With the year coming to a merciful close, the TCR writers gathered together thanks to the wonders of technology and discussed the past and present. Luckily, cameras were there to catch the event.
Dusty, Dusty, Dusty, sum up his tenure in 2 sentences or less.
AZ Phil: Dusty Baker is a good people manager, but is lacking in game management skills. He would probably do OK managing a veteran A. L. team (where double-switches are not required) with a lot of big egos like the Yankees or Red Sox or maybe the White Sox, and I suspect one of the main reasons Hendry hired Dusty was because Dusty had somehow managed to lead Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent into the World Series in 2002 and Jimbo thought Dusty would be the best choice to manage a team featuring a superstar prima donna like Sammy Sosa, but with Sammy now just a distant memory, an "ego manager" like Dusty Baker is no longer needed.
Rob G. Dusty was more myth than manager. His deficiencies far outweighed his benefits.
Transmission: He came. He saw. He complained. (Wait, thatís three sentences, let me try again.)
In spite of who he replaced, and in spite of the successes of 2003 and 2004, Dusty failed to leave the Cubs in a better state than how he found them. I donít think I could have imagined such a failure.
Ruz: I think his tenure could best be summed up in a haiku:
High hopes for winning
Quickly changed to excuses
And too much Neifi
What do you want out of the next Cubs manger in terms of personality and qualities. Is there an individual you have in mind?
Ruz: I want a manager who doesn't bunt too much, who understands the value of a walk, and who doesn't prize experience and familiarity over talent. Basically, I think I want Earl Weaver.
Rob G. I want a manager who doesnít hides behind excuses, whoís more worried about the team than his own ass, who doesnít treat a major league baseball team like a varsity high school squad, and who understands at the least the very basics of in-game management.
Bruce Bochy would be interesting albeit unlikely. Most anyone else I donít know much about beyond their reputations and Iím not falling for that again.
AZ Phil: A chicken shit Napoleon with a lot of lame rules isn't necessary, but I do want Hendry to hire a manager who demands excellence in his players' performance, who requires players to take pre-game batting & infield practice so that the team will be properly prepared for each game, who has strong game management skills such that the Cubs can get every little edge they can get every game, and who willingly accepts reponsibility for his own mistakes, shortcomings, and failures, and (most importantly) does something to correct them or make sure they don't happen again.
Who? Well, without being present at the interviews, I couldn't say for sure. But Bobby Cox says Fredi Gonzalez will make an excellent manager, so maybe Fredi Gonzalez.
Transmission: Dusty Baker lost all credibility ñ in his assessment of his teamís strengths and weaknesses, in his ability to discipline his players, to cope with the media or fans, to identify winning baseball strategies. There just came to be a point where I could not take seriously anything he said, based upon his personal history. I want someone who in his demeanor and personality, his tactical knowledge and disciplinary skills, demonstrates that it is worth my while to listen to him.
Iíd like to see Ron Washington in Oakland get a shot. Freddi Gonzalez, of course. Absolutely no retread managers not named Showalter or Valentine. Those two would both be ìname brandî and unlikely to get pushed around by the politicking in the front office and the clubhouse.
At what point did you give up your playoff aspirations for the 2006 Cubs?
Transmission: If I recall my April prediction correctly, I gave up before the season started. This just wasnít a good team.
Ruz: At the beginning of the season I predicted they'd finish two games behind the Cards (missed it by that much) so apparently sometime before Opening Day.
Rob G. Probably when Derrek Lee went down, certainly when Kerry Wood went back on the shelf.
AZ Phil: Sometime in May, after it became obvious that the team could not withstand the loss of Derrek Lee, and once it became clear that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were not going to be able to join the starting rotation anytime soon. The deal for Phil Nevin (or somebody like him) should have been made immediately after it was known that D-Lee would miss at least two months. Hendry dropped the ball, in my opinion.
There were far too many things that went wrong with the club to address in this space, was there anything that went right?
Transmission: I got to see a game in person for the first time in six years. Murton, Theriot and Hill, of course. Jones wasnít the complete disaster I feared. Pierreís second half almost justified his presence. Aramisís second half suggested he has the capacity to carry a team, if he wanted to. We learned that when Barrett embarrasses himself and his team, it inspires him to become an elite hitter.
AZ Phil: Not really. I would call 2006 "The Season from Hell." The number and types of injuries this year far exceeds what I believe is reasonably probable. It reminded me a lot of the 1985 season, when the entire Cubs starting rotation was on the DL at one point
Ruz: Matt Murton looks like a solid major leaguer, Rich Hill looks like he gets it, Jacque Jones had a decent year, and the Cubs were bad enough that Dusty Baker isn't coming back.
Rob G. It ended the Dusty Baker era, Iíd call the season a rousing success. Andy MacPhail resigning is pretty good too.
Hill, Murton, Theriot and Marshall (in that order) got opportunities to show they could very well be part of the next good Cubs team or at the least, very tasty trade bait capable of reeling in a big fish.
Can the Cubs compete next year without signing Aramis Ramirez?
AZ Phil: Yes. It would not be easy to replace A-Ram's bat in the lineup and at 3B, but there are ALWAYS other options (like maybe sign Soriano & Feliz, or trade for V. Wells & Lowell, etc). I definitely want Hendry to do everything he can to re-sign Ramirez, however.
Transmission: Realistically, no. It would require replacing his bat with Soriano, and everything else going as right in 2007 as went wrong in 2006.
Rob G. Stranger things have happened, but Iíll go with bloody unlikely. Unless Hendry has a miracle trade in him for a third basemen next year, the options are pretty horrid in the free agent market. Ramirez is on the verge of becoming one of the elite hitters in the game.
Ruz: I don't think they can compete *with* signing him, but they still have to. A healthy Ramirez/Lee duo, supplemented by another 20-homer guy (look, I'm not asking for the world) is the bare minimum for us to hope the offense can score enough runs to keep the team competitive.
The Cubs seem to have more questions marks than the Riddlerís costume; prioritize the Cubs off-season moves in a handy clip and save card for Hendry.
1. Resign Aramis Ramirez
2. Sign Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito or Daisuke Matsuzaka
3. Sign or Trade for another reliable, no worse than league average starter
4. Find some power at either CF or 2B, assuming everyone else stays the same.
5. Take a class in learning how to build a major league bench
A. Re-sign Ramirez
B. Re-sign Zambrano long-term past 2007
C. Via FA or trade, acquire two reliable starting pitchers who make all of their starts and who can consistently keep their team in the game and pitch into the 7th inning.
D. Add two or three proven quality vets to the bench, preferrably ace PH 3B-1B Wes Helms, a versatile lefty hitting PH-3B-1B-LF-RF like Geoff Blum, and maybe Craig Counsell as the utility middle-infielder (or he could start at SS or 2B if necessary). Guys who can get on base or get key hits off the bench late in the game.
1. Hire a manager quickly so free agents know what they can expect if they sign with the Cubs.
2. Re-sign Ramirez.
3. Sign a decent starting pitcher.
4. Figure out what you want to have happen in the middle infield and then make it happen.
1. Begin overhaul of minor league instructional techniques.
2. Begin overhaul of major league strength and conditioning, flexibility, and off-season training programs
3. Add walks to the offense, remove them from the pitching staff. Be as radical as need be in re-creating the roster to do so.
4. Related, do not fall into the trap of dismissing this year as the result of fluke injuries. This year was the product of a systemic failure to develop, promote, and acquire the players and skills necessary for a winning ball-club.
You have $13-15 million burning a hole in your budget next year and one roster spot available. Give us the 3 free agents you target with that money.
Ruz I'm really bad at this. Alfonso Soriano is a sexy pick right now, but he'll probably demand more than $13-$15M. Jermaine Dye's never going to match his 2006 numbers again. Torii Hunter is the kind of over-30 free swinger that I could see Jim Hendry throwing a 3 or 4 year deal at.
I think it might be best to grab two mid-range starting pitchers for that money.** Let's say Miguel Batista and Jeff Suppan. Put them in the rotation behind Zambrano and Hill, find a cheap fifth starter, and try to get back to .500.
A. Jason Schmidt
B. Alfonso Soriano
C. Barry Zito (however, if Schmidt or Soriano cannot be signed, I
would actually prefer the money to be spent on two healthy & reliable
rotation starters instead of just on Zito).
Soriano. Anything left over (or more likely, the full amount, when we fail to land Soriano) should be used to fish for a cheap Frank Catalanotto, one of the three innings-eating left-handers Ted Lilly, Randy Wolf or Barry Zito, and from the right side, one of Jason Schmidt, Tony Armas or Tomo Ohka.
God, what a bad off-season for free agency.
1. Jason Schmidt
2. Barry Zito
3. Alfonso Soriano (to play CF)
What are 3 things the Cubs should avoid doing this off-season at all costs? (asked before Dusty was relieved of duties)
A. Do NOT retain Dusty Baker as manager;
B. Do NOT play Larry Himes hard-ass with Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano;
C. Do NOT count on Mark Prior as a rotation starter for next season, but give him a chance to get back on the track.
1. Go after one year wonders (Gary Matthews Jr., Pedro Feliz, etc)
2. Trade Rich Hill for anything less than a superstar hitter with years of club control left.
3. Sell any of their future for an immediate 2007 fix. Trading prospects is fine if the bounty is a player that will be around for at least 3 years. But risking it all for 2007 wouldnít be wise.
Ruz Putting all their eggs in one basket on the free agent market, counting on anything productive out of Mark Prior next year, and thinking they can make a run at the playoffs.
Entering a land-war in Asia
Naming a city after the head of your society or organization
Showing mercy on the children who are rightful heirs to the throne.
Regarding the Cubs, they are going to be tempted by the same things that have temped the Cubs for as long as I can remember:
1. overpaying on mediocre free-agent pitching. This off-season looks like it might lead to contracts not seen since the Chan Ho Park, Denny Neagle and Darren Dreifort era around the turn of the millennium.
2. overpaying for name-brand, washed-up, over-rated managers
3. messing with Wrigley Field in order simultaneously to squeeze more revenue out of the park itself while also raising ticket prices.
Lightning Round: Give us your thoughts on these players and how important they are to next yearís team?
AZ Phil:I would not necessarily have a problem with Hendry re-signing Juan Pierre, but I would prefer Alfonso Soriano or possibly Vernon Wells (if Hendry can acquire him without trading both Matt Murton and Felix Pie), because I like sluggers who can drive the ball.
Rob G.: Not worth what heíll be asking. We should be able to do better.
Ruz: The alternatives (Soriano for too much money, Felix Pie before he's ready) might be worse.
AZ Phil: Jim Hendry needs to sign Aramis Ramirez to a contract extension.
Rob G.: Vertical blue pin-stripes are very slimming.
Ruz: Gotta keep him
AZ Phil: I hope Woody would be willing to accept a 2007 contract with a low base and incentives (maybe $1m guaranteed and $100,000 for each appearance), and that if he is offered and does accept a deal like that, that he will be healthy enough to be a "John Smoltz"-type closer for the Cubs next season. If he isn't consistent enough to be a closer, I wouldn't mind a Kerry Wood pitching in middle relief, either.
Rob G.: ìComing in to lock down his 50th consecutive save for your Chicago Cubs, Kerry Woodî
Ruz: Don't even think about it
AZ Phil: I believe Matt Murton is on the verge of becoming an outstanding MLB player, and I hope he returns in 2007. The MLB player to whom I would now compare him is Michael Cuddyer. If it is necessary to include Murton in a trade for a proven star like Miguel Cabrera, I certainly would, but otherwise Murt would be my starting LF in 2007.
Transmission: worth a shot, weíre not contending next year, anyway.
Rob G.: Heís only going to get better. It would be pretty foolish to give up on him unless he brings a superstar with years of club control like Miguel Cabrera.
Ruz: Get him 500 AB
AZ Phil: Like with Barry Zito, home runs will always be a bug-a-boo for a fly ball pitcher like Rich Hill, but I am happy to see Hill finally trust his stuff and throw strikes. As far as I'm concerned, he has earned a spot in the 2007 starting rotation. Trading him would be stupid, because then there would be another hole in the rotation.
Transmission: Zambrano/Hill is a delicious thought. Dark-horse All Star candidate.
Rob G.: Virtually untouchable at this point. (within reason)
Ruz: The next big Cubs pitching hope -- a #4 in '07, a #2 in '08
AZ Phil: I believe Felix Pie will be an outstanding MLB player in the near future. He can be a Gold Glove-quality CF with a plus-arm, he is coachable, and he has worked hard with Von Joshua to improve his plate discipline and with Bob Dernier to improve his base-stealing. I believe he is very close to the big leagues right now. However, I can't see Pie as a lead-off hitter. To me, he is more of a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Transmission: Do Not Open Until 2008
Rob G.: Not Corey Patterson and Not Quite Ready. Should be the first callup if any OFíers go down next year though.
Ruz: Not yet, if ever
AZ Phil: The Riot is an example of a player who became a good hitter by giving up switch-hitting. Once he learned to hit right-handed against RHPs, he became a consistent .300 hitter. Barring injury, he should be the Cubs starting 2B on Opening Day in 2007, and stay there until such time as Eric Patterson is (hopefully) ready to take the job sometime in '07 or '08. When and if E-Pat is ready, I would move Theriot to SS. I believe Theriot is another David Eckstein or Ryan Freel, and I like that type of player. He drives the opposition nutso. He is a good top-of-the-order type hitter, can go deep into the count, and can hit either 1st or 2nd.
Transmission: Let him leadoff, hit second if we keep Pierre
Rob G.: Damn heís fun to watch. If an All-star caliber second basemen with some pop is available (Durham or Marcus Giles), I wouldnít pass them up. Othwise Iím comfortable with giving him a shot at the job in spring training.
Ruz: give him the 2B job and find out if this year was a fluke or a benchmark
AZ Phil: If Mark Prior is healthy in 2007, he could easily return to his 2003 form. I just don't know whether he will be healthy or not, so I would want a viable Plan "B" for his spot in the rotation. But I wouldn't give up on him just yet.
Rob G.: Act like he doesnít exist.
Ruz: Plan for the season without him. That way anything he gives the team will be a bonus.
Can the Cubs be contenders next year without expanding the budget to $150 million and what will it take to do so?
Ruz Of course they can. There is no juggernaut in the NL Central, and any team who puts together a smart plan and follows it should be able to win the division. Can you spot the critical word in the last sentence?
Transmission: I donít see enough on the market or enough in our system of trade value to be able to turn this runaway freight train of a Titanic towering inferno quagmire around in one off-season. This is going to take time to clean up.
AZ Phil: Sure. Absolutely. And not just because the N. L. Central is
probably the weakest division in baseball, either. It would not require much more than re-signing Aramis Ramirez to a contract extension, hiring a different manager, putting together a healthy and reliable group of rotation starters, and the return of Derrek Lee as the everyday 1B, to make the team an instant contender.
Rob G. Why not us? Why not now? Hmm, that sounds familiar. Itís bloody unlikely unless some of our young pitchers really step up next year (Iím looking at you Angel Guzman and Sean Marshall) and Hendry nails every move he makes next year. Spending lots of money would help the cause tremendously.