….Heading for Home

The Cubs hit a couple of road blocks in Milwaukee but mostly their poor performances were the reason for the last two defeats. Winning has a tendency to be a cure all and while they have played better since the break, any wins, as welcomed as they are, will be just a band-aid for a team that has underachieved all season.

Here is Part 2 of Rounding Third….

The Bullpen

Jim Hendry took a lot of heat this past off-season with the signings of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre. While having an expensive bullpen and a losing record do not go together, the success of the bullpen should not be ignored. Hendry passed on trading either Howry or Eyre and while their contracts would have been difficult to unload one must wonder what kind of prospects either would have brought to an organization that needs to look at upgrading the talent on the farm. The most surprising non-move was that of Will Ohman, while Ohman has been inconsistent, a left-hander out of the pen is usually a hot commodity. David Aardsma has been impressive at times but still needs time and Roberto Novoa continues to be Dusty’s favorite option out of the pen. Relievers’ success has a tendency to change from year to year, just ask Michael Wuertz. It would be nice to see the bullpen finish strong but it would also be nice to see the likes of a Brandon Emanuel or a Clay Rapada get a chance to pitch at the big league level in September. Just because the bullpen has been successful this season does not mean the success will carry over to 2007.

There has been talk that Kerry Wood is interested in pitching out of the bullpen and with the way he performed last season in that role, Wood as a reliever could be very promising for the Cubs….but not at a $13.5 million dollar price tag. The Cubs will spend the $3 million, buyout Wood’s contract and attempt to resign him with an incentive latent contract. Rumors are a bound that Wood will test the open market and destinations such as the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers could be in his future. If the Cubs do resign Wood, Ryan Dempster could prove to be expendable. Dempster has been successful in the closer role, but he is nowhere near the dominating figure that Wood could be. Dempster, for the most part, has done his job, but every time he takes the hill the collective blood pressure of the coaching staff goes through the roof. Even last season when Dempster blew just 2 saves, the eventless 9th inning for the opposition was few and far between. Dempster is signed for 2 more seasons with $10.5 million dollars left on the contract he signed last year. If Wood does stay, Dempster’s role could change, after all the Cubs just paid that much for Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre.

Jerome Williams

What ever happened to Jerome Williams? The Cubs traded for him last season when they sent LaTroy Hawkins to San Francisco for Williams and David Aardsma. Williams finished last season with a lot of promise (6-8, 3.91 ERA in 18 games, 17 starts) but could never get on track this season from the beginning of Spring Training (0-2, 7.30 ERA), lost his spot in the starting rotation to Sean Marshall and was demoted to Iowa on April 23rd. Williams has struggled at Iowa (3-5, 4.45 ERA, 111 hits in 87 innings in 23 games and only 12 starts) and the likely hood of him becoming a contributor for the Cubs is slim to none. Williams should be moved in the off-season for a low level prospect or as a part of a bigger trade. Whether Williams just does not get it or the coaching staff does not know how to reach him is irrelevant, the fact that he is wasting away in Iowa, for an organization that continuously passes him over, is not good for the player or the organization.

Neifi Perez

Like Glendon Rusch, what do the Cubs see in this guy? Perez has performed nowhere near the way he did last season when Nomar went down. Perez has had little time since Ronny Cedeno moved to 2nd base after Izturis took over at short and should receive even less playing time down the stretch. While he is an obvious favorite of Dusty Baker, the Cubs have plenty of questions in the middle infield that must be answered and none of the solutions should be Neifi Perez. While Perez is better than average in the field his offense and plate discipline is non-existent. Jim Hendry should DFA Perez as soon as possible and just “eat” the rest of that ridiculous 2-year contract that he signed him to last off-season. While the Cubs have more problems than just Neifi, he has received his fair share of heat this season, the bottom line is Dusty Baker plays his entire bench, Jim Hendry should know this by now, and for some reason year after year plays his worst option….seemingly….the most often.

Wade Miller

Miller is scheduled to make another rehab start on Friday for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx….his 6th rehab start of the year, but Jim Hendry’s Million Dollar Man has not paid any dividends this season for the Cubs and the likely hood of him pitching any innings this season is becoming slimmer as every day passes. The Cubs signed Miller to a 1-year, $1 million dollar contract and hopefully Miller and his agent will remember the Cubs this coming off-season. The gamble on Miller was a good one and hopefully one that will pay off in 2007.

The Revolving Door a.k.a. Second Base

Why do the Cubs feel that loading a 25-man roster with 2nd basemen is the key to success? For the second straight year the Cubs will finish with a record under .500 and a lot of the downfall can be pointed directly at this gaping hole. The Cubs have started 7 different players at 2nd this season: Todd Walker, Ronny Cedeno, Neifi Perez, Freddie Bynum, Ryan Theriot, Tony Womack and Jerry Hairston, Jr. But not only are they addicted to seemingly having just has many 2nd basemen on the active roster as pitchers, they also feel they can convert those players into outfielders and expect them to contribute and win ballgames at the same time. There were games in May when the starting lineup consisted on five 2nd basemen out of nine. The inability of Dusty Baker to name a starter early in Spring Training not only hurt the team but the development of Ronny Cedeno at shortstop. When Derrek Lee went on the DL, the revolving door continued to spin, Cedeno struggled and the Cubs defense and pitching staff paid the price, just ask Greg Maddux….and all of this a year after much of the same took place, just replace the name of Tony Womack with Jose Macias.

For years the Cubs had problems with finding a productive 3rd baseman, remember all the talk, and now it seems like the problem has moved around the infield. The Cubs have struggled to find a productive 2nd baseman since the days of Ryne Sandberg and while some have tried….Mark Grudzielanek, Mickey Morandini, none have been successful year after year. The Cubs must keep to their apparent plan of having Ronny Cedeno learn on the job. Cedeno has played a solid 2nd of late after a horrible start. Cedeno’s offensive numbers have also improved but with not that many Jeff Kents or Ryne Sanbergs in the league the decision to play a weak hitting 2nd baseman could and should have effects on the other “power” positions. If Cedeno and Izturis can “gell” the Cubs infield defense could be spectacular next season but if they cannot develop any chemistry in a decent amount of time, Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot should be given a look to see if either would be an upgrade over Cedeno.

….To be completed. Next week in conclusion the main topics will be Dusty Baker, the coaching staff and free agents. Enjoy football this weekend and hopefully the Cubs will be able to take the series with the Rockies.

Quote of the Day

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