I guess I should start by saying that I wasn’t really in favor of this whole Lou Piniella thing. I wasn’t really sure that Joe Girardi was the right answer either, and in fact I’m certain that I’m not the most qualified person in the world to be making a decision like this, but then again I’m not sure Jim Hendry is either. We do have him to thank for the last 4 wonderful years with latest ESPN genius-analyst, Dusty Baker. Now that I’ve got that out in the open, I’ve resolved myself to get behind Sweet Lou in all his base throwing, dirt kicking, grumpy ass wonderfulness. So its time to put our magical, yet rarely seen by Cub’s fans, optimism hats and take a look at what might be ahead for our intrepid Cubbies next season.
With a new president, a GM that is fearing for his job (and thus his supply of high calorie food), and a new manager that can only be described as “fiery”, I’m opening up my heart for hope that this last season of Cubs baseball was an aberration. That being said, I know that 99% of this won’t happen and we’ll finish behind the Pirates again next year. . . but seriously, this is as positive as Cubs fans get.
Starting with the new manager, I’m not going to pretend that Lou Piniella equates to more wins. What I will say is that Dusty easily cost us 15 games last year; between the refusal to practice, the lack of discipline and accountability and his in game “mastery” there were games to be had out there last season. Can Lou correct those problems? I think so. He’s not going to take any lame ass excuses about playing day games to let the players not practice, so hopefully Jacque Jones will throw and run to the CORRECT base this season. It’s been awhile since Lou has managed in the NL, but he did do it effectively with the Reds, so I’m assuming he knows what a double-switch is, and hopefully knows that you don’t use them in the 6th innings of tied ball games.
Now the players are a much trickier subject, because quite frankly not even Jim Hendry knows what this team is going to look like, let alone what to expect from a number of players. I think it is safe to assume that we can expect more production out of Derrek Lee next year. He missed a lot of games, and when he played he obviously wasn’t himself yet. That wrist injury robbed him of a lot of power, so with extra time to heal he should regain a lot of that. Lee is on the wrong side of 30, so a better season than two years ago is unlikely, but numbers similar to .330, 40 home runs and 100 RBI’s.
The next major hurdle is Aramis Ramirez. I get on him about his lack of hustle and his propensity to hit when it doesn’t matter but you can’t really argue with the man’s overall production. If Ramirez hovers around .300 as he has the last three years while hitting around 35 home runs and 100 RBI’s, coupled with Lee’s performance, they would rank among the top two corner infielder combinations in the entire league. I would take that combo, for next season only, over Pujols and Rolen. If someone can think of a better combination please by all means let me know. I even think Lee and Ramirez compare very well defensively to the Cardinals. Lee certainly has the advantage over Pujols, and Ramirez has significantly improved his defense, but still is second to Rolen. Probably works to close to a wash in my opinion.
Obviously one aspect of the Cub’s team that is second to everyone in the league is that Nefilicious double play combination of Cesear Izturis and Ronny Cedeno. I realize that we traded fan favorite Greg Maddux for Izturis, but please management, don’t take that as a reason to play him if their are better options out there. There has been a lot of talk about Alex Rodriguez reuniting with his old manager. Once again, I’m probably against this deal unless the Cubs get blown away. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO WE TRADE ZAMBRANO FOR A-ROD. Seriously, if this team has any desire to win, and by win I mean win in the playoffs, it is painfully obvious that is done with pitching (see 2006 Yankees vs. 2006 Tigers). That being said if the Yankees come calling for a package that involves players like: Anyone in the Bullpen, Jacque Jones, Matt Murton or even possibly Rich Hill, I think the deal probably makes sense. A-Rod has a lot of leverage in this situation, so I realize that the Cubs may not put the best package together for him, the Yankees might have their hands tied. They need pitching and they need to get rid of A-Rod if only because the fans and A-Rod’s fragile psyche will not let him succeed in New York when it matters most. So yeah, I understand that the Angels have more to offer, and so do other teams, but if A-Rod only waives his no trade clause if the deal is to the Cubs, then the Cubs have a lot more bargaining power and may actually get a deal that is worth doing.
Absent a deal for A-Rod, the Cubs still need to add some more offense. Izturis can be a decent two hitter in a lot of ways, and Cedeno batting 8th isn’t going to be any worse than most of the other 8 hitters in the league so we can live with that situation if the Cubs add more pop. The only positions to really left to do that is Right Field and Center. In my opinion , despite his sub par year in a lot of ways, the Cubs should re-sign Juan Pierre. The other free agent center fielders are not a better option for a team needing a lead off hitter. The list is highlighted by names like Edmonds, Roberts, and Lofton. Edmonds would never survive his Cardinals past in Chicago, and Roberts and Lofton are pretty similar to Pierre, only older. Older is never good when discussing players that rely on speed.
With Pierre re-upped, that leaves left field as the only upgrade slot. I like Matt Murton, and feel bad that he didn’t get a real shot with Dusty at the helm. However, with names like Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano on the market you have to take a stab at one of the two. Soriano is insane, really with his production and what makes it more impressive is the fact he did it in a lineup with zero production. The problem is he is going to ask for an absurd amount of money, and given reports about the $70 million he turned down I think he is going to end up getting overpaid. So let’s let the Yankees or the Red Sox do that, and focus on Carlos Lee. First of all, El Cabello DESTROYS the ball at Wrigley Field, and that isn’t just because of the state of the Cubs’ pitching staff. Lee probably fits Piniella’s managerial style a little more given Lou’s tenure in the A.L. and his recent penchant for that style that lends itself to waiting for the 3 run homerun. Soriano is more valuable to a manager that likes to run more often. That being said, some have suggested signing Soriano and putting him in center. I could live with an outfield of Murton, Soriano, and Jones better than one substituting Pierre for Murton. Whatever the decision is, the Cubs need to sign one of these two players if they don’t work out a deal for A-Rod.
So yeah, I could get behind an lineup that looked something like this (Roughly $51 million on position players including bench)
- Pitcher spot (Zambrano EVERY GAME)
What would be ideal, yet plausible, in my opinion (roughly $70 million on position players including bench):
- Pitchers Spot (STILL CARLOS EVERYDAY)
The Cubs are looking at roughly a 20% increase in their payroll according to management so that puts the number at near $120 million. So they probably end up somewhere between those two numbers on position players. Even if they hit that $70 million mark they still have some money to play with pitching. They only have $28 million locked up in pitchers right now, so that would give themselves $22 million to go out and get a couple pitchers. I don’t think they have a shot at Zito or Schmidt unfortunately. Zito seems destined for the Yankees and Schmidt has already expressed an interest in playing for his home team Seattle Mariners. They could make a serious offer to one of these arms though, and especially if they have made other free agent moves or trades they may be able to lure one of them with the appearance that the Cubs will be competitive.
If the Cubs are serious about being contenders next year, and with the weak state of the NL Central, that is certainly a possibility, the Cubs should look to add a couple veteran pitchers. If we put in Zambrano and Hill as the only two that have a roster spot guaranteed I think the Cubs need to sign two pitchers and or decide one of the young guys they tried last year. I imagine that the rotation looks something like this:
- Carlos Zambrano
- Rich Hill
- Mark Prior (for a couple weeks at least then a cast of thousands brought up from AAA)
- Andy Pettitte/Gil Meche
- Shawn Marshall
That rotation, while not awe inspiring, would probably be good enough to win a division with one of the lineups outlined above. That all depends on what the Cardinals do in the off season of course, but there aren’t a lot of moves they can make to get pitching. That rotation with a bullpen that looks like the past seasons would cost the Cubs roughly $35-38 million. If they some how landed Schmidt that number would be pushing $45 million, and if the great lord saw fit to bestow Barry Zito on us we’d be looking at $51-53 million for the pitching staff. That, coupled with the dream lineup rounds out at $122 million, which according to the Cubs is not out of the realm with what they are looking to spend next year. None of this is going to happen mind you, but hey THIS IS ME BEING OPTIMISTIC DAMMIT.