The Hustle

Sometimes you just don’t see it coming. A con, a swerve, misdirection….sometimes people just get taken for a ride. I saw a bit of “The Hustler” with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason this weekend, and I watched the whole movie never being too sure of what was real, and what was part of a planned con. In modern times, a similar movie might be of the “Ocean’s Eleven” variety; where you know a surprise is coming, but you are still surprised anyway.

The only difference between those movies and the Cubs upcoming off-season, is that at least the cons in the movies were entertaining to watch. Consider yourself warned, CCO Readers, if you think this off-season is going to go smoothly, with lots of free agents and a roster full of stars….you know better.

Follow Along….

The Cubs are currently battling to keep from having the worst record in the NL. In order to bring back the exact same team that exists right now, the Cubs will likely have to give pay raises to Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez, and give a big contract to Juan Pierre. That is mucho millions spent simply to have the same team….without adding any new free agents.

The Cubs are not the Yankees….no other teams in MLB are. Only the Yankees can afford to pay high salaries to players in their primes, at almost every position. All the other teams, including the Cubs, rely on cheaper, and younger, talent to complement the highly-paid players, and hopefully the result is a winning team.

The problem for the Cubs is that they already have all the highly-paid players they can afford: Derrek Lee, Ramirez, Pierre, Zambrano. They also have purposely overpaid at the reliever positions, with players such as Scott Eyre, Bobby Howry, and Ryan Dempster. The Cubs also have a few well-paid players, such as Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett. There is no money left for Barry Zito, folks.

We can all debate whether the Tribune can afford to have a Yankee-like payroll, but we all honestly know they won’t….they don’t need to, as we keep showing up in droves regardless of how poor they play. So don’t kid yourself into thinking the Cubs will spend more next year than they did last year.

With the decline of Kerry Wood’s option, and the loss of Greg Maddux, the Cubs do save some money on those two players….but then they give it right back to Pierre, Zambrano, and Ramirez. For the same amount of money, they will, essentially, have two less starting pitchers.

The Con….

Here are three scenarios:

1. The Cubs bring everyone back, with pay raises for Ramirez, Zambrano, and Pierre, AND they get some big free agents, like Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito.
2. The Cubs bring everyone back, with pay raises for Ramirez, Zambrano, and Pierre, AND they sign no big free agents, and instead rely on Murton, Cedeno, Hill, Marshall, Mateo, Marmol, Guzman, and Theriot to all improve.
3. The Cubs do not resign Pierre and/or let Ramirez become a free agent and sign elsewhere, AND they are then forced to spend large portions of their free agent money on replacements for Pierre and Ramirez, and they rely on all the young guys to get better.

I want option number one. So do all Cubs fans. Jim Hendry will claim that is what he wants, too. Guess what? It isn’t going to happen. This is the con that we are walking into this off-season, and here are the keywords you need to start paying attention for:

“we would like to have him back”
“if it is possible, we would like to have him back”
“we are hopeful that we can make something work and bring him back”
“we will give it our best shot to bring them both back”
“we made what we feel is a very competitive offer”

When you hear these sayings, you will know that Pierre or Ramirez will be playing elsewhere in 2007.

Misdirection….

The Pierre/Ramirez signings are the key to the whole off-season, along with the manager situation. This is a lose-lose for the Cubs Faithful, I’m afraid. I believe that if Pierre and Ramirez are both resigned, and a new manager is hired, that Jim Hendry will play up those transactions in the media and hope the fans are so stupid they will not realize that no new players were actually added to the team! If Hendry lets Pierre and/or Ramirez get away, and then resigns a free agent to take their place, he will again make it seem like he has improved the team, yet he will have only treaded water, and the Cubs will still have not signed any new big free agents.

The Cubs have problems. Lots of problems. They have poor outfield defense, weak-hitting middle infielders, a lack of quality starting pitching, and a bad manager. Pierre and Ramirez are not part of the problem. Could Pierre have a better arm? Sure. Could Ramirez have done better when Lee was injured? Sure. Still, though….they aren’t the problem. So if the Cubs let either of them walk, and replace them with anything less than a star player, then they will have failed to improve on 2006, and have actually gotten worse.

Final Thoughts….

I hope the Cubs resign Pierre, extend Ramirez and Zambrano, and bring in Joe Girardi to manage. I also hope they will then get at least one good free agent starter, but I expect they will settle for a Woody Williams type of pitcher, instead. I think the whole off-season is going to be a bunch of “depth” signings, with 4th outfielders, backup infielders, and mediocre pitchers. It will seem like Hendry has done a lot, but mostly the Cubs will, in reality, has stood pat. We will rely on hope once again, expect this coming year our faith won’t be spent on names like Prior and Wood. Instead, we will spend the off-season drinking a youth-movement Kool-Aid, and the flavors will be Rich Hill, Sean Marshall, Ronny Cedeno, and Matt Murton. I am actually fine with this….I just hope it works! Until next time CCO Readers, hope that Rich Hill keeps his confidence, hope that Cedeno gets his head on straight, hope that Blanco stops playing 1st base, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else." - Charles Dickens
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