Exploring the Possibilities

As the Winter Meetings approach Jim Hendry has a few questions surrounding his team. The Cubs have been relatively quiet so far this off-season with the only major move being the trade of Jacque Jones. Several reports out of Chicago have mentioned what the Cubs could be up to, but what does Jim Hendry have up his sleeve? How can he make Lou Piniella’s crew better than the team that last took the field almost two months ago?

This week, in a two-part article, the CCO will take a look at several players the Cubs have been rumored to be interested in this off-season, as well as a few players on the 40-man roster. Here is part one….

Kerry Wood

Will the Cubs be able to resign their former ace? Wood’s miraculous recovery at the end of last season has made him a hot commodity on the open market. Wood appeared in 22 games and was 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP while holding opponents to a .207 batting average. Wood struck out 24 and walked 13 in 24 1/3 innings. His most impressive outing came in the last week of the season in Florida against the Marlins. In his last few outings Wood threw an upper 90’s fastball on a consistent basis.

The Red Sox are rumored to be very interested, even the Cubs’ rivals to the north have reportedly contacted Wood’s agent. Will the Houston Astros or the Texas Rangers be in the bidding war for Wood? Wood reportedly was seeking a 2-year deal in the $10 million dollar range, but the recent signings of Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink figure to make Wood a little more than $5 million a year. The Cubs are rumored to be offering a 1-year incentive laden deal with an option for a second year….will that be enough to keep ‘Kid K’ in blue pinstripes or will the oft injured pitcher be better suited to reinvent himself in another city?

Several in Chicago’s mainstream media thinks it is unlikely Wood will resign with the Cubs.

Kosuke Fukudome

Several reports have indicated the Cubs are very interested in signing the Japanese star. Fukudome is scheduled to meet with his U.S. agents at Octagon on November 29th but a report out of Japan last week indicated Fukudome might not make a decision until around the first of the year. Fukudome is weighing his options on whether he should stay in Japan or make the move to the Major Leagues. One report indicated there is a 50-50 chance he will make a change.

Fukudome fits the description of the type of player Lou Piniella is looking for to man right field next season and beyond. From all of the scouting reports, Fukudome is a very good defender with a strong arm, very patient at the plate with enough power to project him hitting between 25-30 home runs a year in the majors, some have said he would be a good number two hitter in most lineups.

Have the Cubs put all of their ‘eggs‘ in the Fukudome basket like they did with Rafael Furcal a couple of years ago? If the Cubs are not able to land Fukudome does Jim Hendry have a back-up plan?

Matt Murton

When Matt Murton was sent down to Triple-A last season his future with the Cubs immediately came into question. Murton has a lot of potential but how does he fit into the Cubs’ future plans? Murton looks out of place in right field and does not fit the description of an “athletic outfielder” that Piniella is looking for. Murton did an adequate job in left field in 2006 but with Alfonso Soriano patrolling left field for the foreseeable future, would the Cubs be better off trading Murton while he still has value?

Murton hit just .281 with 8 home runs and 22 RBI’s and still had a good OBP of .352. But his numbers were down across the board in 2007 after playing in 144 games the year before. Murton’s line in 2006 was .297/.365/.444/.809 with 13 home runs and 62 RBI’s. Murton was one of the few Cubs to hit left handed pitching on a regular basis (.319/.386/.505/.892/3/9 in 48 games, 91 at bats) but if Jim Hendry can find a left-handed hitter that can hit southpaws, Murton becomes very expendable.

Jason Marquis

Jason Marquis had an inconsistent first season with the Cubs to say the least (12-9 with a 4.60 ERA with a 1.37 WHIP). At times he was a solid starter (2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 6 starts in May with a 1.05 WHIP) but he faded down the stretch (2-1 with a 6.21 ERA in 6 starts, 7 games, in September with a 1.56 WHIP….second highest ERA of any month, 6.29 in July….second highest WHIP of any month, 1.70 in June) and appeared to fall out of favor with Lou Piniella. Marquis’ ineffectiveness in the last month led to the Cubs not being able to depend on him in the playoffs and left Piniella with only three starters, he felt, in October.

Marquis’ worst enemy appears to be himself but he is an “innings eater” (191 2/3 innings in 2007, his lowest since 2004….averaged a little under 199 innings in the last 4 seasons) and will take the ball every 5th day. Piniella said the Cubs must work with Marquis to improve on his second half performance next season….Marquis was 6-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 18 starts in the first half with a 1.26 WHIP while in the second half he was 6-4 with a 5.73 ERA in 15 starts, 16 games, with a 1.54 WHIP. With the ever-increasing cost of free agent pitching and the lack of quality arms on the market, could the Cubs move Marquis, in a package, with a relatively low salary for the next two years? The Cubs owe Marquis $6.375 million in 2008 and $9.875 million in 2009. Or would the Cubs be in better shape keeping Marquis and figuring out his second half struggles?

Ryan Dempster

The Cubs announced Ryan Dempster would compete for a spot in the starting rotation once Spring Training gets underway at Fitch Park in February. Dempster was once an All-Star starter but was very ineffective in that role in 2005 before switching to the club’s closer. Is there room in a starting rotation that includes Dempster and Jason Marquis?

Lou Piniella reportedly was toying with the idea of putting Dempster back in the starting rotation in May when the bullpen was struggling. The thought was the Cubs wanted Angel Guzman to become the closer but Guzman suffered another arm injury and ended up having Tommy John surgery, thus ending his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Carlos Marmol came on and was dominant after his call-up….he even earned a vote in the NL MVP balloting. Bobby Howry was effective and Scott Eyre had a great second half once Piniella forgot his name….Stevie Ire.

Piniella likes hard throwers at the back end of the bullpen (for a good example see the Nasty Boys circa 1990) and while Dempster was effective (28 saves in 31 chances) he struggles with throwing strikes, walks too many batters (30 in 66 2/3 innings), gives up too many hits (59) and while his ERA might not tell the whole story, a 1.34 WHIP does say a lot. Dempster gave up almost 11 hits (10.69) per 9 innings in the second half while walking 4.50 per 9 innings….a .297 opponents’ batting average, a .377 opponents’ OBP and a 1.69 WHIP.

Could Dempster return to the form that saw him post solid numbers with the Marlins in 2000 (14-10 with a 366 ERA in 33 starts with 2 complete games, 209 strikeouts and a 1.36 WHIP) or in 2001 (15-12 with a 4.94 ERA with 2 complete games, 171 strikeouts and a 1.56 WHIP)? Or was the announcement of Dempster returning to the starting rotation a way for Jim Hendry to make him look more attractive to another team? Dempster’s owed only $5.5 million in the final year of his contract….very cheap in today’s market.

Kaz Matsui

The Cubs are looking at signing Kaz Matsui….at least that is what is coming out of both the Chicago and Denver mainstream media outlets. The Denver Post and the Houston Chronicle said the Astros were close to signing Matsui a week ago, then a report late last week in the Post suggested Matsui will sign with either the Cubs or the Astros this week. Matsui has reportedly turned down a 2-year offer from the Rockies and has his eyes set on signing a 3-year deal. Jim Hendry and Ed Wade (Astros’ GM) both met with Matsui last week in Los Angeles, but nothing has come out of those meetings.

How would Matsui fit in with the Cubs? Some in the mainstream have stated Matsui will play at short when Mark DeRosa is at second and would fill in at second when DeRosa is either at third base or in right field. But a look at Matsui’s numbers, especially at Wrigley, shows Jim Hendry should reconsider signing Matsui to a contract, much less a 3-year deal….

Last season with the Rockies was by far the best of Matsui’s Major League career. He hit .288 with a .342 OBP, a .405 SLG and a .746 OPS in 104 games. The most games Matsui has played in a single season were 114 in 2004….his first year with the Mets.

The concerning offensive numbers on Matsui are his home-road splits. In 2006 he hit just .200 with a .235 OBP in 38 games with the Mets before being traded to the Rockies for Eli Marrero on June 9th. Matsui then hit .345 with a .392 OBP in 32 games for the Rockies. Last season Matsui hit .330 with a .381 OBP, a .482 SLG and a .864 OPS in 49 games at Coors Field. In 55 games on the road….Matsui hit .249 with a .304 OBP and a .333 SLG with a .638 OPS. All 4 of his home runs were hit at Coors Field. In 11 career games at Wrigley, Matsui has a .262 average (11-for-42) with a .295 OBP, a .476 SLG and a .772 OPS….a double, a triple and 2 home runs.

Are the Cubs looking at Kaz Matsui as a way to lure Kosuke Fukudome to the North Side, as some in the mainstream media have speculated? Or are they looking at Matsui to add a left-handed bat (Matsui is a switch hitter) to a right-handed dominated lineup? The Cubs need speed in their lineup and a few dependable left handed bats….but what did Juan Pierre once say? “You can’t steal first base.”

Part Two will take a look at Felix Pie, Sam Fuld, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, Carl Crawford, Ryan Church, Mark Prior and a name from the past….

Quote of the Day

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein