Prelude to a Championship?

Are you overwhelmed by the Cubs off-season moves yet? Will the Wade Miller signing bring to fruition John McDonough’s World Series goal? With such scarce pickings in this year’s free agent class, I am left wondering if Hendry and his team ever do any planning for the future. Sure, they probably overly obsess over their own farm system, projecting the Pie’s and Guzman’s of the world onto Cubs rosters in years to come, but did they even think about what free agents would likely be available over the next few years?

Currently the Cubs have no Third Baseman or Center Fielder under contract. They finished in last place with the above average talents of Aramis Ramirez and Juan Pierre. However, Jim Hendry must feel the Cubs finished last because of Ramirez and Pierre, as he seems content to let them both walk away, creating further glaring holes to fill.

Thought getting rid of Dusty solved all the problems? You know better….

Things to Look Forward to….

It appears Sweet Lou Piniella, and his new hitting coach, both grasp the value of drawing walks, and having a high on-base-percentage. I truly believe that this fact, alone, would result in a dramatic increase in victories for the Cubs, even if we brought back the exact same roster as last year. Remember, the Cubs had a decent team batting average, and if you go player by player in the lineup, they are all quality guys, or have a lot of upside. The problem last year was that the Cubs couldn’t score any runs because when they did get their hits, there was often no one on base to drive in! I never blamed Dusty for not winning the division last year, due to all the injuries, but I firmly believe his nonsensical anti-obp approach would never have been consistently successful with the Chicago Cubs.

I also am excited that, supposedly, Hendry will be getting some new starters to count on, instead of Prior and Wood. I am excited about that because sometimes really good things happen when you least expect them to. Just imagine if Prior and Wade Miller both are fully recovered from their injuries and pitch like they did in previous years. They don’t have to have career years….they just simply need to perform the way they have in the past. If their bodies allow this to happen, the Cubs would have a surplus of pitching, which is a good thing (just ask the White Sox, who are sitting pretty this off-season).

The best thing about the upside of Prior and Miller for 2007 is that, again, we are supposed to have a full staff of healthy starters, so anything they bring to the table should be gravy. Now it is just up to Hendry to prove that he really has “all the resources he needs” at his disposal, and he truly goes out and gets a #1 or #2 quality starter to slot in next to Zambrano, Hill, Miller, and likely a 2nd tier Woody Williams type of starter.

Things to Worry About….

Who plays third base? Who plays in centerfield? Do we have to put up with Cedeno again this year, or do we try to stick with fan favorite Ryan Theriot, or is a veteran like Ray Durham in the Cubs future at 2B?

I really hope we don’t go with Gary Matthews, Jr….everything screams career year about this guy, and he is over 30 already anyway. I would actually be happy with a platoon system of a Dave Roberts or Kenny Lofton at CF, along with Pagan or Pie. If Hendry lets Ramirez walk, I will happily take Nomar back at 3B, but otherwise a new 3B would likely have to come through a trade to even come close to the production of Ramirez the past few years. The problem with letting Ramirez walk is that it creates another hole to fill, and, honestly, does anyone else notice that Hendry doesn’t seem to be a particularly fast worker? So my concern would be that Hendry misses out on some good opportunities to fill in our pitching weaknesses, because he is distracted trying to find a new 3B.

Let’s all hope Roberto Novoa finds gainful employment elsewhere, and that Kerry Wood, perhaps, can take his slot in the bullpen. Wood could do incredible things in the bullpen, I believe, if he stays healthy. His intimidating presence on the mound, not to mention his slider and fastball, would be an awesome compliment with Howry and Eyre. Our only bullpen concern this year should be Dempster returning to his 2005 form. I think he will be ok, as sometimes losing gets contagious. If the Cubs start out winning, I think the bullpen will be a real strength for the Cubs all year.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any groundbreaking ideas right now….I think I am like every other Cubs fan out there right now: I am waiting for Hendry to make his first move. If he jumps on Zito, Soriano, Lee, right out of the gate, I think it will help the rest of the off-season for a number of reasons: First, the quicker Hendry fills one gap, the more time he has to work on the others, which is key because, again, the guy sure moves slow. Secondly, while money always talks the loudest, it may make the Cubs a more appealing destination to other free agents if they see that Hendry is serious about creating a winner ASAP.

I have been fairly consistent in stating that I would be happy with the offensive lineup as it was constituted at the end of 2006; Pierre, Theriot, Lee, Ramirez, Jones, Barrett, Murton, and Izturis. That lineup can win a World Series….just look at the Cardinals this year, made up of Albert Pujols and a bunch of role players.

So while Soriano would be nice, I would rather the Cubs just resign Pierre and Ramirez and then throw all the money they have at two quality starters. They really don’t need anything else….you can always find quality guys for the bench, like Lofton, or DeRosa, etc…. The Yankees won their multiple championships with great pitching. The last few years, they have had an offensive All-Star team, and it hasn’t gotten them nearly as far in the playoffs. Pitching matters the most. Woulda, coulda, shoulda….we had Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Clement, and Maddux. If they were all healthy, that would have been one of the best starting rotations in baseball history. As it was, they had the lowest ERA in the NL in 2004. Injuries cost us a World Series that year, though, along with a manager that allowed the clubhouse to lose focus, become whiners, and start calling the broadcast booth. We can’t live in the past, though….that window of opportunity is gone, and it is time to hope that some new pitchers, along with Zambrano and Hill, can give us a new chance at the World Series berth that constantly eludes our beloved Cubbies. Until next time CCO Readers, let’s hope Hendry pulls out all the stops, that he is quick about it, and that our collective anxiety can be replaced with excitement and eager anticipation for the coming baseball season. Let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

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

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