Christmas Presents

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the holiday season is often a time of gift-giving, and this year the presents were varied for many of the members of 2003 Division Champion Cubs. Remember Matt Clement? Good ol’ Matt will, unfortunately, be back at the Northside this year, but adorned in Cardinal red with his new contract. Mark Prior definitely got what was on his wish list; a new address back home, where a lot of people probably don’t realize what a jerk he is, and they still think he is the next coming of Tom Seaver. Who can forget former skipper, Dusty Baker! Dusty is back in the NL, after a short hiatus, and every Cubs-Reds series will no doubt be blown out of proportion as the announcers focus too much attention on Dusty vs. Lou. Oh….I almost forgot….that Kerry Wood guy is going to be our closer this year, giving him a very real chance at a 2nd career (or is it a 3rd or 4th now?) as a Cub.

The Chicago sportswriters wound up with the most presents under the tree, as all of these stories, and more, are teed right up for them to write and talk about in 2008. But if you think a Cubs fan….a real Cubs fan….should care about 2003 storylines, 5 years later, then….well….you know better!

Fukudome is #1….

I heard Fuku may wear #1 for the Cubs, and he is already #1 in the hearts of most of the Cubs Faithful for signing to play for the Cubs over the White Sox and others. He was, apparently, a Christmas present from Hendry to Sweet Lou. While I am sure Lou was thankful, I can’t help but wonder if Lou prefers quantity over just one big present.

The Cubs may still trade for Brian Roberts, or do something else we aren’t expecting, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if nothing happened with the roster either. That isn’t to say I think we should stand pat, because I don’t!

Asset Management….Use them, or lose them!

Someone remind me what we got for Mark Prior….did we get Tejada? Tejada and Bedard? What’s that? Oh yeah, that’s right….we gave him away for nothing. Two years of absolutely nothing from this Just Ducky-hater, and how many millions later, and we have what to show for it? Not a thing. What did we get for Corey Patterson, Angel Guzman, or Felix Pie so far? I bring up those three because they are the last prospects, besides Prior, who were annointed, at various times, as “untouchable”.

Get it into your head, Hendry, no prospects are ever untouchable! We have allowed the trade value of too many of our prospects go to waste under Hendry’s regime the past few years. Yes, he did great with Bobby Hill and Hee-Seop Choi, but since then, he either hasn’t had the stomach to part with his top prospects, or in the case of Juan Pierre, he gave up a bunch of them for an asset that he only had under control for one season. This type of asset management makes no sense. If you don’t want to trade a prospect, then you need to commit playing time to him, so that he can develop. How worthless are Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno now, compared to a couple of years ago? Rich Hill only succeeded because we stuck with him to give him enough starts. I am not sure why they didn’t do the same with Sean Marshall, but if they don’t trade Marshall now, and they don’t want to put him in the rotation, then what are you doing with the guy?

Coming into Focus….

While we may still have some changes, let’s look at what the depth chart on Cubs.com tells us we have so far, and I will guess on a potential batting order along the way:

  • Soriano – LF (He will only get better in his 2nd season at Wrigley, and if his wheels are healthy, the steals will go way way up!)
  • Fukudome – RF (I am expecting Jacque Jones numbers, circa 2006, but with better OBP and much better defense)
  • Lee – 1B (Was his daughter’s illness a factor in his sub-par power numbers, or did the wrist injury linger? I expect a slight comeback in HRs and RBIs, at around 32/105.)
  • Ramirez – 3B (With an improved Soriano, a high-OBP Fukudome, and a rebounding Lee, Ramirez could have a 40/125 season….I think this is his peak year).
  • DeRosa – 2B (If we get Roberts, the whole lineup changes, but DeRosa should be adequate, and hopefully consistent)
  • Soto – C (Soto could move to the #5 spot if he shows pop early on, but I am guessing DeRosa’s experience gives him the edge for now. Soto is 1 of 2 rookie wildcards in the 2008 lineup)
  • Pie – CF (The other rookie wildcard….I am already starting to dislike the bottom half of this lineup, due to the inexperience of the two rookies, and Theriot. If Pie can make contact, he will be fine….if he strikes out too much, he will be another “can’t miss” bust for Hendry.)
  • Theriot – SS (Perhaps hitting 8th will keep him fresher, as he seemed to tire at the end of the year in 2007. He doesn’t have to set the world on fire, but he does need to get consistent.)

Bench: Sam Fuld (who?), Daryle Ward, Cedeno, Murton, and Blanco are the key guys. The bench is a lot weaker than the group appeared last year at this time, with Jones and Floyd in the mix. Sam Fuld may be a fan favorite, but this guy has never done anything of note at the MLB level. Ward was a good backup. Murton plays better as a starter, and I think the same goes for Cedeno….without regular minutes, these guys won’t be effective, and I hope they are traded instead. Hank White still can’t hit….better hope Soto is the real deal, folks!

Starting Rotation: Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Marquis, Marshall/Dempster.

I have to imagine that whichever guy loses the 5th starter spot will be involved in a trade, at least by the All-Star break. If Hill has hit his ceiling, and Lilly comes back down to Earth, this rotation is the Big Z Show, and that’s about it.

Bullpen: Wood, Marmol, Howry, and Eyre. The bullpen will be as good as those 4 make it. It is a nice mix of experience and electric stuff. I think the bullpen is a plus again this year….they just had a bad start last year.

Final Thoughts

Pie and Soto represent the low-cost youth component of the roster as it is currently comprised. If they fail, this is a .500 team at the All-Star break again. I could see a big trade at the break for an instrumental position player, should either of these guys fail miserably. I also think we need another solid #2 or #3 quality pitcher. You don’t know what you will get from Marquis, and you really have no business talking about Dempster as a “15-game winner”….that was, like, 7 years ago. If we are basing rotation spots on what guys did 7 years ago, then why didn’t we sign Clement, sign Lieber, keep Prior, and put Wood back in the rotation? Exactly…. So why do we have Dempster penciled in as a starter again?

I like the fact that we have high quality in Zambrano, Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano. After that, our depth is weak, and we are relying a bit on hope. Sounds just like any other year, right? Keep the faith Cubs fans….I imagine a few more changes are still in store, before we can make our final preseason predictions for this club. Until next time, hope for a healthy Wood in Spring Training, that Marquis and Hill can stay focused for 7-8 innings each time out, that Sweet Lou finds a couple other presents hidden deep behind the tree, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

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

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