Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mid Year Roudtable

My contribution to the Cub Reporter's queries.

* Before the season started, it was probably Dusty Baker that most divided opinion among the Cubs faithful, but Corey Patterson has been staking claim to that dubious honor of late. Now that he's in Iowa, the question is this: Can This Career Be Saved? And, if so, should it be in a Cubs uniform, and I-Cubs uniform, or just any other uniform as long as he's not our problem anymore?

Given my public statements on this player, my answer will not exactly be a surprise. A reclamation project is doubtful. This is a guy who had terrible stats at every level above low A. His OBP and OPS declined each time he moved up a league. If past performance projects future performance, then he’s toast. He’s well over 3,000 professional at bats.

If his career can be resuscitated, which I doubt, it should be at Iowa or in another uniform.

* On a more positive note, how about that Derrek Lee? He's on pace for probably the best offensive season in the history of this franchise. Give us your best guess on what his end-of-season numbers will be, and how close he'll come to capturing the made-up-of-outdated-stats-but-still-pretty-cool Triple Crown.

He'll end up at about .345 with 47 homers and 120 RBI. He'll be in the top 3 in each category, but not take a league title in any of the categories. His best shot is at the batting title.

* Ronny Cedeno, Matt Murton, and Adam Greenberg have all been called up recently, and Felix Pie might have made the jump if he hadn't been injured. Is a youth movement the right thing for the Cubs to do right now?

Absolutely. There is a theory that the Cubs will never go for a full-blown youth movement as the fans won’t buy 3 million tickets to watch such a season. I don’t believe that, but it’s possible McPhail et al do (aside: Cubs fans are smart enough to pay and cheer for good, young talent – if they’ll pay for Macias, Perez, Patterson and Remlinger, they’ll pay for anything). As this season is all but over, but the tickets are already sold, why not take the final 75 games to see what you have in Cedeno, Murton, Greenberg, Pie, Nolasco, Hill and so forth? Given that the Cubs will free about $40 million in salary after this season, what better way is there to see what you need to spend free agent dollars on versus filling positions in house?

Play the kids.

At the same time, don’t pass up on acquisitions that could help this year, but would definitely help in future years. That means a Billy Wagner should be acquired if, for no other reason, to prevent St. Louis from getting him and locking him up against the Cubs for the next 4 years.

* Let's talk starting pitching. Wood and Prior have been hurt, Maddux's skills seem to be slipping, and Zambrano has been inconsistent. Are our Four Aces overrated, or is this just more typical Cubs fan panic?

Kerry Wood is not overrated. He was at one point, but now it seems to be conventional wisdom that Kerry is a 6 inning, 13+ win guy. That said, he’s clearly not an ace. Zambrano and Prior have pitched, at times, brilliantly. Both seem to be suffering from career-transition crisis: They are no longer young, inexperienced players, but they aren’t veterans yet. They need to start relying more on guile and smarts and less on talent. They could learn something from that guy wearing #31 down the bench.

Maddux is no longer a dominant ace. I, for one, wouldn't mind if his 2006 salary doesn't vest. That said, he's still the third best starter on the team in terms of reliability.

This team has two aces, a crafty vet, and a no-longer-youthful, oft injured enigma.

* Except for Ryan Dempster, the bullpen has been a big disappointment. Who's fault is that -- the pitchers' (for lack of talent), Dusty's (for incorrect usage), or Hendry's (for poor construction)?

A combination. Dusty should have had Glendon Rusch in the rotation and Dempster in the pen from Opening Day. But, even with that error, who is to blame for the third consecutive year for having unreliable relief talent? That’s only Jim Hendry. What makes this error worse is that, like leadoff, bullpen has been a glaring weakness for two years. That Hendry has failed to address it (sans one LaTroy Hawkins signing) borders on negligent.

* Speaking of the management, is Dusty helping or hindering this team? Is he doing his job? What kind of future does he have with the organization, and what kind of future would he have if you were pulling the strings?

I was a supporter of Dusty getting the job while Don Baylor was still here. I was wrong. While he did bring in a good, fresh attitude (“Why not us?”), he’s not a good fit for a team that doesn’t rely on juiced balls or juiced players. If he has to think and strategize, he’s close to worthless. Comments from Larry Rothchild about finally changing Wood’s mechanics don’t give me much confidence, either.

Then, you realize that the reason Corey Patterson was sent down to Iowa was that Dusty refused to bench him. Jim Hendry had to make roster changes to force Dusty’s hand (what have you been waiting for, Jim?). That means the GM and manager are not on the same page.

Given all that, with one year left on Dusty’s contract, I see no way Hendry gives Dusty an extension. That means Dusty is gone at the end of the year or sooner. I heard via a Chicago media insider that Dusty was gone if the losing streak reached 9. He’s a 3 or 4 game losing streak away from losing his job.

Fearless prediction: Dusty Baker is no longer in Cubbie blue by August 1.

* Jim Hendry has been pretty quiet so far this year, making just the Jerome Williams trade (let's pretend Enrique Wilson never happened). Was the Williams move a good one? And, with the benefit of a half-season of hindsight, how would you rate his off-season moves?

His offseason moves were atrocious. And that’s not hindsight, that’s foresight. The “Sammy took all his focus” is an excuse. How many hours does it take to make three phone calls a day? OK, four if you include the one to the union that said, “Have you approved the waiver of the vesting option?” This team has needed a bullpen upgrade since last year and a leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton signed with the Yankees. Not getting those players has cost this team a season and a half.

Hendry seems to hate making big, splashy moves. Well, that’s why the Cubs didn’t/haven’t traded Angel Guzman, Bobby Brownlie, Andy Sisco, Corey Patterson, Jason DuBois, David Kelton and now will get little to no value for any of them. In the mean time, St. Louis gave up talent for Mulder. Houston did so for Beltran last year. Both beat up on the Cubs. Jim Hendry needs to learn that stockpiling prospects doesn’t help unless you use them, either on the field or in trade. Look at the Derrek Lee trade. Great move. Where’s the next one just like it?

* Okay, let's cut to the chase. With the Cubs four games under .500 as of this writing, 13 1/2 games out of the division, 8 out of the wildcard, and losers of 8 in a row, is the season over, or can this team still make the playoffs if the right moves are made?

If: Murton can play, Felix Pie pans out or a leadoff hitter is acquired (Juan Pierre), an RBI outfielder can be obtained, a big time closer is added (allowing Dempster to go setup or be righty/lefty with say, Billy Wagner), Cedeno pans out / Nomar returns, and there are no more injuries...

...the Cubs will just miss the playoffs.

* The trading deadline is fast approaching. If you're the GM of this team, are you a buyer or a seller? What are you buying and/or selling? Who's on the table, who are the targets, and how does it all shake out? Name me those names!

Players to sell:
And Kerry Wood

Players to buy:
Danys Baez
Lew Ford
Eddie Guardado
Aubrey Huff
Austin Kearns (should have been Adam Dunn)
Juan Pierre
Ichiro Suzuki
Billy Wagner
Michael Young

* Finally, every baseball season has its moments. When we look back at the first half of 2005 in years to come, which moments, plays, games, or performances will be remembered as the most defining/enjoyable/surprising/heartbreaking etc.?

LaTroy conking a throw off of Jose Offerman

Any Corey Patterson swing-and-a-miss, watching him look behind him to see where the catcher caught the ball to see if he guess right and the pitch was, indeed, a strike.

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