Got Horse….?

Is it easier to sweep the barn if the horses are all gone? After winning their last 6 out of 7 games, Dusty must be wondering how this surge of victories was possible, without his “horses”. If Dusty isn’t wondering, then I sure am, and I hope Jim Hendry and the Cubs Faithful are wondering the same thing, too.

Even without Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Derrek Lee, the Cubs are able to beat the top 2 teams in the National League (the Mets and the Cardinals). When this season officially went into the tank, sometime in May, a lot of fans and experts blamed it on the injuries, while conveniently ignoring the fact that plenty of other teams were doing just fine, despite key injuries of their own. I was reminded over and over again that the Cubs could never be expected to win without Dusty’s “horses” all being healthy and back in the stable, or whatever lame excuse/story Dusty said his daddy had taught him. If you think the Cubs had no choice but to be almost 20 games below .500 at this point, due to injuries alone….well….now you know better.

Should Dusty stay or should he go….?

After the season, Dusty will either be given a new contract, or the Cubs will have another manager. I don’t really care which happens, because I know the Cubs can win regardless of who their manager is….provided that their manager provides leadership and expects results. I know Dusty can do this….but he needs to be ready to handle injuries next year, or this miserable season will repeat itself. If Dusty can come into 2007 with a better mindset, and a better plan of how to keep his guys motivated and playing hard, then the team can withstand injuries better. Maybe if he is surrounded by some different coaches, things could change a bit….who knows. I think Dusty can do well with a healthy team of stars….but I am not so sure if he is the guy you want to lead your young team of developing players.

Get on base….please!

No matter who the manager is next year, I hope more emphasis is put on being more patient at the plate. I am not sure I understand the concept of “aggressive” hitting. If you see a good pitch to hit, then swing at it, if you want. But you shouldn’t just swing at the first pitch if it is a bad pitch to hit! We all know the Cubs starters have given up too many walks this year, which adds up to too many pitches, which causes more runs to be scored and causes you to put Roberto Novoa into the game, usually ending any chance of winning that day.

So if walks hurt the Cubs pitching staff so much, and most teams don’t have an Eyre and Howry waiting in the bullpen, doesn’t it make sense for the Cubs batters to work the pitch counts a bit, and try to convert more walks into runs scored?

Can Dusty change his ways, and work on the team’s OBP next year? Believe it or not, there is precedent for Dusty changing things a bit. Remember this year was supposed to be “combination ball” after all. So Dusty, in a sense, admitted you can’t just have a bunch of home-run hitters and expect to consistently put up runs. In 2004 and 2005, it seemed the Cubs often would score 10 runs one game, and then get shutout the next….too many sluggers swinging for the fences, and not enough Juan Pierre types getting on base. Even if it isn’t a huge philosophical shift by Dusty, if he can get his guys to be a bit smarter with their at-bats next year, that would be a huge improvement by itself.

GM-enforced change….

The Cubs probably won’t wind up with Bobby Abreu in the off-season, now that he was traded to the Yankees, but he is the type of guy that Hendry needs to look for this offseason. Why? Because he is an extremely high OBP guy, who draws a ton of walks, has speed, and power. If you put Abreu on Dusty’s team, he isn’t going to suddenly forget how to get walks, no matter how much Dusty preaches “aggressive” hitting. With most established veterans, what you see is what you get, and they may listen to their coaches to correct small errors in technique, and to get pumped up and motivated, but they aren’t going to fully revamp their entire pitching motion, or hitting style, for Dusty.

So Jim Hendry can have the best of both worlds, if he wants, and if he is smart enough to make the right moves this off-season. Hendry likes Dusty because he is a proven big-name manager, and players like to play for him, which makes it easier for Hendry to resign players for a hometown discount.

Don’t dismiss this as a made up idea….think it through. Hendry does not sign huge free agents….never has. Hendry does like to take flyers on guys, and resign his own existing players to extentions. Hendry will trade for a big-name guy, but then hope to sign him for cheaper than he would have otherwise been as a true free agent. Some examples of this are: Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Nomar Garciaparra, and Ryan Dempster. All of these guys got decent contracts, but if they had not been previously playing for the Cubs, I guarantee they would have cost Hendry more money. That is also why the Cubs never go to arbitration with a player, because they want to make the player feel good about being a Cub, make him feel appreciated and respected, and develop a sense of loyalty in that player….this leads to the player signing for dollars amounts that keep Hendry happy. Hendry would also point to the “guys want to play for Dusty” thought process, which leads to signings of guys like Todd Walker, for, essentially, cheap money.

Hendry does want the team to do better, and if he gives Dusty certain types of players, then he can control how Dusty manages, indirectly. By adding Juan Pierre, the Cubs stole more bases under Dusty….mostly because that is what Juan Pierre does well! If Hendry gives Dusty some higher OBP guys in the offseason, perhaps at SS and 2B, then I think the Cubs will be in pretty good shape. Lee, Ramirez, and Pierre are all traditionally decent OBP guys. Barrett has become a reliable hitter, and doesn’t strike out too much. Jacque Jones is really the only big strikeout guy on the team now. I think the Cubs need to make a move at 2B and at SS, because those are the two biggest glaring weaknesses (and the reason that Neifi plays so much!!!!). The other main weakness in the lineup would be Murton, who looks like he can hit for average, but his power numbers, and his defense, leave much to be desired.

A Sales Pitch….on Pitchers

I hope Marshall and Marmol get plenty of starts the rest of the year, and that either Hill or Guzman winds up getting some action as well. If Hendry feels the young guys can be counted on in the starting rotation next year, alongside Zambrano and Prior, then that frees up a tremendous amount of money that can be spent on weak areas at SS, 2B, and LF. I know, and all the Cubs Faithful knows, that the Tribsters have no right to cry poor, but they will give Hendry a budget, and we have to face facts that he won’t be able to afford Zito, Soriano, and Carlos Lee all at that same time. That is about $45 million a year in those three players….and with Zambrano and Prior nearing contract extension years soon, the Tribsters and Hendry will try to save money somewhere. If Prior and Zambrano are at the top of their games, then you could win a playoff series with them alone. That is a fact. Just like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, and Schilling and Pedro Martinez….two aces will make all the difference in the playoffs. So if Marshall, Marmol, and Hill/Guzman can fill the remaining spots in the rotation, and finish near .500 each, then the Cubs should be able to win the wildcard or the division title, without a problem.

Maybe the Cubs will elect for a “Hendry Special” and take a flyer on an injured pitcher like Mark Mulder, or at least on Kerry Wood. This time around, the injured guys should be the backup plan, and not the main plan, and then I think the Cubs will be fine. If Angel Guzman is our 5th starter next year, and really struggles, it would be a great fall-back to have a healthy Kerry Wood come out of the bullpen and resume starting. I haven’t given up on Kerry Wood….but I just can’t count on him as one of my starters, either.

Monday is the trading deadline, and I don’t see a blockbuster deal happening with the Cubs, but I do hope they can unload Walker, Nevin, Neifi, and/or Rusch. Even if you don’t get much back for any of those guys, I would rather get some more prospects into our system, and then see what the young guys can do the rest of the year. I would rather watch Cedeno struggle then watch Neifi struggle….because at least Cedeno still has upside! Until next time, CCO Readers, let’s make it 5 in a row, hope for Rich Hill to bring his AAA game to the majors, hope for Prior to throw some more no-hit ball, hope for Maddux to get back to .500 in a Cubbies uniform, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

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

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