Only 182 Days Until Opening Day
Submitted by Rob G. on Mon, 10/03/2005 - 8:41am
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.