Friday, November 12, 2010

The Cubs Offseason Plans

Now that we have covered the Cubs managerial hiring (and it looks like most of you agreed with me), it's time to  look at the on-field product we can expect in our Cubs future.  I think we can all agree that the Cubs are going nowhere fast.  As we have seen from the past few World Series champs/contenders (minus the Yankees), home grown talent is the key to victory, as is adding the right, low priced veterans.  So then we ask, "Oh hey, do the Cubs fit that situation?"  Anyone can answer that question with a resounding no.  For the upcoming 2011 season, they have $102 million dedicated to just nine players. Nine. Which would be great if those players were named Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, and Cliff Lee, but they aren't.  Those players are actually named Carlos Silva, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Zambrano.  But then don't the Cubs have a great farm system with young talent ready to burst into the league? Nope. The Cubs prize prospect was pitcher Jeff Samardzija, but he has disappointed so far and is overpaid himself.  Josh Vitters is coming along much slower than desired and the best thing to come out of their system has been SS Starlin Castro, who wasn't really supposed to be anything.

Despite their already high payroll and reduced expectations, the North Siders do need to fill out their roster for the 2011 season.  The current positions of greatest need look to be first base, the bullpen, and the starting rotation.  A backup catcher is needed, but is not a priority.  Let's discuss first base, as this is the biggest, and really only, hole (there has to be a better way to say that).  Despite his status as a fan favorite, Derek Lee underperformed over his 6 years in Chicago. His last productive season was in 2005, when the Cubs finished under .500 and 4th in the NL Central.  He also has been one of the many Cubs who failed in every aspect in high stress situations (read: the playoffs).  So I was not sorry to see him go, but now he needs replacing.  First base requires power at the plate first and foremost, followed by competency in the field and maybe getting on base now and then.  The Cubs current source of power, Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, are wildly inconsistent.  What does all this mean?  The Cubs need a consistent 1B power hitter who won't fold under pressure.  There are only a handful of players in the MLB who fit that role and none of them are available in free agency (and dammit Tigers fans, you have one of them).

There are, however, first baseman available to get the Cubs through their current downswing.  The most talk is of Adam Dunn, who has spent time in Cincinnati and Washington and has serious power.  However, he is a defensive liability and will not come cheap.  Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has already stated that there would be no increase in payroll for the 2011.  I think an Adam Dunn signing would scream mid-2000's Cubs, throwing too much money at the best free agent out there (Alfonso Soriano, anyone?)  With a switch in managers, I think that Jim Hendry has this year to prove that he can continue to be the Cubs GM.  While I would like to see him go regardless, a season of good decisions will probably save his job.  Adam Dunn is not someone you want to sign to a long term deal, so you would be looking at 3-4 years at maybe $15-$17 million a year. That is too much for a team that is transitioning (or should be).  Another option being discussed (at least on the blogosphere) is a trade and long term sign of Adrian Gonzalez.  He has been at the center of the Padres offense for the past few seasons and it would be exciting to see what he could do with a competent lineup.  While he only has one year left on his current deal, the Padres will still demand a nice prospect package to compliment their young and rising pitching staff.  While getting Adrian Gonzalez and locking him up for the prime of his career would be fantastic, I don't think the Cubs can pull it off. They just don't have enough talent in their system to pull a trade like that off without giving up what little pitching talent they have.  It would take Hendry becoming very creative with the small stockpile of middle infield talent that is in the farm system.  The remaining options look like an Adam LaRoche/Carlos Pena type - guys who can mash, but have trouble making contact and strike out at a high rate (this is also Adam Dunn). However, they are both better defensively and will definitely cost less. They could also move Tyler Colvin to first, as the Cubs outfield is pretty crowded, but I want more power out of my first baseman. My choice here would be Carlos Pena.  He did have a down year, but I like what he can do defensively and his down contract year means less money for a shorter time.  The Cubs last year really lacked a guy who could come up with the big HR, and Pena can provide that.  He also comes from a clubhouse that has been to the World Series and can maybe provide some looseness in the clubhouse along with Quade.  His ability to hit compared to what it will cost to get him makes him the best choice.

As for the next supposed biggest need, I don't know what to say.  The bullpen on any team is always such a crapshoot. Spending more that $10 million total on a bullpen is, in my opinion, a mistake.  Despite their struggles last season, the Cubs actually found a few pieces in their pen that work.  Whether that lasts is another question.  Carlos Marmol had a solid season, posting better numbers better than his career average (1.18 WHIP, the most important stat for relievers) and grabbing 38 saves for a sub-.500 team.  Sean Marshall has proven himself a useful long reliever for the past 3 or 4 seasons.  Andrew Cashner showed flashes of competence and guys like James Russell and Justin Berg finished the season strong.  So, I would just like to see the bullpen kept the way it is. I know I said that the bullpen needed looking at, but that is just what people are saying.  The only time the Cubs should get a solid relief man is if they actually are in contention.  The only guy I would like to see signed is Kerry Wood, because he means a lot to the organization, he's a class act, and he may take a very nice hometown discount.

The Cubs could also use another starting pitcher.  However, there is not really that much out there.  Cliff Lee is obviously the prize pickup, but there is no way the Cubs will outbid the Yankees or the Rangers for his services.  The rest of the field looks pretty bleak, with names like Jon Garland, Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano, and Aaron Harang.  Pavano is interesting because of his solid 2010, but the odds of him repeating that are not good.  He will also probably be priced too high, as the modern MLB way overpays mediocre pitching.  I name I like is Javier Vazquez.  He was very disappointing with the Yankees last season, but he had a 2.87 ERA over 219 innings pitched with the Braves, an NL team.  If the Cubs can get him for a fair price, I'd like to take a chance on him.  He is probably past his prime, but he could probably eat some innings as the Cubs number 4 guy.  The Cubs 2011 rotation looks to be Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells (who I think could have a bounceback 3rd year), Tom Gorzelanny (who could be moved to the pen), and Carlos Silva.  I want Silva gone as there is no way there is anything left in the tank.  They also have Casey Coleman and possible Andrew Cashner to rotate between starting and the pen. Vazquez should be able to fit in to the rotation as well as anyone.

In the end, the Cubs should be setting themselves up for a good 2013 season.  By this time, a large chunk of their bad contracts will be ending or in their final season and guys like Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, and Tyler Colvin are the leaders of the team, both in the clubhouse and in all the stats.  If the Cubs are serious about trading for a guy like Adrian Gonzalez, they will also need to talk/play up some of their mid-level prospects, especially the middle infielders.  The 2011 season is all about installing a new attitude in the Friendly Confines.  Tom Ricketts wants to make changes to the field and the farm system, smartly putting less money into bad players and more into scouting and development.  For the first time since the Cubs choked in the 2003 NLCS, there aren't high expectations heading into a season.  But if the Cubs follow the plan that I (and many others) have laid out, there should be a brighter future on the North Side.  Who know, maybe Ozzie Guillen will be dead by then (or at least out of baseball).

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