Cubs Off-Season Rumors

What ‘They’ Are Saying – Part 1 of 2

Hey guess what I heard? You’ll never believe this….the centerfielder for the Cubs in 2006 is….O.K. now that I have your attention. There are a ton of rumors circulating about ‘Who The Cubs Will Sign’. I really feel free agency is NOT the way to build a team. I really believe that trading for the player (the organization) wants is the way to go….see Derrek Lee. How many times do free agents actually pan out for their new club? More often than not the player gets injured and spends most of the year or years on the DL and they are mentioned on the talk shows more than the game broadcasts. But I have heard and read some of the wildest info about the Cubs in the last week and I cannot keep quiet any longer.

There is a long list of ‘Future Cubs’ circulating. Among the names are: Rafael Furcal (Braves – SS), Brian Giles (Padres – OF), A.J. Burnett (Marlins – RHP), Jarrod Washburn (Angels – LHP), B.J. Ryan (Orioles – LHP), Kenny Lofton (Phillies – OF), Billy Wagner (Phillies – LHP), Johnny Damon (Red Sox – OF) and Kevin Millwood (Indians – RHP).

There are also rumors circulating about the following players and a possible trade that would land them in Chicago. These players are: Manny Ramirez (Red Sox – OF), J.D. Drew (Dodgers – OF) and Torii Hunter (Twins – OF).

O.K. where do I start? Let’s begin with the trades that I have heard. Manny Ramirez? Give me a break!!! Why would the Cubs want to even think about this one? They just got rid of one overpaid outfielder, why go get another one? Manny is a great hitter and run producer, but he cannot play the outfield very well and he takes plays off. ‘Manny Be Manny’. What kind of adventures would he have in Left Field at Wrigley? Let him go to the West Coast….let’s move on.

J.D. Drew….where do I start? NOT A TEAM PLAYER. Very talented, but he still has 4 years left on a 5 year, $55 million dollar contract. Why would the Cubs tie up that kind of money? He spent most of 2005 on the DL and came off his best year in 2004….right before he was to become a free agent….he got paid….again….let’s move on.

Torii Hunter is a great fielder, but he is coming off a bad injury. Good all around player and would look good in Cubbie blue, but with Felix Pie waiting in the wings I do not think this would be a good trade. Hunter will make $10.75 million in 2006 with a $12 million dollar club option for 2007….too much money and Hunter has said he likes it in Minnesota.

Now for the free agents.

Rafael Furcal, o.k. Here we go. Furcal has the best infield arm in the game and would provide the Cubs with a much-needed lead off hitter and a great short stop. Furcal hit .284 in 2005 with a .348 OBP and a .429 SLG. He stole 46 bases and was only caught 10 times. Furcal also had 12 home runs, 58 RBI’s, 31 doubles and 11 triples….all out of the lead off spot. He committed 15 errors and had a .981 fielding percentage. Furcal is probably the best free agent on the market this year. Furcal does come with some baggage, a past drinking problem. Furcal will demand a huge contract and my guess is 3-4 years in the $30 – $40 million-dollar range. Furcal just turned 28 in October. Furcal is a switch hitter and would help with the much-needed left-handed bat. Hendry loves the idea of Furcal being a Cub and with the possibility being there he had Ronny Cedeno play winter ball to learn how to play second base. The Mets are also very interested. If the Cubs sign Furcal, look for them to trade Todd Walker. Furcal would be a good addition, but I wonder about the money and baggage. He is friends with Aramis Ramirez and Neifi Perez and a former teammate of Greg Maddux and these factors could bring him to Chicago.

Brian Giles is a very dependable player and the experts say outside of PETCO Park (San Diego) he could still hit 25-30 home runs a year (his career high is 39 with the Pirates in 1999). Giles will be 35 when the season starts, but his numbers are tremendous. Brian led the Padres in batting average (.301) and RBI’s (83). He also had 15 home runs, an OBP of .423 and a SLG of .483. Giles is a left-handed hitter and with the Cubs losing Burnitz and possibly Patterson and Walker, the addition of a player like Giles would be necessary. I like Brian Giles and he would fit in great in right field. With Giles in right, Matt Murton would able to play left field. The past two seasons the Cubs have had problems with getting runners on base and with an outfield of Brian Giles and Matt Murton (insert centerfielder here), the teams OBP would definitely improve.

A.J. Burnett is this year’s Carl Pavano….what is up with those free agent Marlins’ pitchers? Burnett is not a team player (the Marlins asked him to leave the team before the season was over because of comments he made about the team and management) and has had an injury-plagued career. The Cubs do not need another pitcher with a history of health problems. I know Burnett has a great young arm (28 years old) but I do not understand why all of the experts make such a big deal about this guy. He had a .500 record last year (12-12 / 3.44) and is one game under .500 for his career (49-50 / 3.73). He has only started more than 30 games in a season twice in his career (31 in 2002 and 32 in 2005) and has already had Tommy John Surgery. The Cubs need to pass and let George sign him for too much money. Rumor is he will end up in Toronto or Detroit.

Jarrod Washburn is coming off a .500 season with the Los Angeles Angels and would be a good addition to any Major League roster, except for the Cubs. With the fact the Cubs just signed Glendon Rusch to a 2-year deal and that Rich Hill is very close to being an impact pitcher for the Cubs, I do not see any room for Washburn on the Cubs’ pitching staff.

B.J. Ryan would provide a very good lefty in the bullpen for the Cubs. Ryan had a very good year as the closer for the Orioles (1-4 / 2.43 ERA with 36 saves in 41 opportunities). The Cubs just signed Ryan Dempster to a contract extension and with the money Ryan will demand, would that be a good use of funds with limited chances for Ryan to pitch in the closers’ role. Could the Cubs have a left-hander closer (Ryan) and a right-handed closer (Dempster)? The Cubs have wanted Ryan for a while, so the possibility of a two-headed closer is very possible. Keep an eye on this one.

Kenny Lofton is the free agent I think the Cubs should pursue. First, Lofton is a ‘Dusty Baker Guy’ and would get playing time. Second, he is a very good leadoff hitter. (He hit .335 in 110 games for the Phillies with a .392 OBP, 32 walks and 22 stolen bases while only being caught twice. Kenny’s fielding percentage was .981. Patterson had only 23 walks in 126 games and a fielding percentage of .980.) Third, at this point in his career he cannot demand a huge contract and with Felix Pie waiting in the wings, a one-year contract with Lofton would not block Pie’s progress to the Major Leagues. Lofton could also offer an insurance policy if they decide to give Patterson another chance and an experienced left-handed bat off of the bench. This is a win-win situation for the Cubs if father time does not catch up with Kenny Lofton.

Billy Wagner has been a great reliever for many years and had another dominant year for he Phillies in 2005. Wagner was 4-3 / 1.51 ERA with 38 saves in 41 opportunities and had 87 strikeouts in 77.2 innings. The Cubs have been burnt in the past with signing big name closers late in their careers (Rich Gossage). Wagner will turn 35 during the 2006 season. Wagner will demand a huge contract and if the Cubs are looking to add a left handed closer to compliment Dempster; they should stick with B.J. Ryan. Wagner will either stay with the Phillies or end up with the Mets.

Johnny Damon is a very good leadoff hitter and centerfielder….no doubt. Damon is asking for a 5-year deal, worth between $8 and $10 million a year and I think this would be a very bad move for the Cubs. Damon will be 33 when the season starts….to long of a contract and too much money. If Damon leaves Boston, look for him to become a New York Yankee.

I cannot even believe I am mentioning Kevin Millwood. I have talked about former Braves’ pitchers in the past. If the Braves are willing to let a pitcher go, there has to be a reason. Millwood was 9-11 with a .286 ERA for the Indians in 2005. If Millwood leaves Cleveland, look for him to become a New York Yankee as well.

Well, that is my opinion on what the rumors are and what the experts are saying. With the GM Meeting scheduled for November 7th – November 11th and with teams losing their exclusive rights on their free agents on November 10th….a lot of moves are getting ready to happen. Hold on for the ride.

I have dusted off the Soap Box and my Crystal Ball for part 2….

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe