The Cubs Off-Season Report – The 2006 Season Projections

2006 Chicago Cubs Team Projections – XM Radio

As I woke Monday morning I had a good feeling about the Cubbies, I will admit Jason’s column got me fired up….I had faith, I was believing in the Cubs. The 2006 Projections are starting to roll in and Mark and Buck were talking about them on the XM Morning Show. I thought Mark Patrick summed it up well, with the Internet the old mags have turned into LP’s (those are records for the younger generation, before CD’s), you can get the info off of the Internet….but it is something about holding those magazines and looking at them with anticipation of what they have to say about your favorite team. I made the purchases over the weekend and I will be talking about those in the coming days. While no one is picking the Cubs to do much of anything, I was still feeling positive….the word ‘Believe’ kept running through my head.

Those of you that listen to XM know they repeat the Morning Show in its entirety after the live show is over, then at 11:00 am C.S.T., it turns to Fantasy Focus with Jeff Erickson of For the past couple of weeks they have been doing off-season recaps for each team, and has luck would have it….Monday was time for the Cubs. My positive outlook shifted very quickly and here is what Jeff Erickson and Will Carroll had to say about the Cubbies.

Will Carroll is from Baseball Prospectus and neither he nor Jeff Erickson care for the way Dusty manages his bullpen and they both had problems with the signing of Scott Eyre. There was the inevitable comparison between Eyre and Mike Remlinger. While I like the signing and I have heard and read that other ‘experts’ liked the signing as well, both Carroll and Erickson do not. They said the Cubs overpaid and Eyre will only give the Cubs 60-70 innings. Carroll does not think the signing hurt the Cubs financially at least not until he is unable to do what the Cubs have hired him to do. Erickson mentioned that Eyre has only had one good year. They do not understand the 3-year contract that was given to Eyre. Will Carroll mentioned with as many good moves over the past few years that Jim Hendry has made, there have been equally bad moves as well and used the signing of Eyre as an example. Bobby Howry according to Carroll and Erickson is no better than Scott Williamson. They both feel that Williamson will have a good year and Howry could serve as a closer if necessary. Carroll said the Cubs overpaid for Howry as well and has his doubts of how this signing will work out. Ryan Dempster was the next one on the chopping block. According to Carroll the Cubs have shown over the years they can go out and turn someone into a closer. What?!?! Carroll brought up how the Cubs turned Dempster and Joe Borowski into closers. Carroll does not understand why the Cubs feel like they need certainty in the bullpen. Both of them feel the Cubs should have spent their time addressing other needs in the off-season and the Cubs cannot blame all of the problems they had last season on the bullpen.

Juan Pierre quickly became the topic of conversation and Erickson feels that the trade for Pierre addressed several problems the Cubs had last year. The move also allowed the Cubs to move Corey Patterson and gives Patterson a second chance in another city and Carroll thinks this will be a good trade for both teams. The main concern about Pierre is his OBP and if he can keep those numbers up he will be fine. The old joke of a guy cannot steal first base was brought up and again it was not funny. Carroll feels Pierre could be a 1-year rental with Felix Pie waiting in the wings. Carroll thinks this is just a small piece of a bigger puzzle that the Cubs needed to address this off-season.

The problem that could happen is what Dusty thinks he has in a player instead of what the player actually is. While Neifi Perez is a good defensive shortstop, he is not the player that Dusty sees. Carroll thinks Dusty is looking at Pierre to be the next Ricky Henderson and if Pierre’s OBP drops into the .330 – .340 range it will not cost Pierre the leadoff spot it will cost the Cubs games. Pierre has a career OBP of .355 and it was .326 in 2005. If Pierre does not workout, the Cubs do not have any other options at this position and Erickson mentioned the possibility of Ronny Cedeno being a leadoff hitter. Carroll said Pie would be the next in line at the leadoff spot and Pie is at least a year away. The Cubs gave up a lot of pitching prospects for Pierre, but the Cubs still have plenty in their system and the ones that were traded for Pierre did not hurt the Cubs’ Farm System. According to Erickson, pitching prospects are supposed to be dealt.

Carroll said when Jacque Jones is the best option to sign; you have to wonder what is in their organization. Erickson has said since the Jones signing that he would have kept Jeromy Burnitz and they talked about that on Monday. This is another instance, according to Carroll, where Dusty saw something in the past and projected it to the future. Jones is a moderately good player and should be platooned. Jones needs to show plate discipline and his walks last year were misleading, most happened in the first part of the season. Erickson does not think Burnitz wanted to come back to Chicago and then Erickson really lost me. He said he would have rather gone after Rondell White than Jacque Jones….didn’t the Cubs already try that one? And how well did it work out the first time? Carroll thinks it would have been better to rush someone to the Majors than to have signed Jacque Jones.

Matt Murton will start for the Cubs in left field, but Carroll said Jim Hendry knows if he were to give Dusty another option he would choose that option in left field and not play Matt Murton. Carroll feels if Hendry would have given Dusty a platoon partner for Jones, then Jones would be playing in left field. Marquis Grissom is the one that worries Carroll because of the history with Dusty. According to Carroll, “Grissom does everything Dusty likes in a player, he is old and available.” It would be smart for Dusty to use either John Mabry or Grissom in spot situations to keep Murton out of trouble and allow Murton to learn how to play and succeed at the Major League level. Carroll thinks if Grissom gets off to a hot start, then Murton could see a lot of bench time.

Todd Walker is being viewed as a defensive liability and the Cubs are looking at the White Sox as the template on how to win a championship. Neither of them likes the idea of Neifi Perez or Jerry Hariston playing second base. Walker is one of those players that can hit well and often their lack of defense is made up by their offense. The worst fielder is only going to take one or two wins off the board and Carroll thinks Walker can win more than that with his bat. Carroll would rather see Walker at second base than either Perez or Hariston. He said that he would rather give up a little with the glove than the bat. The fielding deficiencies of a middle infielder are more evident that any other position on the field. Carroll does not think Ronny Cedeno will be the starting shortstop. Erickson reminded him of the great off-season Cedeno had and the fact he did well last year with the Cubs. The Cubs were very surprised when they lost out on Rafael Furcal and Furcal would have solved a lot of the Cubs problems. If Cedeno starts slow or hits a slump, Dusty will not hesitate to turn to Neifi Perez. Perez is a good backup shortstop, very good defensively, he knows how to play the game and do the little things, according to Carroll, that you want your backup to do. Carroll said, “when he is getting 200 at bats, your team is in trouble. When he is getting 500 at bats, your team is in last.”

The starting rotation of the Cubs is always the first question, but during this program it was the last. The health of Kerry Wood was, as always, the first topic discussed. According to Carroll, Wood will not be ready for the start of the season and should not be a surprise to anyone that his recovery is going slower than anyone expected. Wood will be back late April or early May and may not start his first game until around the All Star break. The question then becomes can Wood stay healthy and change his mechanics. Carroll thinks with Wood going into a free agent year he might be willing to change things that he has not been willing to in the past. The mechanics will be the key to Wood’s success when he comes back. Everything with Wood is he has to keep his shoulder in line with his body when he pitches. If his shoulder is ahead of his body, then there is still a problem. The Cubs still have six pitchers for five spots and with Maddux, Prior and Zambrano being a given, the attention turned to Jerome Williams, Wade Miller and Glendon Rusch. Carroll thinks Miller is in the same situation he was last year with the Red Sox and if the Cubs can get anything out of Miller….it would be a bonus. Miller might be used to hide Kerry Wood. If Miller can stay healthy he could be a key for the Cubs. Erickson and Carroll think the Cubs are not looking for 200 innings out of Miller and if they can get 50 innings out of him as a starter, then Miller would be well worth the investment. Jerome Williams and Glendon Rusch are the same pitchers, one is left-handed and one is right-handed. Rusch is a good pitcher and would be better for the Cubs in the bullpen, but with the signing of Eyre that may not be a possibility. Carroll thinks Williams cannot be used out of the bullpen.

Felix Pie is the only prospect in the system that is close to being ready. That is the reason the Cubs went out and got the free agents they did. They did not discuss Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee or Michael Barrett. Carroll said what was frustrating to the Cubs this off-season was they could not buy the team they wanted.

While I am glad that most of the ‘experts’ are not picking the Cubs to do well this off-season, I did hear some positive news to end my Monday.

Holden Kushner was talking about the Cubs and said he feels they are a playoff team. He mentioned he likes the trade for Pierre, he thinks Jones is an upgrade over Burnitz. He said Pierre is a game changer in centerfield and the question with the Cubs, is as always, the pitching staff. So my day did end a little brighter.

To borrow a line from Larry Bowa, all of the teams have to play 162 games and not one team will win the World Series in February or March.

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt