The air was fresh and crisp, the mood was light and cheerful, and the future was bright and clear: Jim Hendry had just announced the hiring of “Sweet” Lou Piniella as the fine new manager of the Chicago Cubs. Jim Hendry had swapped his “Trader Jim” cap for his shiny new “Jim Spendry” cap, and was sparing no expense in building an awesome roster for his new manager. For his part, Lou Piniella was bringing the energy and accountability that the Cubs Faithful had so eagerly desired after enduring the painful years of the Dusty Era.
So it was truly a perfect storm! We saw a mix of high-priced free agents (Soriano & Lilly), retention of our top players (Ramirez and Zambrano), and a manager that was bringing a winning attitude to the North Side. So clearly when I open my paper (ok….when I look online) and see the current baseball standings, our beloved Cubbies should be several games above .500, and well on their way to a division title, right? Unfortunately….you know better.
You don’t spend $100,000 on a sports car and then put an AM/FM radio in it. If you are going to invest $300 million in contracts, don’t start the year off with a career backup penciled in as your starting 2B, don’t gamble that your free agent 2B-turned-LF will be able to play an effective CF, and don’t bet a 2-pack of towels that your 5th starter spot will be filled by historical injury risks.
I will never understand Hendry’s insistence on “finding a diamond in the rough” versus just paying for an established veteran. Would it have been so bad to have stuck with Grudzielanek the past few years, at 2B, for example? Did we really need to endure the Todd Walker, Jerry Hairston, Neifi Perez, Tony Womack, and Mark DeRosa starting experiments?
The same goes for Michael “I have passion but no brains or defensive aptitude” Barrett. Sure, he has won a Silver Slugger award, but last time I checked, there were a number of quality offensive catchers in the game now (just ask the Dodgers, Twins, Indians, Tigers, etc….). Barrett wouldn’t be noticed if he was a catcher in the AL, so the Silver Slugger awards are taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion. This was a classic example of Hendry deciding that he, and his scouts, “saw something” in a mediocre player, and it is now 4 years later, and every off-season I hear the same thing: Barrett has really worked hard on his defense, and should be much-improved this year….yet it never materializes.
While St. Louis goes and gets established grinders like David Eckstein, we get Cesar Izturis and Ronny Cedeno. Ryan Theriot may or may not pan out for a whole year (and I do like the player) but he is also largely unproven at the big league level. When Houston goes out and grabs Cub-killer Carlos Lee, Hendry proceeds to create a confusing logjam of corner outfielders, by acquiring Cliff Floyd, but not trading Jacque Jones.
Don’t even get me started on the Juan Pierre deal. In my opinion, he should still be playing CF for the Cubs, and instead, we have Jacque Jones or Angel Pagan. Huh? How are all those pitchers working out for Florida by the way? What a horrible trade for the Cubs that was.
Mistake #2 – Lou’s got no Clue….
Exactly how many Cub lineups does it take to screw in a light bulb? Apparently the final answer will be something like 67, at the rate Lou is cranking out new ideas on his roster sheet. I don’t care what sport you play, or what industry you work in: you get better with consistent experience on the job. This unbelievably simple fact seems to be eluding the grasp of Mr. Piniella, as he appears to be going out of his way to show he is trying to fix things, or to show he is smart and can make a difference, when this is actually one area where the less he does, the better off the club will be. Just commit to a group of starters, and let them play for a month….simple as that!
You are not handing out job security by doing this….everyone can still be on notice that if they don’t produce, they will potentially lose their starting job, but at least give them a sense of consistency and continuity by allowing them to focus on their job, day in and day out, without wondering whether they will be in the lineup the next day if they strike out during their current at-bat. This type of musical chairs approach to managing has to be particularly damaging to the confidence of the newer players….namely Murton, DeRosa, Izturis, and Theriot. How any of them are supposed to establish any level of consistency, playing one day, but not the next, is beyond comprehension.
When a player is hurt, we often hear that they will need a few days to get the rust off, upon their return from the DL, etc…. Why is that? Because the more you play, the better you play! We have already wasted time messing around with Felix Pie this year, when we should have left him alone in AAA, or fully committed to him in CF for a month minimum. Instead, he wasted time sitting on the bench….completely nonsensical.
I like the fact that Lou is trying to hold guys accountable, especially in the bullpen, but he isn’t being consistent in his approach to the batting lineup and the bullpen. The more Scott Eyre stinks up the place, the more he plays him the next day, it seems. Yet if Murton goes 0-4, then you just know that Jones or Floyd will be starting in RF the next day. Why? I agree that you need Eyre to figure things out, and I don’t have a problem with Lou trotting him and Howry out over and over, despite their poor performances….so why not show the same level of faith by putting out a consistent lineup for a month or so?
Give me June, or Give me Death!
I have to tell you, CCO Readers….we need this month of June to produce a winning record, or a turnaround is going to get extremely difficult. Right now, the Cheese Curds are folding as I predicted, but just because everyone in our division is horrible, doesn’t mean that the Cubs don’t have to take the reigns and prove they are better than the rest!
So I am asking….nay….begging Lou and Jim to set things straight.
Jim: unload Jacque Jones for anything, and throw Wade Miller out with the bath water as well. While you are tinkering around, see if there are any better middle infielders, or defensive catchers, to be had in a trade. Maybe Oakland will let go of Jason Kendall for some of our pitching prospects along with Barrett?
Lou: Give us a month of peace….just one month of consistent lineups. And whatever you do, don’t give a guy a “planned” day off, when you have just lost a couple games in a row. This is baseball….grown men, and alleged athletes, that catch and throw balls and swing a bat and run occasionally….they can handle playing an extra day if the win is needed badly enough! Feel free to raise hell, get kicked out of games, throw tirades….whatever you want. Just put out a consistent lineup, please!
I am exhausted CCO Readers. The Cubs owe me, and you, and all the Cubs Faithful a nice string of victories. Our hearts and sanity demand such a streak. The rotation has been largely solid, and Marshall looks like a good 5th starter so far. I still have faith that the law of averages will kick in for the bullpen, and the law of averages will also kick in for our offense, provided the opportunities come consistently for 8 batters, each and every game. Until next time, stop looking at the standings, and start looking at management, let’s get this thing on track, and let’s go Cubs!