End of Year Roundtable: Reader Edition
Submitted by Rob G. on Wed, 10/05/2005 - 6:51pm
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!!