Losing My Religion

The current manager of the Chicago Cubs played Ryan Theriot at 2B on Saturday, and it paid off in a big way. With the dream of playoffs hopelessly lost, the rest of the season should prove a great launching pad for the careers of several young Cubs players and prospects. It appears that, maybe, Hendry and Mimi (manager I must ignore) are putting commonsense first here, and realizing that the next 2-1/2 months should be spent developing the Cubs’ youth, so that we go into 2007 completely aware of which players are ready for the big leagues, and in which areas we need to go out and acquire help in the off-season. I am very happy now, as all I ever wanted was for my Cubs to openly admit their failings, and then act like they had a reasonable and rational plan for fixing their problems so that my favorite baseball team can have success in the future.

So….Hendry and Mimi are committed to the youth movement now, right? You know better….

And I don’t know if I can do it….

Sunday morning, I read this quote from Mimi in a Chicago Tribune article by Paul Sullivan, where the fine manager of the Chicago Cubs went on to say that “We still have to win ballgames. Everyone says ‘Mix in the young guys.’ I have a bunch of young guys in already.”

Huh? What’s that? Neifi Perez starting in place of Ronny Cedeno gives the Cubs a better chance to win in 2006? Hey….you know what….using this philosophy, why not just start Phil Nevin in place of Derrek Lee for the rest of year, since Nevin is older than Lee? The idea that age, by itself, indicates that one player is better than another is nonsense. You get the feeling that if Marquis Grissom had made the Cubs team, that he would be getting more at-bats than Juan Pierre using Mimi’s logic. While I admit that rookie pitchers have hurt us (Hill, Guzman, and Ryu) the reality is that mediocre veterans, such as Glendon Rusch, Neifi Perez, Jerome Williams, Phil Nevin, Greg Maddux, and the defensive shortfalls of Todd Walker, Michael Barrett, and Jacque Jones have brought us the record of twenty-something games below .500. So why does Mimi act like playing the young guys somehow equals the Cubs losing? We have already been losing….it can’t get worse! Ok….technically, we could be in last place, so it could actually be worse….but you know what I mean.

That was just a dream….

So was I just dreaming that the Cubs were about to do the right thing, the smart thing, and the only thing that makes sense when you are over 20 games below .500 in mid-July: build for next year? In the South, the phrase “losing my religion” roughly means “I’m about to go out of my mind”. The last time I was this frustrated was during Hurricane Katrina. I was watching the news, and day after day, people seemed to be trapped and suffering in New Orleans, and it appeared that no one was doing anything about it, or knew what to do, or how to do it. Finally they put that military guy in charge, Lt. Gen Russel Honore, and he kicked some butt and bused everyone out of there in what seemed like an hour. I am one of those guys that knows when things can be done better, but that you need to have the right people in charge to put forth the right amount of effort to make things happen. The current Cubs coaching staff’s philosophy towards this roster, and this season, makes me feel like I did before General Honore showed up in New Orleans.

Forget my dislike of Mimi. Before the season started, I stated the Cubs could win, but would largely do so in spite of their manager, and not because of him. I also said that if the season became about Mimi, that the Cubs would not make the playoffs. So in addition to playing a sports writer on the weekends, I also do a little Nostradamus impression on the side for extra cash every now and then. The fact is that I would be perfectly fine with Hendry keeping, and even resigning, Mimi as the manager, provided that they would both be on the same page about the future of the club. The club’s future is not Neifi and Rusch. You know that, I know that, Sox fans probably know that….even Australian Aborigine tribes, untouched by modern civilization, seem to know that. So why doesn’t Hendry get rid of Rusch asap, and make sure his manager realizes that Neifi is, and only ever should be a: backup, benchwarmer, reserve, utility-guy, late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner for the pitcher in the 8th inning, even a left-handed batting practice pitcher….anything but a starter!!!!

The hint of the century….

The window is now closed. We had a window, with the group of Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Aramis, and Lee. Due largely to the persistent injuries of Wood and Prior, the window of opportunity for winning with this core of relatively young talent, in or near their prime, has expired. When milk expires, you don’t teach it to throw a towel in Iowa, you throw it away. I don’t mean the Cubs have to give up on Prior, or even Wood, but you have to revise the plan….you have to develop a new window of opportunity, and proceed down a modified path than the one in which you started. I say “modify” because the other three guys are still young and healthy, and you can build on them to create a new core.

I think Prior is salvageable, but he ought to be shut down for another month. Let him pitch the last month of the season, just to get his mechanics back in shape….and for the sanity of Cubs fans everywhere, hire some new trainers and doctors, please! Spare no expense in ensuring that Prior shows up to Spring Training next year, actually in shape, and ready to pitch in (gasp!) a Spring Training game. Wood needs to go with the Nomaresque incentive-laden hometown discount contract, and start out in the bullpen, and maybe work his way back to being a starter, if we need him due to injury or ineffectiveness of one of the other starters. Just make sure that Wood is the backup plan next year, and not the main plan. If we don’t need Wood to start, he may just be a lights-out closer for the next 5 years, and not a pseudo-closer ala Joe Borowski or Ryan Dempster.

Consider this….

So we can count on Zambrano, and depending on how Prior ends this year, I am guessing we will count on him as well. That is two above-average, and potentially great, starters. While I like Marshall and his composure, I am not sure I have seen any reason to think he will get appreciably better than he is now. In other words, he may simply be 4th or 5th starter material his whole career….and that is fine. However, you don’t win championships with your 5th starter being a “core” guy, so the Cubs have to get a solid 3rd starter. I would like Barry Zito as much as the next guy, but as I have mentioned a lot on the CCO lately, I don’t see Hendry and the Tribsters paying top dollar for an established and healthy star, who is in his prime, and is coming off a good year….they have no history of spending money on this type of player. So right now I will label our 3rd core starter as “Mystery Starter X” and hope that Hendry makes something happen in a trade this year or that he surprises me in the offseason with a big move for a quality arm.

We can also continue to count on Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, and I hope that Juan Pierre is resigned as well. Those three, alone, will give us a good enough core to build around. The key will be getting the right supporting pieces to fill in the gaps. Is Murton the future? Will Cedeno improve? Right now, those two guys are only adequate….but that could change with time, and with the seasoning the rest of this year could provide them. They don’t need to be All-Stars, but they need to be better than just average on offense and defense….they need to give the Cubs an edge. Can we afford to put up with Jacque Jones on defense and on the basepaths? I strongly believe that if Jones goes into an offensive slump, that things will get terribly ugly at Wrigley for him….Jones is, I believe, more unstable than LaTroy Hawkins ever was, and it would be wise for the Cubs to move him while his worth is so high. We won in 2003 with great defense behind the plate with Damien Miller. I like Michael Barrett’s bat, but he would be better suited trying to become an outfielder, as his defense and game-calling have caused this once-great staff to underachieve during all three years of his tenure.

Oh no, I’ve said too much….

I always write my article after the game on Sunday, but this time I didn’t. Hopefully the Cubs will have won, and hopefully Mimi will have played Theriot, Cedeno, and Murton at the same time, and tried to win with the future. If not, I am sure I will have been mentally yelling at my television, and losing my religion.

What do you think CCO readers….what should be the goal for the Cubs the rest of the year? Do they develop youngsters? Should they make blockbuster trades for Zito and Carlos Lee? My belief is that the latter just isn’t likely, so I really hope they do the former….it may be our only hope for winning seasons the rest of this decade! Until next time, keep the faith that commonsense will prevail, hope for Maddux to win a few in a row, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon