Rounding Third….

Part 1….With the baseball season dwindling down and the Cubs playing for pride and jobs for next season and beyond….Is there any reason or reasons to continue to follow the Boys of Summer with College Football around the corner and the NFL preseason getting in full swing this weekend? Paul Sullivan wrote a good article that appeared in Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune. Sullivan touched on several issues facing the Northsiders over the last 50 games (49 left as of Wednesday), but there are quite a few more that should be addressed.

Show Me the Money

Jim Hendry has two contracts that should be addressed before the end of the season and one that must be addressed before the start of next season….Juan Pierre, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano.

Juan Pierre – The Cubs paid a lot last off-season when they traded for Juan Pierre. Face it Ricky Nolasco (won his 10th game of the season on Tuesday night) would be making an impact for the Cubs, instead of the Marlins, had that trade not been made. Pierre struggled, like the rest of the team, at the beginning of the year but has performed of late, has shown little signs of slowing down and Hendry not unloading him at the Trade Deadline has limited what the Cubs could expect to get in return….at the same time made signing him to an extension an apparent plan in the off-season. If that is Hendry’s goal he must get Pierre to sign before he files for free agency. The White Sox are reportedly interested in Pierre and the Red Sox are unhappy with Coco Crisp and you can guarantee the Red Sox will overpay for Pierre. Felix Pie has not performed consistently this season at Iowa and would benefit by having another full season in the Minors. Pie is talented, there is no question, but a talent that might prove to be a better option in right field. not center, and to hit further down in the order and not in the leadoff spot. Most of the experts are speculating that Pierre could ask for a contract in the $10 million per year range, thanks to Rafael Furcal, but if Hendry could sign him before he tests the open market he and the Cubs could receive the ‘hometown discount” that Hendry covets.

Aramis Ramirez – Ramirez has Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail exactly where he wants them….in between a rock and no third baseman. He proved early in the season, during the absence of Derrek Lee, he is not a leader, his desire and effort has been questioned this year and throughout his career but he is a proven talent that the Cubs could not replace easily. Ramirez can hit but most importantly his defense has shown major improvement this season. Hendry’s unwillingness to move him before the deadline, and justifiably so, has left him and the Cubs at the mercy of Ramirez and his agents. Ramirez says he wants to stay in Chicago and many experts, including Ken Rosenthal, feel that Ramirez will use his option as a negotiating ploy, whatever the case, his contract must be addressed. He will be a hot commodity if he hits the open market. Teams like the Padres, Angels and Phillies have expressed interest and with the lack of third basemen on the market next season, he will get top billing. The Cubs do not have any options down on the farm and while the nickname of Scottie Pippen has been given to Ramirez, how many titles would Jordan have won without him.

Carlos Zambrano – For years the names Wood and Prior have taken top billing when the Cubs pitching staff was mentioned but the name most forgotten has been Carlos Zambrano. After a rough start to the season, many feel because of his participation in the WBC, Zambrano has been tremendous over the past 3 months, earned NL Pitcher of the Month for July and is the ace of the Cubs’ staff. While Zambrano shows no signs of decline any time soon the Cubs must lock him up before the price on pitchers the quality of Zambrano gets into the $100 million dollar range. Remember A.J. Burnett received a 5-year, $55 million dollar contract and most feel that Barry Zito could bring as much as $75-$85 million in the up coming off-season. While Zambrano should be anchoring the Cubs staff for the next several years, Dusty Baker and company must keep that in mind and not allow him to have 120+ pitch outings this September in meaningless games like they did last season.

The Young Guns

There have been positives this season for the Cubs and one has been the amount of young pitchers that have made their Major League debut. Hopefully the “Wait for Wood and Prior Era” is over and the likes of Sean Marshall, Rich Hill, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo, Angel Guzman and Jae Kuk Ryu pitching for the Cubs this season will pay dividends down the road either with the Cubs or as a part of a trade. Marshall is still out and is scheduled to make a rehab start this weekend, he is been on the DL since July 23rd. Marmol needs time and possibly has the biggest upside of any of the rookies that have taken the mound this season. Juan Mateo….well one start is not enough to make any assessments on his possible future but the Cubs will get their second look at the rookie on Saturday, he is scheduled to start in Colorado. Rich Hill should get plenty of opportunities over the remainder of the season for the Cubs to see which Rich Hill they can expect in the future. Hill has been very impressive in his last two outings but he needs to finish the season strong and give the Cubs a reason to keep him in the off-season. Guzman and Ryu should be a part of the September call-ups but the Cubs must not forget about them, like they did with Rich Hill last year, and see if their time in Iowa has helped make them more Major League ready. The most important concern for the young pitchers is for the Cubs not to overwork them and hurt any future they may or may not have. The Cubs do not have any pressure to win games so they should not overwork their pitchers over the last six weeks of the season.

Glendon Rusch

Why do the Cubs keep holding on to this guy? Glendon Rusch is using a spot on the roster that would be better served on a rookie to see what they may or may not have. The Cubs should know by now what Rusch will give them….an innings eater that can pitch long relief in a blow out game and will allow the other team to improve their individual numbers. The rumors surrounding Rusch are that he will be a part of a waiver deal sometime soon and if he is not, maybe the Cubs can keep coming up with different mysterious injuries that will allow them to take a look at different pitchers from the farm system. If Jim Hendry can find anyone interested in Rusch he must unload him and the remainder of his contract.

Derrek Lee

Lee is a competitor, no doubt, but the Cubs must not allow him to play another inning this season unless he is 100% healthy and most doubt, with the severity of his injury, if that is a possibility this year. Lee is a huge part of the future of this organization and while the Cubs would like to win every game possible to close out the season, rushing Lee back again could have long-term negative effects on this team. Leave him on the DL and suit him up next February in Mesa.

….To Be Continued. This is just the beginning there are several more topics to discuss and names such as Freddie Bynum, Wade Miller and Jerome Williams will be among them, along with a surprising name from the past. With the day game on Thursday, this multi-part article will continue on Friday.

Quote of the Day

"There are places I remember. All my life though some have changed. Some forever not for better. Some have gone and some remain. All these places have their moments ... " John Lennon/Paul McCartney