Cubs Off-Season Rumors – Part 2

What I am Saying – Part 2 of 2

The rumors are spreading, the phone calls are being made, and the wining and dining has begun. Players are calling each other and telling one another how great their city is and how if they sign with (insert team here) that would push them over the top and make them the World Series Champions in 2006.

I have repeated the rumors I have heard and now it is time for me to spread a few (rumors) of my own. Like I have mentioned, I think the way to help build a team is not through free agency, but through trading and the organizations own prospects. I really believe (and I cannot believe I am getting ready to admit this) the biggest reason the White Sox won the World Series was the trade that sent Carlos Lee to the Brewers for Scott Podsednik. And now that I have your attention….

Podsednik gave the White Sox the leadoff hitter they needed and that one trade pushed the team over the top. There are several ways the Cubs could go this off-season and here some names or situations I have not heard.

Keep Nomar Garciaparra in Chicago. Nomar has said he wants to stay in Chicago and is willing to do whatever it takes to remain a Cub. This is a TEAM PLAYER. Nomar came back late in the season for a team that had little (at the time) chance of making the playoffs. Some might say it was to improve his stock in the off-season, but I think it was to prove to himself that he could still play. Nomar has said he is willing to learn how to play in the outfield; the Cubs should use this to their advantage. Nomar can still hit, there is no question there, he finished the year with a .283 average, 9 homeruns and 30 RBI’s (after his return in August .319 / 9 / 29) and his OBP was .320 and his SLG was .452 in only 62 games. His fielding (not for what Nomar is known) was .939 at short and .934 at third base. The Cubs should teach him the outfield and they would have a very valuable 10th man. Like the cliche goes, the season is a marathon and not a sprint and in 162 games every team will have injuries. Nomar would provide a quality backup at shortstop (and depending on the way the team goes this could be very valuable), a serviceable backup at third base (Ramirez has not played a full season in 2 years) and an excellent option in the outfield, not to mention in the pinch hitters role. Nomar cannot demand a huge contract this year because of his injury problems and with an incentive laden contract, the Cubs could end up with the best bench player they have ever had.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays made a lot of progress in the 2nd half of last season, but with Lou Piniella leaving, the team will see many changes.The Devil Rays need pitching and the Cubs have several arms they need to move (Mitre, Bartosh, Wellemeyer, Leicester). Aubrey Huff is a very good player on a bad team. Huff is a left-hander and plays right field for the Rays. He hit .261 with 22 homeruns and 92 RBI’s in 2005. He had a .321 OBP and a .428 SLG. His defense is solid, but not great and his fielding percentage was .986 (Burnitz was .984). Huff is a career .288 hitter and hit as high as .313 in 2002. All of the experts like Huff and he was in a lot of trade rumors last season. Giles is a better option, but Huff is younger and could play in right field for many years to come.

Last off-season the Seattle Mariners went out and signed Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. Sexson had a good season and Beltre a very disappointing season. Like other sub .500 teams the Mariners need pitching and with the Cubs needing offense, could the two work a trade? Raul Ibanez had a good season, but not great in 2005, and he could add a solid left-handed bat to Dusty Baker’s team. Ibanez hit .280 with 20 homers and 89 RBI’s. He is a career .283 hitter with his best season coming in 2004 when he hit .304. Ibanez had a .355 OBP and a .436 SLG with 71 walks (that would rank him 2nd on the Cubs behind Derrek Lee – 85, Patterson only walked 23 times). He played in all 162 games for the Mariners and could add a quality backup for Derrek Lee (a position the Cubs must find a back-up for, other than Todd Walker). Ibanez had a .982 fielding percentage at first base last season.

One of the teams to watch in 2006 should be the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have great young pitching, but a recent history of losing, low payroll and poor management. Jason Bay has been a diamond in the rough the past 2 seasons for the Pirates. Bay is entering the last year of his 0-3 year minimum contract and I wonder if the Pirates will be able to afford to keep him. Bay is all world. The right-hander hit .306 with 32 homers, 101 RBI’s, a .402 OBP and a .559 SLG. The Cubs do not have anything the Pirates need, but Hendry has worked his magic on the Pirates management before (Ramirez, Lofton and Simon in 2003 and Lawton in 2004). If the Cubs did add Bay, look for them to move Matt Murton to right field, Hey….just remember we can all dream, that’s what makes us Cubs fans.

Trades within the division rarely happen. Teams do not want to send their players to a team that they could play 19-20 times a year and for that decision to come back and haunt them. The Cincinnati Reds have had a great offense for years, but their pitching has been the Achilles heal of the team. Last year they signed Eric Milton and Ramon Ortiz (they have already declined the 2006 option on Ortiz) and they were both overpaid and were HUGE busts. The Reds need pitching PERIOD. They will have to give up some of that offense to get it and with the crop of free agents this year (and with what happened last year); the Reds will have to do some trading. Enter the Chicago Cubs, last year the rumors were flying about the possibility of Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns ending up in Cubbie Blue. Both Dunn and Kearns are arbitration eligible for the 2006 season.

Jim Hendry has not kept quiet about the fact that he likes what he has seen in Austin Kearns and wants him in Chicago. Kearns has not fulfilled his potential at this point in his career and like Patterson; I wonder if a change of scenery could lead to the success he was projected for. Kearns only hit .240 with 18 homers and 67 RBI’s last season. He walked 48 times, had a .333 OBP and a .452 SLG. He had a .988 fielding percentage. Kearns has always hit well against the Cubs, especially at Wrigley Field and his career best was .315 in 2002. Kearns is young and could add depth to the Cubs and their bench.

The Reds will have new ownership in 2006 and their payroll should increase. Adam Dunn is a fan favorite and will likely remain in Cincinnati. Dunn has stated he wants to play for a winner and is tired of losing. I believe the Cubs are a couple of players and a healthy pitching staff away from contention. Dunn would add a very powerful left-handed bat to the middle of the order that will include Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Dunn only hit .247 last year for the Reds, but he had 40 homers and 101 RBI’s. He walked 114 times and had a .387 OBP to go along with a .540 SLG. Dunn can also play first base and would provide depth at that position (.985 fielding percentage). Like with Jason Bay, if the Cubs could pull this one off, look for Matt Murton to move to right field.

If the Cubs cannot pull off signing Kenny Lofton, another option might be Jacque Jones from the Minnesota Twins. Jones is a free agent and is coming off a sub par year. Jones only hit .249 with 23 homeruns and 73 RBI’s in 2005. He had a .319 OBP and a .438 SLG percentage. Jones has a .279 career batting average with his best season in 2003 when he hit .304. Jones is young (30 years old) and can play centerfield. With the season he had (in 2005), he cannot demand a huge contract and will be looking to improve his stock. With the uncertainty of Felix Pie and all of the doubts surrounding Corey Patterson, Jones might provide a one-year fix while Pie is learning how to play at the Major League level. Jones could definitely add protection for Lee and Ramirez.

Now that I have officially entered the world of a Gossip Columnist, the main goal is for the Cubs to think outside of the box. Just because the player is not available, does not mean he is not available. The White Sox (and the Red Sox in 2004) proved that teams win championships, not individuals. I keep wondering why a free agent can bring so much attention and money, if their current team is not willing to resign them, why should another team invest their money and risk their future on them? When was the last time the Cubs signed a ‘big name’ free agent that actually paid big dividends for them?

Time to wait and see who will become the ‘new guys’ to root for in 2006.

Quote of the Day

"There are only two seasons ... winter and baseball." - Bill Veeck

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