Cubs Decade In Review: 2002 Season
Although the season ended in disappointment, the Cubs seemed to have something to build on after a mostly successful 2001 and a farm system rated as one of the best in the leagues with up and coming prospects like Corey Patterson, Carlos Zambrano, Juan Cruz, Hee Seop Choi, Mark Prior, Ben Christensen, Dave Kelton and Bobby Hill.
Despite the moderate success of 2001, huge turnover was in store for 2002. Kevin Tapani, Ricky Gutierrez, Matt Stairs, Todd Van Poppel, Dave Weathers, Eric Young, Ron Coomer and Rondell White all left via free agency (Tapani actually retired). They struck early on a deal in November to acquire Mark Bellhorn for Adam Morrisey. They ended up resigning Delino Deshields and Joe Borowski and brought Kevin Orie back to the organization. The big trade was with the Toronto Blue Jays on December 10, 2001 to bring in a shortstop with a slick glove and 20 home run power - Alex Gonzalez. The cost was reliever Felix Heredia and minor leaguer Jamie Deschaine. 9 days later they signed left fielder Moises Alou. The rest of the offseason was a number of minor moves including trading away Michael Tucker to the Kansas City Royals for Shawn Sonnier, and signing players like Chris Stynes, Phil Norton, Alan Benes, Will Cunnane, Donovan Osborne and Darren Lewis.
Spring training arrived and closer Flash Gordon went down and would miss the bulk of the first half. Assistant GM Jim Hendry orchestrated a deal with the Florida Marlins to acquire Matt Clement and reliever Antonio Alfonseca and his extra finger for Jose Cueto, Ryan Jorgenson, Julian Tavarez and a lefty in lo-A ball named Dontrelle Willis.
The season began against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincy and the Cubs lost 5-4 featuring the following starting lineup:
D. DeShields - 2B, C. Patterson - CF, S. Sosa - RF, F. McGriff - 1B, R. Brown - LF, A. Gonzalez - SS, T. Hundley - C, C. Stynes - 3B, J. Lieber - P
The 5-man rotation to start the year was Lieber, Kerry Wood, Juan Cruz, Jason Bere and Matt Clement. Bill Mueller and Moises Alou started the year on the disabled list. Kyle Farnsworth went on the disabled list on April 10th with a stress fracture in his foot and Carlos Zambrano was recalled. Zambrano pitched for a month out of the bullpen before heading to the disabled list himself in mid-May with a strained right elbow.
Alou made his debut on April 15th and went 0 for 4. His OPS was below .600 until June 23rd and didn't go over .700 until July and he finally got it over .700 to stay on August 2nd. The Cubs finished 8-16 in April and amazingly 7.5 games back of the Cincinnati Reds. The closest they would get to first place the rest of the season was 5.5 games back and that happened on May 7th.
On May 6th, the Cubs got Bill Mueller back from the disabled list, they put Todd Hundley on the disabled list with a bad thumb to make room. Alex Gonzalez went down with a strained hamstring on May 10th and missed two weeks. Hundley returned on May 29th but DeShields took his place with a bad hip. Corey Patterson had become the leadoff man by that point. Mark Prior made his debut on May 22nd and got the win in a 7-4 victory over the Pirates. He went 6 innings and struck out 10. The team went 13-16 in May and Sosa had 19 HR's and a 1.154 OPS through the first two months.
June arrived and Farnsworth and Zambrano returned from the disbaled list early on with DeShields back by June 12th. The only casualty was Jason Bere at the end of the month. The team was armed with 6 extra draft picks when Van Poppel, White and Weathers signed with other teams. Their first pick at #20 was used on RHP Bobby Brownlie out of Rutgers who slipped in the draft because of shoulder issues. Their three supplemental picks were spent on Luke Hagerty, Matt Clanton and Chadd Blasko. They also drafted Brian Dopirak, Justin Jones, Billy Petrick, Rich Hill Adam Greenberg, Micah Hoffpauir, Rocky Cherry, Taylor Teagarden (Did not sign) and Randy Wells in that draft. The team had its best month of the season going 12-14. Sosa was up to 27 home runs.
In July, Sosa was named as the lone Cubs All-Star representative. General Manager Andy MacPhail headed back to his presidency duties and assistant GM Jim Hendry took over full time on July 5th. The same day that was made official, manager Don Baylor was fired and Iowa Cubs manager Bruce Kimm was named the interim manager. The team was 12.5 games back in the Central at that point and even farther back in the wild card. They finished 11-15 on the month and Sosa was at 32 HR's, a 1.010 OPS, only 68 RBI's but 82 Runs. Prior was 4-3 with a 3.65 ERA, Wood was 9-5 with a 3.90 ERA, Clement 8-7 with a 3.87 ERA, Lieber 6-8 with a 3.76 ERA and Zambrano went 2-2 with a 3.58 in July after being moved out of the bullpen.Lieber would only make one more start in August and then fell victim to Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of 2002 and all of 2003.
The rest of the season was pretty much a bore, the Cubs did move Tom Gordon and Jeff Fassero to the Cardinals and Astros for some minor league arms and traded Bill Mueller at the beginning of September back to the San Francisco Giants to help the Giants playoff run. Mark Bellhorn was the biggest suprise of the year hitting 27 home runs with a .886 OPS playing third and second base and even a little first and shorstop along with two innings in left field. Sosa led the league in home runs with 49 and runs scored with 122. McGriff posted a solid .858 OPS with 30 Home Runs and 103 RBI's. Alou (.757 OPS), Mueller (.757), Gonzalez (.737), Hundley (.722) and Patterson (.676) contributed to the poor offensive showing and 67-95 record and 5th place finish. All of the regular starting pitchers had ERA's under 4 except Jason Bere (5.67) but he only made 16 starts. The team led the league in strikeouts for a second straight season with Kerry Wood and Matt Clement finishing third and fourth in the league and the first duo of Cubs pitchers to surpass 200 strikeouts since Fergie Jenkins and Ken Holtzman in 1970.