Bleeding Blue: 1. Corey Patterson: The Cubs were counting on him having a 30/30 year, and instead ended up hoping he would avoid having 30 strikeouts a week. Even worse, his defense went south along with his bat, leaving a huge hole in CF. 2. Neifi Perez: 572 ABs, 3rd most on the team, most of them batting 1st or 2nd with his .298 OBP. I wrote before the season he'd get 300-400 ABs with Dusty managing, but even I didn't think things would get that bad. Not to mention, his ABs came at the expense of Ronny Cedeno, Todd Walker, and Jerry Hairston Jr. 3. Starting Pitching: Wood's continued injury problems, Prior's near-shattered elbow and inability to get out of the 2nd inning in less than 50 pitches, Zambrano's failure to really grow up and become the staff ace he could be, and Maddux's continued slow slide into mediocrity all made a once-feared staff a very average group. AZ PHIL: If you take away the period where Hawkins closed and Dempster started, and where Corey Patterson was used as the lead-off hitter, the Cubs played .552 baseball. That is good for 89-90 wins over a 162 game season, and 89-90 wins will probably win the N. L. Wild Card. So Hendry delivered a 90 win team (even with all the injuries!) to Dusty Baker, and Baker's decisions to use Hawkins as the closer, Dempster as a starter, and C-Pat as the lead-off hitter turned the Cubs into a sub-500 team. Also, moving Glendon Rusch from the starting rotation to the bullpen was dumb. KJK: 1. Corey's meltdown. 2. Wood's shoulder. 3. Tied for 3rd: Hawkins' travails, Nomar's bad start and subsequent groin injury. DAVID G: 1. The starting pitching did not deliver, both due to injuries and failure to excel. 2. Probably exacerbated by that problem, the relief corps fell apart. 3. Injuries in the offense and a failure by Baker to optimize what was there. MANNY: 1. Nomar's injury. 2. Going into Opening Day with DuBois/Holly in LF. 3. Patterson. How about three things that went right, besides Lee's breakout? Bleeding Blue: 1. The Bullpen, yes the Bullpen: From the emergence of Dempster as a reliable closer to the development of young players who will help the Cubs win in the future, the bullpen wasn't nearly as bad as it was made out to be. Using Hawkins as a closer for nearly 2 months, Remmy as a Lefty specialist, and the like made for some unspectacular statistics, but when you look at when the Cubs were having their winning streaks, they were doing it on the backs of the young arms in the bullpen. 2. Murton and Cedeno: Two guys who no one would have expected to even be on the team in 2005 turned in solid performances and give some nice hope for the future. 3. No Sosa: Burnitz wasn't great, but he hit a whole lot better than the 221/295/376 the former Cubs star hit in Baltimore. Plus, the Wrigley grounds crew didn't have to worry about that one patch of grass in Right Field that always seemed to be burned out by mid-June. Since I'm already stretching here, I'll mention not a single Cub in the majors was suspended for steroids, that's something, right? AZ PHIL: Ryan Dempster established himself as a reliable closer, Carlos Zambrano developed into a stud ace and future Cy Young candidate, and Matt Murton gave every indication that he will be a solid major league player. KJK: 1. Zambrano, of course. 2. Barrett's continued defensive improvement and the fact that he showed his 2004 bat was not a fluke. 3. Neifi stepped up and got the job done into the All-Star break (it's a pity that he didn't get to rest much after that). DAVID G: 1. Zambrano and Ramirez picked up from where they left off last season. 2. Dempster maintained enough of a G/F ratio to compensate for his walk rate, and was extremely effective as closer. 3. Catching became an actual strong point. When was the last time that happened? MANNY: 1. Dempster stepping into the closer role and posting the best save % in MLB. 2. Murton's surprise emergence. 3. Zambrano's continued emergence as workhorse/ace. The free agent market is one of the weakest in years, but the Cubs look to have plenty of cash to spend on it. Should they spend, spend, spend, and if so what should their targets be? Or should they hold on to it until next year or use it to take some garbage contracts off other teams? Should they spend it on extensions for any current players? Bleeding Blue: I'd really like to see Furcal in a Cubs uniform, otherwise there's not much else out there I'm too impressed with. Sign Furcal, makes some trades to plug the holes in the outfield, and rework some contracts so guys we want to stick around get more money up front, saving some cash for years when the Free Agent market is better, and the Cubs have a better chance of winning a championship AZ PHIL: I would sign D-Lee to a back-loaded contract extension, sign B. J. Ryan or Billy Wagner to be the closer, Brian Giles to play RF, a solid veteran arm like Jay Witasick for the bullpen and a proven left-handed PH like Mark Sweeney. That said, my hunch is that Hendry will go hard after Rafael Furcal to play SS and hit lead-off, which means Todd Walker's club option will be declined, with Ronny Cedeno moving to 2B where he will battle Mike Fontenot for the starting job next season. I also expect Hendry to do everything he can to sign Derrek Lee to a contract extension through 2009, and to re-sign closer Ryan Dempster to a two or three year deal. I suspect Hendry will try and get Aramis Ramirez to agree to give up his player option for 2007 in exchange for the Cubs guaranteeing the last two years of his contract, although I doubt that A-Ram will agree do that. I also believe Hendry will try and sign Jacques Jones to a three year deal to play RF and hit 5th. If he can't sign Jones, then I would expect Hendry to try and swing a trade for Austin Kearns or Aubrey Huff. Also, no matter what Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry say in the media, Corey Patterson will NOT be back with the Cubs next year. He be gone. KJK: Hold on until next year. Let the kids play. DAVID G: I'd extend Lee and see what I could do about voiding Ramirez's post-2006 walk option. Barrett is an interesting case as well. If the players who will make a difference are there, sure the Cubs should open their wallets to get them. I fear the effects of the nearly $1 billion bill the Tribune Co. is taking on in the wake of the Times/Mirror fiasco, however. Other than that, I'd love to see Brian Giles patrolling one of the corners. MANNY: I think Hendry should continue to be smart by not giving out those 5+ year long contracts. But at the same time try and get Furcal for SS, Damon in CF and/or another starter for the rotation if they can for the right money. I think most of what will be done this offseason will come via the trade. Dunn?? Huff?? Schmidt?? I think an extension for Lee should be held off a bit unless Lee admits that he will not put up these numbers every year and they can come up with a realistic deal. Hendry has his hands full... What are 3 moves the Cubs MUST DO this off-season? Bleeding Blue: 1. Fire Dusty: It won't happen, but I think it needs to for the Cubs to really have a chance, both short and long term. 2. Fire the Coaching Staff: I'm talking everyone here. Get a pitching coach who can teach our staff that going deep into a game is more important that striking everyone out. Get base coaches that can teach base runners that getting picked off is a bad thing. Get a hitting coach who teaches the value of clogging up the bases. Get a bench coach that can tell Dusty that making a double switch that moves the pitcher's spot up in the order is a bad idea. 3. Trade for an Outfielder: There's simply not enough available on the free agent market to fill the holes in both CF and RF. AZ PHIL: 1. Sign Derrek Lee to a contract extension. 2. Sign a closer (either Billy Wagner or B. J. Ryan), or re-sign Ryan Dempster. 3. Trade Corey Patterson. KJK: 1. Send everyone they get and intend to keep to fundamentals camp. 2. Send everyone they get and intend to keep to fundamentals camp. 3. Send everyone they get and intend to keep to fundamentals camp. DAVID G: 1. Ensure that the first two spots in the orders are locks, with guys capable of getting on base. Those guys might already be in the organization. 2. Assuming that happens, and that Lee and Ramirez are in the 3rd and 4th spots, get another quality hitter for the 5th spot, the kind of guy Burnitz was in the first half being a minimum expectation. 3. Make sure the rotation is rock solid. MANNY: 1. Decide early what to do with Walker. Pick up his option and then he would be great trade bait if you decide to go after another 2B, or let Cedeno take over the reigns. 2. Shore up bullpen, which has been horrible last 2 years. 3. Shore up OF. If Murton is in, we need to improve RF and/or CF a lot. I don't want to see a Murton, Patterson and Burnitz OF come April 2006. What are 3 moves the Cubs MUST NOT DO this off-season? Bleeding Blue: 1. Not sign mediocre veterans who will give Dusty an excuse to bench promising youngsters like Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno. 2. Not sign a free swinging, no defense infielder like Soriano or Nomar to play outfield. 3. Not raise ticket prices: I'd like to be able to afford tickets to a game! AZ PHIL: 1. Sign Jacques Jones to play RF. 2. Acquire Alfonso Soriano from Texas. 3. Refuse to part with young pitching if it is necessary to do that to acquire a quality OF bat. KJK: 1. Get a bunch of veterans for the sake of getting veterans 2. Get a bunch of veterans for the sake of getting veterans 3. Get a bunch of veterans for the sake of getting veterans DAVID G: 1. Resign Neifi. 2. Let Baker make the decisions. 3. Spend lots of money on relievers with one good season under their belts, with otherwise mediocre careers. Oops! Too late! MANNY: 1. Extend Wood, who can be a FA after 2006. 2. Not trade Patterson. Hendry should unload him ASAP. 3. Sign A.J. Burnett. We have enough injury prone players and pitchers. Letís talk specific players. Should Baker and Hendry give the keys to left-field to Matt Murton or do they look for other options? Bleeding Blue: Absolutely. Every sucessful Cubs team over the past 25 years has counted on young players to win. In 2003 it was Prior and Zambrano, in 98 it was Wood, in 89 it was Grace and Maddux, in 84 it was Sandberg. Perhaps in 2006 or 2007 it will be Matt Murton. AZ PHIL: As I've posted here at TCR many times this summer, I believe Matt Murton could very well be another Paul Molitor. He is smart enough and diligent enough to make adjustments at the plate and to correct his defensive deficiencies. He will be a fine player. But he should hit 2nd, not 5th or 6th. KJK: I'm a bit more conservative on this one. I say let him earn the job in Spring training and keep a close eye on him if he gets it. He did very well, better than I expected. But these were not pressure-packed games, either. The problem is getting him someone to compete with for the job.... DAVID G: An interesting problem. I have loved Murton this year, and I would like to see the door left open for him in 2006, much the same way it was left open for Dubois in 2005. (at least in Hendry's eyes). I think Murton is a better bet for success than Dubois, but I also project something along the lines of .280/.340/.450 for him, which really isn't very good in LF. If you let him face all lefties and certain righties, and give him a good platoon partner, it could work, but it's not something you go into without a safety net, and for Dusty Baker, "safety net" usually means "everyday player and leadoff hitter." MANNY: I think they should keep their options open, but I would be shocked if he is not in either LF or RF. Is Ryan Dempster the closer next year or should the Cubs look elsewhere? Bleeding Blue: The Cubs have already decided that he's their man. I think 5 million a year for 3 years is a bit too pricey for a guy with only 1 good season of relief pitching under their belt, and I wouldn't be shocked if the Cubs regret the deal in a year or two. However, I could say pretty much the same thing about any bullpen guy signed to a big money contract. Just think, in 2004 the Cubs locked up proven 2003 closer Joe Borowski and signed the best set up man available in LaTroy Hawkins, and ended up dumping both of them a year and a half later. AZ PHIL: Although I would prefer B. J. Ryan or Billy Wagner, Ryan Dempster would be my 3rd choice. I would not be upset if Dempster is re-signed for two or three years. KJK: This question has already been answered by Mr. Hendry. DAVID G: Well, obviously he's the closer. I think this is way too much money and way too much commitment for him. Hendry's main problem as a GM is that he vastly overpays for relievers, and more often than not he ends up burned for it. MANNY: Dempster should have been the closer next year even before Hendry signed him to the 3 year deal. He had the best save % of any closer with more than 20 save opportunities. Ride him as long as you can. Nomar Garciaparra: try to resign to another incentive-laden deal OR say thanks for the memories and the groin jokes? If he comes back, where should he play? Bleeding Blue: If for some reason the Cubs can't get Furcal, I wouldn't mind bringing Nomar back as SS. The key is to have Cedeno ready to go if and when Nomar does go down. I have no interest in signing Nomar to play any position other than SS, or 3rd base in the extremely unlikely event of a trade of ARam for a super stud Outfielder like Manny-Ram, Cabrera, or Andrew Jones. AZ PHIL: 2B, or (if he can adjust his sidearm throwing style) CF or RF. But not SS. KJK: I say bring him back to another incentive-laden deal and let him go back to short. DAVID G: Since coming back Nomar has performed at pre-2005 levels. If you're going to commit $15 million to Ryan Dempster after four months of performance, you've gotta make a one year deal with Nomar, as long as it's short-term and for similar or less money compared to this year. MANNY: If he comes back he should play SS. Many are scared off by his injuries which is very logical, but when healthy he is very good and worth the risk in my opinion. As long as it is a 1 year deal for like $3 million plus incentives. Neifi Perez: uber-backup, starter, or agent's phone calls immediately transferred to voice mail? Bleeding Blue: If Dusty wasn't the manager, I'd say he's a great back-up, but Dusty will be back so Neifi can't be. Either way, Ronny Cedeno can do at least the exact same job, and do it cheaper than Neifi, so say good-bye to Dusty's other MVP. AZ PHIL: I believe Neifi Perez is underrated by many of the posters at TCR, and that he will get a starting SS gig somewhere in 2006. Just not with the Cubs. KJK: This is another hard one. I want him to come back as uber-backup, but I'm not sure Dusty will play him that way. Or that Hendry would either for that matter. I doubt that Neifi would sign if he didn't get an assurance of beaucoup playing time. The Cubs didn't do so well in that very deal with Hollandsworth. DAVID G: I can imagine a scenario where Neifi could be the everyday SS or 2B on this team, and it would be okay. That scenario demands that he hit eighth. I am not a believer in subtle differences in lineup construction, but putting Neifi's guaranteed .300 OBA at the top of the order is a train wreck. Unfortunately, there is no way to ensure that Neifi is locked into the eighth spot as long as Baker is managing. Therefore one or both of Neifi and Baker must go. Signing Garciaparra and Neifi as backup means Neifi hits at the top of the order if Nomar gets hurt, and this simply is unacceptable. MANNY: Uber-backup. This guy is the definition of backup IF. He can play Gold Glove defense at 3B, SS and 2B and he is a switch hitter. This is a no brainer to sign him as long as he is willing to accept a back up role. Can Corey Patterson's brain and/or bat be salvaged? Bleeding Blue: Yes, but not with the Cubs. I still wish the Cubs would have left him in Iowa in August, but that didn't happen, and he didn't change. I bet he's traded and turns into a very good player. AZ PHIL: No. Not as long as he stays with the Cubs. What he needs is to go a small market team with minimal fan interest and an indifferent media. He can get a fresh start, and where his new team tells him to forget everything the Cubs told him, and just be himself. Colorado or Pittsburgh would seem to be a good fit. KJK: Yes. By the Cubs? No. DAVID G: Back at the ASB I said yes, and I still believe it. Now I have doubts that it can happen in this organization, and even more doubt that he will be given the chance. MANNY: NO!!!!! Good riddance to bad rubbish. I was a big supporter of Patterson prior to this year, but his obvious lack of concentration and unwillingness to at least try and improve is so upsetting that I don't think he can improve in a Cubs uniform with the crowd constantly on him. He will go down as the biggest flop in Cubs history. Kerry Wood: bullpen or rotation? Bleeding Blue: Give him one more shot in the roatation, but the first time he needs to miss a start, tell him to take 2 of whatever Ryan Dempster's having and make him baseball's most expensive setup man AZ PHIL: I like Kerry Wood throwing out of the bullpen, but if his shoulder is really, truly 100%, then I would be OK with him in the starting rotation. KJK: Rotation. He's making too much for the pen. DAVID G: Rotation, or trade. Wood isn't going to want to relieve in anything less glorious than the closer's role, and that now is occupied. MANNY:For $11 million next year, he has to at least be given the opportunity to see if he can start. But at first injury, send him to pen and let him set up for Dempster the rest of the year. Jeromy Burnitz: pick up his $7 mil option or buy him out for $500K? Bleeding Blue: $7 million's a bit steep, but I wouldn't mind seeing him come back. He'd actually be about the ideal 4th outfielder and solid bench bat the Cubs sorely lacked this year. Unfortunatly, I doubt he'd take a job as anything other than a starter, and I know Dusty would never let him be a reserve with Murton in the starting lineup. AZ PHIL: If the Cubs can't sign Brian Giles (and I doubt that Hendry wants Giles), I would buy another year with Jeromy Burnitz. He is a very good defensive player, and a good (albeit streaky) power hitter. I would take Burnitz over Jacques Jones, for instance. KJK: Buy him out. He did very well this year. I don't think he'll do so well next year. He's only getting older and bigger and slower ... DAVID G: I can imagine a scenario where he's the best option, but it's difficult. I think you have to cut him loose. His overall performance this year was in line with what we should expect in the future. MANNY: It all depends on if they are going to go after Dunn, Damon, Giles, Matsui, etc. But most likely they should buy him out and see if he will sign for less. That is what they should have done last year to Alou, but they let him walk and look what we got stuck with in LF. Todd Walker: good facial hair, gimpy leg, Cubs beat writers' best friend. Pick up his option or look elsewhere? Bleeding Blue: He's cheap and he's got one of the better bats for a second baseman in the league, so you've got to pick up his option. I would have no problem keeping him in the lineup next year, but If nothing else, he's great trade bait to pick up a solid outfielder, leaving Hairston and Cedeno to fight for the starting 2b job. AZ PHIL If Hendry signs Rafael Furcal, then Ronny Cedeno will move to 2B and Todd Walker will not be back. If Hendry does not sign Furcal, then Cedeno will be the Cubs SS in 2006 and Todd Walker will be the 2B. KJK: Let him go. Let's see what Ronnie Cedeno can do. DAVID G: Depends on the alteratives. At this point, I'd be glad to see him over any other obvious option at 2B. Last year I argued that his offensive advantage over the likes of Hairston did not make up for the defensive shortcoming, but I no longer think that. MANNY: I am not a big fan of Walker. We already have a lot of not-so-good defensive players on the IF (Barrett, ARam and Nomar). The Cubs should definitely pick up his option as he would be great trade bait and could be used in a package for a big OF bat or a good starting pitcher. I think the Cubs kept the wrong 2B last year and should have kept Grudzielanek, but Hendry wanted to sign Nomar and signing Walker went a long way in helping that deal get done. Which lilí Cubs would you like to see get a shot at a roster spot in spring training? Bleeding Blue: I think Rich Hill could be a very valuable addition to the Cub bullpen, but not the rotation. I also think Mitre has become very underrated. He's certainly more than capable of being the Cubs 6th starter in 06, but I'd keep him out of the pen if it can be avoided. I'd also like to see guys like Fontenot, Greenberg, and Theroit get a shot to make the Cubs roster, even if as backups, but I don't see that happening. AZ PHIL: Casey McGehee. KJK: Cedeno, Murton, Hill. DAVID G: Not sure if Murton counts as little anymore. The organization isn't stocked with guys right on the cusp of the majors. Most of the guys who starred in AA would benefit from another year in the minors. MANNY: Cedeno and Murton and that is about it. We have had very little out of our minor league system the last few years. I don't want to see Hill, Pie or Guzman next year until at least Sept Is 2006 the Year of the Cub? Why or why not? Bleeding Blue: Sadly, I don't see it. I do see lots of potential for 2007 if the Cubs brass would think long term. Of course, I'm getting Married next October, so knowing my luck, the Cubs will be in the playoffs when I'll be too busy to enjoy it. AZ PHIL: Yes. Because if I didn't believe that every year, I wouldn't be a Cubs fan. KJK: The believing is in the seeing. I'd like to think that with STL and HOU getting older the Cubs might outlast them, but seriously ... Ask me again in the Spring! DAVID G: If the starting pitching gels, and everything else falls into place, it could be the year, but I don't think that's terribly likely. The problem is that the Cubs don't maximize their opportunities, and they seem neither motivated nor prepared. I see another season where the Cubs are most concerned about what's wrong with X than they are about winning games on the field. I don't see this as an off-season that makes or breaks the team -- I think the key players on the 2006 team are the same as we have right now. I'm not terribly optimistic, but who knows? MANNY: History tells me no, so I will go with that. Hendry has too many holes to fill, and even though he has Sosa's contract gone and lots of money to spend, I think there will be too many "ifs" and injury risks to think the Cubs can do much more than compete for the Wild Card in 2006. GO CUBS!!

The AFL league began last night, and as you may know, 7 Cubs are down there right now. David Aardsma, Buck Coats, Angel Guzman, John Koronka, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, and Brandon Sing. The Mesa Solar Sox lost last night and the only Cub to get into the game was David Aardsma, who came out guns ablazing: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1BB, 2 K, 0 HR, 20.25 ERA. Aardsma came in with 2 outs in the bottom of the fifth and got D'Backs Jarred Bell to ground out. Then, in true Aardsma fashion, got the next two batters out in the bottom of the sixth before giving up three runs with 2 outs. This is something Aardsma has been very familiar with all year, starting innings strong, but unable to get that third out, at least not without some serious difficulties. Last night it started with a single by D'Back uber-prospect Stephen Drew, then a double by the Dodgers uber-prospect Andy LaRoche, a walk to the A's Andre Ethier and finally a triple to the Dodgers Matt Kemp before he struck out Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (imagine Harry trying to pronounce that one).

October 4th

Today, we have five writers from the Cubs world answering the same questions that the TCR writers answered yesterday. The participants: Joe Aiello, View From the Bleachers Will Carroll, Baseball Prospectus and The Juice Chuck Gitles, Ivy Chat TCR alumnus Derek Smart, Cub Town Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue FYI, some of the commenters sent their answers in before the Ryan Dempster extension. Enjoy! ---------- Letís start off with the biggest positive in an otherwise disappointing season: Does Derrek Lee deserve the MVP? Will he get it? WILL CARROLL: Deserve? Yes. Get it? No. It would be another Andre Dawson scenario. I think Pujols wins it, just as a make up and the fact that he's just as good. DEREK SMART: Deserving? Yes. Receiving? No. CHUCK GITLES: Deserve? Perhaps. He had as good of an all around season as anyone. Perhaps thatís the problem. He wasnít far and away better than the other MVP candidates to make up for the Cubsí poor record. Because of that, thereís no way he wins the MVP award. AL YELLON: Depends on what you mean by "MVP." Most Valuable? Well, without Derrek the Cubs would likely have finished in the Pacific Coast League. But did his monster season accomplish anything for the team? No, it didn't -- they stay home for the postseason, with or without him. It can be compared, in a way, to Andre Dawson's MVP year of 1987. The difference is, that year there really wasn't anyone offensively comparable to Dawson on a playoff team. This year there are two: Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones, and the Cardinals won going away, largely with their pitching this year. My vote goes to Jones. JOE AIELLO: I donít feel like Derrek Lee deserves the MVP. He was an exciting part of the 2005 MLB season, but itís awful hard to merit the MVP when your team finishes as poorly as the Cubs did. If there were not teams who made the playoffs that had MVP candidates I would say yes, but because of the year that guys like Andrew Jones and Albert Pujols had, I think you have to give it to him. I think Lee finishes 3rd behind Jones and Pujols. If you had a disposable time machine that could only travel back as far as October 4th, 2004 and was good for only one trip, plus the superhero power to change peopleís minds and actions - what one move, moment, play or decision from this past season would you alter? JOE: I would go back and change the Nomar Garciaparra signing. I think that he was a great idea, but just did not merit the money or the amount we had riding on him. A close second would be the lack of Matt Murton playing time. DEREK: The decision to start Nomar on April 20th. CHUCK: There are so many. I donít think any one decision hurt the Cubs. But, if there was ONE move I would have made (obvious drumroll please), it would have been to trade Korey Patterson. To go into this season counting on this man to provide any kind of offense given his history was ludicrous. AL: I know I'm going to get an argument from many here, but I think the Sosa Circus hamstrung the entire ballclub. In recent days I have heard that Jim Hendry did, in fact, have a deal in place to trade Sosa to the Mets for Cliff Floyd. Many Cub fans were against that deal due to Floyd's injury history and his reputation for being a butcher in left field. But Floyd stayed healthy all year, hit 34 HR and drove in 98 runs, and by all accounts played a decent enough outfield. Had the Cubs made this deal, they could have signed Jeromy Burnitz to play RF anyway, and perhaps the added offense would have kept them in a few more games. If not, Floyd would have been very tradeable at the July deadline. One more thing about this deal. Apparently this deal had been agreed to by Hendry and Omar Minaya, but then was scotched by upper Mets management. Hendry was so pissed he won't even speak to Minaya now. Can't say I blame him. WILL: I'd trade Sammy Sosa sooner. As we can see now, the holdup on that deal cost Hendry any flexibility in the off-season. At what point did you give up on the Cubs this year? WILL: "Batting leadoff for the Cubs, Neifi Perez!" CHUCK: May 4th. The night Roberto Novoa walked Damian Miller with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to give the Brewers their 6th consecutive win. DEREK: Youíd think that, writing a blog and all, that I could come up with a moment when I knew it was over. I mean, thereís a record out there, right? Still, even in looking back on it all I have no idea of an exact date, and even though the words I wrote may not fully support it, I think I gave up the ghost after the second eight-game losing streak left the team 6 games under. AL: I didn't give up at the time, but in retrospect the key turning point that turned the Cubs from contenders to pretenders was the August 3 game in which Michael Barrett blew the rundown play and Jimmy Rollins scored the winning run in Philadelphia. The Cubs had been somewhat hot up to that time; that was the beginning of a seven-game losing streak which pretty much took them out of any sort of real contention. JOE: I can pinpoint the abandonment of the team to a specific series. When Dave and I attended the Cubs/Mets series in NY and they failed to hit the ball during the entire series on the way to a terrible losing streak, I officially gave up on the year. All signs point to Dusty Baker returning for the final year of his contract in 2006. But what lies ahead? Is an extension on the way this off-season? Is he in any danger of losing his job in 2006? Should he be? Any other coaching changes on the horizon? DEREK: I donít think weíll see an extension without a big 2006, and I think a fall-on-their-faces start, especially if the Cubs have done a lot of revamping and spending of money in the offseason could result in Baker getting canned, and at that point it would be richly deserved. As far as other changes, the only likely firing would be Larry Rothschild, but my guess would be that heíll be the odd beneficiary of the teamís injury woes, given another chance due to difficult circumstances. JOE: Dusty Baker is one that baffles me. He has such a great reputation around baseball but Iím not sure why. My only consolation is that there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors that the common fan does not see. He didnít get the good rep for nothing so there is something we must NOT be seeing, because the things we ARE seeing make me want to vomit. Dusty seems to be a Hendry guy so I think he will be OFFERED an extension but will turn it down. CHUCK: Dusty Baker should be in danger. The new opening in LA and the curious announcement of when and the terms of the extension of Dustyís contract (not until February and for 2 years) makes it clear what someone has to offer to get Dusty out. He might just take the lifeline. We can only hope. WILL: The extension is all but done. I think he'll be back, the Cubs will continue to be mediocre, and he'll be fired sometime in 2007. Hendry has to force the issue on guys like Pie, Murton, and some of the young pitchers. I think Rothschild will be the sacrificial lamb, with Rick Kranitz from Iowa coming up. I just hope Andy MacPhail lets the new coach borrow his copy of "Saving The Pitcher." AL: Media reports now have Jim Hendry getting an extension "sometime in February," and Hendry probably giving Baker an extension after that. This goes against other reports that said that both would be given extensions after the season ends. I still think that could happen. The same reports say that the coaching staff is going to be re-hired en masse. I'm not in favor of this -- the batting coaches the last two years, Gene Clines and Gary Matthews, have done a terrible job, and I'd like to see the Cubs re-hire Jeff Pentland. The Brewers just let Rich Donnelley go -- I'm not sure why. He's a very highly-regarded third-base coach. Perhaps the Cubs could hire him to coach 3B, and move Chris Speier in to be bench coach. The Cubs have absolutely the worst bench coach in baseball in Dick Pole. The bench coach ought to be a former manager or manager-in-waiting, not a failed pitching coach. All that said, this year was, in my estimation, not Baker's fault, it was largely Hendry's. What about Jim Hendry -- should McPhail and the Trib re-up him or is his fate tied with Dustyís? DEREK: In general, I like what Jim Hendry has done. Some might say he hasnít been aggressive enough, and others might wish for a more SABR-friendly GM, but I think heís a smart guy who has a pretty solid understanding of market values, and actually seems willing to learn from some of his mistakes. I say extend him. WILL: Hendry and his staff, especially Oneri Fleita, should be re-signed. It's hard to fault his results, even if they are not up to our standards. If it weren't for 2003, our expectations would be back in the toilet. JOE: Jim Hendry has the ability to make things happen. As a general manager, all you can do is put the best possible team on paper together. You cannot control the everyday play of those players. Before you criticize Hendry, itís important to look at the great things he has brought here: Ramirez, Dempster, Lee, Murton, Nomar, Barrett, Maddux. That is enough for me to have confidence in his abilities as a GM. AL: One of the things that's hurt the Cubs most is starting over every three or four years with a totally new regime and way of doing things. Yes, Jim Hendry had a poor year, and I think he'd admit that. But he had a couple of good ones before that, and I think he's earned the chance to make it right this off-season. Absolutely. Re-up him. Remember this: after the Giants won 103 games and missed the playoffs by a game in Baker's first year in 1993, they suffered through three putridly bad seasons, but stuck with him. They were rewarded with multiple playoff appearances starting in 1997, winning seasons every year, and an NL pennant in 2002. CHUCK: Dusty Baker has done nothing to warrant an extension. If he is re-upped, itís a purely face saving move for Hendry and MacPhail (ìWe made the right move in hiring him! Firing him only shows we screwed up!î). Jim Hendry has gone into the last three seasons lacking a leadoff hitter. Heís gone into the last two seasons without a bullpen. Heís made excuse after excuse that the delay in trading Sosa was a detriment to this yearís roster. Heís yet to make the minor leagues produce. Heís allowed high ceiling prospects to wither on the vine and not trade them for veterans while other teams have done so (nicely done for Derrek Lee ñ what about Mulder, Beltran, Hudson?). Heís only shown solid ability to pull of deadline deals. By all means, re-hire him. The focus needs to move to Andy MacPhail. That he is allowed to stay with the lack of on-field performance means that team profitability is so high as to make the Trib not care about the on-field record. Until the fans start making the Trib care, why should the Trib make any changes? What are the top three things that went wrong for the Cubs this year, foreseeable or not? WILL: 1. Wood's injury. Foreseeable, but still devastating. 2. Dempster in the rotation. How many wins did that mistake cost us? 3. Lack of PT for Murton and Cedeno. Look at the Pirates, for cripes sake. CHUCK: 1. Lack of leadoff hitter - Forseeable 2. Lack of effective closer ñ Forseeable 3. Reliance on the starting pitching (Wood, Prior) to stay healthy ñ Forseeable Honorable mention ñ Bakerís refusal to bat players where they would have maximum effectiveness (I.e. Patterson / Neifi 1-2 while Hairston rode the bench). JOE: 1. Injuries. 2. Corey Pattersonís regression. 3. Left Field not being as profitable as planned. DEREK: Rather than naming three injuries, Iíll say all the big hurts ñ Nomar, Wood, Prior, etc ñ were thing one, followed by the initial backwards usage of Rusch and Dempster (I honestly think we might still have a happy, effective LaTroy Hawkins on the team had Dempster begun the year as closer), and ending with the clubís spectacular inability on most occasions to play anything resembling good, crisp, smart baseball. AL: 1. Nomar's injury. He had a great spring training, got off to a lousy start. OK, this happens to a lot of players. Getting hurt not only put bench players in the lineup, it hurt the bench. 2. LaTroy Hawkins. Had Ryan Dempster been named closer in the off-season, as he was supposed to be, Hawkins might have been able to reclaim his role as setup man. As it turned out, he was so bad as closer that he had to be dealt, and perhaps he may never be the same. 3. Corey Patterson. Yes, he may never become the star or superstar that some thought he would be. But I think even his detractors wouldn't have thought he would be THIS bad. Patterson's offensive season was just that, offensive; there haven't been any players with that many AB (over 450) who have hit that badly since 1968 -- and that was a pitcher-dominated season. How about three that went right, besides Lee's breakout? CHUCK: 1. Ryan Dempster, after being misused by Baker for 6 weeks, emerging as a quality closer. 2. Matt Murton showing that Theo Epstein knows what heís doing. 3. The season only having 162 games JOE: 1. Matt Murton 2. Ryan Dempster 3. Aramis Ramirez DEREK: The emergence of Matt Murton as a legitimate option in left should be a big deal next year and beyond, it was nice to see that the Cubsí faith in Aramis Ramirez was not misplaced (not that I had much doubt), and finally, while the club played poorly most of the year, it was still lovely to take the season series against the Cardinals. WILL: 1. Prior making it almost a full season without injury, aside from the freak comebacker. 2. Amazing season in Jackson, TN. 3. Umm, Len and Bob were pretty solid. AL: 1. Ryan Dempster's emergence as a top closer. 2. Carlos Zambrano's continued excellence, consistency, and taking over as the leader of the pitching staff. 3. The potential of Matt Murton to emerge as a solid regular outfielder for the next several years, if they'll only let him. The free agent market is one of the weakest in years, but the Cubs look to have plenty of cash to spend on it. Should they spend, spend, spend, and if so what should their targets be? Or should they hold on to it until next year or use it to take some garbage contracts off other teams? Should they spend it on extensions for any current players? JOE: When I look at this team and upgrades, I look around the IF. I return Lee and Ramirez as well as Todd Walker. I think you can give Ronnie Cedeno a shot at SS, if you sign Nomar to a strictly incentive laden deal. In the OF, I think Murton has earned his shot in the OF and could play RF if asked. Patterson needs one last shot in CF before we try Pie in í07 and that leaves one corner OF spot to fill. I wouldnít mind seeing someone like Matt Lawton come back for a full year to leadoff for us. He had a lot of pressure as a trade deadline guy and I think that hurt his performance. None of that would eat a lot of money, which would free us up during the year to take on contracts or do some extensions. I just do not see enough on the market to warrant a spending spree. AL: Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior are three players that absolutely must be locked up to long-term deals. Those three, along with Aramis Ramirez, who was locked up last winter, are in my mind the four absolutely untouchable players on the ballclub at this time. So yes, with a lot of cash flow, those are three good places to spend it. Do not assume that the Cubs will only look at free agency for acquisitions. Some of Hendry's best moves have been trades. And don't think that he won't be asking after players who might appear to be unmoveable. Why not see if you could pry Carlos Lee from the Brewers, for example? Apart from Lee, Prior, Ramirez and Zambrano, not a single current Cub should be considered untouchable in the right trade. WILL: Here's my off-season checklist: 1. Resign Todd Walker. 2. Resign Ryan Dempster if it's reasonable and 2 years (or less) 3. Pick up Burnitz's option. 4. Spend everything left on Rafael Furcal. DEREK: The Cubs need to get an extension done with Derrek Lee, if only to quiet any speculation during the season, but beyond that I see no need to lock anyone else up on the current roster. As for the market, it is weak, and the few prime players are pretty easily identifiable, but the Cubs have the distinct advantage of being loaded with cash going into the offseason, and itís one they should take full advantage of. The guys I look at are mostly obvious ones ñ Rafael Fucal, Brian Giles, and Iíd actually like to see them make a run at Jason Schmidt if he becomes available. What are 3 things the Cubs MUST DO this off-season? CHUCK: 1. Find a leadoff hitter. 2. Add a quality veteran to the starting rotation 3. Add a thumper in the outfield. DEREK: They must upgrade in right field, upgrade at shortstop, and acquire another starter. I think thereís more than one option available for each of those spots, and while Iíve got some names Iíd prefer, just getting that done will go a long way toward making next year better. JOE: 1. Fully commit to Matt Murton as an everyday OF. 2. Fully commit to Ryan Dempster as their closer. 3. Bring in bullpen help. AL: 1. Get rid of Corey Patterson. 2. Get rid of Jose Macias. 3. Get two better players to replace those two. What are 3 things the Cubs MUST NOT DO this off-season? DEREK: 1. They must not spend ridiculous cash on veteran, free-agent relievers (an axiom theyíve already partially violated). 2. They must not throw in the towel on Matt Murton. 3. They must not allow Jose Macias to darken their door again. CHUCK: 1. Give Dusty control over the lineup. 2. Count on Felix Pie as a starter in Wrigley in April 3. Re-sign Jeromy Burnitz. JOE: 1. Overpay for A.J. Burnett. 2. Overpay for Kevin Millwood. 3. Hike up ticket prices yet again as a result of the new bleachers. WILL: 1. Resign Nomar for anything more than a token. 2. Call Wood the closer. 3. Not trade Corey Patterson. AL: 1. Don't mess with Derrek Lee. Thank him for his great year and tell him to get some rest! 2. Don't NOT trade Corey Patterson. 3. Don't let Hendry and Baker go. Letís talk specific players. Should Baker and Hendry give the keys to left field to Matt Murton or do they look for other options? CHUCK: I love Matt Murton. I may let him father another child for me (inside joke if youíve seen my site lately). That said, he may have a peak value in acquiring a veteran pitcher. Say you could get a Brandon Webb for him? I might make that trade. WILL: Platoon him. I'd love to see a Pie-Murton-Burnitz outfield, but I don't think that will happen. How about Murton-Burnitz-Hidalgo? Get a cheap upside guy and be ready with Pie come June 1. DEREK: I think Murton can be the guy, so thereís no reason in my mind to try to spend money on someone to take his place when you could use that cash to upgrade in other areas in much greater need. AL: Right now, I'd like to see the Cubs sign Nomar Garciaparra to play LF and try Murton in RF. Matt's not the greatest defensive outfielder, but I think his offense would make up for it. That said, given you'd have two below-average outfielders in Nomar and Murton, that would make it imperative to go out and get an excellent defensive center fielder. There are guys out there. One might be the White Sox' Aaron Rowand, believe it or not -- I have heard the Sox might be looking to deal him, as they have a hot prospect OF in Brian Anderson ready to replace him. JOE: Murton has proved that he deserves a shot. The organization tried Dubois and he had showed less at the major league level. Murton played outstanding and is a model for how this team should be built. Give him the shot he earned. Is Ryan Dempster the closer next year or should the Cubs look elsewhere? (Note: this question was asked before the Cubs signed Dempster to a 3Y-$15.5M extension over the weekend) CHUCK: Sure. Why not. But with $50 million in payroll clearing over the next 2 seasons, adding a lefty, a la B.J. Ryan, is required. Itís actually inexcusable not to add B.J. WILL: Dempster and Williamson should pitch until their arms blow up...again. Passing on Craig Hansen or even Luke Hochevar hurts. JOE: Dempster is the man as far as I am concerned. Closers are vital but can also be made at will. Dempster is a perfect example. He had never closed but did a stellar job. Let him keep it. AL: This has already been answered by Dempster's signing, which I applaud. Nomar Garciaparra: try to resign to another incentive-laden deal or say thanks for the memories and the groin jokes? If he comes back, where should he play? AL: As I said above, I'd like to see him signed to play left field. I think his offense showed signs of coming back (though he's likely done stealing bases), and if he stays healthy, he's the kind of exuberant leader the Cubs could use on the field. CHUCK: Back in the corner outfield and as emergency shortstop. He is not a long-term solution in the infield. WILL: Utility player. 1Y/3M plus incentives and a team option. JOE: Nomar should be brought back on an incentive deal only if the organization is ready to commit to Ronnie Cedeno as their everyday SS. If that is the case, then Nomar is a good clubhouse guy that can help any team by playing 5 days a week somewhere. He can play 2b, 3b, SS, and maybe even an OF spot. Thatís enough ABís to allow him to prove himself. DEREK: I love Nomar, but I donít think this team can risk that he might get hurt again, and I donít think thereís anywhere they can afford to absorb him defensively in order to field his bat. It pains me to say it, but I think he needs to be let go. Neifi Perez: uber-backup, starter, or agent's phone calls immediately transferred to voice mail? JOE: Lightning in a bottle. Do NOT bring him back for what heíll want. If heíll take bench money then fine. WILL: He had one hell of a year defensively. He's valuable if he's in that role, so why not give him a million bucks or so. He's replaceable, so don't mistake him for a good all-around player. DEREK: If the Cubs have good, historically healthy starters up the middle ñ guys whose names Dusty will want to write on the lineup card every day ñ then I have no problem with him as a backup, particularly if the man at second is Todd Walker. Otherwise, if the men up the middle are both accomplished defenders, or if one of them is someone Dusty might suddenly turn fickle on, like Ronny Cedeno, then he needs to be ignored until he goes away. CHUCK: Backup, only if Dusty isnít managing. If Dusty stays, then backup only if Rafael Furcal is signed. AL: I like the phrase "uber-backup". That describes very well the role I'd like to see him have on the 2006 Cubs. As such, he's a very useful player. Giving him 572 at-bats in a year isn't what a winning team does. Teams for whom he had that many or more at-bats, in Colorado and Kansas City, sucked. The 2003 Giants, for whom he was "uber-backup", with about 300 AB, were a playoff team. Can Corey Patterson's brain and/or bat be salvaged? CHUCK: Do I have to answer this? DEREK: I suppose if I were feeling particularly ornery Iíd ask how one can salvage things that never existed in the first place, but that would be going over the line. I think heís done as a Cub. The general question of whether he can be a good Major Leaguer again is moot to me, because whether someone else can fix him or not, I donít think he can be effective again in Chicago. AL: Not with the Cubs, they can't. There's too much history, too much baggage. He still does have talent, and there's got to be some other team out there who'll say "we can fix that", and give the Cubs something in return. Frankly, I'd take a bag of used baseballs, but I think the Cubs can get a prospect or two, or package him in a larger deal. WILL: Yes, but not in Chicago. This might be the ultimate challenge trade. Bet Atlanta would love him. JOE: I think he can be salvaged but only with proper coaching. I just donít know that heíll be salvaged as a Cub. Kerry Wood: bullpen or rotation? WILL: Have to give him one more shot before resigning ourselves to the fact that he's never going to be Nolan Ryan. JOE: Rotation if he can stay healthy. If he gets hurt or feels pain even once that causes him to be removed like last year, then heís got to go to the pen. AL: Before the Dempster signing I'd have said try him at closer. But you're not going to pay Dempster that kind of money without promising him the closer slot, and Wood makes too much money to be a setup man. So let's assume that he can recover from the surgery and start again. If he has a good spring, maybe he can even still be traded. That said, I'd love to see Wood succeed. I've been a big fan of his since even before his 20-K game, when I saw him throw consistent 98-MPH heat in spring training 1998, only to be demoted to Iowa. That year, someone asked then-Angels manager Terry Collins who he thought would win the World Series. He said, "The Cubs." Asked why, he said, "If the Cubs have five pitchers better than Kerry Wood, they OUGHT to win it all." That's the Wood I hope we see again. DEREK: Rotation. And heíll stick, at least for one more year. CHUCK: Iíd use him in the pen. Hendryís gonna have him as a starter. That means at least 1 trip to the DL and 2 rookies to fill in for him. Jeromy Burnitz: pick up his $7 mil option or buy him out for $500K? CHUCK: Hasta la vista. WILL: Pick it up. There's not much out there better at the same price. DEREK: Buyout. The Cubs can do better for that kind of cash. JOE: I hate to say it, but I really like Burnitz and the way he plays. I bring him back. AL: Buy him out, thank him for his service, give him a gold watch or whatever it is you give retiring ballplayers these days, and say goodbye. Todd Walker: good facial hair, gimpy leg, Cubs beat writers' best friend. Pick up his option or look elsewhere? JOE: Iím kind of a homer with Walker, but I really like him and what other options do we have at 2B in the FA market or on the farm? DEREK: I love Toddís bat, but his defense gives me and Greg Maddux night sweats. If the organization is truly committed to giving Cedeno a shot over at second in the event that someone else is signed to play short, then I can let him go ñ particularly if the Cubs decide to let Nomar have one more shot at the 6 hole. Otherwise, if whoever is going to play short is solid enough defensively, and Cedeno isnít going to play the keystone, Iím good with another year of The Shadow. CHUCK: I look elsewhere. Heís just not good enough and he drives in too few runs. AL: I like Walker and only wish he could stay healthy. He's not nearly as bad defensively as everyone says. It's entirely possible that the Cubs will pick up his option and then trade him, which even he admits could happen. I have heard that the Cubs are going to make a run at Rafael Furcal and try Ronny Cedeno at 2B next year, which wouldn't leave room for Walker. But, if they don't get Furcal, they could sign Nomar for LF, Walker for 2B, and try Cedeno at SS. Nice to know there are at least some options out there. WILL: Pick it up. Good facial hair is worth something and the other option is Neifi starting. Which lilí Cubs would you like to see get a shot at a roster spot in spring training? JOE: David Aardsma could help the bullpen. He has closer-like stuff so he can get some experience in pressure situations that arenít quite save situations. Plus, how nice would it be to hear that heís the first person in the alphabetical list of players in MLB history over and over all year? WILL: Murton, Pie, Greenberg, Brownlie, Leicester, Sing, Nolasco, Ryu, Pinto, and Aardsma. DEREK: Murton, Cedeno, Pie. AL: As noted above, Cedeno. I like his bat, glove and attitude, and I think that has not gone unnoticed by the brass, and as also mentioned above, Murton. Apart from that, Jermaine Van Buren has a good shot at making the 2006 bullpen, IF he can control that fastball of his. Nine walks in his six major league innings to date isn't a good sign. CHUCK: Angel Guzman, before heís AARP-eligible. Is 2006 the Year of the Cub? WILL: Not yet. Cards will still be very good, Brewers will be coming up, and it just doesn't look to gel. I'd like to see them see what they have in the first half and see if it's moving towards something. The Cubs could always add or subtract at the deadline in any year. DEREK: Itís just too early to tell. Iíd like to think so, but a lot needs to happen in order make that hope a reality, and with the weight of history on their backs, if I had to lay a bet Iíd have no choice but to say no. CHUCK: No. Dusty managing. Hendry leaving too many holes for too many years. Too many holes (two OFs, SS, 2B) and too many other bad spots (C, relief). Two-year project, minimum. AL: Man, what a question. Cub fans have been asking that for ninety-eight years, ya know? And every year we hope, every year we hope the answer is yes. It's early to say yes or no. It's only two days after season's end, and no moves have yet been made. All we have right now are rumors, and you can't base a prediction on rumors. Ask me again in March. JOE: Ask me in October of í06. I think Iíll have a better idea then.

I trotted out my playoff prediction process last year at my old site. Before we begin, let me point out that picking names out of a hat or some sort of other randomness would be just as successful. My record last year in the first round, well my original picks went 3-1, but I discovered the Yanks led the league in come from behind victories (See Rule #2), which would have changed my one pick and I would have went 4-0. Onto The Rules: #1) Find the teams that have been playing well for longer than a week....a good 2 month stretch or longer is nice. Records of the playoff teams since August 1st: Yankees (39-20), Angels (35-22), White Sox (31-28), Red Sox (36-22) Astros (32-25), Cardinals (34-24), Padres (31-26), Braves (29-28) Edge to the Yanks, Red Sox and Cardinals.

October 3rd

With the off-season upon us, we thought we'd take a few days to look back at the '05 season and forward to 2006. Today, the four TCR writers take a stab at it, and our feelings range from pessimistic to, uh, really pessimistic. Someone want to talk John in off that ledge? Tune in tomorrow for Q&A with other Cubs writers, and on Wednesday for the opinions of some of the TCR community. ---------- Letís start off with the biggest positive in an otherwise disappointing season: Does Derrek Lee deserve the MVP? Will he get it? JOHN: Simply put, Derrek Lee has been the most valuable player in the National League in 2005 - he's contributed more wins to the Cubs than any other player has contributed to any other team. He's managed that by combining that with his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base with the best offensive stats in the league. If you measure hitting traditionally, note that Lee led the NL in hits, batting average, extra base hits and slugging percentage, he made a valiant run at the Triple Crown that didn't peter out until August, and he even stole 15 bases. If you like to keep up with times, Lee ranked first in OPS by a country mile, and fourth in OBP. And if you're more sabermetrically inclined, it's hard to argue with the fact that Lee wiped the board in every acronym from EqA to VORP to MLV and what not. So, will Lee win it? I fear not - I suspect the writers will find a way to perpetuate the greatest injustice since, erm, last year. Their flimsy case will be based upon the fact that the Cubs as a team aren't heading to the postseason and upon Lee's "measly" 107 RBI. I find it difficult to pin the inadequacies of the rest of the roster, not to mention those of the man in charge of it and the man that put it together, upon the giant shoulders of the one that actually did his job, and a whole lot more besides. RUZ: He certainly deserves it, but I don't think he'll win it. He ended the season with the highest VORP in the major leagues, joining Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols as the only players with a VORP over 100. Pujols ended up pretty close, though, and since the Cardinals made the playoffs and the Cubs didn't, I expect Pujols to take home the award. TRANS: Lee is ahead of Pujols in most of the important stats and plays a better defensive 1B; so itís either Lee or Jones. Lee wins. Heís almost 170 points ahead of Jones in OPS. 75 points on the batting average. Far more doubles and runs. Lee also wins on all the b.s. ìintangible" stuff as well, since Jones has to shake his previous reputation as a malcontent. ROB: The vote will likely end up being Pujols, Jones, then Lee. If it was my vote Iíd go Lee, Pujols Cabrera, then maybe, just maybe Jones. Jones does have the advantage over the two by playing a mean centerfield every day, but the bulk of his votes are going to come because Marcus Giles(.366 OBP) and Rafael Furcal (.347 OBP) and Chipper Jones (.412 OBP) hit in front of him, meaning all 50+ of those homers had a really good shot of being with men on. Really a shame how bad this season was for the Cubs, as I never was really able to enjoy Derrekís season for the ages. If you had a disposable time machine that could only travel back as far as October 4th, 2004 and was good for only one trip, plus the superhero power to change peopleís minds and actions - what one move, moment, play or decision from this past season would you alter? TRANS: I wouldnít have finished that 7th burrito. Oh, do you mean Cub-specific? Thatís tough, because there isnít one single decision that doomed us. The mistakes were smaller, more diffuse, but just as effective in the ultimate goal of disappointing Cub fans. Patterson? Hawkins? Hollandsworth? Garciaparra? Wood? Each of them had a warning light blinking over their head, but each individual move was defensible at that moment in time. I guess I would whisper into Hendryís ear, ìstop collecting so many warning lights!î RUZ: I'd resist the impulse to go Jeff Gilooly on Neifi Perez's shins in Spring Training, and I'd pop back to the morning of April 20th and convince Nomar that, should he hit into a double play ball, there would be no reason for him to try to run it out, and that he should just take the two outs and head back to the dugout with his groin intact. ROB: April 19th, 2005. By whatever means possible Iíd have kept Nomar Garciaparra out of the lineup on April 20th. He was really the one guy we couldnít afford to get injured for a length period as replacement shortstops are a tough find, not to mention his injury was the start of the ìnot againî portion of our year. JOHN: If I could go back to last October, I'd enroll as a Boston Red Sox fan. Winning a World Series seems like a lot of fun. The Cubs should try it one day. The trouble is though that the Cubs from the top to the bottom do seem somewhat allergic to the idea: I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to talk about there being almost a fundamental disposition to failure within the organization as a result of overexposure to it over the years. If I could change anything using this hypothetical time machine with superhero powers, I think it'd be to fix that. That or I'd unravel the Sosa mess, which I think still shamefully reflects on the Cubs just as much as it does Sosa. At what point did you give up on the Cubs this year? JOHN: The beginning of the end was Nomar's injury on April 20th. It was only just before the All-Star Break though, when an eight-game losing streak signaled the abandonment of a 40-36 position of relative strength that I think it became obvious the game was up. That series in Atlanta, memorable for tropical weather and lineups featuring Macias and Neifi at the top, when Lee still had a shot at the Triple Crown too, that was truly depressing. The Cubs never really recovered. Neither did my optimism. RUZ: Right around the All-Star Break, as the Cubs were finishing up an eight-game losing streak and I was getting ready to move cross-country. The way they were playing made it really easy for me to stop paying quite as much attention. ROB: I was quite ready to give up when the Cubs lost that home series at the trading deadline to the Arizona DíBacks. I mean everything tells me that if you canít beat a lightweight like that at home, you have no business in the playoffs. The trade for Lawton brought a bit more of that false hope that lasted for a whole ënother week, until we got swept in New York. TRANS: Happily, the Cubs started to fold around the same time that the academic year started, mid-August. It was very convienient of them. Thanks! All signs point to Dusty Baker returning for the final year of his contract in 2006. But what lies ahead? Is an extension on the way this off-season? Is he in any danger of losing his job in 2006? Should he be? Any other coaching changes on the horizon? ROB: I donít think any coaches are going anywhere. Baker wonít last the season if theyíre middling around .500 come June (injuries or not). Hendry, in order to save his own hide, will have to be proactive if thatís the case and firing Dusty will look like heís on top of that situation. Sadly though, Grady Little will most likely be the interim manager. I donít agree with much of what Dusty says or does, or his demeanor, but winning solves everything. It doesnít have to be my way if the Cubs are on top. Of course it hasnít been lately and any trust I had in Dusty is long gone. If the Cubs donít make the playoffs, heís certainly gone. TRANS: Dusty should be on the hot seat. Whether he is or not depends on whether Hendry thinks that his own future is secure. If he feels insecure, and Baker gets off to a slow start, Bakerís gone. If he feels secure, he sticks with Baker, as Hendry has given absolutely no indication that heís dissatisfied in any way with Baker. That said, we should pay a kingís ransom to bring in Ron Washington from Oakland as a fielding coach, and groom him to replace Baker. I fear that weíll wind up with Lou Pinella, though, if Baker goes. JOHN: Good Lord, Dusty Baker. I'd rather just pretend he didn't exist. He'll be back next year, though -- I don't see any other possible scenario right now, and his fate thereafter is tied to what happens next year. It's as simple as that. I suspect the coaching staff, Larry Rothschild included, will be given another spin, but I can't say that with quite the same degree of surety. RUZ: I don't think he'll get an extension this off-season. And I have to think he's in danger of losing his job in '06 -- he's in the last year of his contract, so it'll be a lot easier for Cubs brass to fire him mid-season if they want to. In order for Dusty to keep his job through the end of the year, the Cubs need to have a really good April. Of course, I was predicting he'd be fired this season, so what do I know? What about Jim Hendry -- should McPhail and the Trib re-up him or is his fate tied with Dustyís? ROB: Hendry is a solid GM and more importantly to McPhail and Co., the seats are still filled and he stays within the payroll budget. It would have to be a disastrous season for them to even consider it. This will really be the first year that the entire team will be his doing as theyíre finally out from under the Sosa contract. I hope Hendry is around for awhile, we just need to hire an Assistant Middle Infielder GM, who vetoes Hendry anytime he has the bright idea to sign the Neifis or Maciases of the world. RUZ: They shouldn't re-up him, but he shouldn't be tied to Dusty. I'd like to see Hendry stay after the '06 season and have the opportunity to work with a manager who has the same priorities he does. JOHN: Jim Hendry has certainly tied himself and with him his fate to Dusty Baker. The two have had a couple of minor public disagreements, which suggests that they perhaps don't always see eye to eye in private. But, they're not as different as we'd like to think, and the direction the Cubs are heading has for the most part been agreed between them. Obviously that does not reflect particularly well on Hendry, because I think it's becoming increasingly obvious to everyone else that Dusty is not the man to lead this team where it wants to (and must) go. But if Hendry can see that too, then I can only think of two explanations, and neither's particularly good: either Hendry is compromising the entire team for the sake of not abandoning his original decision, and so his job has become trying to put together a roster that's not necessary the most likely to win, but rather the most likely to win with Dusty Baker as manager, or else Hendry is under the finger of people above him that are restricting his ability to make executive decisions. It just goes to show that we simply have too limited an understanding of what's really going on to make worthwhile pronunciations as to how things will pan out long-term for Hendry, McPhail, Dusty, or anyone else. TRANS: The last that I read, McPhail wanted them both back. Hendryís been in the organization longer and has done more for it than Baker, so I donít imagine that his fate is tied to Bakerís. If Iím McPhail, I keep Hendry as GM on the strengths of his trading history and his ability to recruit and utilize good scouts. Thereís also the factor of institutional continuity, where the Cubs historically have been just woeful. There hasnít been a long-term vision for this organization in decades, because of the high rate of turnover in the Manager and GM slots. Hendryís the first Cubs GM since Dallas Green to deserve the opportunity to see where his long-term vision takes the organization. What I do, however, is bring in someone from outside the organization to audit our minor league instruction techniques, and someone else to audit the conditioning techniques of our Major League pitching staff. Give them access to whatever they need, and give them the authority to make real changes. Our current approach has failed, and some of that blame has to stick to Hendry. What are the top three that went wrong for the Cubs this year, foreseeable or not? RUZ: 1. Nomar's injury took the Cubs out of playoff contention. In April! 2. Neifi Perez got almost 600 PAs. 3. Corey Patterson continued to exist. TRANS: 1. Hawkins, pre-trade. 2. Patterson. 3. Nomar's groin. ROB: 1. Injuries (Nomar, Wood, Prior, then everything else). 2. Korey's fall. 3. Bullpen disaster. JOHN: 1. Injury. Garciaparra, Walker, Ramirez, Prior, Wood, and Fox all spent significant time on the DL. That, combined with the unforeseeable Corey Patterson implosion and the more foreseeable failure of the Jason Dubois experiment meant that the Cubs took quite a hit this year. 2. That hit was compounded by the failure of Jim Hendry to prepare and sort of contingency plans. When Wood and Prior went down, we were left with a rotation featuring Maddux, Rusch, Mitre and Koronka. When Nomar limped away, we had to endure far too much Neifi. When Aramis sat, it was Macias that got the call at first. When Dubois and Corey went belly up, we had to suffer through Hairston and Hollandsworth. 3. Finally, this was the year that Dusty Baker went wrong. This was Dusty's "make or break" year, and he broke the Cubs. The players must bear a significant chunk of the responsibility, and Hendry must be chastised for some of his decisions. That said, I cannot for the life of me think of any ways in which Dusty Baker actually helped this team this year, yet I can think of a lot of ways, small when looked at individually but far more serious when considered collectively, that I think hindered the team. Quite frankly, I don't think I can stand many more ridiculous decisions, and I know I can't stand any more ridiculous sound bites. Maybe Dusty's great behind the scenes, I don't know, but I doubt it. His players don't play like it. How about three that went right, besides Lee's breakout? RUZ: 1. Ryan Dempster made the ninth inning unadventurous. 2. Matt Murton gave us hope that he might not be the next Scot Thompson. 3. Carlos Zambrano continued his development and appears poised to join the elite next year. TRANS: 1. Len and Bob. 2. Ryno. 3. Dempster. ROB: The emergence of Murton, okay, thatís one. Umm, Wow, hmm, let me think of 2 more, Dempster coming up as a potential relief ace, that was good, letís see a third, no Cub fan was mortally wounded by a fly ball or flying concrete. JOHN: 1. Ryan Dempster. Putting Dempster in the rotation was one of the first of Dusty's ridiculous decisions, But Dusty, in fairness, swallowed his pride and changed his mind (something I wish Jim Hendry was more capable of) and shifted Dempster to the bullpen, where Hendry had wanted him all along. And Dempster had a terrific year. You simply can't argue with 33 saves in 35 opportunities. And it's worth remembering that Dempster blew the first one he got, and the other, against the Cardinals, only came about because an umpire blew a call on Hector Luna's "steal" of second. And the Cubs won both of those games anyway. 2. The bullpen, at least in the way that it was handled. The Cubs showed a new and somewhat encouraging willingness to eat contracts when they dispatched Borowski and Remlinger, pitchers with their best days long behind them. They then turned to the future, and though the results were sometimes painful, they broke in three very promising arms: Wuertz, Novoa and Ohman. With Williamson around (he's streets ahead of where Dempster was at the same stage last year), and Dempster of course, and maybe Jermaine Van Buren too, the Cubs' bullpen holds a lot of promise. Gah, that's just two things. Well, more than three million went to Wrigley again this year. That's just two and a half? Erm, we got healthy years out of Neifi Perez and Jose Macias? Still just two and a half? Oh I give up. The Cubs drove into a tree this year, and the car's a write off. Ah, but the heated seats still work! Big deal, I say. Let's put 2005 out of our minds. The free agent market is one of the weakest in years, but the Cubs look to have plenty of cash to spend on it. Should they spend, spend, spend, and if so what should their targets be? Or should they hold on to it until next year or use it to take some garbage contracts off other teams? Should they spend it on extensions for any current players? TRANS: Lee, Z and P all deserve extensions, yes. Priority no. 1 for the money: target a starting outfielder. Throw as much money in a three-year deal to Matsui or Damon as we possibly can, or take on Mannyís contract. Be slightly less aggressive on Brian Giles. Priority no. 2: sign Furcal, move Cedeno to 2B and resign Walker for a year. Priority no. 3: trade Barrett and sign Ramon Hernandez. There is no ìsavingî money. If we donít spend it this year, donít expect the Tribune to roll it over for the 2007 season. If we canít spend it on desirable free agents, then throw the money into anything from fielding coaches (Ron Washington!) to reduced ticket prices. ROB: Resources may be limited but there are players that can fill the holes on the ballclub. Unfortunately it may mean a bidding war for their services and thatís just not something Hendry likes to get involved in and rightfully so. Shortstop, corner outfield, centerfield, and the bullpen need to be addressed this off-season and whether itís free agency or via trade, Hendry needs to pull the trigger on some deals that heís been hesitant of the past. (Big money contracts and trading away top-tier prospects). I wouldnít mind seeing extensions for Lee and Zambrano as well. JOHN: Is it just me, or does every year feature the weakest free agent market in years? The question to ask, even if it's a strange one to ask of a team that hasn't won in 97 years, is this: when should the Cubs win? It seems to me as though not even Jim Hendry has made his mind up. On the one hand he's been so reluctant to deal away prospects that it's obvious he has more than one eye on the future. On the other, the Cubs have committed to a lot of contracts of significant size that are focused entirely on the here and now of things. It seems as though Hendry's answer is "let's win every year." That would be great, but until Hendry proves that he himself is capable of orchestrating that, or until he moves on, it seems to me he's actually saying "let's win next year." I don't want to see the Cubs make stupid short-term decisions in pursuit of an improbable goal, but the current Cub philosophy is very frustrating. I certainly don't see the point in not using the money and saving up for 2007. Zambrano, Prior and Wood aren't going to be around forever. Lee won't stay this good for long, Ramirez and Barrett, bring back Walker and Nomar, the Cubs have a win-now opportunity if they seize it by the horns. RUZ: Spend, but spend wisely. It's a shame that in the off-sesaon that the Cubs really do need to rebuild a few key positions, there isn't much out there. Stay away from aging outfielders (I'm looking at you, Brian Giles) who will command inflated prices (hello, Mr. Damon). This is a weak market, and I hope Hendry doesn't spend money just because he feels like it's what he has to do. What are 3 things the Cubs MUST DO this off-season? RUZ: I really think there's only one thing they MUST do: figure out the outfield before Spring Training. Whether it's moving Nomar there, and/or bringing back Burnitz, and/or putting Murton at the top of the depth chart, they have to do it, and stick with it. Once that is in place they can figure out what else needs to be done, but I think any other moves can wait until later in the off-season. Let other teams overpay for what's out there, and then come in late and look for bargains. TRANS: 1. Let Murton play one of the corners. 2. Decide whether Cedeno is ready or if we need a stop-gap shortstop. 3. Get more power from the outfield. ROB: 1. I donít know who it should be, but they need to find a stud outfielderer whoís got pop and a good approach to the plate, all while playing some stellar defense. Brian Giles could fit that role, but Iím guessing more likely that it comes in a trade. 2. Sign Furcal or trade for some other similar player that can get on-base at a decent enough clip that would make him a reasonable lead-off man, plays good defense at an important defensive position, and has a bit of speed that heís not afraid to use. 3. Find a lights out bullpen arm either by trade or free agency. B.J. Ryan/Ryan Dempster end of the bullpen would be a dream come true, albeit an expensive and highly unlikely one. JOHN: 1. Fix center field. 2. Fix right field. 3. Fix the bench. Finding another top starting pitcher also has to be a high priority. You can't have enough pitching, so says the old maxim and so do I. What are 3 things the Cubs MUST NOT DO this off-season? RUZ: 1. Sign any outfielder over 33. 2. Bring back Corey Patterson. 3. Get fooled into thinking that Derrek Lee has set a new level of performance. They need to realize that he will regress next year, and plan their offense accordingly. TRANS:: 1. Give Corey the starting CF job. 2. Re-sign Nomar. 3. Give major league contracts to over-30, under 5' 8" utility infielders. ROB: 1. Re-sign Neifi Perez 2. Go after Johnny Damon. 3. Sign some shoddy veteran corner outfielder to compete with Murton. JOHN: 1. Re-sign Jose Macias. 2. Let Nomar and Walker leave for defensive reasons. 3. Sign Dusty to a ten-year extension. Letís talk specific players. Should Baker and Hendry give the keys to left field to Matt Murton or do they look for other options? TRANS: Barring a blockbuster trade for a slugging corner OFer, who on the market would bring better value? Murton has to play. Everything in his minor-league performance and his major league audition indicates heíll keep hitting. (Though I just noticed his line-drive percentage is lower than Corey Patterson's!) I love his hustle, his plate discipline, heís got acceptable speed. Keep him! ROB: Unless Murton is part of a trade that nets us one of the best corner outfielders in the game (and Iím talking the Mannys and Adam Dunns of the baseball world), he should be given every opportunity to lose the job next year. And by every opportunity, Iím talking as much leash as was afforded Korey this year. RUZ: Murton should be given the chance to start. JOHN: The Cubs have a good shot at getting at decent production at a miniscule price. As long as they make sure they've got the contingency plan that they didn't have for Dubois, it has to be Murton. He's not going to hit .321/.386/.521 as he did this year, but if he can even be league average, the fact he's costing not a cent more than $316k allows the Cubs to invest in premium production elsewhere. Hendry deserves enormous credit for orchestrating what was basically a Brendan Harris-for-Matt Murton swap as part of the Garciaparra deal. Harris this year hit a meager .270/.329/.417 in 127 games at Triple-A. Is Ryan Dempster the closer next year or should the Cubs look elsewhere? (Note: this question was asked before the Cubs signed Dempster to a 3Y-$15.5M extension over the weekend) TRANS: I donít think Iíve given Dempster enough credit this year. Heís really done a good job. If he stays near this performance level for three years, heís a steal. If he tanks, this is an amount of money that does not cripple the team. Nice work, Hendry. ROB: I would still love for the Cubs to go after Wagner or Ryan and have a lethal one-two, righty-lefty punch out of the bullpen. Considering how bad our starting staff is at going deep into games, a lights out bullpen seems to be a necessity. JOHN: Despite his superb performance this year, I'm not too optimistic he'll repeat it next year, or the two years after that. Dempster still walks too many batters, and it's unlikely he's found a secret way of preventing runners on base from scoring that will ensure continued success. In general, if you put runners on, they'll eventually start coming around to score. Giving him over $5M a year is okay -- the Cubs can afford to spend a little extra to avoid market forces and to maintain a little roster stability. Giving him three years strikes me as risky. Let's just say I hope this is a deal that the Cubs don't live to regret. RUZ: Hendry didn't over-pay, so that means if the Proven Closer dust falls off him in the off-season, they should be able to go after another option without being handcuffed by the contract. Nomar Garciaparra: try to resign to another incentive-laden deal or say thanks for the memories and the groin jokes? If he comes back, where should he play? TRANS: I wouldnít give him more than $2M guaranteed for one year. But even then, we would have to pencil him in for starter, scaring away potential free agents that are good enough to start. Thus, when Nomar goes down, weíre stuck with Jose Macias again. So no, I wouldnít try to resign him at all. ROB: I would love nothing more to keep Nomar around, but I just donít see a spot for him. His bat isnít all that special to offset whatever defensive liability heíd likely be in the outfield. A move to second base is what would interest me the most, but I havenít heard anything yet about Nomar being interested. If we donít sign Furcal, Nomar is still my #2 choice, but I would then jettison Todd Walker for a better defensive option and hope we find that elusive prototypical lead-off man to fill centerfield. RUZ: If Nomar is willing to move to left field, and he shows he can do it without hurting or embarassing himself, I'd love to see the Cubs bring him back for another year. JOHN: I'll take Nomar Garciaparra as Cub shortstop any day. It seems Nomar likes the idea too, so much so he'd be willing to sign cheap. I'm not seeing the problem. The guy is still one of the best offensive shortstops in the game, and his defense is tolerable. Go for it. What's the worst that can happen? Just make sure you have one of those all-important contingency plans. Neifi Perez: uber-backup, starter, or agent's phone calls immediately transferred to voice mail? RUZ: If the Cubs could extract some sort of promise out of Dusty not to use him as a starter, he'd be a great guy to have around. Unfortunately, Dusty:Neifi::me:candy -- if it's available, it gets eaten. So you gotta take away Dusty's candy. TRANS: If we decide Cedeno is ready to start, then Neifi canít be anywhere near the ballclub, because Baker will use him to sabotage Cedeno. If Cedeno needs a year in AAA, then Neifi can backup whomever we bring in for the year. Hell, he could start if we managed to grab enough offense elsewhere. (MannyÖ.) JOHN: Use Neifi Perez correctly, as a late-inning defensive replacement only, and you actually have a useful player. Let him pick up a bat, and you don't. Bring him back on the condition that his glove is glued to his hand in such a way that picking up and swinging a bat becomes impossible. It's really not that complicated. A bit cruel, but not complicated: you could probably even get Corey Patterson to do the gluing. ROB: Heís certainly doesnít make for too poor a back-up, but heís too dangerous in Dustyís hands. Dusty seems to believe heís #2 in the team MVP race this year and heíd find way too many ways to get him in the lineup. Iíd just prefer he find a starting job somewhere else and we be rid of him. Can Corey Patterson's brain and/or bat be salvaged? ROB: I'd be quite shocked if Corey ended up in spring training with the team next year. He seems to be suffering from some sort of Rick Ankiel-like mind freeze every time he steps up to the plate. Package him in some uber-deal and be rid of the headache I say. JOHN: I don't know. I really don't know. I refer you to what I wrote a month ago:
It's all very well criticising Corey for such lamentable performance, and he deserves it since he's so oblivious to what's best for him, but the Cubs apparently don't know any better, and that's the greater crime.
For the record, Corey has hit just .167/.215/.283 since. I'm not sure what good that's done him, and how the Cubs could possibly have been any worse off had they simply said, "enough's enough, Corey, you need to get away from here, clear your head, get a fresh perspective on things. Oh, and while you're at it, learn how to friggin' hit again, please." TRANS: Not by any coach currently employed by the Cubs. RUZ: No. Kerry Wood: bullpen or rotation? ROB: Iíd only be willing to move Wood to the bullpen if the Cubs redefined the closer role. Not really redefine I suppose but more like going back to the heydays of the relief ace whoíd come in as early as the 7th to shut other teams down. I have a good feeling that his shoulder surgery though will get him through next season without a trip to the injured list. JOHN: Rotation. I'm still a big Kerry Wood fan, though he's no longer a subject I can motivate myself to write about - he just depresses me. RUZ: They'll pay him $11M next year, and no one is going to take a chance on trading for him. You have to put him in the rotation and see if you can salvage one more good season out of him. TRANS: Rotation, itís our only hope of getting any decent return on that contract. Jeromy Burnitz: pick up his $7 mil option or buy him out for $500K? TRANS: Buy him out. ROB: A .760 OPS? Nobody's defense in right field is worth enough to offset that. After we buy him out and no one is willing to sign him in the offseason, heíd make a good bench guy though. JOHN: Buyout, move on and try and forget it ever happened. I don't care how good his defense is, .258/.323/.436 is not good enough for a right fielder earning seven figures. RUZ: In any other year, I'd say buy him out in a heartbeat, but given what the market looks like, I don't see much out there that's better. Still, I think it would be better to say goodbye and take your chances elsewhere. Todd Walker: good facial hair, gimpy leg, Cubs beat writers' best friend. Pick up his option or look elsewhere? ROB: Iím not opposed to an upgrade here, especially with the glove as youíll have a hard time finding one with the bat. But Walker comes at a cheap price and itís slim picking out there at second. Iíd re-sign him, use Cedeno as a defensive replacement/occasional platoon partner and use the money saved to fix our other glaring holes. RUZ: I doubt he wants his option picked up, but I think that's a moot point because I don't think there's any way they'll bring him back, unfortunately. I expect Ronny Cedeno and/or Neifi Perez at second next year, depending on whether or not the Cubs end up with Furcal. TRANS: Pick it up, if he'll let us. JOHN: Why on earth is this even up for discussion? You hold a $2.5M option on one of the best offensive second basemen in all of baseball. His defense is below average, but it doesn't negate his bat by any means. The Cubs are certifiably stupid if they even think for one second about letting Walker go without even picking up his option. Trading him is another matter, since there's such a dearth of quality at second base that he could actually yield a decent haul, but it's still not something that particularly appeals to me. Which lilí Cubs would you like to see get a shot at a roster spot in spring training? TRANS: I really enjoyed the two innings that I got to see Van Buren pitch. Iím sure if Murton works really hard, doesnít take anything for granted and has a hot spring, he will have a chance to make the club. RUZ: Murton, Adam Greenberg, Rich Hill, and maybe Ricky Nolasco. ROB: Brandon Sing, Felix Pie, Angel Guzman, Ricky Nolasco, and Jermaine Van Buren. JOHN: Matt Murton, Ronny Cedeno, Mike Fontenot, Jermaine Van Buren and most definitely not Felix Pie. Is 2006 the Year of the Cub? ROB: Of course it is. How could I be a Cubs fan if I didnít believe that? The team has a solid foundation and plenty of room in their payroll to make this a top flight team for years. RUZ: Too early to tell. I don't see the Cardinals winning 100 games again next year, and Houston doesn't strike me as a team with much left in the tank, so the Cubs might be able to compete for the division. The wildcard is always a possibility, depending on the moves the team makes in the off-season. In general, though, I still think that the Cubs are hamstrung by their manager and until they get out from under the belief that known-quantity, mediocre veterans are better than possibly-good youngsters, any success the Cubs had is going to be ephemeral rather than long-lasting. JOHN: Probably not. Because we're the Cubs. TRANS: Of course it is. But we still wonít win the World Series.

October 1st

The Cubs took their first dive into the free agent market by extending Ryan Dempster's contract for 3 years. It appears the deal is for $15.5 million total or about $5.17 per year. Nice move, once again by Hendry, to pre-empt a bidding war and secure a solid if not spectacular player. Dempster's #'s since becoming a closer on May 9th: 4-0 1.85 ERA, 53/27 K/BB, 1HR, 46 IP 8.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, .15 HR/9, 1.96 K/BB And for the season he has a sick 2.69 Groundball to Flyball ratio. The chances of him keeping up that HR/9 rate and G/F ratio are pretty slim, so I don't know if I expect him to be nearly the shutdown guy he's been so far this year, but I certainly expect him to be better than anything we've had since 2003. Now if we could talk Baker into letting him go more than one inning at a time on occassion, then we may have something special. Or still go after B.J. Ryan or Billy Wagner and have a lethal one-two combo from the right and left side. All in all, good move in my book.

GAME 161 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] CHICAGO CUBS (79-81) @ HOUSTON ASTROS (87-73) @ THE JUICE BOX 3:05 pm CDT, TV: WCIU, Fox Sports Southwest
Roger Clemens, RHP
12-8 1.89 ERA
180/59 K/BB, 11 HR in 204.1 IP
Jerome Williams, RHP
6-9 4.28 ERA
67/47 K/BB, 13 HR in 115.2 IP
2B #Jose Macias 2B Craig Biggio
SS #Neifi Perez CF Wily Taveras
1B Derrek Lee 3B Morgan Ensberg
3B Nomar Garciaparra LF #Lance Berkman
RF *Jeromy Burnitz 1B Mike Lamb
C Michael Barrett RF Jason Lane
LF Matt Murton C Brad Ausmus
CF *Corey Patterson SS Adam Everett
P Jerome Williams P Roger Clemens
That sure was some exciting baseball yesterday, meaningless as it was for the Cubbies, at least they have something to play for this last series. The Cubs have now won the season series versus both the Astros and Cardinals, that sure is frustrating. Be sure to come by Monday as we'll be posting our year end round-table discussion starting with the TCR writers. For the rest of the week, I'll try and keep the other playoff race summaries up-to-date after the jump.

September 30th

GAME 160 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] CHICAGO CUBS (78-81) @ HOUSTON ASTROS (87-72) @ THE JUICE BOX 7:05 pm CDT, TV: WCIU, Fox Sports Southwest
Andy Pettitte, LHP
17-9 2.42 ERA
165/41 K/BB, 17 HR in 215.1 IP
Carlos Zambrano, RHP
14-6 3.33 ERA
194/83 K/BB, 20 HR in 216.1 IP
2B Ryan Theriot 2B Craig Biggio
SS #Neifi Perez CF Wily Taveras
1B Derrek Lee 3B Morgan Ensberg
3B Nomar Garciaparra LF #Lance Berkman
LF Matt Murton 1B Mike Lamb
RF *Jeromy Burnitz LF Jason Lane
C Michael Barrett SS Adam Everett
CF *Corey Patterson C Brad Ausmus
P #Carlos Zambrano P *Andy Pettitte
I really had no idea that Andy Pettitte was having THAT good of a year. Z's quest for .300 will have to come from the right side. A hit in one or two at-bats will put him above .300, if he gets three or four at-bats and manages only a single hit, he'll stay below .300. 2 hits off Pettitte and he's a lock. Also, with 6 more K's, Z will top 200 K's for the first time in his career, plus help out my fantasy team. Macias's earth-shattering walk and solid throw last night weren't enough to get him in the lineup tonight. What's a guy have to do? Joking aside, good to see Theriot has recovered from his bout of food poisoning. I wonder if the Astros clinch before Sunday if Geovany Soto will get a start sometime this weekend? I don't believe he's gotten into a game yet since being called up. The Cubs can take the season series tonight as well, so far they're 8-5 against the 'Stros. They'll have to do it against their top 3, Pettitte tonight, Clemens tomorrow, and Oswalt on Sunday (assuming they haven't clinched by then). Puts the 'Stros in an awful spot if they end up tied with the Phils for the Wild Card as Brandon Backe will have to start a playoff death match. Of course having those guys pitching the next 3 games, where 2 wins clinch the playoffs is a good recipe for avoiding said death match. And be sure to come by Monday as we'll being posted our year end round-table discussion starting with the TCR writers. For the rest of the week, I'll try and keep the other playoff race summaries up-to-date after the jump.

September 29th

GAME 159 IN-GAME DISCUSSION THREAD [PARACHAT] CHICAGO CUBS (77-81) @ HOUSTON ASTROS (87-71) @ THE JUICE BOX 7:05 pm CDT, TV: CSN, Fox Sports Southwest
Wandy Rodriguez, LHP
10-9 5.62 ERA
77/52 K/BB, 17 HR in 121.2 IP
Glendon Rusch, LHP
8-8 4.62 ERA
106/52 K/BB, 13 HR in 138.1 IP
2B #Jose Macias 2B Craig Biggio
SS #Neifi Perez CF Wily Taveras
1B Derrek Lee 3B Morgan Ensberg
3B Nomar Garciaparra 1B #Lance Berkman
LF Matt Murton LF Jason Lane
RF *Jeromy Burnitz RF Chris Burke
C Michael Barrett SS Adam Everett
CF *Corey Patterson C Raul Chavez
P *Glendon Rusch P *Wandy Rodriguez
4 straight wins for the Cubs and they finish at .500. 4 straight wins and 3 wins by the Phils this weekend and the Astros are sent home for the winter. 3 out of 4 for the Cubs and a Phils sweep over the Nationals and we have ourselves a one game death match for the Wild Card. The Cubs who may be the poster child for playing down or up to their competition (depending on your viewpoint, which matters a lot, just ask Obi-Wan Kenobi); Try and assume the role of arch-nemesis to this merry band of space travelers. At least I suppose that's what Astros are, maybe they're just big Jetsons fans down there in Houston. As you can tell, they're isn't much to say about this game or the rest of the season. Not only was it over a long time ago, but we're subjected to a lineup half-full of guys I hope never wear a Cub uniform again. Wow, has it not been fun to be a Cub fan the last month or so. And no, I'm not blaming Baker for these lineups, there's no one left on the roster who's capable to play right now worth watching (assuming Theriot still has his head buried in a toilet somewhere). For the rest of the week, I'll try and keep the other playoff race summaries up-to-date after the jump.

September 28th

40 Cubs are playing in Arizona now in a 3 week instructional week stint in Arizona. Apparently there are games involved. I'm sure there's someone out there who knows more about this than me. But here's the roster of players in case anyone cares. Pitchers RHP Alberto Alburquerque RHP Olivo Astacio LHP Alejandro Astorga RHP Justin Berg RHP Angelo Burrows RHP Marco Carillo RHP Julio Castillo RHP Robert Hernandez RHP Kyle Holden RHP Mark Holliman RHP Brett Jackson RHP Grant Johnson RHP Dary Maria RHP Jon Mueller LHP Mark Pawelek LHP Clay Rapada LHP Jayson Ruhlman RHP Roberto Sotolongo RHP Scott Taylor LHP Donald Veal Catchers Oscar Bernard Yusuf Carter Enrique Lujan Jake Muyco Mark Reed Infielders 1B Brian Dopirak SS Dylan Johnston 3B Scott Moore SS Jonathan Mota 1B Ryan Norwood 3B Elvin Puello SS Kyle Reynolds SS Joe Simokaitis 3B Brandon Taylor Outfielders CF Davy Gregg RF Ryan Harvey OF Wilson Inoa OF Victor Liriano LF Jesus Valdez LF J.D. Westphal -- There's a couple of recent trade acquistions like Justin Berg, Angelo Burrows and Olivo Astacio. A whole bunch of 2005 draft picks including 3rd rounder Mark Holliman, a RHP from Ole' Miss who never made it to any of the minor leage teams as he signed rather late. 1st rounder Mark Pawelek is there too, something I'm not so thrilled about. I'd love to trust the Cubs brass and think they know how to handle pitchers and their workloads, but I don't. I swear more of our pitchers get injured than stay healthy. Ryan Harvey and Brian Dopirak are both down there too. Maybe they can room together and discuss the finer points of looking good while striking out, maybe attend a guest lecture by Corey Patterson.

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