Break It Down

Jim Hendry managed to keep an arduous off-season from getting even more difficult, by quickly securing the Cubs most prolific offensive star in the past four years, Aramis Ramirez, to a new 5-year contract. You may have also heard about our new bullpen guy, Kerry Wood, who will combine with Scott Eyre, Bobby Howry, and Ryan Dempster to form one of the most dominant bullpens in the NL.

By signing these key free agents, the Cubs, following John McDonough’s directive, have all but sealed their 2007 World Series victory. Why even play the games at this point? Maybe Bud Selig should just mail the trophy to Clark and Addison right now, c/o Jim Hendry….ok, you know better!

A Good Start….Sort Of

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy (actually, thrilled is more like it) to have Ramirez locked up for the next 5 years. Combined with Derrek Lee, the corner infield spots for the Cubs are rock solid for the next few years, and they supply ample power, which allows the Cubs to really shore up the middle infield spots with great defensive talents. You can get away with the meager offense of Cesar Izturis when you have him sandwiched by big boppers like Ramirez and Lee. Having great defensive players at 2B, SS, and CF will make our pitchers look significantly better, will save a lot of runs, will turn more double plays, and will allow our pitchers to throw more strikes, as they will be confident in the defense behind them.

Let’s be honest with ourselves though….even though it feels like we got an early Christmas present on Sunday, the fact remains that we haven’t added anyone new to the team yet….the same team that finished in last place. In fact, we are actually down a player in CF, and although we picked up Izturis, we also lost a starting pitcher in the process (Greg Maddux). Combined with the fact that Prior, Wood, and Miller are all definite question marks, and in Wood’s case he isn’t even being considered as a starter right now, there is a lot of room for improvement in the Cubs starting rotation.

Quick Strikes, Please….

Now that Hendry doesn’t have the Ramirez signing taking up his time, I hope he moves quickly on a legitimate #1 or #2 starter, as well as Alfonso Soriano. Soriano makes the most sense now (versus Carlos Lee), as he has shown that he is a great athlete and is capable of playing other positions, and with the loss of Pierre, Soriano’s speed and arm would be a great fit in CF. Not to mention the pop that Soriano provides may give the Cubs of 2004 (Sosa, Lee, Ramirez, and Alou) a real run for their money, in terms of power production in the lineup. I think a Soriano signing will also take pressure off of Matt Murton, and he will be able to continue to hit for average and slowly develop his power stroke over time. Assuming he isn’t traded, Jacque Jones will be adequate if he can duplicate his offensive numbers last year, but let’s all just hope his arm is healed up and that he learns how to hit the cut-off man. Perhaps if all the fans along the right-field foul line could carry signs with arrows and the name of our 2nd baseman, that will help Happy Jacque out?

As far as a quality pitcher, I am cringing….absolutely CRINGING….when I hear such mediocre names as Miguel Batista, Vicente Padilla, and guys from Japan that no one has heard of. Batista is 11 games under .500 for his career, and Padilla is only 5 games over .500 for his career (with an ERA over 4.50 his last 3 years!).

These guys aren’t any better than Sean Marshall or Carlos Marmol….so why waste the money on them? I don’t say this because I think the Tribsters can’t afford to pay Padilla and Batista money. Rather, I know that if they DO pay Padilla and Batista $8-10 mill/yr, that means the Tribsters will claim there is no more money left for Zito or Schmidt.

So don’t pay big dollars for mediocrity….we already tried that with Glendon Rusch and Neifi Perez, and we all know what a tremendous waste of money those two were.

I would rather get one big proven Ace, than get two mediocre guys. With Zambrano, and hopefully Hill, you have two good pitchers. If you add a 3rd proven pitcher, then you are set for the playoffs, where you really only use 3 starting pitchers. What good is having Padilla going to do if we have to face the Yankees in the World Series? I would rather have a proven guy like Zito or Schmidt taking the ball, along with Zambrano, Hill, and maybe a healthy Prior, in the playoffs.

Zito has had a great career, and he has done it in the AL, where he faces better lineups, and no pitchers come to bat. I think he will only improve in the NL, and a great, young, left-handed pitcher is a tremendous luxury to have. If Hill continues to pan out, that would actually give the Cubs two great left-handers, which would provide incredible balance in the rotation with likely 3 right-handers in Prior, Miller, and Zambrano. If Prior is healthy (which is always a gamble) then this rotation would have the potential to be very special. Feel free to sign Woody Williams, or a player of his talent level and salary demands, as insurance against Prior and Miller….but please don’t sign two worthless guys like Padilla and Batista!

Final Thoughts

When it seemed Ramirez was lost to free agency, some of us thought that the Tribsters may be shying away from paying out big contracts, to make the club look more attractive to potential buyers. The more I thought about this, though, the less it really made sense to me, because this isn’t the Washington Nationals with an unproven market and no fan base….this is the friggin’ Chicago Cubs! The Cubs are probably part of a handful of teams that would have tons of suitors: teams like the Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys, and the Bears. If you are a billionaire like Mark Cuban, and you want to own a sports team, you likely either want to own your hometown team, or one of these incredibly popular franchises. With the Cubs suddenly having lower ratings than the White Sox, it behooves the Tribsters to get Chicagoans revved up into a delirious frenzy about the Cubs, and quickly, if they want the biggest bang for their buck. So what if you raise payroll by $20 million, if that creates such a sense of excitement that you are able to get an extra $150 million for the team when you sell it! If I had the money to buy the Cubs, I would pay more for a team that had Soriano and Zito, than a team that was relying on Marmol and Cedeno….wouldn’t you? So until next time, CCO Readers, keep the faith that Hendry will do the smart thing, the quick thing, and the only thing that makes sense now, which is to deliver us Soriano in Cubbie Blue….let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe